Friday, July 29, 2011

My Time Working with Wizards of the Coast (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my memories regarding my time working with Wizards of the Coast when I headed up their account at their advertising media agency back in the early 2000’s. Part 1 of the story is here, which discusses how I came to work with them, and some of the people involved. In this part, I’m going to talk a little more about the specific personalities. Later posts in the series will talk about corporate politics, ownership by Hasbro, and how/why I eventually stopped working on the account.

So, as I mentioned in Part 1, the original Marketing Director who was there when my agency was hired was pretty quickly let go by the corporate team at Hasbro after I started working on the account, so I never really got to know him all that well. His replacement, Kathryn, was the former Marketing Manager, who was promoted to Director. My team consisted of me, my second-in-command (Malinda) and two assistant media planners (Lynn and Sandy).

Kathryn’s “boss” was really the head of WotC at the time, and I have no idea who that was at the time. Peter Adkison was long gone by this point. But, unknown to both Kathryn and me, she was really being overseen by a Hasbro Corporate Marketing person back on the East Coast. I honestly have no memory of this woman’s name, but I will never forget her face. I’m going to call her ACHW for “AC Hasbro Woman.” You can make up your own adjectives for what “A” and “C” stand for, but , to me, the “A” word rhymes with “schmannoying” and the “C” word refers to her utter lack of having any idea about Wizards of the Coast’s products, consumers, or personnel.

I also had to deal with a group of people from our New York ad agency office, who worked directly for Hasbro, and although they had nothing to do with me or the other six accounts I was overseeing in Los Angeles, and also had never met my WotC client, Kathryn, they thought they knew best how we should do our media plans because they were in New York, the “center of the advertising world.” The main people on this team in New York were a woman named Cathy (or Kathy… it really doesn’t matter) and another one named Alison.

Did you notice a pattern there? Kathryn… AC Hasbro Woman… Cathy… Alison… even my team of Malinda, Lynn, and Sandy … all women. I was the only guy. Now, I’ll tell you straight up that I’ve found in the advertising world that ever since I became of the supervisory level, over the course of my career I’ve had about three guys and about 19 women on my teams. Media planning is an industry that is actually at least 50% women now, if not moreso.

I don’t want to trot out any stereotypes here, but I’ve found that I usually get along better working with women because, being a geek, there are lots of “guy topics” that I just can’t talk about – cars, poker, sports… but, I’m not expected to know those things working with women because, in general, they don’t want to talk about them. I guess it’s just a way of saying that I feel less judged working with women, because it never occurs to them that I must not be a “real guy” because I didn’t memorize who won the Super Bowl back in 1987.

Anyway, with the exception of Kathryn (my main WotC client) and my own team members, who were all younger (and hipper) than me, pretty much everybody else I had to deal with at Hasbro or at my agency in New York were at least 10 years older than me, and being that much older and also being women, chances were very slim that they had played Dungeons & Dragons as kids or were still watching animated programs, like the new “Samurai Jack” and “Justice League” programs that had just debuted on Cartoon Network around the time I started working with WotC and about which I was really excited. I also found that they did not like working with Paul at all, which is partly why he was let go. I was to find out pretty quickly that they also didn’t like working with me. I think they were just not comfortable with geeks and with the idea that a “grown man” might enjoy playing these “kids’ games.”

Kathryn was also not a geek, as I mentioned, but she was cool with it. I remember she told me a story shortly after she started at WotC wherein some of the designers invited her to play in their weekly RPG group just so that she would have a better working knowledge of the games she was trying to help market. They were playing the new Star Wars d20 game that WotC had published.

Kathryn asked the team if she could play an Ewok Jedi Knight, and the group said, “Uh… no. Ewoks can’t be Jedi. That’s kind of lame. We’ll come up with a character for you.”

That one little anecdote says so much to me:

1) The employees at WotC were actually playing the games they made. We’ve all read how, before TSR was sold to WotC, TSR employees were forbidden to play games at the office because the former owner, Lorraine Williams, didn’t like games. So, it was nice to hear Kathryn saying that there were several groups of games going on at WotC – some during lunch, some after work, and so on.
2) Even professional geeks are, when you come right down to it, still geeks. And geeks often don’t know when to put their passions aside for the greater good. Yes, I think the idea of an Ewok Jedi Knight is ridiculous, but then again, I really hate Ewoks with a passion. But, wouldn’t it have been nice if these guys could have seen that Kathryn was at least making an attempt to learn a game that she’d never played before, and in her mind, an Ewok Jedi was the best concept she could wrap her head around? Sadly, Kathryn only played the game that first time, partly because she was so intimidated by the rest of the group and how they treated her. She felt stupid having suggested her character concept.


Well, I had planned much more, but this is already a really long post, so I’ll continue on in Part 3. The good news is that I got pretty far writing when I realized the post was too long, so I cut it in two sections. That means that Part 3 is already pretty much written, so the wait won’t be as long.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The World's Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz

Martin Thomas took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 60%!



