My 2021 gaming finally began on a beautiful early summer's day in a woodland outside Nailsworth. I had arrived at The Woods in the Woods - a chance to finally play a campaign of Geoff Solomon-Sims' fine diceless skirmish game The Woods.
I brought with me my Myeri warband - over the course of the day we scouted out the edges of our realm. Unwanted Huldraugur guests sought to seize a monument on our borders and had to be repelled.
We tried to avoid being seen by Bucca spies - having to finally kill their leader before he took back the secret of our location.
And we found ourselves shot at by Gnawlocks erecting their own totems in contested territory.
The day finally ended with a grand battle involving all of the forces trying to seize fae to obtain their secrets.
The setting was beautiful, the terrain flowing seamlessly into the woods beyond. I even saw a stinkhorn mushroom!
I returned home rested and refreshed. We'd been looking after my mother ever since my father died last winter. She'd been suffering from long COVID, and I wanted to get back to meet with the occupational therapist who was coming to the house to advise on how we could support her recovery. The signs were encouraging and my mother, though still very tired, was making good progress. June passed and I was full of optimism. Little did I know that within weeks, my mother too would be dead.
My next gathering for gaming, then, was in the shadow of her funeral. Bring Out Your Lead had been postponed, but resourceful gamers still hatch plans to use the accomodation they had already booked in Newark. The result was three games in three days in three counties.
First, to Nottingham and Warhammer World (my first ever visit there, in fact), to play a mini-campaign of Realms of Chaos with the insanely creative Curtis Fell.
Then on Saturday to Derbyshire for the 'main event' at Bonsall Village Hall, organised by John Ratcliffe. This was the latest installment of our Adventures in Little Albion campaign, Ye Olde High Speed 2
John wrote up the background as follows:
Baron De Pfeffel (the corrupt and narcissistic ruler of southern Little Albion) and his evil Tilean advisor ‘Dominico the Rat’ have a plan to build a new high speed cart track through the ancient woodlands of central Little Albion. De Pfeffel is selling the cart track on the basis that it will cut 5 minutes off the four day journey from the fetid, southern swamplands of Hacked-Knee Marshes to the frigid, northern moors of Mankburgh.
Why anyone would want to make this journey, in either direction, is a complete mystery.
All the foulmouthed, unwashed, cruel and spiteful creatures of Little Albion adore De Pfeffel and have flocked to his banner... As the Goblin Warlord Snagsnaffl put it: "Ee shayrz ahr valyoos, innit."
I gathered together the treehuggers in my collection - elves and halflings - and placed them under the command of the inestimable Professor Tiggywingle.
You can read more about the sacrifice the creatures of the woodland and their allies made to stop Ye Olde High Speed 2 over at Fimm McCool's (i.e. Geoff's) blog... But as you can see, the battle - and especially Curtis' Tree Crushing Machine - were quite a sight to behold!
And finally on Sunday to Lincolnshire and to Foston Village Hall (many thanks to Tom Reynolds for organising!) for another game of "The Woods" - a 3 way skirmish, struggling to desecrate tombs while Geoff's Fae attempted to consecrate the land themselves, and goblins under the command of Jerome Franklin-Ryan simply tried (successfully) to trip us all up.
After all of which I needed to go back to Liverpool, to the family home, to try and reckon with the loss of my mother. As Matthew Street and myself wait in Grantham station (which contains, it should be said, a very fine micropub) ready to go our separate ways, we find the trains massively delayed. Someone had thrown themselves on the line somewhere to the south. We sat and waited and drank and spoke with the lad behind the bar about life and death and the things you wish you'd had a chance to say to people now gone.
Why do I mix up all this chat about gaming with the pain of grief? Not to try and spoil the pleasure of the games - that was very real. Nor to trivialise the loss, which still cuts deep. But that is just how life is. Darkness and light whisper sweet nothings to one another, and neither seem in any hurry to let us in on their secrets.
Well, mostly, I just wanted to write something like this: people sometimes say that playing games is all about escapism, and there's obviously truth in that. But I don't think that's all there is to it. The creativity, the laughter, the absolute joy of spending time with friends - that's not escapism. Escapism implies trying to get away from 'real life' for a brief spell; but that creativity, friendship, and joy brings you back to what real life is like, or at least what it can be like. These moments are not some mere escape, they are life at its brightest. And I am thankful to you all for making them happen.