If you’re reading this, you’ve already taken at least an initial step into the world our mad little troupe is in the midst of creating, one brick at a time. I laid the initial foundation, and the moment draws near for us as a whole to fulfill that promise, to bring it to life each and every session. Whether or not we succeed in this endeavor will ultimately be for you, the viewer, to judge.
But why create this world at all? This may seem an odd question, or even nonsensical – artists create because they must. But why Darkeport, specifically? Why a dark fantasy setting, why a war story, why the politics and romance and deep introspection we hope to achieve?
I wouldn’t presume to attempt an answer for anyone but myself. For me, on Day Two of what would become a sprawling, inter-country project (our brilliant illustrator, Clark, is in the Philippines and Eugene with his stunning animations is in Kyiv, for two examples) I had a meaningless fight with my sword-brother, Corey. After I put down the phone, I immediately knew something was off. Corey and I have debated and disagreed – even sharply – numerous times in the past. But the tenor of the exchange was all wrong. Playing back in my head what I had said, I felt unsettled, perhaps even a little unhinged. For someone who’s made a decades-long practice of cultivating serenity in the face of adversity, this didn’t sit well. Worse, I didn’t understand why I was reacting the way that I had.
That night, I attempted to clear my mind, and trace what I was feeling back to its roots. What came up initially surprised me: the first scene I had written down for the campaign appeared in sharp relief. It wasn’t precisely “standard fare” for typical fantasy, let alone what I had seen done with D&D previously, yet nor was it particularly shocking or difficult. Then, as I sat with it longer, I slowly realized what was taking place inside me. What had, in fact, been driving me all along, making sleep difficult and my own always-hot emotions surge like I was some angsty teenager again.
This article aside, I don’t really like talking about myself. I joke about being “the most extroverted introvert you’ll ever meet”, but there’s some truth to that. I love being with a small group of close friends, telling stories and creating some beautiful memories. Beyond that, I’m a pretty damn private person. I do my best to give others the same consideration, and have learned not to stick my beak into every scenario that traipses on by. In that context: I was a Hospital Corpsman in Iraq, during the initial invasion of 2003; I stayed on well into 2004, not being discharged until September. In other words, I was a combat medic, and an 8404 at that – in Iraq, I served with a “grunt” unit of Marines. They were the infamous “boots on the ground” that looms so large in popular culture, and on the lips of virtually all American media outlets. I endured every minute of privation they did, fought alongside them when called to, and did my level best to heal and even nurture them to the best of my limited ability. I saw, did, and lived through events that would forever change my worldview, my understanding of human nature, and my understanding of myself.
I realized then that the scene I was writing to kick off the first campaign, despite being set next to a major river that wasn’t remotely akin to what I had experienced overseas, was absolutely drawing on that era of my life. Even typing these words, that seems obvious in retrospect, but at the time it jolted me. That something so big, so seminal in making me who and what I am now, could have simply quietly crept in made me evaluate if I wanted to undertake telling this story at all. There are boxes in my psyche I’ve never reopened, never wanted or needed to. The last Very Bad Day had been in 2016, and in my day-to-day life I was happy, solid, and filled with gratitude. Why dig around in those recesses, and bring to light to myself, let alone a friggin’ audience, all of that pain and turmoil?
The answer wasn’t long in coming. To be blunt, I was alive. Some of the people I had served with were not. And if they were, they came home missing pieces of themselves either physically or emotionally or both. I had healed my wounds to an extent, at least enough to attempt to create, to live, to love again. To borrow a phrase, I felt I had a duty, a deep and needful one, to act as a Speaker for the Dead. Not just the American dead or maimed, but also what I had seen happen to the Iraqi civilians who had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein beyond living under his “leadership”. Some of the people living in the city we were in had been incredibly gracious to me and mine, under the worst imaginable circumstances. People who had literally lost everything including children trying to share what tea they had – that one has stuck with me for twenty years, and will probably be part of me until the lights go out.
To give voice to those that can’t speak. To tell the stories of conflict and war from a perspective I have never fully seen undertaken over here, at least not in a tabletop roleplaying game. And yeah, to continue to try to work some of my own baggage out.
That’s why Darkeport. Thanks for showing up.
– Angel Gammel