Inspired by Shannon Appelcline’s excellent Designers & Dragons series of historical books about the RPG industry, I’ve decided to go through my own history and talk about my perspective on the projects I’ve been involved in.
By 2001, I had already had some published work. If you can call it that. I spoke before about the TwoMoons MUSH where I exercised my first public creative work in an interactive story environment. Also, in 2000, I got a chance to contribute to the Hero System APAzine, EZ Hero with an article.
But things really started to move in 2001. I was living in Louisville, Kentucky. I was going to school at the University of Louisville, fresh out of a 4-year stint in the US Army. At this time, I was in the reserves, and all I really wanted to do was get a degree in creative writing.
Or so I thought.
In truth, I found U of L to be stifling for the most part. Oh, classes were alright, but the student community and the campus policies just weren’t my cup of tea. In the meantime, I reached out to some local gamers to find a new gaming group. I managed to find a FANTASTIC local group of gamers that included Dave Mattingly (one of the guys who founded Blackwyrm Games), Derrick Thomas (a professional game artist for many Hero Games, and later, Blackwrym products and other game books), Eric Rademaker (another Hero games artist), Ryan Wolfe (creator of Lux Aeternum and many other gaming products), Des Kirkpatrick, and a few others.
This local group would become the nucleus of some fantastic RPG campaigns, and introduced me to several new systems: Feng Shui, Jovian Chronicles, Tri-Stat, and more. In time, we roped in one of my old Army buddies, US Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Bryant Smith (one of my best and oldest friends) to join us. Most memorably, I ran a strong (*IMHO) Birthright campaign using 2nd Ed D&D (transitioning to 3rd edition in late 2001), and participated in several super-fun Feng Shui games ran by Eric.
Dave Mattingly introduced me to a fellow named Rob Stone, who was starting up a game company called Citizen Games to jump into the D20 market with some new adventures and sourcebooks. Citizen Games was looking for a D20 Line Editor, and I had experience with the system. Rob seemed to agree that I was the right man for the job, and I jumped into my first “professional” work with Citizen.
The first project I worked on was Sidewinder: Wild West D20. This was a fun book to be involved with–I wrote a series of small adventure hooks for one chapter of the book. However, my very first foray into RPG work hit a major snag — they forgot to credit me in the book! I received a nice letter from Mike Eckert, Citizen Games’ president, apologizing for the oversight. However, it is still a little awkward to talk about Sidewinder, for obvious reasons.
After Sidewinder, though, I got to work on more Citizen Games projects in a larger role. I was the Line Editor for 1,000 Faces: Villains and Scoundrels. This was the first sourcebook planned in a series that would present NPCs for D20 games. We had some stock art from Larry Elmore to use on the interior, and it was my job to wrangle the writers into using standardized stat blocks. This was my first real foray into project management and development, since I was writing a large portion of the book and overseeing the work of other writers at the same time.
In the end, 1,000 Faces only had the one book, and it was entirely focused on villains. 250 of them, to be exact! Some of the entries are rather cliche, looking back on the project, but there are quite a few that are somewhat interesting, and a handful of very interesting and unique villains for any campaign. I consider it a qualified success as a product, and I’m quite proud of it.
The other book I got to work on during this time was called Way of the Witch. This was a “concept book,” an idea that Rob Stone had come up with one evening. He wanted a book about witches, written entirely by female game designers, and he wanted the development of the book to be very collaborative. “Like a coven!” He explained.
Way of the Witch definitely features many talented designers, but I felt that this project was extremely challenging for a new developer/line editor. I had difficulty keeping the writers on track, and while much of the content is creative and interesting, it tends to wander all over the map. In the end, I think back on Way of the Witch as an interesting experiment that produced a book of middling quality. It’s fair to say I learned several lessons about project development while working on Way of the Witch.
When I look back on this period of my career, I’m surprised by how much work I was actually doing as a developer and project manager. At the time, I considered myself a writer first and foremost. The role of “line editor” was never fully explained to me by the guys at Citizen Games, and I was working entirely on my own most of the time. This certainly contributed to my rocky start as a developer! On the other hand, I enjoyed working with Citizen Games, and the books we made had a lot of heart and a lot of passion put into them — nobody was “phoning it in.”
Citizen Games did good by me, professionally. Although they flubbed my credit in Sidewinder, they never failed to pay me what I was owed. In fact, the company came through for me in a big way in 2001. My father was in a very serious industrial accident that left him with a life-threatening injury, and I needed money to get an immediate plane ticket home to Arkansas to take care of him. Mike Eckert sent me a check the very next day to cover the flight–an advance on my work for 1,000 Faces.
I did some other small work for Citizen Games during 2001-2002, designing a new monster, proofreading some adventures and playtesting others. However, Citizen Games did not last long and shut down soon afterwards. Perhaps this was a good thing, as they were spared the worst of the d20 collapse in 2003.
Also of note in this time was my first work for Hero Games, contributing to the house e-zine Digital Hero. I also got an article published in Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine, the first of a half-dozen articles I would write for that periodical over the next few years.