Kurt Lortz, a friend of mine for thirty years, died Monday.
Steve and Kurt Lortz are the brothers responsible for the now hard-to-find game Panzer Pranks and Kurt’s never-published Dark Worlds, which, after it was replaced, pursuant to a creative dispute with the publisher over certain details, by the moderately successful Call of Cthulhu, continued to be developed as a more generic (non-Lovecraftian) vampire-hunting roleplaying game. Back in 1976, Steve introduced a number of us to the role-playing-game concept; Dungeons and Dragons was a fairly new thing back then, and Steve knew the authors, or at least Dave Arneson, pretty well. So Steve taught us game mechanics and something of the basics of how to run an rpg, and has gone on to design more games and sculpt a lot of miniature figures, making him fairly well-known in gaming circles; whilst Kurt, his more flamboyant younger brother, did research into arcane background material, and with his flair for the dramatic could be counted on to create conditions for a dynamite (sometimes literally) interactive story. Many nights we spent, with various groups of unwashed geeks, into the wee hours and beyond, especially as we playtested the various iterations of that great project, Dark Worlds. But we might also be discussing the great questions of life, delving into spiritual truth or political untruth.
Some people you meet, and get along with, and spend time with pleasantly enough, because you happen to live nearby and have some common interests. Other people you choose, and keep in touch with no matter what the geography, and despite how interests may change. I’ve known Steve since the fall of 1968, and Kurt since 1976. We’ve kept in touch because we wanted to, and have become legends in one another’s lives. Locations, relationships, marriages, various jobs and responsibilities change over time; but friendship has remained a constant. So it was that this past March when I was in central Indiana for a day or so, I called Steve, and the two of us took a few hours and went to visit Kurt, who due to a series of deteriorating health conditions, was by then residing in a nursing home outside Indianapolis. For the past several years Kurt has been teaching in a private school, and had continued to do so until this most recent series of hospitaizations. He was absolutely devoted to his students. Last year he told me how he had, over the previous year, battled successfully against an agressive cancer, and consciously used his own situation as a teaching tool for those in his charge. He wanted them to learn how to face the realities of life, including suffering, with dignity and faith, and he was proud of how they had succeeded. Now the cancer was back, along with other issues. But he was still the same Kurt: deadly serious about facing reality head on, but full of humor, able to laugh at himself and evoke laughter, and at the same time able to make every situation into a larger-than-life story. He had a laptop computer in his room, on which he was composing music. Our visit together was like old times, though his body was failing him: confined to bed and wheelchair, painful sores on his body, his hands wrapped in bandages, periodic bouts of pain so severe that sometimes he would pass out from the pain. But in heart and spirit bouyant, the twinkle never leaving his eye, always full of gratitude to God for his grace. It was a good visit. I couldn’t help wonder if it might be the last.
Last night, Steve phoned to give me the news. There had been time enough for his family to gather, some from far away, and be with him in his final moments. Steve told me that when the moment came, strange to say, they felt like dancing, the way you would when a runner on your team breaks the tape at the finish line. I’m sure you just would have had to be there.
Kurt Lortz: a legend in my life, large in every way. A man of courage, and dignity, indomitable faith, and utmost loyalty.