Days of High Adventure
Greg Stafford, Mythmaker

Allen Varney | 29 Oct 2009 17:00
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How, exactly, does roleplaying feed the soul? Stafford dislikes the term "spiritual" - "tricky word, loaded with crap for most people." Instead, he explains it this way: "Human beings have urges that defy intellect and rationality, but exist anyway. And we have senses - non-material senses - to help us satisfy those urges. They are so hardwired that we are essentially unaware of them. Who ever thinks of "seeing" when we look around? It just happens.

"So what makes us curious, or funny, or loyal, or loving - or, more to this point, what makes us feel those? I'll just call it the mystery sense for now. Nearly everyone has it. What we do with it varies, of course, but one thing's for sure: It is better to use it than not. Why? Well, it's not science here, but anecdotal life data has indicated pretty consistently that people without the mystery in their lives are unhappy, bitter, selfish, often spiteful, always unpleasant.

"Roleplaying is one way for us to stimulate that mystery sense. Furthermore, its tropes activate all kinds of deeper curiosity and let us exercise both beneficial and gruesome fantasies that lie dormant in us. Choose anything from great heroics to serial murders - what greater opportunities do geeks like us have than to seek these while sitting at a table of friends? Are we heroes as a result? Nah, course not. But we are friends with shared thoughts, and that is good for the soul. And when we romp through those tropes, something deep inside is exercised - the mystery stirs."

I've known acquaintances who got deep into New Age nonsense about energy fields, inner knowledge, and so forth. Led into fog by nebulous concepts, lacking bearing or direction, they talked of "power" but never made anything happen. Stafford is nothing like them. He views the world using myth-based concepts I find eccentric, even freakish - but it's hard to argue with his results. Both shaman and scholar, Stafford has always been firmly grounded in consensus reality. Far from weird, he's pleasant, engaging and witty. Speaking at any desired level of seriousness or playfulness about, say, the importance of Elvis as a youth deity, he can entertain a restaurant table or a convention crowd - or his friends on Twitter and Facebook. (He posts only rarely - "I was told I ought to do that stuff for promo purposes, but I really have better things to do most of the time.")

Most important, after three decades as one of the roleplaying field's most honored and influential designers, Greg Stafford is still doing good work. "I have been concentrating on Pendragon material, lately The Book of Battle. It [puts] the player knights amidst thousands of others, all working more or less the way medieval armies worked. Imagine the battlefield as a setting for an adventure. It doesn't have corridors or clues, but is an ever-shifting setting fraught with the greatest danger. These rules are basically a way for a band of adventurers to experience this setting. It can be used with any combat system."

A college dropout in the '70s, Stafford ("finally," he says) completed a bachelor's degree in Comparative Religion in 2003 from the New College of California while managing the Albany (California) Aquarium. He spent much of 2003 and '04 in Oaxaca, Mexico, teaching English and exploring Zapotec and Mixtec ruins. Now happily remarried, he lives in the small northern California town of Arcata - "so rural that, when wind blows, I smell the cows" - where he and his wife, Suzanne Courteau, are compiling a book of Oaxacan legends. Through fiction and RPG material Stafford continues to explore Glorantha; he runs The Round Table, a Pendragon forum for his support line; and he maintains a Saturday Night Pendragon playtest blog.

Saving-throw bonuses and commune spells are nice, but this is the heart of wisdom: to take triumphs and tragedies in stride, cope thoughtfully with them all, and be ready for more. Stafford's .SIG file reads, "Love without reserve, Enjoy without restraint, Live without dead time."

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