This is the story of a cheese.
The story begins, like all great stories, with a road trip. This one was to GenCon 2000 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Only…I didn’t get to go.
Back then I was working at Human Code as a tester. There were two other guys with me in the test department, Nathan Regener and Scott Hazle (whom we called Shazle for short). All three of us were avid gamers. All three of us wanted to go to GenCon. But somebody had to stay behind and do the work.
Guess who that ended up being.
Okay, I’m not bitter. I really couldn’t have afforded to go anyway, so it wasn’t that big a loss. But since our boss was out as well, I ended up spending the week alone, working on a huge project that was already overdue. I ended up working about eighty hours that week and was feeling pretty unappreciated by the time they got back.
So, Tuesday morning, Nathan, Shazle and Jeremy (friend from another office who also went) waltz in. They unload the usual armfuls of posters, programs, book covers, tchotkes, etc. as well as copies of the Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition Player’s Handbook. I’m suitably impressed.
Then they pull out the Package. Now, I am fully aware of the custom of Wisconsin football fans, so I knew exactly what it was: a cheesehead. You know, one of those silly cheese-wedge-shaped hats that Packer fans wear to games. They told me that if I opened the package, I would have to wear it. Being in my right mind, I then refused to open the package until they threatened me with pointy implements.
I was right and wrong at the same time. It had started as a cheesehead. But it had become a magical artifact – a powerstone, in fact, charged with the essence of dozens of writers, game designers, artists, and other cool people.
And now I present the Cheesehead to you.
Pictures of the entire Cheesehead are coming. In the meantime, I was able to scan its various surfaces to bring you the individual signatures. Clicking on a name will give you a closeup of that signature and the story behind it.
The Curved Side:
The Right Side:
The Left Side:
Nathan: No shit, there we were. GenCon 2000. It was me, Shazle and Jeremy. The decision having been made to get something for Anthony, we embarked on a quest to find the most heinous item we could. I came up with the idea of the classic Wisconsin cheesehead…
Shazle: No, we were at the mall and saw them and thought, “You know, Anthony wouldn’t want one of those. Let’s get one for him.”
Jeremy: What I remember is that we were at the mall and they fucking closed on us and we went to three different restaurants and we ended up eating at this Japanese place and we were leaving and laughing about how Anthony was at home doing all the work and we decided to get him something and Nathan said “cheesehead” and I said cool, but what we needed to do was write “My Stupid Friends Went To GenCon 2000 And All They Got Me Was This Stupid Cheesehead” on it and then we should get signatures from everybody we could. And then I went off and spent the rest of the time hanging with Melanie, so…
Nathan: So me and Shazle did all the work.
Nathan: Everyone met this with a degree of surprise and occasional dismay. But everyone took it well and seemed happy enough to be signing something that wasn’t a picture of themselves or their own art that they’d seen a million times. A lot of them took a little extra time and chatted just because of the break in routine. Even if we don’t have something special to say about them, everyone was great about it. A finer group of people I couldn’t have met.
John Kovalic – Creator of Dork Tower, Wild Life and various other comics.
Nathan: He touched my ass. No, he was very nice. He chuckled a bit and signed the damn cheese.
Tracy Hickman – Fantasy author; co-creator of Dragonlance.
Dave Arneson – Co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons.
Nathan: He was sitting there looking so bored before we got there. Then we said “Sign our cheese!” He laughed a lot and signed it. Then he yelled, “Photo opportunity!” He put it on and danced around while random assorted hangers-on took pictures. It was actually kind of disturbing.
Anthony: I can’t help but think that one of those pictures would make a wonderful companion piece. Hint, hint to our audience!
Ramon Perez – One of the main artists for Palladium.
Nathan: I knew Ramon through another set of friends. He’s Canadian.
Greg Stafford – Creator of the world of Glorantha.
Nathan: He touched my ass.
Richard Le Parmentier – Played Admiral Motti in Star Wars: A New Hope. Told off Darth Vader and got choked – you know the guy.
Shazle: He heard about the cheese prior to us showing up. We had acquired a small reputation by then – and this was when we were only about halfway done. He told us he had never signed a cheese before. He was English, and didn’t know exactly what it was, so we explained it to him. He was familiar with the concept of “rabid football fan”, though.
Peter Woodward – Played Galan on Babylon 5: Crusade.
Nathan: He touched my ass.
Shazle: He was autographing his Babylon 5 card or face shots for ten bucks.
Nathan: We walked up and handed him the cheese and he said, “Oh wow. I’ve never charged for signing a cheese before, I don’t think I should start now.” And he signed it for free.
Neil Barret, Jr. – Writer
Nathan: He was a writer. He did not seem amused. He was kinda cranky. He was the only one.
Shazle: He was at the booth with Michael Stackpole and K.W. Jeter.
K.W. Jeter – Writer.
