Thursday, July 1st
Welcome to the first of the month folks! That means our latest In the Works is live—and that it's time yet again to pay the rent.
Before we move onto the main event—Brian Rubin's look back at Never Split the Party 2009, and a reminder that the deadline for 2010's contest is fast approaching—we have to take the briefest of moments and direct your attention over at the Magic: the Gathering site. Two teams separated by a common company, it's always enjoyable to look over the virtual wall and see what card previews they're making available. Low and behold, what do they show off the other day? Phylactery Lich! With a nod toward D&D, Doug Beyer walls through the mechanics that would make Acererak proud.
Never Split the Party
The deadline to enter D&D’s Never Split the Party contest is fast approaching. If you want to know what could be in store for you and some of your oldest dungeon-mates, take a look at this piece I wrote about the winners of last year’s contest. Meeting them and hearing their stories was an amazing experience, highlighted by the non-stop excitement that surrounded us at Gen Con. Take a look—and then get your contest submission ready! If you don’t, I will send a gelatinous cube to eat you. Cube-style!
Freelance writer, Geek Monthly Magazine
Party On: Never Split the Party Winners Descend on Gen Con 2009
Words and Pictures by Brian P. Rubin
It’s kind of rare to actually encounter Geek Greatness. A chance meeting with Bruce Campbell, getting stuck in an elevator with Lynda Carter or perhaps having a restraining order filed against you by Christopher Lambert — it happens, infrequent though it may be.
But it’s even rarer to actually become Geek Greatness — and that’s just what happened at 2009’s Gen Con Gaming Convention in Indianapolis, where six gamers were reunited after winning Wizards of the Coast’s “Never Split the Party” contest.
As photos were snapped and video cameras rolled, passing nerds in corsets and elf-ears leaned in to take a look, all while the six winners — Jamme Loss, Steve Cichon, Nick Compin, Aaron Tilton, and Loyal and Katie Parsons — played a game of D&D led by Andy Collins, one of the writers of the game’s 4th Edition. In fact, while Andy DMed, a father and son interrupted so he could sign a copy of the Player's Handbook. Truly, this was a table of Gen Con Royalty.
But how’d we even get here? It started with the announcement of D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast’s contest earlier in 2009.
“After hearing from our fans that large numbers of D&D players were no longer able to play with their original game group due to life changes, like relocating or family and work obligations, we decided to do something about it,” said Liz Schuh, Director of the D&D Brand with Wizards of the Coast. “We wanted to give a group the opportunity to re-connect…. The “Never Split the Party” contest allowed game groups to share their stories with us and gave the winners the chance to reunite at Gen Con.”
It’s not hard to see why winning entry stood out: written by Loyal, the group’s de facto DM, it reads like a gaming session’s introduction.
“We were in the inn again,” it starts. “The Sorceress Nafia was settled at a corner table with a goblet of wine while small wisps of flame danced about her head. Orgon was stomping into the inn looking guilty after ‘accidentally’ knocking-out a horse with a reflexive punch. Sir Ducayne and The Bard were chatting up a couple of local lasses at the bar. The dwarven cleric Surma had settled near the hearth and seemed to be enjoying some stew while simultaneously listening to every single thing being discussed. What trouble awaits?”
The group originated in the 1980s with Loyal, Aaron and Jamme playing together during junior high in the small Nebraska town of Fall City. They continued to quest together in college at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and picked up Steve and Katie along the way. The group changed again with Nick joining when Loyal and Katie went to graduate school out in California with members of the old party visiting from time to time. And in a true geek-love connection, Loyal and Katie started dating and even got married all because of their time gaming together.
“Aaron pretty much told me he was going to kill me if I didn't ask her out,” laughed Loyal, of his and Katie’s initial romance. Of course, such a threat of violence is perfectly normal for Aaron’s favorite character, Orgon the Brewer — the one described above as having accidentally knocked out a horse. And taking a look at the hulking, soft-spoken Aaron, it’s not inconceivable that he could’ve made good on his warning, despite the fact that he’s about the nicest Texas resident you might meet.
For winning the contest, the six gamers were flown to Indianapolis, given four-day Gen Con passes and put up in a hotel suite. And upon reuniting, they picked up right where they left off.
“That was the amazing thing, because I haven't seen Steve for, like, 15 years at least,” said Aaron, “and when he got here, we started our conversation like it was yesterday.”
Gamers who bond over dice understand this connection: having a group that gels is like actually being in a family.
“It's extremely selective,” says Nick, a transportation planner in Sacramento, of how a group forms. “If I were living in the forest, these would be the folks who would be there with my family — and that's about it.”
“If we were meant to be friends for life, we would be, because true friends stick together,” added Katie (who looks a little like Hermione all grown up).
After acquainting themselves with the rules of 4th Edition, on the third day of the convention, the six sat to play with DM Andy Collins for five hours — with Andy, ever the professional, opting to stand the entire time. “There’s no other way to do it,” he said, smiling.
“You’re travelling on the king’s road, on your way to the town of Winterhaven. The breeze in your faces is cool and comfortable — much like standing outside of GenCon,” he began, setting the mood amid the chaos of the convention floor.
“The road beneath your feet is nice and level. An occasional ancient cobblestone peeks through the dirt road, indicating decades of neglect. You also notice footprints leading up and down the road, many of which were made by small, clawed feet… definitely not human.” The group rolled a perception check and they were off and running, getting into battles with goblins and ghouls, learning the ropes along with their characters.
“He doesn't know what he's doing, and I don't know what he's going to do next,” said Steve, referring to Immeral, the Eladrin cleric he’d rolled up for the occasion. “He was just bumbling through. How do you not empathize with that?”
While the party played, despite the scads of games, dice, costumes, and weapons for sale at this Midwest Mecca of gaming, con-goers constantly stopped by to watch the action, drawn to the table like nerd-moths to the flame. Each roll became cause for celebration… or for wails of defeat, such as in Aaron’s case, whose barbarian happened to have a steady stream of crappy rolls, the bane of every gamer’s existence.
Cementing the group’s celebrity status were the custom t-shirts Loyal made for the six, displaying the map of the classic D&D adventure, The Temple of Elemental Evil.
“I had some folks come up and ask to take a picture of the back of the shirt that Loyal made because they recognized the Temple immediately,” said Nick.
“We've been wearing them around the convention,” said Katie, “and it's just been fun to have people stop us and say, 'oh, you were the winners! That's so cool!’ We're celebrities!”
When all was said and done, the gamers were grateful for the chance to bring the party back together once more.
“I want to thank Wizards of the Coast for this amazing opportunity to get back with these old friends — well, not so old, but the dearest friends that I’ve had,” said Steve. “Thank you so very much.”
Though the party split once again after the four-day convention came to an end, the bond between these six grew stronger — and it’s unlikely that they’ll stay split for too long.
Would you expect anything less of Geek Greatness?