Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Hallowe'en!

What better gamer-friendly holiday could there be than one during which we indulge our fascination with the surreal and fantastic! I just wanted to take a moment to extend my sincere holiday wishes to the readers.

In my family, Halloween is our most enthusiastically celebrated holiday. It's one of the things that have brought my wife and myself close, and something I expect to celebrate as fully as possible with our new son (pictured).

My fascination with Halloween began when I was quite young. My mother was a fan of gothic horror and B-movies. I remember several times asking "whatcha watching?" and answers including "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," "The Blob," "The Hand," "The Curse of Dracula," "Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy," "The Howling," and others. Later, she would further nourish my love for the macabre by handing down to me every Stephen King novel she read. I remember October in a world without 800 cable channels, when the best specials were documentaries about vampire lore on PBS, or made-for-TV horror movies like "Dark Night of the Scarecrow." I would watch the Disney Channel's Halloween special, which contained excerpts from Fantasia and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, whenever I was home and it was on. Before there was a History Channel or Travel Channel to run spooky features non-stop for weeks, we savored every show that aired. As I grew older and rented VHS tapes and DVDs, my scary movie tastes would evolve: "The Man Who Laughs" and "Nosferatu" remain on my short list of go-to films. As a Music Theory / History major in college, I found Halloween compatible with my love for Expressionism.

My most cherished Halloween tradition is the annual D&D sleep-over. My gamer friends and I gathered at one of our houses each year during our tweens to early teens, and played the crap out of D&D, with special clearance from our parents to stay up as long as it took. As the DM, I made sure that my best module was reserved for the occassion. I remember the inaugral event: The first ever MTV Music Awards show was on television one room away, but our attention was consumed by the Isle of Dread. A year or two later, it was the Veiled Society. From year to year, we would dress up to scare the trick-or-treaters and pass out candy; then, after dusk turned to dark, we'd relocate to the basement, dim the lights, and lose ourselves in fantasy for hours. If the module ended before we were too tired, we'd watch a rented movie, like "Conan the Barbarian" or some other cheesy sword-and-sorcery flick, or experiment with Ouija or Tarot -- whatever we could do to preserve the mood of the holiday.

It has been many years since that tradition ended, but a couple of years ago I suggested to my online group that, on Halloween, we take a time out from whatever is going on in our campaign and do something unique. Our first Halloween session was a battle royale: Each character was transported to a mysterious house, from which only one would be allowed to escape. After the event, our characters awoke to realize it was just a dream, and we returned to our campaign in progress. Since that session, Halloween has meant something special to our gaming group.

Thus, Halloween and Christmas do something no other holidays do for me: Each year, though I get shorter of breath and closer to death, I get two days back from my youth. And if you asked me to choose between those few days I spend in youthful nostalgia and several more years of longevity, the choice would be mighty tough.

Halloween is a time during which we exhibit the paradox of donning masks while loosening inhibitions. One year, in college, I went bar-hopping with friends. We were dressed as Droogs. As I looked around at other costumed revelers, I thought, "Why can't we dress in costume every night we go out?" I still can't think of a reasonable answer, beyond "too much of a good thing."

Halloween is the crux of many things that quicken my heart: The colors and scents of Autumn, the freedom and fascination of youth, the exploration of the fantastic, and the bittersweet counting of seasons gone by. It's quirky, spooky, fun, sentimental, awakens a glorious boquet of sensations. And I hope you all have an enriching Halloween experience this year, and in many years to come.

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