Nathan: Writer who was at the same booth as Michael Stackpole and Neil Barret, Jr.
Aaron Williams – Creator of Nodwick.
Nathan: Kovalic handed it to him when he was done and he signed it.
Aaron Williams: It was the most challenging surface I’ve had to draw on, I must say. I barely made it out of the faux-swiss divots with my arm intact. I recommend that beginners practice signing styrofoam packaging before they attempt this feat themselves. 🙂
Kate Novak – Writer. Co-creator of the Finder’s Stone Trilogy.
Christian Moore – Line designer for Star Trek, and one of the founders of Last Unicorn Games.
Shazle: She’s a vampire LARP player from Milwaukee. She’s 21.
Nathan: Cute girl named Kat who hung out with us for most of the convention.
Unknown 2: We don’t know.
Anthony: But someone out there probably does. Fill us in, please!
Todd Lockwood – One of the conceptual artists for D&D3. Big red dragon on page 124 of PHB.
Shazle: He saw that Sam Wood had already drawn on it and said, “Damn, now I have to draw on it.”
The Curved Side:
Andrew Greenburg – One of the primary writers on Fading Suns.
Nathan: Really nice guy. He’s recognized me at the con for two years running. Had a great time with his devil (marketing guy) last year.
Gary Gygax – Co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons.
Nathan: The man who first brought me to Satan worship…no, he was really nice. He seemed genuinely touched when I thanked him for fifteen years worth of entertainment. And then he genuinely touched my ass.
Sam Wood – Conceptual artist for D&D3.
Shazle: He was actually the first person to start drawing on it.
Phil Foglio – Artist of such great talent and so many things that to try to summarize him is to do a disservice.
Nathan: Laughed very hard.
Owen Seyler – Line Editor and primary designer for the Dune RPG for Last Unicorn Games.
Nathan: I gotta tell the LUG story. Back in ’92-’93, I was at Apple doing tech support and I get a call from these guys having problems with fonts. So I take the call and get their name and what company they’re with – turns out they are with Last Unicorn Games, and I was reading through Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth right when they called. So I started chatting with them and when Heresy came out (this was back when everyone was getting on the CCG bandwagon) I started demoing for them. Then I started playtesting Dune: The CCG for them. So they ended up paying my way into the first GenCon I ever attended. And we’ve been pals ever since. This year, when I got them to sign my copy of the Dune RPG, they signed it “To Nathan: You will be known as Usul among us.” Which I thought was awful damn nice of them.
Toivo Rovainen – Artist and Collator for Cheapass Games.
Nathan: She’s…just…cute. I mean, really cute. Actually, they were rooming about four doors down from us our group and theirs all went down on the elevator together.
Shazle: And, of course, Nathan says “Okay, whose hand was that?”
Nathan: Now, I was standing in the back of the elevator. Kaja was at the very front, and she pipes right up, “Oh, that was mine. Sorry.”
Shazle: And Nathan replies, “Oh, I’m not.”
Michael A. Stackpole – Writer extroadinarie.
Nathan: The first person who signed.
Shazle: No, the second. K.W. Jeter was the first. Well, all three of them signed it at once, I guess.
Jeff Grubb – Longtime TSR writer and fantasy author.
Shane Hensley – Creator of Deadlands at Pinnacle Entertainment.
Nathan: He seemed a little surprised when I whipped out the cheese.
James Ernest – Cheapass Games.
Nathan: I spent a bit of time with him hanging out. Really nice. Got to play his new game “Vegas, or Jame Ernest Writes Off Another Trip To Vegas” – that was fun. He signed it “US Government Property” just because he’s funny that way.
I’m From Chicago – I Don’t Do Cheese
Nathan: Cute girl at this booth that sold swords and assorted jewelry. She’s one of the people I’ve hung out with at GenCons past.
Anthony: It’s just reassuring to know that whatever she’s doing right now, it’s not cheese.
J. Michael Strazinsky – Creator of Babylon Five.
Nathan: The first time I went up to him I just shook his hand and said, “Thanks for improving the quality of science fiction as a whole in the last decade.” I apologized then because I didn’t have anything for him to sign. The second time through, he seemed to recognize me, and chuckled when I whipped out the cheese. Then he touched my ass.
Dave Mattingly – Writer for ezhero.com.
Nathan: Not the baseball player. Just some guy I’ve played some games with.
Anthony: I think that’s Don Mattingly.
Nathan: Shut the hell up.
People we didn’t get to sign it:
Anthony Daniels (C3PO) – Twenty bucks for a signature on anything. If you bought a picture of him for twenty bucks, you got the signature for free.
Chris Druschel (Sysadmin at Wizards of the Coast) – We were never able to get him and the cheese in the same room. We suspect he’s the anti-cheese. We watched him possibly drink himself into a better job.
Johnathan Tweet (Designer for Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition) – Nobody could find him during the entire con. Pity.