What a horrible DM and an even worse brother.
This story happened approximately twelve-ish years ago, when I was 10 or 11 years old, and a completely starry-eyed newbie at D&D. Nowadays I’m a pretty seasoned player who’s also written some of my own campaigns, but we all start somewhere.
From a very young age, I was always fascinated with D&D because my dad and brother played it, and I looked up to both of them a lot. I also loved the concept and I liked fantasy, so I was in fact very overjoyed when they finally let me in on the fun. Now that I’m older, I can recognize that my dad & brother aren’t actually great DMs, my brother especially.
This story in particular always comes to mind, and it took me a few years and meeting new people to finally realize my brother was being a jerk for no reason, and some people are just bad DM’s.
For context, my brother is eight years older than me, so he was 20ish here, and he disapproves of everyone and everything. He’s one of those DMs who hates it when players have too much fun, and for him, the rules come first before anything else. He’s also super high-and-mighty about the different editions and swears by 3.5, and openly says that people who play 5e are mentally deficient. This story is just one example of his approach to D&D.
So, I’m a very excited kid who knows next to nothing about the rules, and boy was I ready to go on an adventure. I rolled up a half-elf bard named Onyx—I always loved bards because of Thom Merrilin from The Wheel of Time—and my cousin and uncle are my fellow party members, but their characters aren’t relevant here.
This is 2e AD&D for context.
So after a battle and some looting, the party stopped at a small village and we had downtime before we set off on our quest, investigating a rumor in a distant city. I had a lot of gold and wanted to spend it, so I thought that it would be a good idea to buy a mount for the journey. Because my character was so small, I had her purchase a pony. My brother was NOT happy about this and asked me several times if I was sure, stressing that this would be an absolute waste of money. I insisted that I was sure, because I didn’t think it was a big deal and he didn’t know that the main reason I went straight for a pony was because my brother had a companion who rode a pony in a separate game that my dad was running, and I wanted to emulate that.
Anyway, I buy my pony, and in an attempt to sound more grown up and serious, I named him Snake Eyes. My brother didn’t hesitate to tell me how stupid he thought this was. I was hurt, but we had an adventure to go on.
So Onyx and Snake Eyes were only a little bit down the road when I realized that my brother was not going to let me off easy here. It was quickly established in the narrative that Snake Eyes was the most stubborn, uncooperative, ill-tempered pony you could ever meet. He constantly tried to bite at Onyx, wouldn’t listen to a single command, and kept trying to run off at every free moment. It was quickly becoming un-fun for me and I started to resent my purchase, but I pressed on, trying to hold onto any optimism I had left.
We came across an illusion of a fire and we could not convince Snake Eyes to walk through it. I understand the logic here, but my brother practically held up the game for 20 minutes trying to force me to abandon my pony by making it refuse to continue. After a lot of deliberation my uncle suggested we blindfold Snake Eyes and lead him through the fire, which my brother begrudgingly allowed.
Finally at setting up camp, I was feeling pretty bad (11 year old child guilt) and was trying to build some kind of bond with Snake Eyes by feeding him apples and petting him, but my brother made it clear that Snake Eyes still absolutely hated me. Anyways, in the middle of the night, orcs attacked our campsite and we had to defend it. Despite being tied to a tree, Snake Eyes managed to free himself in the confusion and took off running into the forest, never to be seen again.
Well, at least until we found his corpse later, gutted and strung up in a tree by orcs.
I was very upset at the loss of my pony and my money, and as a kid I found this a very discouraging introduction to D&D, because I just wanted to have a pony like my brother’s character and my brother had to ruin it.
After the session, I confronted my brother and asked why he had to be such a jerk about my pony and why he had to make it uncooperative and desperate to run away, and he just shrugged and said “It’s your fault. You should have bought a war pony. They listen better.”
Rip Snake Eyes. You are still missed.
But this was just the tip of the iceberg.
