Saturday, April 29, 2017

Richard Tucholka Eulogy

Noted game designer Richard Tucholka, designer of The Morrow Project, Fringeworthy, Stalking the Night Fantastic and others, has passed away. Eulogy reprinted with permission:
Donald Jones of Thunderhead Gaming has written a tribute to him that I think covers everything pretty darn well, and which is reproduced here with permission.
It is with broken hearts that we at Thunderhead Gaming must say goodbye to a lifelong and dear friend, game designer and creator of dreams, Richard Tucholka.

In 1980, when we opened one of the first commercial gaming centers in the country, it was an experiment that we weren’t sure would succeed. A few months into this experiment, a significantly large group of people walked in for some gaming.

After our jaws were done dropping and we finished hearing cash registers in our heads, we were introduced to the ringleader-apparent, Richard Tucholka (whom we were told we could call “Krot”). A friendship that would span decades began. We had been strong advocates of role-playing games before then, but Richard and the people with him went on to teach us what eventually helped Thunderhead Gaming Center prosper. It was community. When Richard gathered with people to game, it was never about the game, it was always about the people. You never met him, you met him and dozens of other people who would become friends for life. As literally hundreds will attest, even if there were a dozen or more people at the table, he could always make it seem like you were a crucial member. In a community in which many people had been on the social fringes, often facing rejection and isolation (nerds, 1980s, before Big Bang Theory), Richard could make you feel like you not only belonged, but you were a vital part of the people around him. His ability to be ornery was well-known, but it never mattered. For every gruff comment, there were a hundred smiles and laughs.

One of the other things we at Thunderhead gained from Richard was the spark of wanting to create. We had made our own adventures and played around with house rules before we met him, but we saw from him just how much of an art form games can be. Teaming with Bob Sadler and Kevin Dockery, Richard was one of the original co-creators of the Morrow Project. When he first came to Thunderhead, it was to begin play testing a new game he was working on called Fringeworthy, which would be published in 1982. This was a game about secret military teams that were assigned to travel through inter-dimensional portals left behind by advanced aliens, to explore far off planets and alternate earths, with adversarial aliens that could assume the identity of others. Sound familiar? We’ll get to that.
That same year, he also published FTL 2448, a game set in space, but without the space opera feel that was so common back then. Richard followed Fringeworthy and FTL 2448 with Stalking the Night Fantastic in 1983, later to be known as Bureau 13, a game of supernatural investigation by a secret government agency. In 1991, Bureau 13 won the Gamers Choice Award at Gencon. This was one of the earliest supernatural horror role-playing games, only predated by Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium. Rogue 417, his second post-apocalyptic game, began a string of creative endeavors that continued until the day he made his last trip to the hospital more than 30 years later.

Through Richard’s eyes, the world we live in was a place of constant amazement. It wasn’t uncommon to see him staring at something ordinary, completely fixated, only to have him make the most unexpected observations about it. Unlike the vast majority of us, Richard never lost the child’s ability to look at everything as if it were brand new and waiting to be discovered. Some artists use pigments to create paintings to stir the imaginations and emotions of people. Others may use stone or clay to create sculptures. Richard Tucholka’s art was to create amazing worlds of wonder and devise the rules and means for the rest of us to join him there. His worlds sparked the imagination and stirred the soul. More importantly, though, everyone always felt as if they belonged there. In Richard’s worlds, there were no outcasts.

It is often said that facts describe reality, but that may not always be the case. It is a fact that Richard Tucholka was an only child who never had children of his own. In the truest sense, however, he was a beloved father and big brother to hundreds. It is a fact that, apart from his widow, Melody Natcher, Richard had no living family. The reality is that, through the impact he has had on people’s lives, Richard’s family numbers in the thousands and, arguably, unknown millions. Richard traveled the United States and Canada introducing thousands of people to his games and the worlds he had created. There is reason to say that one of those people was Dean Devlin, one of the creators of Stargate. Stargate was a movie and television series about secret military teams that were assigned to travel through inter-dimensional portals left behind by advanced aliens, to explore far off planets and alternate earths, with adversarial aliens that could assume the identity of others. Yeah, that’s why it sounds so familiar. Though uncredited and most certainly uncompensated, we at Thunderhead are prepared to say that Richard touched the lives of unknowing millions of people through the Stargate franchise that “was inspired by” his intellectual property.

The phrase “larger than life” truly applies to Richard Tucholka and it is nearly impossible to wrap our minds around the idea that he is gone. When we restarted Thunderhead with a focus on publishing games, he was one of our earliest and strongest supporters. He has been our constant companion and cohort at conventions for the last two years, sometimes sharing dealer tables, as well as innumerable laughs and amazing memories. We already know that the next convention will feel like scabs being pulled off from sore wounds, because we will look at the table next to us and the Krot won’t be there. No matter what, it just won’t feel right.

There really isn’t much we can do to honor Richard’s memories. There isn’t anything we can say to add to his legacy that the masses of people he has touched doesn’t better express. There is one small gesture we can make, though. Richard enthusiastically endorsed our game, Netherstorm. When he played it with our group, he smiled and laughed with abandon. Those who have seen the book know there is a race of anthromorphized animals called the Wilderfolk and one of the illustrations in the book is an anthromorphized squirrel, which we named Iora Barkskipper. Richard loved the squirrel illustration, created the squirrel ranger as his first character and spoke about the squirrel almost every time he mentioned Netherstorm. When he played the character, there were a couple times he actually giggled. Iora Barkskipper has been our unofficial mascot and appeared on signs, flyers and other Netherstorm material, often with the slogan “Do you have the nuts for it.” This was also a source of amusement for Richard. Today, we retire the squirrel. Iora Barkskipper doesn’t belong to Thunderhead, it belongs to Richard. Yeah, it sounds stupid and a lot of people won’t get it. But Richard would almost be in tears laughing about his character being retired and to us, that’s all that matters.

Everyone has a different idea of what there is after death. We are a game company, not philosophers and clergy, so we don’t feel it is our place to lecture or teach. However, as an allegory or metaphor, we can picture Richard standing in front of a Fringe portal (suspiciously identical to a Stargate portal from 12 years later), looking back, smiling, then walking through to explore the final Fringe path. Along the way, he’ll probably pick up Bill “Photomat” Welsh, Stuart Robertson, Terry Williams and Michael “Ox” Klemish. It’s just a picture. It probably isn’t accurate and it may not fit anyone’s idea of what happens after death, but it makes us smile. That’s good enough.

Bye, Krot.

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