Saturday, August 20, 2016

Credit, Recognition, and The Pillow Test


During the past several years several people have asked me various questions on the same topic or subject, and my feelings about it. I guess it has come time to state it publicly, once and for all.

Gary Gygax and Brian Blume hired me to be the company editor, that company first being Tactical Studies Rules, and then TSR Hobbies. I edited some of their business letters; I edited some of Gary’s stuff; I edited whatever game the company was working on (but more as a proofreader in those instances); I edited Strategic Review and then when I edited Blackmoor, all of our lives changed a little that day.

The word “edit” was pretty loosely applied back then. In the heyday of newspapers there was a person or desk called “Re-write”. This person took the facts as dictated from the reporter not actually writing their own story and made them coherent. I did a ton of that. Another skill necessary for a good editor is making the words that you have flow; they are there for a reason and should be pleasing to the mind reading them, they should be euphonious in your head. Sometimes this means substituting words and other times reconstructing sentences and paragraphs. But the most called-upon skill in those days was my ability to divine what the author meant and re-write in his voice, at the same time filling in all the gaps. In some cases those gaps were rather substantial, and I ended up creating significant portions of transitory and “tying together” material. In some of the D&D supplements it was as much as 30% of the content. This continued, to one degree or another, for Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes. With the former I wrote lots of stuff, for the latter not so much.

This was what I was hired to do. Gary put his trust in me that I was not going to screw up the basic system and gave me my head. So, technically, I wrote a small chunk of OD&D. In accepting that trust and responsibility, I certainly had a major hand in directing the evolution of the game as we know it today. It was what I was hired to do; this is why I am only ever listed as the editor. I was one of many that were thanked in the fronts of the AD&D books, and I was OK with that.

To be bluntly honest, had I known then that D&D was going to become what it did become, I might have argued for, and gotten, “more credit”. But we first TSR employees were a team when it came to creating stuff. A lot of our early product was worked on en masse; we all had a hand in it. When it came to stuff like new spells and potions, I do not think it possible, without Mr. Wells’ time machine, to clearly say who did what in the majority of cases. Certain artifacts and magic items were proposed by various individuals; for some of those I can remember authorship.

We “First Five”, Gary, Brian, Dave Sutherland, Mike Carr and myself (founders of what is now called The Old Guard by GaryCon) shared ideas freely.

A couple of years ago I revealed the process for what became Basic and 1E. Before then, no one had every asked me about it and I had not felt it necessary to blow my own horn. I revealed that I was certainly godfather to 1E and Basic, having spent nearly seven workdays closeted with Gary making decisions on which was which and what went where, as well as what got nerfed and what got beefed up. Then I sort of withdrew from that part of the company to concentrate my efforts on my division of the company, Periodicals.

A chance to do a professional, “slick paper” magazine about games and gaming is what most drew me to TSR in the first place; getting to help on this new game was a side dish. Gary promised the chance to turn The Strategic Review (beginning to notice a fondness for certain letter combinations?) into a “real” magazine with advertising and some color. As a recent grad of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a fresh degree in Communications, and former junior college newspaper staffer, I was ready.

Gary and I had discussed a magazine at some length before I was asked to come on board this “new venture” he was brewing. I thank whatever fate or providence or my lucky stars or whatever for my wife, Cheryl, nearly every day. She had the faith in me, and the letters RN behind her name, and enabled to me to pursue this crazy dream with Gary while she provided the majority of our support those first years (we had our first child, Amanda, before I went to Wisconsin). We started two magazines: Little Wars and The Dragon Magazine (how I originally named them).

LW was devoted to all things historical; we had several sets of historical minis rules as well as some historical boardgames then. Sadly, our success in fantasy almost fore-doomed any success in historical; we were very soon known as “those fantasy guys” and not taken seriously for anything else. I still maintain that William the Conqueror – 1066 was an outstanding innovation in boardgaming that blended in the feel of minis long before similar systems of today. Eventually, LW was absorbed back into The Dragon as it became more well-rounded.

