Dragonlance Gaming in Afghanistan: A Soldier’s Tale

Editor’s Note: A few years back, in 2003, Jeffrey had e-mailed me about possibly getting some gaming supplies for some of the troops in Afghanistan. Being the son of a veteran myself, I immediately passed Jeffrey’s e-mail along to Sovereign Press (now Margaret Weis Productions), who had set Jeffrey up with materials to game. Jeffrey recently e-mailed me with the results. His e-mail touched me deeply. He has given me permission to share his letter with you.
-Trampas Whiteman
November 9, 2007

Staff sergeant insignia U.S. Army

To all of you who helped me years ago,

My name is Jeffrey Empey and I am a Staff Sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. It was late winter early spring in 2003 the last time I wrote you and the unit I was assigned to then was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. That was my second combat deployment. I was active duty then and assigned to the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, NY.

The letter I sent explained how we were getting ready to deploy and that some of us played AD&D but were short on supplies. The hectic schedule just kept us extremely busy and things move very fast while preparing for a large movement. Nobody there at the Nexus may remember but the letter I sent via e-mail was, to my pleasant surprise answered by Margaret Weis. She said that she would do everything in her power to help us out. Well a short time later I received a package in the mail. Its contents included signed copies of the new Dragonlance Campaign Setting, the Age of Mortals supplement and various other supplies. All of these things definitely got their use.

A short while after we got in country a small group of us started to play. I used "The Sylvan Key" in the back of the book to start things off. Out of the four of us that started only two of us had actually played in the past. Now keep in mind that we were and I still am in the Infantry…a grunt. Well I’m sure you can imagine that we took our fair share of ribbing. But there is a beautiful thing about the situation in which we found ourselves.

For the majority of that tour I was in a small firebase near the border of Pakistan in Afghanistan. This base housed an infantry company plus some add-ons. Not a whole lot of breathing room. The base consisted of an Afghanistan compound. The type made of hard dried mud. My room was, maybe a little longer but not wider than a single car garage. I have reason to believe the locals we leased it from used it as a stable. Anyway I had the pleasure of sharing our stabling with about 25 other sergeants. We had bunk beds, kinda.

As you can see the living conditions were a little cramped. My bed (well wooden slat really) was the first one you pass when you come in the doorway and our little playing area was just off the foot of the bed.

We played every chance we got and had a great time. When one of the other guys would come in the hooch (room) they would make a snide remark or chuckle or what ever.

Obviously in great tradition we carried on having a blast….I’ll get to that later, bad pun. So time went on. Some of those hecklers had no choice but to see us laughing and carrying on like a bunch of Kender in a Solace prison. Anyway some of them started watching the game as it evolved. And wouldn’t ya know the question eventually came. "Can I play?"

I think we rotated out something like 40 different players out of three campaigns over 9 months. The character turnover though not rapid was frequent enough that we laminated the character sheets with acetate so we could erase everything with ease. If someone would die there was always someone waiting to take his place. It was amazing. I have never really experienced anything like it. It was like some kind of Dragonlance camp at times. We had periods of time where we would play for hours on end day after day.

Missions, guard duty, and other events would interrupt us of course. And frequently…for long periods of time. Anyway, there is nothing quite like rolling dice just to have them tossed off the table because an enemy rocket exploded a little too close for comfort. I would get off of a mission take a shower, grab a bite maybe take a quick nap, but always go back to the game. It’s amazing just how much laughter can come out of a dismal situation.

People ask me what it was like over there. I always give the standard "It’s dusty" but when they ask I always remember my friends and I laughing our asses off. Playing the game was our escape from war. That’s how we got away.

Well we got back and life happened. I got out of active duty and went back home to Erie, PA. I lost touch with almost everyone in the unit…but I still have a campaign setting that smells of the desert and a small stack of characters who make sporadic appearances in various parts of Krynn.

Well as I said before I am now in the PA Army National Guard. Infantry…again. And surprise surprise, I get to go on my third all expenses paid trip to the land of dust. Actually we may be going over to the land of sand but we won’t know until the last minute. This recent news just got me to remembering, I never thanked you for all you have done. At the very least you saved me from spending the time I had off staring at the bottom of the top bunk for 9 months. But you helped keep me and my friends from dwelling on things best left un-dwelt upon. Thank you.

Now that Dragonlance is battle tested and combat approved you can be sure that all of your favorite characters of the past and present will be going to war with me…again.

Yours truly,

Jeffrey Empey
SSG Infantry

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