How Zanzer Tem Got My Groove Back

Preamble: It’s been a rough time in the United States of America lately, a rough time reconfirmed yesterday with the Electoral College officially casting their votes. I’m not gonna lie — I don’t think this POTUS is going to be good for the country. I’m scared of what he’s going to try to do and what will be done in his name. I’m gearing up for a marathon of working to make sure the wheels of democracy turn for everyone, not just the already privileged and the hateful. I’m terrified, and already exhausted, and my mental health has been taking it on the chin since well before election day and only getting worse since then.

And that’s the thrust of it: I’ve been a bad friend for the last half a year, and while DJT is the catalyst it’s not an excuse. I totally dropped the ball on beta-reading for a colleague. I have been scattered and unproductive at my day job. The holiday one-shots I promised people I’d run basically all fell apart except for the few I got done before DJT sewed up the GOP nomination, and every time I think “I should run those” my mind turns to a dead radio station and I just hunch over my desk until the horror passes. Exercise has been difficult to make myself do (though the endorphins always really do help), and a lot of nights after work I get on the train and cannot focus on anything except doing my daily Duolingo lesson (I’m learning German, which is making me uncomfortable for historical reasons). Writing has basically been the only easy thing, and that’s great, but there are days that feels like fiddling while Rome burns. The tiniest thing will shatter my cool: a difficult-but-not-impossible work project triggered no fewer than six anxiety attacks over two weeks, and on Sunday I fell into a deep funk because we misjudged our time budgeting and I didn’t get to make Star Wars: Edge of the Empire characters with Sonya. I try to self-care and half the time it doesn’t work, because I inevitably come across something that makes me think of the election, something that isn’t funny anymore in context, something normal that I’m worried I won’t get to keep thinking of as normal or something horrific that I think might become all too common. And it’s not entirely getting better, though there are definitely moments, even sometimes whole days.

Some of this I can only do so much about. Some of this I have to handle as I have energy, not before, or risk making it worse. But last night, I got an unexpected shot in the arm courtesy of my wife’s Reddit Secret Santa gift.

When it arrived, it looked like a board game to me: long, flat, rectangular. She opened it while I was washing dishes and heating up dinner, and she told me it was two boxes of tea, which was great, but clearly not all that was in the package; I asked what else it was, and as I was washing, she suddenly said “Baby! Look!” And I came back into the living room, and I saw…this.

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The 1991 “Easy to Master” boxed set of Dungeons & Dragons.

I started shouting. I nearly started crying. This boxed set was a tiny piece of my childhood in Los Angeles, a birthday present that carried fond and also sad memories. Fond because this came into my life when I was just starting to figure out this “roleplaying” thing, when I used to try to read the 2nd Edition AD&D Player’s Handbook cover-to-cover and desperately wanted any sourcebook my parents could afford to give me (an urge that also got me Paranoia, which is still a favorite, and Shatterzone, which is…less so). Sad because…well…I never got to play it.

It took me a lot of years to find my people; I had friends as a kid, but nothing that endured the way friendships later in life did (such is growing up, I think). And this Dungeons & Dragons set serves as a reminder of that in-a-crowd isolation: the set that I pored over, got excited about, but could never actually execute. The closest I got was an offer from a post-surgery relative who wanted to play with me but wound up (understandably!) too low-energy to do so, and a cousin who when presented with my attempt at an elevator pitch said “Why are you talking to me about this? I’m not interested.” (At least he set strong boundaries…)

So last night, looking at this battered but never-played copy of this game that some thoughtful Redditor sent to Sonya, I felt a chance to do something that it never occurred to me I’d wanted to do, that it never occurred to me I’d ever have a chance to do: I could finally run a party through Zanzer’s Dungeon. I could finally run the encounters with Dmitri, and Axel, and everyone else in that little box. I could actually play that D&D set that lived, loved but unused, in my many childhood closets, even if it was a different copy from an entire continent away.

2017 is likely to be as tough as 2016. Parts of it might be worse, as a person interested in tolerance and inclusivity. And it is likely to include a lot of triumph, too: The Imaginary Corpse will start going out to agents and markets next year, and I’ll mark three years of marriage to my best friend and favorite human, and I will get to finally unbox Sentinels of the Multiverse: OblivAeon and finish the game I started loving five years ago. But one of the things I know I can look forward to, one of the bits that will help me get through during the most slogging, bloody sequences of the year, is that I will finally deliver on a 25-year-old promise I hadn’t realized I’d made myself. In 2017, I will finally read the boxed text for Zanzer’s Dungeon to a group that is actually excited to have me read it. That’s a win money can’t buy.

So thank you, anonymous Redditor. You gave me hope, and you made us smile. And that’s what the holidays are really all about.

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