In the ’80s it was a lot harder to be “cool” and a “nerd” than it is now. Back then those words were mutually exclusive. Dungeons & Dragons was not cool. It was something weird that only “weird” people played, or for kids to horrify their parents with. In those days, as both a female and a nerdy kid, you had to have thick skin.
Sure, there wasn’t internet bullying yet or social media sites designed to capture and document your every embarrassing moment for everyone to see for all of eternity. Instead of internet, you had foresight, an almost seer-like ability to know that someone was going to throw gum in your hair, trip you, or make fun of you because you just didn’t fit any conventional social norms. In the ’80s conformity was everything. I think the band Rush said it best in their 1982 song Subdivisions “be cool or be cast out.”
Times are a-changin’
Still, if you were lucky, you had your friends. A cadre of likeminded “losers” to escape with into a magical world of mythical monsters and lands unknown, limited only by imagination. In the end, you grow up, you move away, and somewhere along that road, you learn “normal” people are boring, your weirdness has transitioned to individuality and the whole world changed.
Suddenly, you could make a living – a very good living – doing things you were mercilessly tortured for enjoying in your youth. Nerd, a once harsh and brutal word, transitioned into a newly coined term of endearment, “geek.” As I already mentioned, being a nerdy female was pretty difficult in the ’80s, but being a geek in the 21st century was even harder, but for completely different reasons.
In the ’80s nerd culture was much simpler, it was us vs. them. That was it. In the “Age of the Geek,” things became much more complicated. What was once a single tightknit culture splintered into pockets of specific interests and genres. These interests could overlap, certainly, but you had to prove yourself worthy of belonging to that group. It was no longer acceptable to enjoy something, or even like it; you had to know it, inside and out. If you didn’t, you were a poser, a fake, or a wannabe.
My gaming story
The inmates had taken over the asylum and the nerds had become the bullies – this is where my story truly begins. If you’re still reading, I want to thank you, sincerely. Whether anything I am writing makes sense or not, it’s still hard to express and write about. For the sake of my own wellbeing, I won’t dredge up what would amount to almost two decades riddled with sexism and chauvinistic behavior. It wasn’t all bad, don’t get me wrong, but finding a long-lasting gaming group that didn’t fall apart due to drama, prejudice, or internal conflict was impossible. By 2016, I had given up completely, or so I thought.
Fantasy Grounds wasn’t new to me. I had heard about it several years ago but was always deterred by the steep learning curve. I also have difficulty learning by watching videos; I learn by doing. Still, I missed D&D and thought I could watch videos and mimic what I saw. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it might be enough. It wasn’t. By my third day, I wanted to cut my losses and quit. I was terrified to post anything on the forums, terrified to ask for help. In the past, regardless of how carefully I worded a question, how neutral I tried to make my tone, I was usually berated or ridiculed. Sometimes just for being a girl. Forums were not a place to ask questions, or get help. They were a Thunderdome.
Nevertheless, I really wanted to learn this program. It took me another entire day to gather up my nerve and write a post asking for help. Within 40 minutes, I received a response, a very helpful response. Within another 30 minutes, I had several more. Not a single scoff, not a single sexist snarky answer, just valuable useful friendly information. The most useful of that was the suggestion to look into Fantasy Grounds College. That was when I fell in love with gaming again.
Fantasy Grounds College
What can I say about this amazing ragtag community of gamers that hasn’t already been said? Never have I met a group of people so patient and understanding; a crew focused on teaching others. I actually found cool nerds! People willing to explain and dedicate one on one time so I could learn interfaces, modules, combat, and mechanics.
This was not special attention. The folks at FGC want their students – yes, we are all students, it’s a college after all – to learn the Fantasy Ground program. They want you to love it, and they want you to take that knowledge and pay it forward.
Founder Laerun and his esteemed colleagues are doing this because they love Fantasy Grounds and understand that while the program is powerful, it’s also not intuitive. No one is being paid here, this is a true labor of love.
That being said, there is a Patreon page available for those who want to give a little more. It’s not required, and the money goes towards tools, artwork, maps, and modules designed to enhance the gaming, and training experience. 101 training classes are always free.
So, if you were like me, reminiscing about those good ol’ days, certain that there are no gamers who can emulate the friendship and camaraderie of the character’s from ‘Stranger Things,’ why not try Fantasy Grounds and check out Fantasy Grounds College? Seriously, what do you have to lose? I can’t promise you’ll come face to face with a demogorgon, but I also can’t promise that you won’t.