It was my birthday.
But rather than celebrating my 39th with the love of my life as we had planned, I was driving down to central Illinois to honor the life of one of my best friends. Robert E. "Bob" Bledsaw, founder of Judges Guild, the creator of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, the game-industry hero of my youth and friend and business partner of my early adulthood, had passed away on Saturday, and so on Tuesday, April 22, instead of opening presents and eating ice cream cake, I was driving down to Champaign/Urbana.
Still, there was nowhere else Id rather have been.
Bob had been the best of friends, and the least I could do was be there to honor him at the last. So early Tuesday I drove down from the wilds of Waupaca County to Madison, where Google Maps proved its utter FAILability and got me lost trying to find the home of my friend, Shane Glodoski (a.k.a. Plaag, the keeper of the Judges Guild sub-web at The Acaeum). After driving around in circles for a while I finally called him and got real directions. Together we then drove down to Champaign-Urbana, where we were to stay the night. The plan was to meet up with fellow Guild-Friends John Barnes and Jeff Rients for a memorial dinner and game.
John called us from Champaign-Urbana while we were still several hours away; with the intermittent reception we were able to determine that he was in town early and checking out the hotels. We told him wed call him again to make final arrangements of where to meet when we were about a half-hour out of town.
Of course, Shane and I were jibber-jabbering incessantly about Bob, Judges Guild, the adventure games industry, and everything related, and failed to notice when we were getting close to Champaign-Urbana. Then another call came and thats when I noticed a sign stating that we were only 16 miles out. Doh! Poor John probably thought wed forgotten about him, but in truth (as he found out later) theres something about my car that makes people just talk on and on and on
So eventually after the long drive (that seemed much shorter thanks to yakking away) we met with John at the hotel, checked in, and called Jeff to arrange where to meet for dinner. We decided on a Cracker Barrel one exit down the highway, and so set off to meet him.
And of course, we got lost. Now with three, the jibber-jabber effect was magnified, and we totally missed the frontage road and the Cracker Barrel sign set off slightly there from. So we drive south, halfway into Champaign-Urbana before deciding we missed it, then turned around and went the same distance north of the highway, missing it again. We all concentrated on finding it on the return trip south, and so 15 minutes after first turning off the exit ramp, we find the restaurant 100 yards away from the exit ramp.
If it had been a dragon, it would have killed us and eaten us before we knew what hit us. And people complain about surprise segments sheesh.
So we finally get to the Cracker Barrel and order drinks while waiting for Jeff. The strawberry lemonade there was fantastic; I think I drank a whole California countys worth of strawberries while there. Jeff arrived with his daughter, and soon thereafter his lovely wife joined us, and we ordered.
Im not certain how the butter-fried chicken tasted, as I was still possessed by the spirit of the car, and got to jawing on about this, that, and the other (ranging from Bob and Judges Guild to the OGL/GSL situation, to the future or lack thereof of D&D 4E, and everything in between). By the time we pushed back from the table, the chicken was long cold and untouched, though many a lemonade made a valiant sacrifice for that repast.
We then followed Jeff to his apartment where we played one of the best OD&D game sessions Ive ever had the honor of participating in (surpassed only by the venture into the dungeons of Castle Greyhawk at the table of Gary himself). Jeff has a fine run-down of the session on his blog, including the introduction to the adventure, here: http://jrients.blogspot.com/
It was past midnight when we completed the quest to recover the Silver Volume, and so with much regret we left Jeffs fine game table and even finer game mastery to retire for the night. Wouldnt do to drive all this way and miss the services!
The next morning, bright and bleary (some more bleary than others; poor Shane bore the full brunt of my notorious snoring, while John seemed to be blissfully immune to it somehow), we set off for Decatur, and got to the church a full hour before the services were to begin. There we first met Debi (Bledsaw) Summerlott, Bobs sister, and then Bob Junior arrived with his family. I spoke briefly with Bob Junior as he, of course, had to greet incoming mourners. It was a truly bittersweet moment; we had talked extensively over the phone during his fathers illness, but this was the first time we truly met face-to-face (other than a brief hello in passing at Gen Con many years ago).
The church slowly filled up; it was a good showing, though I think perhaps the three of us were the only Guild-fans to show up (there were a few others in the back that might have been, but I never got a chance to speak with them).
The ceremony was lovely, traditional Nazarene I suppose, with several hymns and two songs by live singers (one a very talented young girl who knew Bob and his father, the other I believe was Bobs daughter-in-law). The only hiccup during the service was that the pastor thought Bob was involved in computer games; he apparently mistook Bobs love of playing online games for his career of publishing tabletop games (an honest mistake that most of my family makes of my own career to this day). At the end everyone filed past the family in the front pew and offered condolences.