The Dragon proved the adage that a rising tide lifts all boats. Gaming took off at the same time and we rode the rocket. The mag was very successful financially and generated a lot of profits. A substantial number of artists got their first stuff published by me; some went on to TSR. Several new writing voices were first published in one mag or the other. Several years later a couple of them showed up as “talking heads” on a couple of history programs. It was heady stuff to find new talent; I hated to leave the mag more than anything I have ever done.

What we “First Five” had really done hit me in the gut whilst I was watching the second LotR movie. We had cleared the forest and pulled and burned some of the stumps, then planted that first meager crop. Our efforts then made this possible now.

Granted, as I have stated elsewhere several times, we were at a confluence of culture and events and society that enabled this to happen, but it damned sure was not something inevitable or anything like that. We busted our asses and in so doing created all the jobs that came after; we laid one hell of a foundation in 1975.

I wonder how many Harry Potter books were sold to old players, buying them for their kids?

The social impact of what we devised, without a name then but called role-playing now, has been surprisingly significant. One of the great pleasures for me now at cons is hearing how our silly little game impacted people’s lives, sometimes for keeping them from mischief, other times enabling them to come out of their shells and learn to interact with others. Gary and I had already recognized the latter, having congratulated each other once for (here I paraphrase) giving nerds something in common to talk to each other about.

There is little that delights me more than someone recounting the two summers they adventured and stayed out of real-life trouble with their pals, or how playing the game enabled them to find self-confidence.

After I left TSR I founded a new magazine, Adventure Gaming, with the support of the now-defunct Ral-Partha (which lives on in memory and spirit in Iron Wind Metals). It only lasted 13 issues, falling victim to the failed “trickle-down” policies of the Reagan administration; hobby and book shops were disproportionately hard hit by the melt-down. So I got out of the business I had helped take off.

I was many things for the next 20 years: Dad, Husband, soccer coach, salesman, draftsman, softball player, HS soccer announcer, soccer ref and still played the occasional boardgame, and then got a Masters in Educ. So I could teach. My children are of an age that was not impacted by Sat. morning D&D, so I essentially stayed away from the hobby for 22 years. When I came back to GenCon in 2006, I was stunned.

I live in Cincinnati, which is less than two hours from Indy. I came in from the East, running West on Southeastern Ave. When I got to the intersection with Washington, I saw little flags hanging on the light poles welcoming GenCon. I saw signage everywhere saying the same. I was gobsmacked by the numbers of the opposite sex (I never know how to refer to them; if I use the word “ladies” I offend some; if I use the word “females” I offend others; if I use the word “girls” I offend them all.) There were kids, too. What a wonderful metamorphosis had transpired. 

Every time I see others RPG’ing, I smile inside. I helped make that happen, I helped make that matter, and I had helped to touch to those lives. What we created spawned an entire library of knock-offs, an industry devoted to capturing that magic that we discovered in ’74 and ’75. We made, literally, millions of memories possible. We created hundreds of jobs, possibly thousands depending upon how you choose to analyze it.

So when I am asked why it seemingly does not bother me that others’ names might be better known than mine, I tell them that it really does not matter to me that my name is not on a marquee in lights. I walk through game cons with the same thoughts I have each night as I go to sleep: I know what I did. I rest incredibly easy every night knowing that I had a hand in something that has had such a profound impact on society and culture. Future historians might puzzle over the cultural significance of droopy pants and how or where it started. No such questions exist for the birth of role-playing; those historians simply say “1974-1975 and “The Little Brown Box”.

I have been “a gamer” for over 55 years now. My gaming history is demarcated by “pre-RPG” and “post-D&D”; I avidly play all three main types of gaming: boards, minis and RPG’s. And they are all different now because of what we did from 1975 to 1980, when we lit the fuse that ignited the gaming experience. So I lay my head on my pillow each night knowing that.

