Tabletop Tales: An Origin Story

I often talk and act like an expert on this whole gaming thing.  I’ve got some pretty strong opinions and I believe that on the whole I’ve earned the right to have them and defend them with the full force of my intellect and sarcasm.  With that said, I think it’s important to take some time and go back to where it all began.  When I was a young man, fresh into this hobby and no real understanding at all of what I was doing.  So let’s go back to the early nineties.

Once upon a time, there was a young boy who got his hands on a game called “HeroQuest.”  “HeroQuest” was an adventure board game put together by Milton Bradley and Games Workshop where the players controlled adventurers who went into dungeons, fought monsters, collected treasure, and ultimately worked to thwart an evil wizard named Zargon.  The game is actually set in the “Warhammer Fantasy” universe, but I didn’t know that at the time and it’s kind of irrelevant.  The game was basically a precursor to most of the stuff put out by Fantasy Flight in the modern era.  This game also really woke up my interest not only in gaming, but also in fantasy and adventure.  Well, that was a quick origin story right?

Well, no.  You see, my mom and my grandparents had been around for the full force of the “Dark Dungeons,” “Mazes and Monsters,” “Fantasy games are evil” scare of the ‘80s and they were carrying it full force into the ‘90s (For clarity, I had gotten “HeroQuest” from my dad, who was a different kind of crazy).  For most of my early years, this new hobby that I was so into was verboten.  I was not allowed to play Dungeons and Dragons or Magic: the Gathering on the grounds that they would get me smote straight to hell.

In all fairness, the commercial that includes a kid literally turning into a goblin is probably not helpful.

The good news, though, is that I was spanked as a child.  This meant I grew up learning how to not get caught and lie about what I was doing, rather than actually respecting the rules.  I talked my mom into not throwing away “HeroQuest” because it was a present from my dad, and I played it while she was gone.  When I got older, I used the local library to look up similar games to Dungeons and Dragons that didn’t have the same reputation of eternal damnation and I found one called Sengoku: Chanbara Roleplaying in Feudal Japan.  My mom knew about my fascination with Japan’s feudal era and wanted to encourage me to pursue that interest, so I was able to sell Sengoku to her on its historical merit.

Admittedly, Samurai still kind of looked like this in my head.

Admittedly, samurai still kind of looked like this in my head.

The next obstacle to overcome was people to play with.  I spent a lot of time reading Sengoku and had one or two friends I could play with.  Important to note is that this was before the internet was as widespread as it is now so we had to find a place with a copying machine and copy the character sheet from the back of the book.  My first few times trying to make some RPG gaming happen were about as awkward as trying to get to second base, but with less embarrassment and stuttering explanation when it didn’t work out.

Then, around the age of 14, I got a phone call from an old but estranged friend.  He was looking for someone to fill an extra slot in his D&D group.  By now my mom had either learned that her previous fears were ridiculous or just given up on saving me from the fires of hell that would inevitably consume me for pretending to be a wizard, and she let me go.  A week later I was staying up all night making the lousiest Elf Fighter/Rogue the world has ever seen, and a week after that he was getting splattered into a red paste along the walls of a dungeon.  I didn’t care though, I was doing something that I loved and quickly became good at.

And that’s how we got where we are today.

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