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Guest Blog: Going Gray at the Table

From time to time I highlight opinion pieces written by other folks in the industry who are interested in having their thoughts hosted on my blog. This one is by gamer and writer Dan Gallo.

If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at owen.stephens@gmail.com.

Twilight of the Old Gods: Going Gray at the Table

By Dan Gallo

“Oh cool, my dad plays that.” 

That was the horrifying response I got when I told a young man I used to play Vampire the Masquerade. 

I was sitting at a bar and talking about what it was like to LARP in the One World by Night organization back in the 90s and early 2000s. OWbN, as we used to call it, was this huge shared universe game that had hundreds of LARPs across the US, all playing stories connected to the Mind’s Eye Theatre system from White Wolf Games. You could play as a reality-hacking Mage, snarling Werewolf, angel-powered Hunters, and countless other kinds of supernatural beasts. Vampire the Masquerade was my poison at the time and it was my obsession. You will never understand how many hours I squandered in a black trenchcoat pretending to be a bloodsucking creature in student unions around the Midwest.

Then one of the people I was talking to suddenly decided to choose violence and drop that Dad line on me. It socked me in the gut as I realized that the person who said this to me was roughly the same age I did my LARPing. I turn forty this year and I never felt older than when I heard those words.

No one likes to think about getting older or talk about what happens when they become the “elder statesman” of their gaming group, but for many gamers, that’s something we’ve had to deal with. The first generation of table toppers and dice chuckers are now in their 80s and 90s  and our hobby, a thing that feels artificially youthful to many of us, predates the invention of the personal computer by about three years.

We, the OGs who remember when this stuff wasn’t cool, are all old now and our hobby looks nothing like I remember it. Celebrities play this game and being a DM is actually a thing that can make you cool in high school. People casually talk about what kind of halfling rogue they play and how neat it was that they adopted Boblin the Goblin. RPGs have podcasts and video blogs and it has turned one group of voice actors into celebrities. Do you know how many times I have heard that weird guy from Dimension20 do that “Laws are threats” monologue? I’ve actually lost count. 

That guy has his own subreddit, by the way. 

With aging comes anger and annoyance. You start to build these ad hominem attacks on things that were never supposed to be your enemy in the first place. Often I find myself reacting to newness with a knee-jerk sense of grumpy rage. It can feel like I’m indulging in these invisible anger fantasies that came straight out of an internet message board. 

Oh, yeah, says the voice in my head, 5e has really shiny books but they sucked every piece of crunch out of the damned thing because they don’t teach math in schools anymore! I’m a veteran of the Edition Wars and you’ll pry 3.5 out of my cold, dead hands! Everybody on Critical Role was already rich. I’ve been gaming for years and no one gave me a cartoon show. Grrr eat the young!

I swear that at times it’s like there’s an elderly Incredible Hulk living inside me who reacts with anger at other people who just want to learn what I already know. I look around my gaming store and get irrationally angry None of you knows how to fight a gazebo, I think, and I refuse to explain to you fetuses what that means. Google it, you cowards! 

When I find myself slipping into that line of thinking, I have to pull back and realize what I am doing. I feel like I am being overthrown in my own hobby, not because of anything that’s actually happening but because of how I feel about myself. It’s misplaced anger and it’s silly. 

The better reaction is to acknowledge that kids are different, their worldviews are different, and that I, as a grown-up, have the chance to save them from the mistakes I have made. My conversation in that bar sent me on a google spiral that ended in me reading the latest edition of VtM and discovering all of the racist garbage that they took out of the game and feeling a sense of pride. New players to the game I really loved won’t have to read about dark brown vampires who get darker with age or the fact that someone decided that the African vampires are all drug dealers. 

Yes, that was all in the original books, and thank god it is gone. 

Still, you change as you get older, and not always for the better. There is a depressing sense that you are fading from view sometimes like you’re being colored into the background with gray paint. This meme is going around on Facebook about how we’ll all be tossing dice at the retirement home and how awesome that will be. It’s a nice idea but I know the truth: it won’t be as much fun. We won’t be using the newest systems, whatever that will be, we’ll be struggling with our dog-eared copies of books that have been out of print for forty years. We will vainly try to recapture our youth and the returns will be diminished every week. It’s hard to live in a fantasy world when everything is so painfully real and age robs you of fantasy each and every day. Playing a gray-haired old wizard is less fun when you’re an actual gray-haired old wizard. 

I know this is true because when I remembered my LARPing, I also remembered why I stopped. I was thirty-two years old and the game I was playing had dwindled from fifteen vampires to just six players. We had lost our last gaming location and we had to move to a park where we would have fake gunfights next to the jungle gym. At one point, we had a loud argument about a rule that the ST had misread. Then it hit me that I was arguing on a playground about who had died in our game of cops and robbers. 

That night I went home and did my taxes. 

Dan Gallo is the pen name of a former reporter and writer who lives in Louisiana. He currently writes the Strange Cases of Jimmy Bionel, a sci-fi detective series now available on Kindle.

And as always, you can support this blog at Owen K.C. Stephens’ Patreon!