It has been a while, but today I feel a return to this is needed. Every Veteran’s Day I will thank folks I know who served. Heartfelt Happy Birthdays are given to Marines I know. This year I want to do something different. This year I want to tell you a story.
Before Gamehole Con this year I had an idea. Make a banner with Hall of Heroes on it. Where folks could come up and write down the names of the characters that didn’t make it back from an adventure, or (more importantly) the names of players they had lost from their game tables. What does this have to do with Veteran’s Day? Well, the motivation behind it.
Several years ago I met someone at Encounters (the precursor to Adventurers League). He was a student at the UW completing his degree after a 6 year stint in the Army as an infantryman. He had done at least one tour in Iraq. I was looking for more butts to fill my game table, and we seemed to get along well. So he joined up.
Blaine played with our group for his entire time in Madison. After graduation he took a job in Chicago. He and his wife (they had married during the time he was playing with us), moved there. Before leaving, he had gifted us with his megamat, Orcus figure and some of his books. Though he said he had no use for them where he was going, I assured him the library would always be there for him should he change his mind.
We also took a trip to Gander Mountain to go shooting before he left. He was genuinely surprised at how good of a shot I was. Maybe because he knew I was horrible with distance viewing – especially without my glasses. I assured him I was born and raised in Wisconsin and had actually been a hunter for a while.
With his character Guthryn, we had this thing. He would do an area attack against everything in a zone. This was the days of 4th Edition, and he was playing a crossbow shooting rogue sniper. He would roll his attack and then spent time doing all the math involved on his damage. As he was doing that, I was picking up the figures for the minions in the zone – flunkie monsters with only 1 hit point. Once all the math was done, he would look up at his figure in an empty room and simply say, “Son of a bitch!”
It was such a thing with us that we kept track of the times it would happen. That and the art of being taken out by an aura without ever being attacked directly (this edition, it would be more like an environmental effect or lair action), were his two things as a character.
Speaking more to him as a person, he would post images to social media of the cakes and treats we would make for our game nights. The time I made the melting chocolate cakes from our cruise, he posted that with something like, “This is how my DM treats us every week. What do you got?”
Well one day I had made ghost cupcakes. They were baked and served in foil “cups” shaped like ghosts. I had explained the the players a couple of times that night that I had filled them with a cherry caramel from our trip to Door County. Everyone was into it and dug in. Blaine just nodded as he was working on his character. As soon as he took a bite, he looked up with a distraught look on his face. With a sullen voice he said, “Awwww… what’s in my ghost?” Apparently the surprise texture squigged him out as he didn’t hear either of the times I explained what the cakes were filled with.
While he hadn’t gamed with us as long as some of my friends, he had quite a volume of great stories that revolved around him and his interactions both in and out of our game.
Still you might be confused. We all have friends like this. A staple at our table. Why would this inspire the banner mentioned above?
This year, after returning from a three week anniversary cruise with my wife, we found out that Blaine passed away unexpectedly at the age of 29. So early on in the travels, I believe his memorial service passed before we were back in the country. So I broke the news to our group, and we toasted him with shots of the best whiskey served in Casa de Zombie. (The kids at the table got juice in their glasses.)
As I stated to the room at 8am Friday morning of the convention, during the dedication of the Hall of Heroes, he was a son, a husband, a veteran, a gamer and a friend. It was my way to ensure he made it to the convention with us.
During the 2015 Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductions, Laurie Anderson said that a person dies three times. The first is when their heart stops. The second is when they are buried or cremated. But the final time is the last time someone says their name. Someone from the crowd echoed “Lou!” just after that line.
As long as we have our stories, they are never truly gone. And for me, this was like our gamer version of the Ghost Feast. We set a table for him, so that he knew his story was being told. So he could rest.
This Veteran’s Day, I choose to thank the young man who served our country with honor and distinction, brought the same dedication and honor to our campus, and was a great friend to everyone at our table. I thank him, his wife and family. And let them know at least once at every convention I work at (and several times a year at our home game table), we tell a story of this larger than life figure.
I haven’t decided, but I think I will be asking my wife about housing the banner in the large garage in our retirement property we just picked up in Door County. The question is, who will take the next one on as a ward? And who will serve as that banner’s dedication?