What recognition I have received has concerned my magazines more than my other work at TSR, and that’s OK. 

And you know what? Next year I plan to go to my 50th HS Reunion. When I walk in there, I know that out of 700+ fellow alumni and alumnae, none of them has had the impact on modern culture and society that I was a part of. And most of them will have no idea how I helped change modern popular culture, and that’s OK, too. I know.



26 comments:

  1. Wow. Well said, Frank. And thank you for your work in the hobby. As many others can say, you've had a positive influence on my life.

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    1. YIKES!!! Sorry, I was thinking "Tim" when I typed that, I don't know how "Frank" came out! Apologies for the unintentional slight.

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    2. You should have blamed auto-correct. It's what I do, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to you Mr Kask. So thank you.

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  2. Some of us know, Tim. It doesn't surprise me that Gary's birthday gets online recognition from people too young to have ever played in the 70s or 80s. The work lives on.

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  3. You, sir, have my deepest gratitude and admiration. For those of us that listen, your name echoes across the cosmos that is D&D, as well as the entire spectrum of fantasy fandom.

    Long may you wave.

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  4. You, sir, have my deepest gratitude and admiration. For those of us that listen, your name echoes across the cosmos that is D&D, as well as the entire spectrum of fantasy fandom.

    Long may you wave.

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  5. Well said Tim, and interesting too! Thanks to you for your contributions from a huge fan of the early days of The Dragon!

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  6. Tim. Did you work on the Daily Egyptian while at SIU?

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    1. No, our daughter was born in June so I was going to school in Sept. full time and my wife was working second shift at the hospital. My weekly gaming session was my only respite.

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  7. Those 1e books were my first encounter with D&D, Tim. I was 4. They inspired me to overcome some problems with writing, reading, and speaking. And somehow, it was enough that I get to write RPG materials and people actually want them.

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. I think you're still underselling it, my fellow former Saluki. In addition to books, TV, and movies, there's a huge hunk of the computer and video game industries that were just getting started at the time. Pokemon Go? The influence can be seen everywhere.

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    1. The argument can be made that every video game with multiple lives and leveling of avatar owes a debt to D&D.

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  10. Tim, an amazing story, and an even more amazing attitude. You are a legend, whether people know or care, or not.

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  11. Thanks for sharing these memories, and for everything you've done -- and are still doing -- for our pastimes! ~ Tim Wadzinski

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  12. Amazing story Tim. Just wondering if it would be OK to reprint this (fully credited of course) in the next issue of RPG Review (http://rpgreview.net). We're doing a TSR special and this would be ideal.

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    1. Thanks! Issue slightly delayed as our interview subject (Frank Mentzer) is away for a couple of weeks. It's going to be quite a gathering of minds!

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    2. Should have mentioned, it has been published:

      http://rpgreview.net/files/rpgreview_32.pdf

      One other thing which you may have seen, the Cooperative is publishing "Papers & Paychecks", based on Will McLean's original cartoon.

      https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1106063658/papers-and-paychecks

      Would you be interested in writing a page or so as the foreword? It seems appropriate. :)

      Best wishes,

      Lev

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    3. Sorry, just saw the request. Details?

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  14. Hi Tim!
    I really enjoyed reading this. I'm moved by your 22 year hiatus from "the game," as I've basically been through the same. Just last year I read "Empire of Imagination" by Witwer and it has inspired a surge of nostalgia for me. I then read the first 3 "Hawk and Moor" books...I wonder what your thoughts are on those?

    Also, you mention how difficult it was to leave Dragon. Do you mind me asking when and why you left? I was very young in the 80's but I remember Dragon with trembling fingers as a lad!

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    1. I have a thread on Dragonsfoot that addresses a lot of that. It's in the "closed old-timers section". I'm doing a Q&A at GaryCon, and possibly TotalCon. Right now, the colon cancer has most of my attention.

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