Category Archives: D20

Blast From the Past: 2003, addendum

Hey readers,

Thanks for sticking with me as I journey through the past and chronicle my history in the gaming industry. 🙂

2003, as I mentioned before in the first part, was a big year. I started the year out as my last one living in Louisville and ended it by moving out to Maryland, where I would stay for the next five years.

I hit some big successes in the d20 industry just as that market was winding down. Fantasy Flight Games, through developer Greg Benage, gave me an opportunity to contribute to Sorcery & Steam, a steampunk sourcebook for D20. I took on writing up all the skills and feats and gear for this book, and my role expanded into writing up some vehicles as well. It turned out that my material was fairly influential, and many of the feats and skills I created ended up shaping the prestige classes for the book.

After that one came Dawnforge. I got to work on Dawnforge once I moved to Maryland, and this was an AMAZING opportunity. Dawnforge came out of the setting competition WOTC had set up a year or two prior, and it had risen to become one of the finalists (alongside Morningstar).

Greg handed me one of my favorite assignments I’ve ever had as a freelance writer: “Take a section of the map, any section, and write it up. Whatever you want. Here’s the basics on the world.”

It was creative bliss! I had received the Icehammer Front, a massive mountain range inhabited by Frost Giants. And that was pretty much all that was known about it! Naturally, my writing needed to fit the tones and themes of Dawnforge’s “ancient golden age” feel, but apart from that, I had an open canvas. I know now that as a developer, this is a big risk to take with a freelancer. In the end, however, I believe I truly appreciated the chance for what it was, and turned in something that I still look back on fondly as one of my first settings published for the industry.

Dawnforge would, in fact, go on to win a Golden ENNie in 2003 for “best campaign setting,” and I was especially proud of contributing towards that recognition.

I spent the rest of 2003 working at Games Workshop, writing up articles for White Dwarf and the web (an online-only publication called Black Gobbo), tweaking some rules for Kill-team and Warbands, and expanding my knowledge as an editor.


Blast From the Past: 2003

2003 was a huge year for me as a game designer. I was living in Louisville at the time, which was both good and bad. It was good, since I had a lot of time to focus on my writing. I had earlier broken into the d20 market through Citizen Games, and I was able to parlay that success into writing for Atlas Games on the Penumbra Fantasy Bestiary.

Looking back at my career, I’ve worked on over seven different bestiaries–you could say it is one of my specialties at this point! The Penumbra bestiary was a very special one, and not just because it was one of the first. One of my monsters for this book, the Dreadwraith, was turned into a miniature from the Lance & Laser sculptors. I still have a couple of these figures tucked away in my miniature collection.

I was living in Louisville, not far from the University downtown. I would often work until very late at night, around 3 or 4 AM, and I would take breaks by leaving my apartment and walking around the neighborhood. Now, downtown Louisville changes from decent (near the university) to very rough-around-the-edges, to decent again as you approach the main thoroughfare of downtown. So, there I was, walking around at 2-3 in the morning, thinking about writing for RPGs. It made for some interesting inspiration, I’ll give you that.

I spent much of this time writing for Digital Hero, the official “e-zine” of Hero Games, and writing articles for Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine. I also joined the team working on a 3rd edition D&D update for my beloved setting.

2003 was one of the years that I applied myself towards getting full-time employment in the gaming industry. I applied at Mongoose and sent in an on-spec project (one of the few I’ve ever done on-spec), for the Slayer’s Guide to Hydras. I never heard back from them, and I still have the files for my one and only Slayer’s Guide on my hard drive. A group of folks in my local gaming group formed Blackwyrm Games, but one of the founders and I didn’t get along, meaning I missed out on that opportunity as well. I applied to Hero Games when they were looking for a new writer (they ended up hiring Jason Allen), and also to Games Workshop.

It would be GW who would give me my first big break.

The opening was for a copywriter, and at the same time, they were also hiring a web editor. I applied for the copywriter position, got notified that they would like to interview me, and I was off to the races. This was a tough time for me, as I was feeling stifled in Louisville, really wanting a change in my life. One of my best friends, Brent Smith, was living not far from the Games Workshop HQ in Glen Burnie, and offered to let me stay with him for a bit while I worked out the interview with GW.

I went out to Maryland, stayed with Brent, and got a job in the meantime as Loss Prevention for Best Buy. My first interview with Games Workshop was… interesting. When I showed up, the two gentlemen interviewing me asked all kinds of questions about HTML, editing, etc. I did my best to answer these questions, and I tried to refocus on my skills by referring to my resume. “I think you’ll find I’m a great choice for copywriter, because…” And then, both of my interviewers did a double-take. It turned out they thought I was interviewing for the Web Editor job!

I must have made a good impression, though, since they called me back for another interview, and it was not long afterwards that I was hired. In no time, I moved all my stuff out of Louisville and moved in with Brent as a roommate.

Blast From the Past: 2001-2002

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.