12 March 2008

Influential Game Designers

JD Wiker has gone and made a list of the top ten folks in the industry who influenced him. I'm not sure I can reel off a list of ten names, but I can always try. It's tough to put them in any kind of order, but here goes.

#10 - Kevin Dockery: One of the first games I ever played, back in 8th grade, was The Morrow Project. Now, as I understood it, The Morrow Project was written by Kevin Dockery (a real-life "civilian contractor," or mercenary) as a college thesis. It was a game of the post-apocalypse, firmly rooted in movies like Damnation Alley. The combat system was deadly (to put it mildly), which only added an edge to the game that hadn't existed anywhere else for me up until that point.

#’s 8 & 9 - Troy Denning & Timothy B. Brown: I gotta give these guys equal time because they're the minds behind the campaign setting that taught me that fantasy gaming wasn't all about elves singing in the trees. Give me cannibalistic halflings any day of the week, I say. I'm talking about Dark Sun, of course. I can only describe my initial attraction to Dark Sun as a disease, because once I picked up the boxed set, I couldn't stop. This was a first, for I was a constant critic of AD&D, of level- and class-based game play, and of anything even remotely related to fantasy and magic. Dark Sun was gritty, it was mean, it was nasty, and it ultimately changed my perception of gaming in a number of ways. Lucky for you, I don't have time to go into them all right now.

#7 - Jeff Barber: For Blue Planet and Midnight. I tend to doubt that Jeff remembers me, but back in '97, I stopped by the Biohazard Games booth on the last day of Gen Con and picked up the only copy they had left of Blue Planet 1st Edition. I joked, "Can I get it signed?" and Jeff was nice enough to do so for me. Reading that game on the flight home gave me the desire to write for it, and I made a couple of attempts to get my foot in that door (esp. in regards to Undercurrents, which was an ezine that Biohazard was posting on their site). I never made any progress, but Jeff was always very encouraging. Plus, he's one of the minds behind the Midnight campaign setting, which is probably one of the top three products that made me want to write for RPGs.

#6 - Mark Rein-Hagen: I'll admit, when Vampire: The Masquerade came out, I had some reservations. I played it initially, but I quickly grew tired of it. Besides the real-life politics within the gaming group I was a part of, there were plot issues; the campaign we played was very much tied into Anne Rice's books, and it seemed like everyone had read them, lived them, loved them, and applied them to their characters. I quickly grew tired of the drama, and left for a time, but I did end up coming back to Vampire (and its many off-shoots) eventually. Despite the apparent pretentiousness of the line, it was one of the best products out there, with an elegant rules set, innovative layout and graphic design, and a lot of very interesting background material. It also taught me that game books didn't have to be stuffy and chock full of rules, nor did said rules have to be written like a physics thesis.

#5 - Rose Estes: Though I guess she's not technically a game designer, she did write the Dungeon of Doom Endless Quest book. Dungeon of Doom was the first taste I had of what gaming was. I bought it at an elementary school book fair, probably in the 4th or 5th grade. I wasn't terribly intellectual at the time, though I was incredibly imaginative. Reading about the monsters and encounters in Dungeon of Doom (as well as the other Endless Quest books I ended up buying) got me interested enough to buy the first edition of the Monster Manual just so I could learn more about the critters that kept leading me to such famous endings as, "...your life, and your quest, end here."

#4 Greg Costikyan: After I got the gaming bug, back in those sweaty, adolescent days, I came across a title in the Waldenbooks at the local mall that combined gaming with one of my all-time favorite films: Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. There was little question that I had to have it, and shortly thereafter it was mine. I think I begged my mother for the money, and ended up with both the first edition rules as well as the Star Wars Sourcebook. Even at that age, my knowledge of Star Wars was pretty vast (at least compared to my player base), and I ran countless Star Wars games (many of them via email). Now, I don't know Greg, but I do know that, because of the Star Wars RPG, his contribution to my life as a GM, a player, and a writer has been astronomical.

#3 - Lynn Abbey: I consider Lynn Abbey a good friend, and I made her acquaintance in a relatively innocuous manner: by sending in a fan letter. I don't remember the details, but I don't think the email gushed praise. It was more along the lines of, "I love what you did with The Brazen Gambit! Can you give me some clues on what the city-state of Urik is like?" From there, we ended up emailing back and forth for a number of years, until we finally got to meet in person when I was asked to write for Green Ronin's adaptation of the Thieves' World setting. If Lynn taught me anything, it was about world and character design, and that you need to consider the minute details that make up the larger whole.

#2 - Mike Pondsmith: For Cyberpunk. I've known Mike for many years, but I can't say I know him very well. If I didn't give him props for Cyberpunk, I'd be a liar of the worst sort. Cyberpunk was one of the first games I played (and eventually bought) that got me running and playing on a regular basis. After a time, it was the first game I really made an effort to tinker with, rules-wise, and it was also the first game I tried very hard to write for professionally (I wasn't successful, but I did learn a lot).

#1 JD Wiker: Yeah, yeah. Blame JD. When Alternity was at its height (which is a somewhat relative indication of altitude, given that I was the only person in Southern California who was buying its products on a regular basis), I made a couple of submissions to Dragon Magazine in support of Alternity. Somehow, I managed to open up a dialog with JD, which eventually led to a long-lasting friendship. JD taught me what Wizards of the Coast expected of freelancers, sure, but he also gave me an insight into the fact that what you write has to be more than just cool; it has to be balanced and it has to make sense. I'm not sure I would've gotten anywhere in publishing if it hadn't been for JD's insight and encouragement.

There are a number of runners-up, and it's a tough stretch to say I can list them all. There's Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax (for forging the way), Ray Winninger (for his work on the Chill Companion), Steve Jackson (for GURPS, gods bless him), Charles Ryan (for Millennium's End), Erick Wujcik (for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG), Ken St. Andre (for the original Stormbringer RPG), Kevin Siembieda (for the Robotech RPG), and Rob Schwalb (for being evil incarnate, and for teaching what dedication really means).

There are more, far too many to include for every contribution that they've made to me in regards to the hobby, but I'll try to be graceful and leave it like this. It's four am, after all, and I've got to be at work in five hours.


JD said...

I can't really imagine why I should be at anyone's #1 slot, above people like Robin Laws or Monte Cook, or even obvious "shoe-ins" like Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson ...

... but thanks for saying so, Gary.


Roland Steedlam said...

If I ever made a top ten list, I'd have to list the friends I played with. Without them, I may not have got into gaming in the first place. Although I agree that the authors, editors, publishers, distributors, et al, all get major kudos, I'd like to thank the academy, my mom, and my friends.[tear]