We then all got into our cars to drive to the cemetery for the gravesite service. Bill Owen, Bob's original partner in founding Judges Guild and the Llangwellen the Blue, joined Shane, John, and I in our car (we were fourth in line, IIRC). On the way we discussed Bill and Bobs work and friendship together.
At the gravesite the officiate chanted a hymn (reminded me of an old Anglo-Saxon dirge), and then played a song on a boom box while releasing white doves. Interestingly, after the doves flew off together over the crowd, one made off on its own path how very true to form.
After the gravesite service, Bill again joined us on the return trip to the church. On the way we stopped by one of the old Judges Guild offices, now home to a YWCA annex. I took a few pictures, which will be posted on the AGP site and likely Acaeum JG Sub-Web soon.
The luncheon was very nice. We sat with Bill and Sam, Bob Juniors middle son. Sam informed us that he was planning to study art when he goes to college next year; Sonny (Bob III, Bob Juniors oldest boy) is about to finish his engineering studies (following in Bobs footsteps), and Martin, the second-oldest, is studying computers. Sounds like the Bledsaw clan will soon be able to put together a game company on their own!
The luncheon wound down, and it was time to be moving on. I spoke again briefly with Bob Junior (whom I am going to have to get used to referring as Bob now, I suppose), and handed to him several special pre-production copies of the Rhadamanthia Continental Map (about 98% complete, and based on Bobs maps and notes that he sent me several years ago). I had several copies made up for Bobs sons and for Bill; unfortunately, Bob himself never got to see the map, as I sent it on via e-mail only the night before he passed away.
It was during the drive to the gravesite that Bill mentioned how unfortunate it was that we would never get to see the expansion of the Wilderlands that he had spoken of with Bob during the last several months. He was pleasantly surprised when I handed him his copy of the map on returning to the church after the gravesite service. Bob Junior, too, was very pleasantly surprised, as was Marc Summerlott, former Judges Guild employee and Bobs brother-in-law, who saw the map as I was passing it to Bob. I felt it a great honor to hand to Bobs sons and friends a physical representation of the world he had created.
Bob (Junior) and family then left, and we were, as the first to arrive, almost the last to leave (reluctantly). As she was the first we met when we arrived, so Debi and her husband Marc were the last we saw when we left. We spoke with Marc a bit and, I am sure, found a fast and firm friend who would look out for Bobs legacy as strongly as we.
Shane and I in my car, and John in his, we then went to Bobs house on Walnut Grove; we planned to take a picture, but a family already lives there, so thought discretion were better.
We then went to the Sunnyside Road location, the last and greatest Judges Guild office, the old schoolhouse, today a church! As there was only a groundskeeper there mowing the lawn in back, we quickly took some pictures while marveling at how big the offices were for the day (at the time, almost as big as TSR before the move to Sheridan Springs Road). At that point, close to the highway, Shane and I parted ways with John, who drove off to his home in Ohio. As we left we paid our last farewells to Decatur, and to Our Guildmaster.
The drive back to Madison was quiet and uneventful. Shane finally got some long-delayed sleep. Good time was made. After dropping Shane off in Madison the last, lonely leg of the journey seemed the longest, though of course it was in fact the shortest.
When I arrived in Stevens Point I stopped to tank up, and noticed my rear drivers side tire was almost flat; as the drive down had been fine, and the drive up to Madison okay, I figure I picked up a nail somewhere north of Madison. I pumped up the tire in the dark, then drove the last few miles home, hoping to avoid a blowout or flat. Luck was with me and I made my saving throw vs. Flat Tire, and got home in the early hours of night.
The love of my life was there, ready with gifts to celebrate the delayed birthday. I was home.
One of the things discussed by Shane and John and I during the trip was the future of Judges Guild and, more specifically, the future of Adventure Games Publishing. At this time, all things are continuing as they had under Bob; Bob Junior and his brothers are determined that their fathers legacy will live on. Necromancer Games will continue on with Tegel Manor for 4E; AGP will continue on with the Wilderlands of High Adventure for Castles & Crusades and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy for OGL d20 ver3.5. No changes are planned at this time. And there are still plenty of firm friends among the old Judges Guild crew. Once the family has had time to mourn, only then will business be discussed. Whatever happens, the Wilderlands, and Bobs legacy, will live on.
Main Man, Adventure Games Publishingjamesagp1@gmail.comhttp://adventuregamespublishing.blogspot.com/http://jamesmishler.blogspot.com