You are a Gary Gygax Myrmidon. You are mighty in the ways of Gary Gygax. You're probably a First Edition or OD&D player, and I wouldn't be surprised if you had an original copy of the Chainmail rules.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

I saw this over on Grognardia and decided to take a stab at it, even though my old-school cred isn't all that high.  It's the World's Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz over at the Blog of Holding.

As it was, I did pretty decently - the average score for people who don't use Google (which I didn't) is 48%, and I got 60!  I'm a MYRMIDON, which, if I remember correctly, is a 6th level fighter.

I missed the ones about Gord the Rogue (never read those books), and also goofed on Gary's one-time profession, the game that he didn't help write, and on the partner who helped him found TSR (I would've known it if I had read the question correctly instead of rushing). 

Go, me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fantasy India Gaming Resources

Last week over on the Rather Gamey blog, Arkhein left a post about African Mythology as part of his "Dungeonspiration" series.  In the comments to his posts, Sir Larkins mentioned that his "own personal Holy Grail of untapped fantasy awesomeness is India."

I totally agree with this sentiment - India seems to be one of those areas that's ripe for interesting and fun RPG adventures, and yet it's been (largely) ignored by RPG publishers over the years.  Even in the scan information available for Asian settings in Dungeons & Dragons, India is pretty much just an afterthought, if it's mentioned at all.

In my comments on the post above, I mentioned that there's a list on Amazon for Fantasy RPG Resources.  Rather than making you click on another link, I'm going to post the list here, along with my comments as well as a few other resources I have.  Please feel free to comment on the list and add your own resources to the list. I'm especially interested in resources for other game systems, since everything below is for D&D. 

Note that this list isn't in any order - I'm just following the order used by Kevin Brannan, the guy at Amazon.com who originally posted the list. 



System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 3.5
The list author says:  "A complete fantasy setting very loosely based on India. Uses the psionics rules.”

Martin says: “I own this book, written by none author than one of the founding fathers of the OSR movement, James Maliszewski.  It does rely too heavily on psionics for my tastes, since I don’t use psionics in my games, but the background information of the different areas is pretty good.  The campaign setting also uses a lot of Yuan-Ti, and the re-imagining of the various standard fantasy races into the setting might not be to everyone’s tastes (there are societies of hafling monks, for example).  I’m okay with that kind of thing, but traditionalists probably won’t like it. This is actually one of my favorite Mythic Vista books by Green Ronin."


System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 3.5
 The list author says: "The monster book for the Mindshadows setting. Most of these creatures use the psionics rules."

Martin says: I don’t have this book, so I can’t comment. 


System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 3.0
 The list author says: "This book focuses mostly on Japan, but the free web enhancement includes a fantasy India setting."

Martin says: “I’ll be writing a whole blog post dedicated to Asian RPG resources in general, so most of my comments will go there.  But, like the list author notes, there is almost nothing of India in this book, but the free Mahasarpa web enhancement is somewhat based on India, and like the Mindshadows setting is crawling with Yuan-Ti.  I thought about giving Mahasarpa its own entry, but it's really just a re-skinning of the stuff in the OA book.”


System: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 2nd Edition
 The list author says:  “This book contains the 2e versions of the Indian pantheon, monsters and heroes."

Martin says: “I don’t own the 2E version, so I’m not really sure how different this is from the 1E version, below.”

 

System: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 1st Edition
 The list author says: “"This book contains the 1e versions of the Indian pantheon, monsters and heroes."

Martin says: “Um… yeah.  I was never a big fan of this book, for various reasons.  But, it did teach me a lot about the mythological stories of various non-Western cultures, so I guess that’s a good thing.  The section on the gods of India includes a few scant notes about the culture of India.”


System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 3.0
The list author says: “A 2e adventure against the Rakshasa."

Martin says: “I don’t own this, so I can’t comment.”


System: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 2nd Edition
The list author says: “A 2e adventure set in mythic India."

Martin says: “Another one that I don’t own, although it sounds cool.”



System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: B/X
The list author says: “A basic D&D adventure set in a fantasy version of India."

Martin says: “Yet another product I never got.  I actually never got into the Hollow World, although when I heard it had a fantasy India-based country, I thought about getting it.”


System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 3.0
The list author says: “In addition to rules for playing rakshasa and half-rakshasa, this book contains an excellent Yogi class that later appeared in Monte Cook Presents: The Year's Best d20."

Martin says: “I don’t own this one, either.”


System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 3.0
The list author says: (there were no comments for this one)

Martin says: “This is by the fine folks over at Expeditious Retreat Press.  They’re actually working on another book in the series, A Magical Society: India. I’m really looking forward to this one.


System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 3.0
 The list author says:An adventure with *very minor* Indian flavor."

Martin says: “I don’t own this one, but I think that’s part of the problem with this list in general – that they have ‘very minor’ Indian flavor.”


