My life as an enthusiast of role-playing games may be newly reanimated. That said, there is one hobby of mine which I’ve managed to keep close to me since my earliest days. That hobby would be my love of Halloween. Even now, with the holiday just under a hundred days away, I’m gearing up for my favorite time of year.
The thought occurred to me that by their very nature, fans of Halloween and fans of RPGs might have a good number of common interests. Because of this, I’ve decided to take a moment and tell you all about the monster that lives in my house.
I grew up in the reasonably typical suburbs of Rochester, NY. As a kid in the 1970s, my folks would dress me up in whatever costume struck my fancy each year (Planet of the Apes, Gandalf, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and a Cylon Centurion all come to mind). Looking back now, it’s rather clear by my choices that my “inner-gamer” was just dying to come out.
Like any kid, I loved the candy and the costumes. However, I really got into the mood of the evening. Halloween night just feels creepy and sparks the imagination. This was only added to by the occasional neighbor who would be playing some creepy music and have extra special decorations. In much the same way as I do when role-playing, Halloween always let me escape. It’s like a great game of make-believe, except on this one night it seems like everyone’s in on the game.
By 1982, I was 12 years old (and a bit tall for my age). I suppose I wasn’t too old for trick-or-treating but was starting to get concerned looks from folks who saw my size and figured I’d be back later to vandalize their house (an activity I never chose to take part in). Earlier that year, the Chicago Tylenol murders had occurred and the resulting panic had many people worried about receiving or being accused of giving tainted treats. Halloween was almost non-existent that year, and for a few to come.
Without trick-or-treating to look forward to, and already a big fan of RPGs, I turned to gaming for my Halloween fun. During those years, I would run my games at the local public library. For our Halloween sessions, I would ask all of my players to come in costume and I would run a one-shot murder mystery adventure.
Years passed, my gaming group dissolved and I sadly found myself without an outlet for Halloween. That is, until I met the monster.
I can remember it as clear as day. I was working at a bookstore in a small outlet mall, in October of 1988. It was a slow night and I was sitting at the desk reading a Piers Anthony novel. Suddenly, I heard a couple of children screaming and looked out into the hallway, just in time to see two little kids go running by the front of the store.
We never had any type of commotion there so I sprung up to see what was going on. Reaching the entrance to the store, I looked down the hall to my left. There I could see the pair still running and turning the corner into the busy part of the mall. It was about that time that I became aware of a peculiar creaking sound coming from the hallway behind me. I turned around to see what it was and was immediately breathless.
There, towering over me (I’m 6’4″) was a 9′ tall Frankenstein’s monster! Obviously I knew he wasn’t “real”, however, the suddenness of it all really threw me for a loop. With wide eyes, I stared in wonder at the thing, not at all accustomed to meeting anyone who was even a little taller than me.
The monster just stared at me with piercing eyes and slowly bobbed his head. My rational brain came to the conclusion that he must be a man on stilts, though at the time I was only familiar with old-fashioned peg-stilts, which these were not. I must have looked quite silly standing there and about the time that I realized this, I noticed that the monster was holding out a piece of paper for me to take. Slowly, I reached up and took the paper. Upon doing this, the monster patted me gently on the head (as you would a small child) and then walked off down the hall.
I stood there and watched him leave. Only after he was out of sight did I stop to glance at the paper. It was an advertisement for a Haunted House, being run by a local charitable organization. On the bottom of the page, in bold letters, the text read “volunteers needed”. Instantly I knew how to enjoy Halloween again.
The following day, I showed up at the haunted house to volunteer my services. The woman in charge thanked me for coming and asked me to wait just a moment, as she had some issue which demanded her immediate attention. I sat there in the dressing room with amazing costumes lying all about. A few minutes later, she returned.
“Do you know how to walk in drywall stilts?’ she asked.
“Umm, you mean like the big Frankenstein guy?” I responded, “I don’t know how to walk on any kind of stilts.”
“Oh, it’s easy. You’ll be great”
Always a rather timid person, her reassurance wasn’t having much of an effect on me. “You don’t understand. I can’t even roller-skate.”
She proceeded to explain to me that “big Frank” was their marquee attraction. Unfortunately, the fellow who normally played the monster had fallen ill and that of all of their volunteers, I was the only one who was big enough to pull off playing the part of the monster.
I protested a bit more but before I knew it, I was strapped into the stilts and monster costume. Her husband and brother held my hands and I timidly made my way to my spot in the haunted house. There, they leaned me up against the wall and told me to just kind of stretch out my arms and moan when people came through.
Well, I won’t go into great detail here but let me tell you this. Regardless of your age, if you ever have the opportunity to work in a haunted house, DO IT!!! Bit by bit, I got the hang of the stilts (they’re really not bad at all). Oh my, I had so much fun that year that I still smile when I think about it.
At any rate, I proceeded to work for the haunted house for the next few years. In my early 20s I saved up enough money to buy my own stilts and monster suit. I would go out to the costume parties at bars as the monster and dance the night away.
Over the years, I actually turned it into a small business of sorts. As “Monster For Rent“, I hire myself out to entertain at birthday parties, Halloween parties, grocery stores, farm markets, and different companies who want to draw some attention to their business during the Halloween season.
As things grew a bit, I took my show on the road to as many Halloween destinations as I could find. In 1996, I had the honor of being named “King of Halloween” at Haunted Happenings, in Salem, MA.
At any rate, over the past couple weeks, I’ve prepared myself for the upcoming season. While not directly RPG related, I thought you folks might enjoy reading about the monster that lives in my house.
Thank you for reading. As a gamer, do you also share a particular love of Halloween? Has Halloween played any role in your gaming experiences over the years? I would love to hear your stories.