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Appalachian Backyard Gaming


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Author's Note: The following story is loosely based on true events and people from my childhood in rural Southwestern Virginia. Names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved and some things have been altered for the sake of story and dramatic effect, but this is a story of my bygone days of playing tabletop RPGs with my brothers and friends from school back in the mid-2000's, just as I was entering adolescence. This is both a story about my youth and the stories we told in our games and it means a lot to me. So, without further ado, I present to you what is possibly my Magnum Opus, a story within a story titled "Appalachian Backyard Gaming".


Chapter I: Precious Memories, How They Linger....

Dickenson County, Virginia

June 22, 2005 AD



Deep back in the hills, way down in Virginia, was where I lived for the first fourteen years of my life. Even after moving to the more affluent and suburban communities of the Roanoke Valley (a mere four hours drive from the old home place, within the same state even, but for my younger self, it may as well have been a different planet) shortly before entering high school, even after growing up and attending college, despite the poverty and hardship that came with growing up in the backwoods coalfields, I still remember those days quite fondly. Beneath that old Dante Mountain, up on Martin Hollow, and out in the middle of nowhere was where my brothers and I spent some of the best days of my life. This is the story of those days, a tale of brotherhood, friendship, and imagination. So, where do I begin? Or better yet, how do I begin?


It was four days after my twelfth birthday and I was already excited and ecstatic after returning from a three-day weekend getaway in Gatlinburg, Tennessee that my brothers and I spent with our paternal grandmother, who I miss every day and have missed since her untimely death oh so many years ago. But as they say, that is another story for another time. We had spent the day of my birthday at my grandmother's house in the town of Clintwood eating cake and pizza, playing Playstation, and staying up all night watching anime on Adult Swim, with Fullmetal Alchemist, Ghost in the Shell, and Lupin The Third being my favorites at the time. The next day, we went to Tennessee and had the time of our lives visiting places like Dollywood, Ripley's Aquarium, various arcades and shops in Gatlinburg, and hanging around our motel that had an indoor pool. However, it was now Monday and we had to go back to our home in Martin Hollow, a lonely stretch of dirt and gravel road adjacent to the one-street coal mining town of Trammel. Even though our unforgettable vacation was over, I was still excited. My dad told me that he had a surprise present for me and my brothers when we came home, so I wasn't too bummed about my weekend getaway being all said and done.


Martin Hollow was a wooded road about a fifth of a mile in length leading directly uphill and towards our house. The roadway was not paved at all, comprised entirely of dirt, rock, and gravel, surrounded by forest and accompanied by a small creek next to the road the whole way from the bottom of the hollow in Trammel all the way to our house atop the hill. The sun was just starting to set, so my two younger brothers and I gently strolled up the hollow towards our house, the three of us endlessly chatting about the previous trip the whole way. Soon, we entered our small one-story white wooden house, the three of us taking off our sandals in the hallway and walking into the kitchen where our dad was waiting for us. Dad was a soft-spoken man, tall and stout with dull green eyes, a bald head, and a thick light brown mustache, and both he and Mom loved and cared for us and did their best to support us both financially and emotionally, even if it meant that Mom had to work a nursing job four hours away in Roanoke and be gone from the house for four days of the week. This week, Mom had left the day before for work and would not be back until Thursday evening. Summer Break was in full swing by this point so there was no school, leaving just Dad, my brothers, and myself to ourselves in the house for the next few days.


Dad asked us about our trip and we told him everything from Dollywood to the aquarium to the indoor pool at our motel. But then he turned to me and said "Hey, remember when I said I would have a surprise birthday present for you when you came back? Well, I have been searching through my closet and found a blast from the past that should have stayed, a new RPG that none of you have played before, that I haven't played since you were a baby, one that is different from Dungeons & Dragons but just as fun. I may have told you about it before, it's called Vampire: The Masquerade and it is set in our world in the modern day. So you can have guns, cool cars, and all sorts of things you couldn't have in D&D. The thing is that you play as the monster, your character is in fact a vampire, and you must hide yourself from humans while at the same time, undergoing all sorts of adventures in the night. I figured you guys would like it."


Dad went to his room and quickly returned to the kitchen with pens, loose-leaf notebook paper, a bunch of ten-sided dice, and a hardcover book that was green in color with a marble pattern, a rose displayed on the front cover artwork, with the words Vampire The Masquerade displayed atop the rose, in retrospect, I realize this was the second edition printing of the core rulebook, but I did not know that at the time. We had played Dungeons & Dragons since I was ten years old, although we heavily house-ruled it since the rules were needlessly complex and we focused more on story and roleplaying our characters anyway. We were nerds, Dad included, and we were proud to admit as such. Soon, we sat down and Dad explained the setting of the game, everything from the secret societies of vampires such as the Camarilla and the Anarchs, to charatcer creation and rules (both of which were more straightforward and simpler than D&D) to the seven vampire clans presented in the book. The three of us were enthralled by the game's description and Dad even told us that we could play tomorrow or possibly even late tonight if we could come up with characters to play, as he had already worked out some campaign material. Soon, my brothers and I began to look through the rulebook, talking and thinking endlessly on what characters we'd play, coming up with concepts that in retrospect, seemed kind of childish and hokey, but we were kids at that time, and did not care. We had fun, and that was all that really mattered.


About an hour or so later, the three of us had our characters ready to present to Dad, hoping to enter a world of darkness.....

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