Friday, October 7, 2011

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today . . .

So, I thought of naming this post something like "TSR (New Fish, Twenty Years On)", but in the end had to go with the Sgt. Pepper reference.

Today marks exactly twenty years since I started work at TSR, back in the Lake Geneva days. I was one of four new hires that month, so we all had the 'New Fish' lecture together from Jim Ward, the head of our department; my immediate bosses were Steve Winter (AD&D core group) and Bruce Heard (D&D group).

Of the four of us, I started first (Monday October 7th, 1991). Rich Baker and Thomas
Reid started together a week later (Monday October 14th) and Wolfgang Baur started the week after that (Monday October 21st). I suspect I started a week before Rich and Thomas because when the nice lady at TSR called and offered me the job and asked when I could start work I answered, well, that afternoon and the next day are pretty busy; would the day after tomorrow (a Wednesday) be okay? They assured me that the next Monday (the 7th) wd be fine, which gave me the rest of that week to finish up my paper on Charles Williams' best play (TERROR OF LIGHT) for the Huttar-Sckakel collection (THE RHETORIC OF VISION, eventually published in 1996). I was living in Milwaukee at the time, so I cd commute from where we lived on the Lower East Side; I suspect the others got hired on the same day and were given two (or, in Wolf's case, three) weeks to move into the area.

A lot of water under those bridges since then. Rich quickly became one of TSR (& later WotC)'s best designers, as well as at one point a brand manager (of the Forgotten Realms) and novelist in the TSR book line (I recommend his Ravens' Bluff novel, although my favorite of his novels, the BIRTHRIGHT one, never got published in its original form, alas). And now Rich has just completed the unprecedented achievement of spending twenty consecutive years working in the rpg department at TSR/WotC. No one else has ever done that in TSR/WotC's thirty-eight year history,* and there can't be many at any rpg company who can boast a similar record.** Well done, Rich!

Thomas*** went from editing (with the occasional freelance design) to eventually brand manager of the core AD&D line (wh. throughout the early nineties was overseen by Steve Winter, one of the unsung heroes of TSR days), before eventually leaving to work in the computer game industry, like so many others who got their start in rpgs (cf. Jeff Grubb as an outstanding example). Last I heard, he was back in Austin, still working on novels and computer games.

Wolf I see the most of, since we're in the same gaming group (though with the newborn his attendance is mostly in abeyance right now). He became consecutively the editor of DUNGEON and then DRAGON, as well as building up quite a reputation as a freelance designer, particularly of al-QADIM. He was also the first of us to leave TSR, making the move to Wizards well before TSR went on the rocks and eventually leaving WotC in turn before the layoffs started there a few years later. These days he manages his own little rpg empire, Open Design (for which I've freelanced several times), with his own magazine KOBOLD QUARTERLY.

And I, through three distinct stints at TSR (1991-1996), WotC (1997-2001), and WotC/Hasbro (2003-2005), got to work with a lot of great people, many of whom I still consider close friends, and got to work on a lot of great projects, most of which I'm proud to have my name on. And through it all, in what little bit of "free time" I cd manage, I kept plugging away at MR. BAGGINS, which I'd started in earnest just about the time TSR hired me (Taum having died in August, less than six weeks earlier), though in the end I was only able to finish it by working full-time on the thing in the year and a half after I left WotC for the final time. And since then it's been the Independent Scholar route, buttressed by the occasional freelance.

*Kim Mohan, their managing editor (the final set of eyes who proofreads every rpg product before it goes out the door) has been there longer overall -- I remember he got his twenty year pin not long before I left for the last time in December 2005 -- but he'd had a hiatus, having worked at TSR (where he was the second editor of DRAGON MAGAZINE), left to follow Gygax to New Infinities, and then came back after Gygax's new company collapsed.

**Lynn Willis of Chaosium, perhaps?

***historical trivia fact: Thomas's grandmother is one of the two people who could testify that Lee Harvey Oswald had been in the Texas Book Repository at the time Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, having run into him at the soft drink machine as he was making his way downstairs a minute or so after the shooting (the other being Robin MacNeil, later of the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, who had a brief exchange with Oswald as the later was leaving the building).

Update: having half-drafted this piece, I fell into one of my not-posting spells that strike every now and then, and so am only now (Fr. 10/14) resuming. In the meantime I've been able to see a few more old friends from TSR days of yore: Miranda Horner, Bruce Cordell, and Monte Cook. Been good to reminisce and catch up a bit on what they're doing now. Many the best thing about working in the rpg industry is the number of really interesting, really nice people you get to meet along the way. --JDR

1 comment:

SESchend said...

Not to be a nay-sayer, John, but I think Rich was preceded by at least one TSR wage slave for that 20-consecutive-years distinction.

I believe Jon Pickens spent his entire work-history with TSR and WotC's RPG division (as an editor the entire time, IIRC).

Even so, fun read and nostalgic tramp through yesteryear. Very hard for me to believe I've now been gone from TSR/WotC (11 years) longer than I was employed there (10 years, 2 months).