Veterans Day: Let Me Tell You A Story

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.

hallofheroesBefore 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.

hallofheroesfinalAs 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.

hallofheroesdedicationI 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?

Reflections of a Mute Dungeon Master

In considering telling this story, I was looking into whether to put it on this blog or over on my gaming blog (which I use mostly for campaign notes in our home game). Understanding that many people that would read it on this one will have no connection to me in the gaming world, and likely have no idea about the community and pastime of Dungeons and Dragons. But when have I ever shied away from scaring the normals?

GHC-mapSo this weekend was Gamehole Con. A “new” gaming convention in Wisconsin. (It is in it’s third year of operation.) And for my money, one of the best run events I have been at. Any problems we experienced had nothing to do with the convention. Like when a DM had a car breakdown on his multiple-state drive to get there. Nothing the convention could do about that. So we dealt with it.

If the worst problem you are facing is that your events were sold out (as Adventurers League was all day Saturday and Sunday), then count it a good day.

In an effort for full disclosure, that really wasn’t the worst problem we had. Technically one of the DMs lost his voice as he was still recovering from being sick. I jumped in and ran his next slot for him so that he could drink some tea and rest his voice. So by the end of the night I was losing my voice. It was a vicious circle that hit a good number of us. Even one of the players at my table had lost his voice. Not “con crud™” but definitely not the optimal situation.

final-countdownOf course there were the instances of awesome. Like watching DMs jump in to help cover slots where they could. Not everyone can just wing it. But those that could were backed up by those willing to jump into slots that they could run. The “winging it” didn’t end there either. I watched one DM run a mod as a single player adventure to make sure the one person who showed up with a ticket to his game Friday night had fun. I even ran two players (both playing non-combative characters) through a challenging module to make sure they got their event in and had a good time.

Sunday, as we were all reeling from the lack of sleep, nursing raspy voices, I found evidence of the reason I not only volunteer at events, but often run more than I play (I played one 2 hour slot this past weekend). One of my players from a previous day bought me coffee for all the hours and work I put in to make their games go off. Another bought tea for me (and her husband as he was the previously mentioned player who lost his voice) so that we could make it through the last game of the weekend. And yet another came back for Sunday with the infamous “crit or shit” die from the Studio 6d6 booth even though he saw the horrible luck I was having with mine.

I also watched as a player took his Players Handbook around asking for the DMs that ran a particularly good game for him to sign his book. It was somewhere between the last day of high school and being a celebrity. It was also the first book I’ve signed where my son has signed it as well. In fact I think he was the player when I gave my name and DCI number at the beginning of the session for their logs said, “Oh, are you related to Nick?” (A running gag in my family, and the topic of another blog.

owlbear-gaggleI also picked up a first for the convention in their first plushie. Other than food, it and their first adventure (signed and numbered by Ed Greenwood) were the only purchases I was able to make. In hindsight, I probably would have tried to fit in a demo and probable purchase of Three Pillars the ghost investigating card game from Scare TV. I am a fan of some of the ghost investigation shows, so it would have been a natural fit. Not to mention there was a promo card in our con bag offering Gamehole Con as a location. And after 30 hours of DMing (not to mention several of printing and prepping adventures on the fly), I felt like I was haunting the venue.

There were some interesting highlights from my games as well.

  • A group of 4 players. Two guys and a husband and wife. The wife was playing a male drow and her husband a female drow. The characters were brother and sister as opposed to spouses. The other two guys were drow as well, one female and one male. (I accused them of trying to break my brain at 8 in the morning.)
  • That night, for the final slot, they were back at my table only now the remaining male drow was female. I had my first character in a game that was a transgendered drow rogue.
  • The Carnival. My mod I ran on the fly (read through it in about 15 minutes), was a carnival gone wrong. The table had 3 brand new players, including one kid who was probably around 10 years old – plus or minus. So I couldn’t go full American Horror Story. But it was pretty close. I even had one character trying to protect the villain as she had gained an infatuation with the ringmaster through a developed insanity effect. (Gotta love season 3 mods!)
  • One of the Critter Community players jumped in on the one mod we were running with banshee in it. He was the player at the table to take the “token” which made him the primary target in the final fight. Dropped him and the cleric to 0 hit points with the banshee scream. Had I not been so tired, I might have consoled him with, “At least the door wasn’t locked.” (Inside joke for fans of Critical Role.)

An Open Letter to @dungeonbastard

As you can clearly see by the title, this is an answer to the first salvo fired by one Bill Cavalier, aka the Dungeon Bastard. Clearly he has mistaken me for a gnome bard with an 8 strength and 10 constitution. Which means he is in for a surprise…

gameholecon-dragon-black-217x300In looking towards my upcoming schedule to map out the interviews and reviews to go up on WLP this coming month or two, I realized that my tickets to go to TeslaCon (not to mention the whole point of buying a tri-barreled Napoleonic pistol and hand crossbow) were going to conflict with attending GameHole Con in Madison that month. This meant no joining in on Dungeon Bastard’s Gauntlet of Doom™, or sitting through a discussion with Chris Perkins, DM to the Stars™.

This made me more melancholy than an emo goth bard with broken lute strings trying to play the Cure. Which led to me sending out this tweet shown below.


But what surprise was waiting for me in this Tomb of Horrors, but a reply from the man himself a short time later…



The choice is clear? Tesla is dead? Even assuming you don’t consider shows from SyFy that might say different (and who wouldn’t listen to them after Sharknado), we’re talking steampunkers. Only the Bronies are a more rabid fanbase. (Please don’t hunt me down, Bronies.)

Mr. Cavalier, you clearly don’t understand that TeslaCon is a short 20 minute drive from GameHole Con. In a matter of minutes we could be wrapping wrists together in period-appropriate silk rope and knife fighting like a cross between West Side Story and a half-orc mating ritual. (I would have went Klingon parmaqqay, but GameHole is a gaming con, not a trekkie convention.)

I don’t know what will be happening in Madison come Halloween, but I know it will be a night to remember. Hopefully we don’t thin the ranks of the geek community too much with our genre in-fighting. Because honestly, is there anything more sad in Wisconsin than geek-on-geek crime? Not since the “Fake Geek Girl Controversy of 2012” has the normally pacifistic community been rocked this far down its core.

Though, in all realism… to my gaming and geek brothers and sisters… TeslaCon is sold out. Go get your game on with the Dungeon Bastard and Chris Perkins, DM to the Stars™.