Thursday, April 14, 2011

M is For Memento Mori

Latin, Remember that you must die.

I've been in a bit of a gloomy mood as of late. One of my friends, Brandon Kukta, passed of undiagnosed leukemia. He went quick. Like in a day. He'd been having some headaches, but hell, most people I know have those and due to his previous experience, Brandon hated doctors so whenever he didn't have to go see them, he didn't.

I played with B for years, well over a decade. It's strange thinking that when we first started gaming his daughter was in grade school and now she's almost off to college. I wish I had an 'origin' story of when Brandon and I started playing together but it's been so long that I couldn't even tell you what game system it was.

Brandon had an interesting life. Like several gamers I know, he was in the military. Those in the military that play Dungeons and Dragons, often note that "it's something to do" that's relatively trouble free. He served in a couple of hot spots and was proud of his service to the country even though of late he wasn't impressed with the direction the country's been heading.

When we gamed, it could be one of a variety of Brandon persona's at the table.

There was the always enthusiastic Brandon. He enjoyed gaming. He enjoyed painting. He enjoyed the BS around the table and the fact that most of us were long time friends, meant that he enjoyed the verbal assaults and defenses against each other. Brandon being one of the few hardcore Republicans at the table meant that he endured some of the most of the barbs about politics but he was always firm that the last Bush wasn't a real Republican and had some other ideas on that field that I won't go into here. The important thing here though, is that his enjoyment of gaming could be contagious and he could make other people eager to play.

There was the half-assed Brandon. Despite his love of trying out new games, Brandon was never into the details of the gaming itself. I remember several games of GURPS Traveller where we, the players, were running the game sysem aspect of it because he didn't know how the rules worked. He didn't like to get caught up in the grind of the systems. Hell, even recently with some 4e games he was running, he had one of the players take the role of the monsters. He wasn't worried about the player setting up the monsters to fail, he was just more interesting in getting that aspect of the game over.

There was the campaign killer Brandon. Sometimes B would get bored of a game. Sometimes quick. In the Village of Hommlet, he burned down half the town because he wasn't satisfied with the reward a merchant gave us. In another, he killed several wanderers and caused the party to become enrolled in conflict with the townsfolk. In many other games, because he played to enjoy the game, he'd often drop and start characters because he was bored with them. Several of us who ran the game knew how to handle it with a quick out of character discussion but others ran with it and were always surprised at the end results.

There was Brandon the role player. He would sometimes find a character and concept he enjoyed, usually in a longer running campaign where we were all pretty serious about it, and run with it, even when it was sometimes wacky. The character I remember the most, probably because he got a lot of play and Brandon did an entertaining job of running him, was the Black Tongue. This half-orc barbarian was one of, if not the only character Brandon ran in the Savage Tide campaign in 3rd edition. He made it all the way to the end.

The funny thing about this guy was that he was always worshipping different creatures and demons, depending on who we meet. He was always looking for his next big score. He was called the black tongue because he had a demon tooth that made his tongue grow black.

In recent years, Brandon and another of my friends, Tom, opened up Black Sun Games. It wasn't that neither of them hated Games Plus, but that awesome store is in Mount Prospect, and well, perhaps people haven't noticed that the price of gas never really went back down for its massive rises. In addition, when they were scouting out locations, Black Sun Games was essentially the only thing in town. The Games Workshop in the Village Crossing Center hadn't opened up. The Gamer's Paradise chain had closed up. It looked like it would fill some of the void in Chicago proper.

Brandon took that opportunity and made a LOT of friends. Both the Wake and the Funeral had numerous people there that B got to know through the game scene. These people had grown to know Brandon because he made them welcome at the store. He was also doing painting and playing Eve and other bits at the store and encouraging people to come on in and buy something. He had no problem doing special orders so even if it wasn't in stock they usually got it within a day or two thanks to being in Chicago. It also provided him with the opportunity to do conventions like Little Wars and Adeptacon as a vendor.

During this time period, Brandon became a painting machine. He whipped out many a soldier for Flames of War and owned a ton of material from Forge World for the Nurgle faction of the Chaos Space Marines. He did up several pieces for demo-models for the store to display the contents of the new Warhammer Fantasy boxed set, as well as other bits and pieces here and there. He could be funny with the painting. While I probably paid more attention to certain details of the figures, B could be adamant on some things being done right, like cameo on his Flames of War figures.

Looking at the old memento mori, Brandon's gaming and his life, what I knew of it, because he was a multi-faceted individual and this is only a blog post, will be my remembrance of death and it will be my "reminder in midst of frivolity or pleasure that life's higher purposes or temporal shortness must temper joy in earthly delights."

B, the guys all miss you and you old 80's music. It's not the same listening to the Smiths or the Banshees or Joy Division without you there to tell us what it was like on the scene. We miss you're jabs at the current administration. We miss your commentaries at the movies. We miss hanging out. We may not have always agreed on everything, but you were a hell of a friend and that's far more than most bring to the gaming table.