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Remembering the Fallen

“The old myths, the old gods, the old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our minds, waiting for our call. We have need of them, for in their sum they epitomize the wisdom and experience of the race.”

-Stanley Kunitz

Grandpas_Stone [1] In the United States, today is Memorial Day [2], a day set aside to commemorate the men and women who died while serving in the military, some few I have the honor and privilege to have known during my own short stint in the military.

All federal and most state offices will be closed, as will banks and many other businesses. Flags are to be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon, when they are to be raised until sunset. Parades and ceremonies will be held in nearly every city, and a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 PM local time.

Why Heroes Are Important

Not all soldiers are heroes, but those who have given their lives are afforded preferential treatment. Because of their sacrifice, flaws are often forgotten and moments of bravery are well-remembered.

Billions of pixels [3] have been spent explaining why heroes are important. If you’re a gamer, you have almost certainly read some of them. Suffice it to say that the human psyche needs heroes.

Heroes redefine what is possible. Individually and collectively, we can accomplish great things when we have examples such as Joshua Chamberlain [4], Martin Luther King [5], and many others [6] to measure ourselves against.

Wait, isn’t this a gaming site?

Yes, it is; thank you for reminding me.

Without denigrating the sacrifice of real men and women who died in service to their country, our games should recognize that heroes are important, and should be honored and remembered. They are, after all, the yardsticks by which we measure ourselves.

What do you as a GM do to honor the heroes in your games? We’re talking about all heroes historic and current, not just the ones in your party.

Do any of your cultures honor their fallen heroes? Is there a Memorial Day equivalent in your game? Will the closed government offices complicate the PCs’ attempts to get a passport or adventuring charter, or will there be a solemn ceremony to attend along with a chance to retell the tales of those who have gone before?

Does your gaming group have a Book of Dead Characters [7] or some kind of ceremony to mark the passing of a PC or important NPC? Do you ever have a session where old PCs are dusted off and revisited, or just a casual get-together where the legends of old PCs are retold?

These questions don’t need answering, but if you’ve got something to add to the discussion, sound off and let us know in the comments.

I might not be available to reply; I’ll be wearing a yellow sash and marching in the Memorial Day Parade at Scarborough Faire in Waxahachie, Texas.

And raising a toast to fallen heroes.

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5 Comments To "Remembering the Fallen"

#1 Pingback By Tweets that mention Remembering the Fallen – Gnome Stew, the Game Mastering Blog — Topsy.com On May 31, 2010 @ 3:47 am

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrew Ambrose, uhc. uhc said: Reading: "Remembering the Fallen – Gnome Stew, the Game Mastering Blog" ( [8] ) […]

#2 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 31, 2010 @ 9:47 am

Thank you for such a well done article. Memorial Day for me is about not just honoring those who have fallen, but all who have served or are serving. I know that we also have Veterans Day, but all who serve in our armed forces deserve a moment of our gratitude today (at the very least).

I once based an NPC on my grandfather who served in Europe during WWII. He did not talk about the war much until later in his life when I was already a young man. The stories he did tell me were haunting.

My grandfather never told stories of heroics while he was in the war. He told stories about how he and his fellow soldiers would play baseball before being shipped out, or he would tell me about another soldier and what type of person that man was. He would tell me how he and his fellow soldiers had close calls, or how one of those soldiers that he had just finished describing in detail had died.

When the German army began to fall apart he and his fellow soldiers were some of the first to see prisoners wandering away from the abandoned camps of the Holocaust. He told me that he and the other soldiers were scared that night because they literally thought that skeletons and ghosts were coming towards them at first because of the prisoners severely malnourished bodies, and these were men who had been in combat for years.

Those were the kinds of stories my grandfather would tell. No daring heroes or valiant conquerors. He told stories of men who were scared, who were killed, who were maimed, and who would give anything just to get back home.

Yet my grandfather was decorated on numerous occasions. He and his fellow soldiers were the ones winning those battles. They were the heroes. My grandfather just didn’t tell the stories like that.

So that NPC that I played was the same way. He was a seasoned veteran, and he knew what it took to win a battle or to face a savage enemy. The PCs never realized who he was and they treated him like he was nothing more than another farmer. Needless to say the PCs missed a big clue for that game and I was pissed because I wanted them to discover how awesome this guy was.

And now my grandfather is gone, and I am reading this article and it occurs to me that the game didn’t go the way that I wanted it to that night but it was probably just how my grandfather would have wanted it. No attention, no praise, and a desire just to put those days behind him and not to see them come back.

So thank you for this article that reminded me of my grandfather. I’m proud of him and of all the other heroes who have fought and died for this nation, and humbled by their sacrifices.

#3 Comment By Scott Martin On May 31, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

Patrick> My grandfather was also quiet about his experiences until I was in my twenties. I was happy when, about 10 years ago, he decided to record some of his memories of his parents and his experiences in the war. Like your grandpa, his tales were of near escapes and fallen friends– good people who didn’t get to return from the war.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 31, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

[9] – That is what made me think of my grandfather when reading Kurt’s article. Those stories were never about himself, and I began to realize that the greatest heroes would probably rather be anonymous. They probably wish that they never had to be heroes to begin with.

#5 Comment By Andrew McColl On June 2, 2010 @ 1:59 am

Here in NZ we have ANZAC Day where we commemorate the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps on the shores of the Gallipoli Penninsula during the First World War. It features dawn services, parades, and Kiwis and Aussies showing their never-ending gratitude to those who risked everything to defend our nations.

Both of my grandfathers served overseas. One was in North Africa and Italy driving trucks, while the other repaired aircraft in the Pacific. The former didn’t talk about his experiences that much (except after a few beers), which was understandable when you realise he drove trucks filled with oil in areas that were rife with German aircraft. The latter had much more humerous stories, especially those involving naive Amerian servicemen.

Anyway, however you celebrate or commemorate these people in your area, there are three words we all need to remember: Lest we forget.

#6 Comment By BryanB On June 8, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

I came across this the other day and it is worthy of note.

It is the
not the preacher,
who has given us freedom of religion.

It is
not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.

It is
not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.

It is
not the campus organizer,
who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is
not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is
not the politician,
Who has given us the right to vote.

On VETERANS day, we honor all men and women who wear the uniform and thank them for their service.

On MEMORIAL day, we honor all of the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrafice so that we continue to have all of the above.