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The Birthday

Early in the year, I made a big deal about I was turning 40 in 2020 (math was even involved)! At the time, I had big, vague plans for how to celebrate this milestone.

However, when the goal line was in sight, I hadn’t made any plans and wasn’t sure I wanted to.

Here’s what happened.

The Original Party Idea

I’m a tabletop gamer. A lot of my friends, locally and internationally, are tabletop gamers. Seemed it would be a fun time to have a game day with as many of my friends as I could pack into a small hall and chatroom.

I saw shelfs of board games lining the walls. Tables with iPad stands (just the stands, BYO tablet) for a mix of physical and virtual gaming. A projector pointing at the wall so those attending virtually could also feel like they were there when it came time to announcements and happy birthdays. My birthday party would border on a birthday convention.

There was one hitch: my birthday was the day before Gen Con. Not only did that mean I’d be away the day of, but a con known as the best four days in gaming would overshadow my tiny gaming-themed birthday con. Not that we were competing, but knowing many of my friends are parents and gamers, I couldn’t expect them to be able to give up a day the weekend before or after Gen Con or even a weekend the month before or after Gen Con to game with me. So I would either be celebrating my July birthday in June or September, completing missing my actual turning 40.

It’s nice to think back to when that was the largest logistical issue I saw my birthday facing.

The Hold Up

It’s funny that I considered a party in June. In reality June had come and gone and I still didn’t have a plan. Finally, my wife, whose family never made a big deal about birthdays, and who typically needs to be reminded most years that mine does matter to me, said “So are you doing anything for your birthday or what? Because I don’t want to hear about it after it’s done that you wish you’d done something.”

She was right. I needed to revisit my plans through a 2020 lens. Which, like most things this year, meant recognizing all of the socializing I do online and realize I am well equipped for this quarantine life. Heck, my original birthday plans included a virtual component already.

I didn’t end up with a hall of games with all of my friends, but I did end up with one of the most memorable game session I’ve ever been involved in.

The Actual Party

When it comes to roleplaying games, I’ve played Pathfinder almost exclusively for over 10 years. However, I recently spoke with Green Ronin designers about their line of games, specifically asking which would make a good GI Joe system (Modern AGE was the frontrunner).

With that in mind, I reached out to one of those designers, my friend the omnitalented Crystal Frasier. I asked her if she was willing to write a GI Joe themed Modern AGE one-shot. Now Crystal literally has a degree in animation history, and her knowledge of 80s cartoons eclipses mine to a baffling degree, but one of her blind spots is GI Joe. I told her that it didn’t matter, no one at the table would be both an expert at Modern AGE and a GI Joecyclopedia. We’re looking to go light on each in the name of everyone having a good time.

With that, she was on board. It was time to put my team together.

You Son of a Bitch, I'm In | Know Your Meme

I was joined by a ragtag group of friends from across friend groups and the continent, like a middle-aged Tiger Force of nerds.

  • My wife, Tina, who I met playing D&D and who has absorbed a lot of GI Joe lore over the years. We haven’t played RPGs as much lately, so I wanted her on board and cast her as the team’s officer with a jetpack, Assets;
  • My podcast co-host, Jefferson Jay Thacker (also known as Perram), who for once didn’t need to segue away from GI Joe during one of our conversations;
  • Cathy, the overlap of a lot of my geeky ventures. She’s been a podcast cohost, a fellow gamer in an actual play podcast, an actual player in a meatspace game, and someone that shows up when I invite her to geeky things;
  • Charles, also known as Raptor on the GI Joe message boards where we met. Charles is a gamer and game designer, who has made some GI Joe inspired games over the years. He was my first GI Joe RPG GM;
  • Leah, one of my best friends who I barely see because she moved to Japan, but I ran an online Pathfinder session for her 40th birthday earlier in the year, which helped inspire my birthday game.

Crystal made up for her lack of GI Joe knowledge in two ways. First, she watched a bunch of GI Joe on YouTube (fortunately streaming round the clock on Hasbro channel). Second, she used a Cobra teleporter doomsday weapon from the series, The Mass Device, to bring in characters from 80s cartoons she knew better (and she knew I enjoyed).

By the end, when Cobra Commander and Starscream were yelling at each other in dueling Chris Latta shrieks, and my friends all laughed because Crystal does a surprisingly good Chris Latta impression and because they got the reference on one level or another, everything had come together.

I had a happy birthday.