While my brother may be a big jerk about the rules a lot of the time, that isn’t really the source of his issues as a DM as much as his aggressive need for total control. So I do apologize to all the rules-lovers out there, I never meant to imply following the rules as a bad thing. It’s always about being a jerk!
So my brother hates flavorful character backgrounds and thinks they’re a waste of time. Before you ask, I don’t know what happened to him in his life that made him fly into a rage at the thought of people having fun, but that’s how he is—my brother is Chekhov’s gunslinger, because you don’t include anything in D&D if it’s not going to serve a functional purpose.
He has said, “I find it really annoying when players want to make special characters with fancy backstories. It’s way more respectable and interesting if your character is just a normal guy on an adventure.”
In his eyes, he’s doing you a favor by DMing, and you have to understand that it’s HIS story that you have the privilege to participate in. The players do NOT get to tell him what the story is about. The characters are just in his story for you to interact with the world, that’s all. If you handed my brother a multi-paged backstory, he would look you in the eyes as he threw it in the trash.
So this story is 50% about his hatred of writing characters creatively and 50% about his major control issues.
So onto the story. This takes place about a year or two after Snake Eyes the pony was laid to rest, so I was about 13 years old. My brother (22-ish) was home visiting from college and I asked him to play D&D since my dad was only DMing for me once a year. My brother said sure, and I was so happy to play that I didn’t consider that of course there was going to be a catch.
I called my cousin and step-uncle, different uncle from the first story to come over and play D&D.
While we were waiting for them to show up, my brother said it was time to make characters.
Personally, character creation is one of my favorite parts of D&D and I felt this way back then too, so I was excited. I was going to play another bard because I always play bards and HE KNOWS THIS.
So I started saying “Alright, I think l’ll play a half-elf bard—“
But he cut me off and said “What makes you think you get to decide?”
I stammered at this because I was totally confused, I thought the whole point of D&D was making your own character. He told me that character creation takes too long so he would be writing our characters for us. I asked again if he could at least write the character I wanted to play because it would take the same amount of time, and he said absolutely not.
So he started rolling dice and saying that he was going to make me play a guy character, and probably a dwarf Paladin or something. Now at the time, I was a young girl right on the cusp of puberty, in middle school, who was EXTREMELY insecure about my perceived femininity because I was a little overweight back then. D&D was a huge escape for me at the time to play the pretty girls I wished I could be. I did NOT want to play a guy, ESPECIALLY not a dwarf, and so I started panicking at this.
After a bit of an anxious meltdown of me BEGGING my brother to not make me a guy, not make me a dwarf, please let me play a bard (I didn’t want to self-associate myself with the masculinity of a tank character class either.) I even told him why I was upset, because I had very low self-esteem about how people saw me. He just argued that dwarves are awesome and I should feel honored to play one.
By the time my cousin and step-uncle showed up, my brother sighed and I thought he was going to cut me some slack, but then he said, “Class, race, or sex. I’ll only let you pick one.”
Before I could comment, he followed with, “Or we could just not play. You want to play, right?”
Understanding my power in the situation, and not wanting to make a scene in front of my cousin and step-uncle, I told my brother that I at least wanted to be a girl, because that was probably the most important to me and I knew he’d make me play a guy if I didn’t pick it.
So my brother continued to roll dice and write my entire character for me right in front of my eyes, no input from me at all. My cousin and step-uncle weren’t as bothered by having their characters written for them.
So it was time to start the game and my brother distributed our character sheets and described our characters and their backgrounds to us. No surprise here, my brother handed me a dwarf fighter (but he “did me a favor” because at least she was a girl) and he didn’t waste time to describe the impressively thick beard she had. I was holding back tears.
But what REALLY did it for me was when he turned to my step-uncle and said “So you’re playing a half-elf bard...”
I almost had a breakdown at this, and looking back, I should have left right then and there. But I was still an insecure 13 year old girl who was so D&D starved that I was desperate to just play, even if it meant I had to put up with playing a buff and ugly dwarf woman while my step-uncle across the table got to play the character of my dreams. I don’t know how I managed to do it without bursting into tears.