A group of guys looking to rekindle medieval flames by hooking up with their old Dungeons & Dragons buddies found themselves among the 28,000 fans who converged on Indianapolis this weekend for the Gen Con gaming convention. Hero Complex contributor Noelene Clark caught up with the old-school gamers, who won a contest to reunite their group, on their way to the con.
The last time Jason Vickery, Greg Goldmeier and Ben Howe were in the same place, it was on a ship. Vickery was a druid. “I turned into stone and got pushed in the ocean and died right away,” he said.
The men remember the Dungeons & Dragons campaign they played, but they can’t agree on when they played it. It might have been in 2001, or maybe before Goldmeier’s wedding in 2003.
The group was reunited this past weekend after winning the second annual “Never Split the Party” contest hosted by Wizards of the Coast, which publishes Dungeons & Dragons. Wizards flew the trio and a fourth friend, John Fasko, to Gen Con in Indianapolis, where they once again rolled dice to fight fiendish foes.
Now in their 30s, the members of group began playing together in late April 1987 after Howe’s uncle introduced him to the game.
“My uncle was 30-something at the time, but he is mentally handicapped, so he was probably functioning at a late-teenager level,” Howe said. “He showed me this game, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is cool! There are dragons, and people wear armor!’ Next thing, there were five or six of us playing on my front porch in Cleveland with my uncle.”
Neighborhood kids came and went, but Vickery, Goldmeier and Howe formed the “core three,” Vickery said. The boys planned their campaigns during the week — just coming up with characters was a night in itself — and played on weekends…
“At first, it was a weekend-afternoon-type thing,” Howe said. “Then as we got older, we’d go over to my uncle’s apartment and play there until the wee hours of the morning.”
They rarely used pre-made adventures, Vickery said, instead creating their own stories and using hodgepodge characters from books Howe’s uncle brought.
“Whatever book he got, he combined it into our D&D realm,” Howe said. “We had everything from wraiths to dragons, rogues, bards, rangers.”
They went through “a plethora of characters,” Vickery said, and enjoyed coming up with cool names for them. At one point, Vickery’s character was “Phazer,” Howe’s was “Lazer,” and Goldmeier’s was “Chazer.”
“It wasn’t named because of alcohol, but then later we made that connection,” Goldmeier said.
Not everyone was supportive of the hobby.
“We were children of the ’80s, when Dungeons & Dragons was under a lot of misconceptions,” Vickery said. “I heard about a lot of anti-D&D movements as a kid. I’d tell people I played, and I get these weird looks, like, ‘Oh, isn’t that dangerous?’ There were all these weird notions of ties to Satan and devil-worship. Parents didn’t understand it, so they didn’t let their kids explore all that it has to offer.”
Nowadays, D&Ders are more likely to face mockery than fear. Howe recalled seeing part of an episode of “Jesse,” a Christina Applegate sitcom, in which a group of friends playing D&D were portrayed in a less-than-flattering manner.
“I was like, ‘That’s not how we were! That’s not how we ever were,’” Howe said. “All those are stereotypes.”
“Not to say that the stereotypes aren’t out there,” Vickery added. “But it’s not everywhere, and as a group, we are a testament to that. I think our group kind of goes against the standard stereotype of antisocial geek guys in the basement, because we’re very healthy socially speaking. We’ve all kissed a girl and what have you. … We all got out of the house and saw the sun periodically.”
They played together for a decade, until Goldmeier left Cleveland to go to college in Phoenix and Howe went with him.
Now, Vickery is a barista in Minneapolis, Howe teaches hip-hop dance at a behavioral health treatment center in Phoenix, and Goldmeier is a married father of two girls and a graphic design specialist for a company in Medina, Ohio.
Goldmeier even attributes his success as a graphic designer to the creativity the game fostered.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it wasn’t for D&D sparking the imagination to draw,” he said. “I personally think [D&D has endured due to] the ability of the kids’ imaginations. I know the three of us have really vivid imaginations. We drew our characters and came up with all kinds of stuff.”
“I still draw the characters that we created on my porch playing Dungeons and Dragons,” Howe added. “It kept our imaginations going and working harder than if we just watched TV or video games, because you have to imagine everything. You’re just talking, and you have to visualize things.”
Out of the three, Vickery is the only one who still actively role-plays, expanding his repertoire to include other games like Warhammer, Mutants & Masterminds and Poison’d.
“The hobby has kind of taken over my life,” he said. “I keep up with the RPG community through podcasting, message boards, Twitter. It’s a really active and healthy community to be a part of. Part of the reason I wanted to go to Gen Con was to meet up with people that I’ve been talking with online for two or three years now.”
It was Vickery who entered the contest to reunite the group. They had fallen out of touch over the years, but were excited to see each other and have another Dungeons & Dragons adventure.
“I definitely miss it,” Howe said. “The thing that I miss most about it is just getting together with my friends. Hanging out, talking, making fun of each other. That sort of getting together doesn’t happen as often.”
“And that’s why I feel that D&D will never be completely replaced by games like World of Warcraft or anything like that,” Vickery added. “Because role-play is at its base a social experience. You can try to synthesize that with technology, but you can never replace the feeling of having four or five of your best friends around a table, rolling dice and talking.”
Photo: Dungeons & Dragons image. Credit: Wizards of the Coast