A maybe true story.
In 1999, with a couple of friends, I founded the Gaming Outpost. For a time in the early 2000s, it was the internet’s largest tabletop gaming website, until brought low by a combination a disgruntled employee, a late-night hack, tapering revenue, and founders who decided to get real jobs. But the Gaming Outpost’s influence lived on. Mike Mearls, designer of the wildly successful Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, got his first paid writing gig as a columnist on the site. Shannon Appelcline’s magisterial, four-volume history of the the RPG industry, Designers & Dragons, looks back on the Gaming Outpost as the incubator and stomping ground for the ideas and designers who eventually gave us the modern indie RPG movement. While it now exists only in the Internet Archives’s Wayback Machine, GO was a pretty cool place.
It was also a favorite hangout of Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas.
The Gaming Outpost featured news, articles, and reviews about all things tabletop gaming, but its main attraction was its discussion forum. That’s where designers like Ron Edwards, Clinton R. Nixon, Jared A. Sorensen, Mike Mearls, and John Wick hashed out ideas. It’s where Mike Daisy, later infamous for his controversial The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs theatrical monolog, lead conversations in his “Critical Hit” board. And it was where Dave Thomas talked about his love of role playing games — or where an unnecessarily elaborate hoax tried to convince us he did.
This was all close to twenty years ago, so my memory’s a little fuzzy on dates and specifics. But here’s how I remember it: For some time, a user calling himself Dave Thomas was a semi-regular participant in the Gaming Outpost discussion boards. There wasn’t much remarkable about his posts, but it was clear he was an active tabletop gamer, like everyone at at GO.
Then another user asked if he was the Dave Thomas, the guy we’d all grown up with on TV, somewhat awkwardly pitching us on hamburgers, Frosties, and baked potatoes. Yes, Dave answered, I am. This was, of course, a remarkable claim. Proof was needed.
Here’s the thing: Dave delivered. He asked for the Gaming Outpost user’s mailing address. A couple of weeks later, this incredulous gamer received a care package containing signed Dave Thomas of Wendy’s photos. When Dave Thomas died, activity on the account stopped.
This could’ve been a hoax. Someone could’ve used a “Dave Thomas” account on the Gaming Outpost with the plan to one day play a prank when asked about his identity. He could’ve bought the signed photographs. That’s all possible.
But I don’t want it to be. I’d like to think that, in addition to everything my little website gave to the flourishing tabletop RPG scene today, it also provided Wendy’s Dave Thomas, in the last years of his life, with a break from hamburgers, and a place talk about the games he loved.