Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Who Is This Guy, Anyway?

Now that I have been writing here for a while, I have built up an audience of, what, 10 people?  Well, it is worth it so far.  But, it occurs to me that few if any of you have any idea what my "credentials" are.  I have a history in the hobby, that makes me thoroughly qualified to fake my way through these posts.

In The Beginning...

When I look back to the heady, effervescent early days of the hobby, I mostly remember that I was in elementary school.  In 1981, I was in fifth grade.  I received the legendary Red Box D&D for Christmas that year.  To this day, it is still the best Christmas present I've ever gotten.

Did I play the heck out of it?  Um, no, not really.  See, the box came without one critical component: friends.  I had no one to play with.  But I read those books.  I read Keep on the Borderlands over and over.  I ran myself through the module at least a dozen times, with different characters.  (Oddly enough, one of the things I am grateful for is that I burned through a lot of my terrible mistakes, like Monty Haul-ism, during these solo sessions.)

I picked up Top Secret and the Marvel Superheros game.  I also got the Expert, Companion, and Masters rules sets (I was never interested in Immortals).  My grandmother had a tradition of buying each of us a magazine subscription for our birthdays, and I begged for Dragon.  My collection begins with issue #79, and went right up to the last print issue.

I really started playing seriously in college, when I joined my first campaign.  It was nominally 2e AD&D, but with a lot of 1e still hanging around and a host of wacky house rules.  I also started really broadening my gaming experience, looking into such things as GURPS and Dark Conspiracy.  I also got seriously involved in the SCA during college, which ended up introducing me to a lot of other geeky things (such as filking).

I've been playing and GMing ever since.  D&D, Spycraft, Rifts, 7th Sea, Legend of the Five Rings, Deadlands, and probably a few I can't think of.  And, like most gamers, I have read many more games than that. 

The AEG Years

Some of you may, perhaps, be familiar with Ree Soesbee.  I was lucky enough to be friends with her before her rise to fame and glory.  One day, she and her boyfriend were checking out a gaming store.  We all played Magic together, and someone showed her this brand new CCG that was based on the Japanese mythos.  She was a big fan of the Japanese, and was entranced.  She contacted AEG.  She brought them to HeroesCon, our local con.  She ended up getting freelance work, then going there to work full time.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The rest of our group was drawn in by Ree's enthusiasm, and by just how awesome L5R is.  We became one of the early group of Bounty Hunters, AEG's demo teams.  We worked four or five cons for them.  We ran a lot of tournaments at the local store.  We even managed to find a few nearby stores that would let us come in and run tournaments.  It was pretty cool.

Thanks to the people I met through this, I was able to sneak a foot in the door of the industry.  Specifically, when 7th Sea came out, I approached John Wick.  I told him that, if the line lasted long enough, I wanted to do the Church of the Prophets book.  I even had an outline of my ideas.  Apparently I impressed him, mostly by asking for a very specific project that was not likely to be the star of the line.  When the time came, I was given the job.  Well, I was given half the job, because they didn't want to trust an untried freelancer with an entire book.

I learned a couple critical things with that job.  First, writing an RPG book is HARD.  Second, it pays for shit.  Half a book, and the check wasn't even enough to make a significant bump in our finances.  Third, nobody cares as much as you think they will (there were very few reviews of the book).  Fourth, seeing your name on the front of the book is an experience like no other.

The Spycraft Years

Okay, technically, Spycraft was put out by AEG, so this should be lumped in with the above category.  But, it was pretty distinct in a lot of ways, so it gets its own section.

While doing stuff for AEG, we had become friends with Patrick Kapera.  My wife, especially, fell in love with his work on the tragically short Legend of the Burning Sands.  When he started putting together a new espionage game, he invited us to the earliest prototype website.  We were among the first people on the mailing list.

When the game went into playtest, we volunteered.  I had to cajole the rest of our gaming group to take part, but they did.  Then, we moved away, and our playtest group was just me and my wife.  We playtested the heck out of that game.  Our names are in the front of every single book for first edition Spycraft, and the core book for Spycraft 2.0.

Doing that playtesting taught me so much about game design.  It also taught me a lot about how to write good game text.  It wasn't just a matter of interacting with the game designers.  Since we were all also very active on the game's forums, I could watch to see how the rules were received and used in the wild.  It was very educational.

The Years Since

Around the time Spycraft was winding down for us, I got an email from Rob Vaux.  He had been the line developer on 7th Sea when I wrote the Church book.  He had also gotten my name from Patrick as a suggestion for a playtester.  He had a new game he was working on, called Edge of Midnight.  It was a noir game.  I agreed to take a look at it.

I fell in love with the game.  Not the world so much, because I'm not actually a fan of the noir genre.  But the system was very cool.  I've gushed about the core mechanic before.  I also like the nifty "magic is the loopholes in science" system.  I tore into the system with gusto.  The rest of the playtesters were, well, less enthusiastic.  By the end, Rob felt that I had graduated from a playtester credit to a full "mechanics assistance" credit.  That was pretty cool.

Other than a couple articles for Polyhedron magazine, that was my last official published credit.  Since then, I've been working this internet thing.  Starting a few years back, I became a heavy reader of, and then got into blogging (both reading and writing).  I decided quite a while ago that I don't want to do RPG writing as any kind of career, even a second one.  It is too much work just to get the gigs, let alone write the material and make the sales.  I'll stick to churning out free stuff, so I can get away with it being of amateur quality.

And, now, I have an additional descriptor to add to my personal character sheet.  A few months back, I joined the RPG Circus podcast as a host. I think that makes me almost a professional, right?


  1. You did work for the industry and got paid, you are a professional!

    And I playtested for Edge of Midnight! Neat world.

  2. While technically true, I often don't feel like a professional. I have a small handful of credits to my name, and most of those are from years ago.

    You playtested EoM? Wow, small world. Most people haven't even heard of it. I talked about it on last week's RPG Circus. I'm also going to be running a session at the next DC Gameday in October.