Sutter's Send-off

Monday, September 11, 2017

Last Friday, James Sutter announced that he was leaving the Paizo family and moving on to focus on his writing career. We will miss James and wish him the best, so we decided to send Sutter off the best way we knew how—with embarrassing stories and photos—and the occasional heartfelt goodbye.

My earliest memories of James L. Sutter are of a childlike gelfling spirit with an emo haircut, some kid recruited into Paizo through back channels by Lisa Stevens to fill whatever role she thought necessary at the time. These were the early days of Paizo, where our business was magazines and our org chart was a circle with everybody's name in it. Those without a specific duty inherited from our previous incarnation as the Periodicals Department of Wizards of the Coast tended to flit from job to job, doing what needed to be done, eventually accruing enough responsibility and expertise for a job description to calcify around previously unclaimed duties that had essentially fallen to the floor. James helped with some of the company's non-D&D magazines, with customer service, and with getting Reaper miniatures uploaded onto the new webstore, but he'd never really worked on the magazines I oversaw at the time. That all changed when we needed an assistant editor, and Sutter was only too happy to join our staff. In fact, this was about the same time that I formally became Publisher at Paizo, which netted me a private office down the hall and a tearful goodbye to the Editorial Pit, the tiny room that once housed our entire gaming-mag operation. Sutter himself sat in my old desk next to James Jacobs, and for a few years he even had to tolerate a couple of drawers filled with a half-decade of junk I was too busy (or lazy, take your pick) to clean out.

The young kid from the Seattle Stranger's editorial office took to the drawer-sharing situation with aplomb and a great attitude, traits that I would come to appreciate (and rely on) in the future. But then he was just Young James Sutter, an intern-made-good who frankly reminded me a lot of myself, and who, over time, I began to realize could have a huge future at Paizo. Once upon a time, after all, I had been the youngest guy on the D&D team, and the youngest member of my creative team in the Dark Days of public relations, before I managed to turn D&D freelancing into a career. And here, somehow, I'd found myself in charge of the whole editorial operation. What might the future hold for this ambitious young editor?

As it turned out, the launch of the Pathfinder RPG gave James plenty of opportunities to impress me even more. He'd already helped me (along with Pierce Watters and Chris Carey) run the editorial side of Planet Stories, Paizo's short-lived but much-loved classic sci-fi and fantasy reprint series, and with a new game coming we knew we'd need a fiction line to accompany it. Free web fiction, at first, but even at the very start I knew we wanted to have novels eventually, and that Sutter—already with a reputation as one of the strongest among a coterie of strong writers—would be just the guy to helm it.

There was only one problem. James Sutter was a rock star.

I don't mean a figurative rock star, like a guy who always overdelivers on his turnovers or an editor who routinely improves the work of some of the industry's top writers. I mean an actual, literal rock star for a series of local heavy metal bands that always seemed (at least to me and my fellow Paizo senior managers) like they were a lucky break away from making it big. I saw big things for James Sutter here at Paizo, but if he wanted to take advantage of them, he needed to go in with open eyes and every part of his being. We gave him a choice: Rock star or RPG star. James chose RPG star, and we've all been the richer for it over these past 13 years, during which James has been absolutely essential.

Like Golarion's star system? You can thank me for the idea of giving the planets equal treatment to the outer planes, but beyond a couple of tired pulp pastiches (my specialty!) of Mars and Venus, that's pretty much all Sutter.

Enjoyed the Pathfinder Tales line? Sutter wrote two of the novels himself, but he also edited every single one and contributed creative ideas to all of them. There literally would not have been a Pathfinder Tales line without him, and even now, as his days at Paizo dwindle into hours, he's still helping me find a new publishing partner to continue the line in the future, no doubt with future James Sutter Pathfinder stories yet to be told.

Enjoy the fun fiction bits at the side of the two-page chapter openers in all our hardcover books? James wrote about 95% of those. Love our comics? James wrote about a quarter of those, too.

Oh, did you like Starfinder? I put James in charge of Paizo's biggest product launch ever because of the success he had brought to all of those projects listed above, because he created the planets that form the core of the primary star system, because I knew he knew enough about the creative and business sides of publishing to make it work, and because I knew, after all these years, that he really was a rock star, and one that blazed with the incandescent creative power of a sun.

