Friday, May 22, 2020

Remembering my friend, and Dungeon Master, Rick Langtry

Three years ago I lost my friend Rick Langtry to cancer. Rick was a guy that readers of this blog would have liked—a fan of fantasy fiction, hard rock, role-playing games, history, beer. He had an enviable sword mounted on the wall of his living room, real Toledo steel purchased in Spain. In other words, he appreciated all the good things in life. He was a family man with a son and a daughter and a great wife, Charlene.

I met Rick in about the shadiest place imaginable, and under shady circumstances. I believe it was April 2001. Dungeons and Dragons third edition was newly on the scene, promising a “back to the dungeon” approach and a fresh update of a tired, bloated rule set. I was married but without kids at the time and suddenly found myself possessed by the urge to dust off my dice bag and get back in. The only problem was, I didn’t have anyone to play with. A web search turned up the EN World site, which had a “Gamers seeking Gamers” forum. Rick was living in Southern New Hampshire and at the time I was living in Northern Massachusetts, and through the online forum we brokered a meetup at The Tavern in Methuen. My wife was so paranoid that I was going to be murdered by some madman that she made me take her cell phone (I did not have one at the time), thinking that I could at least call from the trunk of a car.

Our meetup at The Tavern was very apropos for what was in store, since as any veteran gamer knows most of the D&D adventures ever played begin with the player characters meeting up awkwardly in a tavern, downing ale served from a comely tavern wench before embarking on adventure. Ready to serve together in arms in life or death circumstances, regardless of the fact that they just met, and barely know one another’s names. Which again, proved prescient.

At the time smoking in restaurants was still a thing, and when I walked into The Tavern it was like the streets of Victorian-era London, with dim lighting and (cigarette) smog straight out of the East End. I looked around and there was Rick, with a beard a beer. Fortunately not Jack the Ripper.
In hindsight it was a meeting solely to make sure we both had one head and a reasonably complete set of teeth. But I knew after a single beer with Rick that he was the kind of guy I’d enjoy hanging out with. I walked out of the Tavern absolutely stiff with smoke, but confident that I found a Dungeon Master, and possibly, a friend.

There would be many more hangouts to come.

We played our first game at Rick’s in May of 2001. We played perhaps every 3-4 weeks, sometimes more often, and typically on Saturday and Sunday afternoons into the evening. Rick was the de facto DM, running us on adventures through his homebrew world of Ilsardia. Others later rotated DMing duties but Rick inevitably wound up back behind the screen. He was good at what he did, dropping in voices to bring NPCs to life and creating compelling villains and storylines with his voice and his imagination. Rick was not in the least a railroad type of GM. Ilsardia was unfolding with wars and politics in the background, and our party had free reign to pursue whatever adventures stirred our imagination.

We didn’t just play D&D, though that rule set formed the bulk of our gaming experience. We also played Victorian Shadows, a Western RPG, and various and sundry boardgames and wargames. Most of our hangouts revolved around gaming but also included family parties and other social gatherings. Many of my fondest memories were not the games themselves, but the chatter over grilled food and beer. We talked about books, The Lord of the Rings films, music, popular culture, medieval fairs and re-enactments, the gaming industry, and much more. It was a great time with a bunch of like-minded guys (and a couple gals).

My last game with the group was I believe early 2012. More than 10 years of adventure, and friendship, and incredible shared experiences at the gaming table. Here's an old post commemorating our 10th anniversary. But life was getting too busy for me and the games had perhaps lost a little of their luster. I needed a break.

I kept up on the progress of the game and the group through another friend I had made through the group, Chris Torres, with whom I’ve remained friends ever since. In late 2016 Chris told me that Rick was battling cancer, but was still gaming, and I thought it was perhaps a treatable form that had been caught early, and all would be OK. There were no particularly serious overtones at that time, but that might have been wishful thinking on my part, or perhaps subsequent guilt for not reaching out to see how he was doing.

In April 2017 I heard that Rick had taken a turn for the worse. I wrote to him and he replied that the treatments to date had not controlled the lymphoma. He had moved on to experimental drugs and clinical trials, and traveled to Houston hoping to get on a phase 1 trial for a CAR-T transplant. He remained optimistic, and planned to include me in the celebrations when he finally beat the cancer.

Rick did not beat the disease, and did not have much longer to live. Two months later I got an urgent message from Charlene, through one of my old gaming friends, that he was on home hospice and did not have long to go.

I said goodbye to Rick for the last time on June 9, 2017, driving up together with Chris to his summer home in Washington, New Hampshire. Charlene had arranged for the old D&D gang to get together for a final visit. He was ravaged by the disease, but nevertheless recognized me and we exchanged a few words, even a smile.

Two days later he passed away. He was just 58 years old.

I share here a bit of verse I wrote for him that June day for the group. I had intended to read it to Rick in person but he was too weak, and fading in and out of consciousness, so instead I read it to our old group, arrayed together in a circle on the porch. Like adventurers of old gathered together one last time.

Miss you my friend.

Ode to the Dungeon Master

Oh tale spinner, great bard of the North
You have led us on adventures far
To Ilsardia, and the village of Hommlet, and on to Kharne’s Inn.
We vanquished invaders from Aflitan, beat them back from the shores
Battled orcs and ogres, and entreated with mysterious red-haired women
Passed through magic portals, and conversed with copper dragons.
We waited an eternity it seemed, for Shem to pick those locks
While Cyrus was never shy to boast of his magical prowess
And Cal and Tristan swept the field with mighty axes and blades
As Arden filled the foe with arrow shafts, and prickling words.
The battle ended, we raised many a tankard of frothy ale
In the Inn of the Welcome Wench

Yet what I remember best
Of those adventures wondrous and fair
Are those times we met ‘round the fire
Not in Elrond’s mighty Hall in Rivendell, but the blue flames of the gas grill
In the driveway at Naumkeag, enjoying good food and cold beer
And each other’s company, as we shared a little of our lives with one another.
Those were adventures of a different sort
And ones which we shall never forget.
Adventures never end, for when we reach our journey’s end
The tale is only just beginning, and the bard’s songs remain
And they grow in the telling.

Oh Dungeon Master, you have led us, through your art
To wondrous places beyond our world, to better places
Where we could be heroes, and we were, on many fine Sunday afternoons.
For that I thank you.

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