I have just returned from a week long trip to Wellington. I like Wellington as a city, it is cleaner and somehow better laid out than the sprawling metropolis that is Auckland, and it also is home to several old friends of mine who I don’t see nearly enough of. Two of whom are my school friend Steve and his wife Jenny, pictured here with their children Matthew and Kiri and an awesome train set.
It bears repeating: that train set is awesome
(As an aside, it turns out Steve was the manager of another friend I was coming down to see – I didn’t realise that they knew each other until I was well into my trip. This would have been an amusing coincidence, except that the other friend had just been made redundant so it was a little awkward. Luckily, the other friend does not seem too put out about losing his job.)
Anyway, I turn up to Steve’s place for a BBQ, and it turns out that Steve’s brother Alex is coming to, and he is bringing a box of MERP stuff from our teenage years.
Let me explain; MERP was a role-playing game we all used to play together (with some others) when we were callow teenagers (is there any other kind) back in Oamaru. Although there is a published game called MERP, our MERP was a wholly different animal, with rules and setting invented totally by ourselves, except for the bits we stole from whatever fantasy novel we were reading that week. We spent literally years refining the rules until the game played like butter; we had no character classes but different races could acquire certain skills more easily than others, a character could specialise in one field or be a jack-of-all-trades at will, combat was easy and quick, and the magic system made as much sense as magic systems ever do. Every so often, we would get bored with the setting and reboot everything, usually winding the calendar forward several hundred years so that the map changed and our old characters’ mighty deeds became the myths and legends of the current setting.
Lying on the dinner table is a nondescript box. What wonders lie within for those who dare peek inside?
The box Alex had found contained a fraction of the work we had put in. In it were several detailed maps neatly drawn in coloured pencil, a couple of multi-page adventures designed by Alex, a whole bunch of character sheets and dozens of pages of The Official MERP Rules (or one version of them).
Back in the MERP days, our characters would come across chests filled with strange codexes and maps to fabulous treasure, written on scraps of moldering parchment, lying unseen by human (or inhuman) eyes for decades at the bottom of dank dungeons. Alex’s box was our childhood adventures made slightly musty smelling flesh (in more than one sense), and we spent most of the evening pouring over the paper with trembling fingers and reminiscing about the old times; the magic sword that was as addictive as crack for the wielder, the dark tower filled with ghosts who didn’t know they were dead, the foul-smelling semi-transperent rainbow dragons, the priceless Arkenstone (always more trouble than the damn thing was worth), good times, good times…
At least the three men reminisced, Jenny looked on with various degrees of bemusement.
Although it seems like a colossal waste of time, I have a hard time regretting the hundreds of hours we spent playing and preparing MERP. If nothing else, MERP left me with a good understanding of basic probability, game theory, the spelling and meaning of the word lycanthropy, and that trolls can be easily set alight given a strong enough flame.
Putting so much time into fairly pointless things is a luxury that only the young have, and I remember that time with fondness. And I am not the only one, Steve reckons that he might also have a box of stuff tucked away somewhere.
Not me though, my mum chucked it all out as soon as I left home.
Later on the evening Steve tried to get me interested in Guildwars, an online roleplaying game. I’m not falling for that again.