I first got started with table top gaming in the fifth grade. We started with Dungeons & Dragons. The blue box. A grade school chum of mine, whom I shall Dan because that was his name, introduced me to this strange world. Dan had two older brothers, and by older I mean we were 10 and they were 16 and 18. They had a good collection of rule books and games and we had nothing, because we were 10 and no one gives a shit about 10 year olds, especially in the 80s. Even a 10 year old scotch got pissed all over during that period. Hooray for the excesses of that era. I digress.
Dan’s brothers had a wonderful assortment of games. We spent hours digging through their collections and trying things out. The one thing I remember most from this time is the importance of rules. Dan and his siblings would drill into you how imperative it was that you played by the rules. That the rules were there for a reason and you were not to contradict them. The written word was sacrosanct. The intention of the game devs was as good as the word of God himself, handed down through the prophets and transcribed for us lowly mortals scratching in the dust and filth. As a Catholic, this resonated on deep level with me.
Dan’s brothers also used these games and rules to punish and torture our characters. Again, as a Catholic this resonated deeply with me. The scenarios they ran for us were brutal death traps for our low level characters. The world was naught but suffering and pain. Of course, their insanely leveled and richly rewarded characters breezed right through them. When it came time to dole out experience, they often passed our characters over because “they didn’t even do anything in that fight.” This capricious and arbitrary system of justice became a pattern during this time.
They also had Warhammer 40,000 and Battletech. When they allowed us to play those games with them, they became hilariously lopsided scenarios where their side was a wall of armor and I was commanding a handful of Space Marines trying to take out a Predator tank with a bolter. Battletech was a row of Atlas clan mechs against a similar number of light mechs with no modifications.
Interestingly, they refused to lay board games with us, I suspect because it would have forced a level playing field. It was months before I spent enough time with their books to figure out they had rigged the world against us. That while the rules were important, they also existed to ensure fairness, and they had been twisted to run counter to that intention. I recall a cold sort of anger at that realization, as the wheels turned in my tiny head. I would like to say I got my revenge on them. That I write this from a room in which their polished skulls gaze mournfully down upon me. The truth is less exciting. I simply stopped playing with them. For a gamer, not having people to play with can be the worst fate of all. Looking back, I really should have been asking the question why the fuck a 16 and an 18 year old wanted to hang out with a bunch of ten year olds. That is… really weird. Like… super weird.