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#TBT to RPG Mao—by Paul Bryan

#TBT to RPG Mao—by Paul Bryan

Hiya fellow Appel Farm lifers.  I’m Paul Bryan.  I was a camper during the first session from 1998 to 2002 and stayed for the second session in that last summer too.  Now I’m a 30-year-old high school math teacher in southern New Jersey, but the farm is still where my heart is. I’m a total sap for nostalgia, so I’d like to tell you about RPG Mao.

In 1998, I made two great friends: Paul and Tim.  They were in bunk 12 while I was in 11.  Paul was an amazing woodwind player, and Tim was a part of the amazing video department (thanks, Martin!).  All three of us returned in 1999 – and that was the year they introduced me to “RPG Mao.” Mao, they explained, was a version of Uno (object of the game = get rid of all your cards) where there are extra rules that change depending on who’s dealing the game, rules that were not shared with the players, so you had to learn the rules while playing. In RPG Mao, which they had made up, every player had a different set of rules they had to follow, not unlike a role-playing game.

In my first game, I was dealt a hand of seven cards. Then nothing happened. I looked around, waited for someone to play, and picked up my cards – and got dealt a penalty card for touching my cards before the dealer did.  Then I got another penalty card for not playing a card.  I told them I didn’t know it was my turn, and I got a penalty card for questioning the judgment of the dealer.  This is when a sane person would have put down the cards and walked away.  Not me, though.  I was determined to master this game.  I started trying to learn all the characters and their rules: the knight, berserker, cleric, necromancer, assassin, and thief, and later, the paladin, druid, bard, and dancer (also known as Zach the Moron, which was an inside joke I never understood).  By the end of 1999, I had a good handle on the knight.

Paul didn’t come back in 2000, but Tim and I kept up the tradition. The game held on as a weird inside joke among the few of us who had any idea how to play, who had semi-mastered one of the characters, and who would try to lure others into playing with us.  By the end of that summer, I had just about perfected the first six characters.  Tim told me that he wasn’t coming back the next year, and he gave me the opportunity to earn a copy of the rules, which required reciting every rule in the game for every character.

After two summers of play, I had mastered the rules well enough to earn Tim’s trust, so he gave me all the rules, and told me to pass them down to a younger camper to keep the game going year after year.  In 2001 I found a few younger campers who were fans.  I like to think I was more lenient than my predecessors, as I was very interested in finding a future dealer.  By the end of 2002, my last summer at the Farm, one young man had mastered all the rules for the original six characters, which to me earned him a copy of the rules. I figured that the game might last another summer with him and his friends, but it would probably end there.  I suppose I was fine with that.

I visited in 2003, and lo and behold, the game was still being played.  After that summer, I moved to the Midwest for college and work, and I didn’t get a chance to visit again until 2009. Alas, by then RPG Mao was no more – but I learned from another visitor that it had held on until 2008!  And that it would have continued, except the next dealer in line had to leave camp right before he was going to receive the rules!  I met campers who knew my name and even had the opportunity to put a game together with a few devoted campers (I’m disappointed in myself for how much I enjoyed the adoration).

I am still surprised at how long the game lasted.  I played over four summers from 1999 to 2002, but the game lasted longer without me than it did with me.  It makes me so happy to be tangibly connected with so many Farmers through this game. At the reunion this Labor Day weekend, I want to take the opportunity to relive the glory.  I will be bringing copies of the rules to RPG Mao, and I intend to give them out to staffers who like the idea of the game and are willing to give it a try over the weekend.

Just don’t expect me to take it easy on you while we’re playing 😉

Paul is another member of the team that’s working together to plan and publicizes the 55th Anniversary Alumni Reunion coming up this September. If you want to get involved, in planning games of RPG Mao or in any other part of the project, contact Ben Fink ( for more information. And if you want more info about the reunion, or to sign up, just click here!