Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sometimes Dreams Turn Out This Way...

We take a break from the presentation of these great flickr artists to show you this sad little image. You’re probably looking at it thinking “What the heck is that?”

Geez. Haven’t you ever seen a black horned unicorn skull mask before?

Now let me presume upon your valuable time to explain how a black horned unicorn skull mask wound up in my garbage can this past weekend.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (and who isn’t?) you know that I own a special events company. We do medieval feasts, gangster and western events, game shows, live murder mysteries– things like that. We’ve been in this business since 1984, roughly the time when the first signs of life were deciding to start evolving into aardvarks by crawling out of their primordial ooze.

“How does this relate to the black horned unicorn skull mask?” you ask.

Our company kind of got started because of it.

My wife and I met at a radio superstation. We were both reporters. One day she got fired (since my wife is a very outspoken woman many men, oddly enough, resent her for it) and she decided she was going to start an advertising company.

Her travels took her, one day, to the enchanted kingdom of a company called “Scheme-a-Dream” which at that point was the largest special events crew in Edmonton. In the course of the meeting, the owner told us he’d been thinking about running “one of those Dungeons and Dragons” tournaments.

I’d been playing this game every Wednesday night for five years and Sheree (my soon-to-be-partner-in-life) had been playing in the same group.

As he spoke, an idea occurred. It was one of those life-transforming moments – the kind you read about but only get to experience once in a very great while.

“How about if we do a weekend?” I said, completely unsure of where I was going with this. “How about if we get actors and actresses and the players actually go on a Quest and they can cast spells and do combat…and they can live the adventure…and…”

The ideas started to flow like creative fire – and a handful of months later (since Sheree and I were young and could not yet spell the word “impossible”) we had designed a game, a combat system where no one actually got killed, a rule book and a complete marketing campaign that drew like-minded lunatics from all over Western Canada to play.

Then, on September 25th, 1985 (which was unseasonably cold, as I recall) we launched the first ever Dreamquest.

I watched the people arrive at the quest in full costume. My heart soared. Here, no one was a role-playing geek. These were game players and dreamers. I was squarely with my people. Some had laboriously created chain mail one link at a time. There were wizards and enchantresses and healers. There were serious gamers and, of course, a few people who’d shown up to party the weekend away.

But something was created in that fusion between the players’ creativity, the characters, the game, the plot and the isolated playing field. It was modern magic that hung over the weekend and warmed dozens of hearts with a gentle fire.

The weekends blur together into one treasured sensation: modern adventure, real-world magic and that excited “night before Christmas” joy at the ability to completely unleash imagination and a soul churning ache for fantasy.

I want so much to impart to you how it felt to live an adventure for a weekend, to creep into a firelit clearing as a sinister old man glares at you and growls an incantation, or face a spirit creature who offers you three boxes with death coiled inside two of them…and your fondest wish in the third. I want to tell you how it felt to step out of the real world with people who understood…no embraced…the spirit of adventure and want to live for a while in a place where fantastical things really do happen.

I’m frustrated, because words fail me. I can’t convey the visceral joy this event generated over its five year life-span. Though the players were ardent, and its creators were committed, Dreamquest was a steady money loser. The market who bought it simply didn’t have the money to support it.

The weekend we ran the last Quest was heartbreaking. Each Quest for five years had finished with a feast and loud stories shouted between the players and actors alike around a fire well into the wee hours of the morning. But on that last Quest, we simply sat there, silently. Together. We, maybe a hundred or so, knew it was the last time and it was so very sad.

But you have to understand that Dreamquest was sinking our fledgling company. We’d started selling murder mysteries by then and they were solid money-makers and beautiful in their own right. But they weren’t Dreamquest.

All of which brings me back to that black horned unicorn skull mask.

We’ve been scaling down our warehouse, which is stuffed with…stuff. Up top, safely out of the way, were eight dust-coated boxes. The Dreamquest files. Three quests a year for five years. A newsletter, costume pieces – the bits of enchantment that still glowed faintly despite the years.

Tucked away in one of them was a black horned unicorn skull mask.

I don’t remember if it was a player creation or if we built it for one of the Quests. But the instant I saw it, I knew what it was. It made me smile.

Sheree and I stood there in our garage together. We looked at it for a few seconds.

“We can’t keep it,” she said. (I am married to a relentlessly pragmatic woman.)

I nodded, fighting down an unexpected tide of emotion.

“Give it a good burial,” she said. “Then put it in a bag and throw it out. No one else needs to see it. It’s no one’s business but ours.”

I nodded again, and gently put the mask into our garbage bin, feeling all the while like a traitor.

“You know what the real sad thing is?” asked my wife.

I looked up at her.

“When we’re gone, no one is going to care about this stuff. It’s going to look like junk.”

I watched her walk away and my heart ached because it is completely true. No one will know.

Except you and me.


So here’s your proper burial, Dreamquest.

Rest in peace, you precious thing.

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