How it Used to Be, and How We Thought it Was

Stranger Things got it mostly right. Jack Chick got it all wrong.

When you’re a teenager, everything seems to be amplified to an Nth degree.

The death of a favorite character hurt. It hurt when friends bailed out on a game. Religious persecution, both real and perceived, toward gaming hurt. It hurt to feel like you were running contraband. Keep it hidden. Keep it safe.

Then came the joy, the excitement. A character leveled up. A character dueled against a death knight. The hushed moment when the fighter draws the arrow of mage-slaying to take out a powerful dark elf wizard. Side-treks into Ravenloft. Planescape.

We discovered girls but we kept playing. We campaigned until we couldn’t anymore and went our separate ways in college.

In retrospect, there’s a lot of $#^! I wouldn’t tolerate now. The drama among friends. Tantrums over character death. Gaming with acquaintances I barely tolerated.

Letting that weirdo in Waldenbooks corner me so he could preach about his favorite character–Elminster’s Nephew or something.

Or letting other weirdos–a religious ones–preach to me about the dangers of D&D.

If I could do it all over again, I would…

  1. Not worry so much about what other people, religious or otherwise thought about the hobby. I was already a nerd, an outlier. So be it.
  2. Play more often. To hell with waiting until you’re absolutely ready to run a game. Time’s ticking away. You’re only young once.
  3. Not buy as many RPG books. It seems like you’ve got all the time in the world to try everything, play everything, at that age. You don’t. That money could have gone to real world adventures… which are more important that what happens at the tabletop.
  4. Not used published campaign settings. As it turns out, most are hodgepodged together from real world history and literature. If that’s the case, then you might as well draw from the original sources.
  5. In a similar vein: not read as much RPG fiction… especially those Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels. There so much better stuff out there, people. Move on.
  6. Make the game my own. Just because a reputable game designer published something, doesn’t mean he or she has authority over my game. I used to take some of these books as gospel, even if it could screw up my campaign.
  7. Punch a grognard or two.

Maybe I need to explain #7.

See, its like this: I was raised, more or less, not to interrupt and respect my elders. Somewhat. So in my formative years I tended to listen and differ those who were older.

This led to some uncomfortable situations where I was 14 or 15 and cornered in a bookstore or hobby shop by some thirty-or-forty-something grognard who wanted to brag out his favorite character or wanted to regale to me how D&D hasn’t been the same since TSR ousted Gygax. Back then, I had no idea what grognard meant. All I knew was this condescending old guy won’t shut up.

The same goes with the grognard preacherman and his young stooges who came to a church sponsored overnight lock-in at the local youth outreach center. Nobody was a good enough Christian for him. Not even the people who invited him there. Talk about wolf-pack tactics. They’d surround individuals one at a time and preach to them why they were wrong. A friend and I made the mistake admitting we played D&DOh we’re not actually casting spells… An hour later we’re still cornered. Two hours later my friend is still cornered. Then the preacherman and his stooges moved on to somebody else who might have misinterpreted scripture.

When I went off to college and started playing D&D Third Edition, I lost count how many grognards griped to me about how D&D used to be. TSR/WotC sold out to corporate. Blah blah blah. (And what were these grognards up to trying game with college students? But that’s blog-fodder for another time).

It would have been hilarious on Stranger Things to have some grognard come in and spout some Gygax gospel to the kids. The DM is always right! Never let a rule interfere with the fun of the game! See, on page 230 of the DMG it says… Blah blah blah!

Or quote or paraphrase the Bible: In Exodus 22:18 is says Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live; and in Deuteronomy 18:10 it says your not supposed or practice divination or sorcery…

Then a trickle of blood runs from Eleven’s nose and BAM! the grognard’s head explodes!

Okay. Maybe exploding a grognard’s head is pushing the envelope too far.

A punch, however, would let’em know I meant business. At least they’d shut up for a second or two so I could make my next move.

Like getting the hell out of the there.

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