System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 3.0
 The list author says: A classic dungeon crawl with *very minor* Indian flavor."

Martin says: “See above under #11.”


System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 3.5
The list author says: (there were no comments on this one)

Martin says: “I don’t have this one since I never really got into the Forgotten Realms beyond just mining the campaign setting for ideas, and I decided that I didn’t need yet another book that somehow equated India with Yun-Ti.”


System: Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 3.0
The list author says: (there were no comments on this one)

Martin says: “Another book I don’t have, and didn’t want.  See above comments on Yuan-Ti.”


System: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 2nd Edition
 The list author says: “This magazine has 2e character classes from India.”

Martin says: “Now we’re talking.  This was one of my favorite issues of the magazine during the 2E era, and it was specifically because of these character classes (they’re actually kits, technically, not true classes) for India.  

16.  Dragon Magazine No. 189 (Dungeons & Dragons)  

System: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons


Version: 2nd Edition
 The list author says: This magazine contains 2e stats for weapons from India."

Martin says: “This was another great one that rekindled my interest in India as a fantasy RPG environment.  This particular issue was dedicated to gaming in non-Western settings, so in addition to the article on Indian weapons and armor, there was also an article on adding an African-based setting to your campaign world, arms and armor for Africa, and re-creating the 1E Oriental Adventures classes as 2E kits.”


System: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Version: 2nd Edition

The list author says:This magazine contains 2e spells from India."

Martin says: “Basically what the other guy said.  But it’s cool in combination with the character kits from issue #225, above.”


System: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Version: 2nd Edition

The list author says: This magazine contains 2e magic items from India."

Martin says: “As above, regarding issue #226.”

The following two entries are from me – they weren’t on the original list.

19.  From Stone to Steel (d20 System)

System: Dungeons & Dragons

Version: 3.0

Martin says: “This was a fantastic historical resource book during the d20 era providing stats for weapons, by era and geographic region, from the Stone Age up through the early Renaissance.  I only have the 3.0 version, but I heard they later updated it for 3.5.  The stats really don’t matter so much, though.  What’s awesome is that this is really a short “history of world cultures” with the information written specifically for gamers who would be interested in things like how the warriors/armies were different from era to era and country to country, what the politics were like, etc.  It’s got sections on ancient China, feudal Japan, medieval India, Southeast Asia, the Mongols, and of course Europe and Africa.  It’s also got prestige classes and feats, if you’re into that kind of thing.  But again, even if you don’t use the stats, the text is full of great ideas.”


System: Dungeons & Dragons

Version: 3.5


Martin says: “This is a campaign setting for the d20 system by Dog Soul Publishing, said to be “inspired by the myths and legends of India.”  I actually bought this a long time ago, and I confess I didn’t spend a ton of time with it.  It’s got sections in life in Sahasra, different cities and places of interest, monsters, important NPCs, etc.  One of the things that I didn’t especially like was the treatment of the standard d20 classes.  The author groups them into one of the four main castes of India, then mentions that barbarians and druids are better left for NPCs.  That’s it.  There’s no mention on how to integrate the standard classes, like a Paladin, into Sahasra, nor did the author take the opportunity to do something unique like give each class an Indian twist by swapping out class abilities or so forth.  I also don’t recall any mention of non-human races in Sahasra, or how to incorporate the standard Western fantasy races of elves, dwarves, halflings, etc.  Basically, it’s mostly a geography guide with some interesting NPCs.”




System: Dungeons & Dragons

Version: B/X

Martin says: “This module for the D&D Basic System has a decidedly Indian flavor, as evidenced by the cover art.  The main adversary is an evil cleric known as ‘The Rahib’ who has a panther companion.” 
 


System: Dungeons & Dragons

Version: B/X

Martin says: “This is a module for the D&D Expert System, and is the first is a trilogy (the other two being Module X5 and Module X10).  It features a trek through an area known as Sind, which has similarities to India during the Mughal era.”


System: Dungeons & Dragons

Version: B/X

Martin says: “This is a continuation of the adventure begun in Module X4, above, and as mentioned features some action in a Mughal-like India area. There is very little information given, however.”

24.  Module X10: Red Arrow, Black Shield

System: Dungeons & Dragons

Version: B/X

Martin says: “This forms the third part of the Master of the Desert Nomads trilogy of modules, which began with X4 and X5.  I don’t actually own this particular module, but I understand that it uses the Battlesystem Rules for mass combat.  Again, much of the action takes place in and around the country known as Sind, which has some India-like features.”


System: Dungeons & Dragons

Version: B/X

Martin says: “This series of stories centers around the Prince Haldemar and his crew aboard the ship the Princess Ark, a magical flying vessel, as it sets forth from Alphatia to explore areas not covered by the Gazetteer series.  Some of the articles focus on the area known as Sind, mentioned briefly in Modules X4, X5, and X10, which has a little bit of Indian flavor.  The articles did not appear in every issue, so make sure to check the contents if you’re looking for a particular story. ”
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