My Life & Role-Playing
Famous gamers reveal their experiences in role-playing.
What a wild ride it's been!
When the esteemed Tadashi Ehara asked me to contribute this article for those interested in such odd facts, I almost blanched. Where would I begin? I mulled over the possibilities. I guess I'd start at the beginning! How novel! How clever! Here it goes ...
The EGG-Connection (via Playboy and Larry Zirk...)
At a ripe age of 12 while perusing a X-mas wish list in Playboy I came upon several Milton Bradley games on the list. Dogfight was one I didn't have, so I petitioned my Aunt to purchase it for me and we made the rounds to the Five & Dimes in Lake Geneva. The store's assistant manager, Larry Zirk, indicated that they did not carry the MB line of board games, but that maybe I should try Afrika Corps by Avalon Hill, which was in stock, and that he and others met at Gary Gygax's house to play this type of strategy game on the weekends. I purchased the game, studied it and was hooked. A week later I showed up at Gary's house (a straight shot out my door and three blocks away). There was Gary and Bill Hoyer (the president of the International Federation of Wargaming) playing Afrika Corps. I pronounced 'corps' as 'corpse' which elicited a few chuckles from them and a correction by Gary: "It's not a corpse yet ..."
From there Gary and others hooked me up with other AH games, miniature wargames, chess, and shogi (Japanese chess) and eventually we formed the Castle and Crusades Society and the LGTSA (Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association). Through C&C we published Domesday Book for 13 issues. I attended many conventions, both regional and national, and would eventually move on to be the the Chairman of GENCONs 8 & 9 and Winter Fantasy 1. Gary also introduced me to many great fantasy authors. As a side note, it took me two years of constant playing to finally beat Gary at the game Stalingrad and at chess, though only one year at shogi! He blamed the loss in chess (he had been a tournament chess player for years) on one too many glasses of wine he'd had for dinner that night. Hah!
The entire time that the LGTSA was in existence we as a group playtested many new miniatures rules systems either designed by Gary or others associated with him and the group. Some notable ones were Chainmail, Don't Give Up The Ship, Fight In The Skies (technically a boardgame with a miniatures feel), Tractics, and many others. This later led to TSR's first product release, Cavaliers and Roundheads, and then to the Dungeons & Dragons FRP Rules by Gygax and Arneson, which added a fourth dimension to games as we knew them.
My grounding in games is in historical simulations, which I appreciate to this day. My largest endeavor at such game play was to challenge my brother in Drang Nach Osten by GDW. Anyone who has ever played the game will realize the sheer insanity (and hours) involved with such a task. One of my favorite historical periods was the Napoleonic, which both Jeff Perren (co-author of Chainmail) and Dave Armeson (Don't Give up the Ship, D&D, et al) were great aficionados thereof. As a group the LGTSA collected many 30mm miniature armies from the period and with the rules Column, Line and Square fought many such mintiatures battles on the weekends. Later TSR would release Tricolor by Stephen Crane of Chicago, which compared favorably to the CL&S rules.
My participation in D&D was hands-on. From the beginning I assisted with ideas and the reading of various MS pages as Gary pulled these from his typewriter. Later on I would co-DM the Greyhawk campaign as well as create my own world for Gary to play in, Kalibruhn. From there it was a matter of time before I became directly involved in the creative process as the company showed signs of instant growth. During this period I created the elements of City of the Elders, which Gary had the opportunity to adventure in. It was also at this time that I created the first parts for Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure with the terrible iron golem (now Maure Castle as reprinted and expanded in Dungeon #112).
The greatest thing about the "fellows" gathered to game was the camaraderie, the unselfish input, the many hours spent seeing projects through to their proper conclusions, and the sheer immensity of hours, days and weeks (years with Tractics) spent playtesting. This was no small-town endeavor, as playtesters and designers showed up at Gary's door from all over the United States, and we drew upon the Minneapolis gamers and those from Milwaukee/Madison and Chicago/Rockford. Gary's superb administration at setting up and running GENCON (with the IFW, initially) proved to be the catalyst for the growth of TSR as well, as we can all appreciate to this day. There was a LOT of synergy going on in those days and everyone was caught up in the process of "getting things done and done right."
As TSR grew, I took upon more responsibilities, answering D&D mailed-in questions, interfacing with Judges Guild over the licensing of D&D for use with their own products, convention coordinating, and, yes, even shipping, a stint which even EGG and Dave Arneson were involved in as part of shared duties during TSR's growth period. I originated the "Sorcerer's Scroll" column which EGG was to later pen many columns for; and then I left TSR to pursue my writing career as a free-lancer.
Some of the charm and camaraderie of the earliest days had fled the scene by then, to be replaced by big business and, for a while, I dropped out of the industry, disgruntled. Moods being moods, I resurfaced in 1985 with Tom Wham to help create the Kings & Things board game (which was to later win the Charles Roberts award); and I eventually went on to form Creations Unlimited. Through this concern I published five modules, but the time was not right as the industry was contracting as TSR experienced its woes, so after over two years of endeavor the doors closed on my company as well. Right around this time the Dragon Magazine took interest in my board game, Magus (Dragon #147), which was published nearly three years after they had accepted it, in 1988.
For a time, I receded from the gaming and convention scene to experiment with the writing of short stories and to study the novel and screenplay writing forms. Though I wrote several short stories, a novel and a screen play I never pursued these to their ultimate ends--don't ask me why.
In 1997, Erik Mona, Allan Grohe, and Douglas Behringer tracked me down in Milwaukee, to where I had returned after spending some time in Arizona. They were chomping at the bit to renew my interest in Greyhawk and for me to contribute to the Living Greyhawk Journal. I met up with Erik Mona at several GENCONs and formed a working relationship with him which lasts to this day. The ultimate result of this relationship, spurred on and encouraged by my good friend, Allan Grohe, will see the massive Maure Castle project through Dungeon Magazine reach its conclusion, probably two years and 12 installments from now.
With my return to game design during the 3E/d20 phase I renewed my friendship with my mentor, Gary Gygax, for it was he who had propelled me during my earliest days as a precocious youth. Gary always believed that something lurked beneath the surface of my skull besides grey matter. I am forever indebted to him for his encouragement and resolve to keep me active in games, and participating on so many levels within it, which ultimately led to me to help shape such a wonderful industry.
The greatest treat for my 36 years in gaming has been to meet so many warm-hearted people. Those who have endeavored for pennies or less and out of love for the industry itself--out of love for the camaraderie, the fun and the ultimate enjoyment of gaming. The soul of this industry has always belonged to its fans, bless them all, for without them what are writers and designers worth, anyhow?
The rest of my story has yet to unfold. Wish me luck as I do you! And in between, let the dice continue to roll, and loudly so!
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