It turns out, after 13 years, that this rock star really cannot be contained by the band he's toured with this past decade or so. Having grown to something considerably more adult than a gelfling intern, Sutter leaves Paizo as one of its greatest champions, a face on a growing Mt. Rushmore of gaming whose contributions will last far longer than his time here in the office. You'll recognize his face on that mountain as the one with the expression of a master player in the middle of the sweetest solo he has ever played. Our rock star is all grown up and about to break out on a solo career. You'll see him out there in the wilderness at the center of the spotlight, with a legion of fans throwing the horns in his direction.

And you'll also see him here, in the pages of Pathfinder products yet to come and in the timeless creations he leaves behind. Pathfinder wouldn't be Pathfinder without James L. Sutter. Paizo wouldn't be Paizo, either.

So long, James L. Sutter. Thanks for everything you have done for Paizo, for me, and for all of our players and fans. I think I speak for all of us when I say we can't wait to see what you come up with next!

Erik Mona
Publisher & Chief Creative Officer

Once upon a time, there was a mystical, magical land called Jamestopia. Here, agents of Operation Banjo Thug wandered where they wished, content in the knowledge that their domain was protected and that the impromptu puppet shows they had become known for could be performed without fear. In Jamestopia, the view of the river was unparalleled, even if for some time the smell of sewage wafting in from sources unknown (likely other, lesser realms which didn't have the word "James” in their title) got distracting. And even when the world changed and we moved offices and Jamestopia fractured (AKA Sutter and I ended up sitting in different parts of the building), the concept of Jamestopia remained. Even when James Sutter drifted even further from the land of dragons and elves into the land of SPACE dragons and SPACE elves… the concept remained.

But now, Jamestopia has suffered a mortal blow, and there remains but one agent of Operation Banjo Thug to hold back the onrushing advent of the mundane. It's not going to be the same, representing the whimsical and nonsensical on my own.

There are a lot of fond memories, be they mice in the drawers or orange skin from too much carrot juice or adventures in creative sitting posture or impromptu discussions about the possibility of there being a space elevator somewhere in Varisia, and while Jamestopia is going away, those memories will remain.

I'll miss ya lots, Sutter!

And you DO REALIZE that now I get to do whatever I want with a certain LAWFUL EVIL gold dragon, right? MWA HA HA HA HA HA!!!

James Jacobs
Creative Director

My first real encounter with James was when he reviewed my editing test for Paizo with me at a New Year's party (Seattle's a small world) while wearing a Steampunk officer's uniform and a sword.

While his dress sense in the office is more conservative, he has always brought the same flair, sense of fun, and dedication to doing and being all the things all the time. Since that disconcerting day, James has been my peer, my boss, and then my peer again, but always a friend, a mentor, and an ally. We've commiserated about impossible deadlines and tough decisions, cried on each other's shoulders about family crises, and cheered each other's successes. Dude, I'm going to miss you here so much, so you'd better do tons of amazing things (including writing for us!)

Judy Bauer
Managing Editor

Sutter has always been friendly and upbeat, even during those unfortunate crunch times. If it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't be at Paizo, and I'll miss him sorely. Good luck out there, pal!

Jason Keeley

I first met Sutter at PaizoCon 2008, when I was still a "super-fan”, known for my message board handle and my involvement in the PathfinderWiki. I remember his enthusiasm when I showed him the print-on-demand paperback Pathfinder's Journal compilation I'd made to more easily read Eando Kline's adventures during my New York City commute. I like to think I was the inspiration for the Pathfinder Tales line he would eventually helm.

During that convention's Grand Convocation event, a bemused Wes sat at his assigned station, providing Harrow readings (with a glass of wine, of course) for eager Pathfinder Society players like myself. Next to him, over-the-top Sean K Reynolds acted out the part of a medium, channeling the gods in a live-action casting of commune. Enter Sutter, who had been lurking over Wes's shoulder as "Chumley”, Herr Schneider's loyal imp companion. When I approached Sean and asked him to channel Zon-Kuthon, Chumley took the opportunity to possess the open divine vessel and puppet him into giving me entirely non-Kuthite responses. Needless to say, the photos I got of Sutter manipulating Sean like a marionette were priceless.

And the hijinks haven't slowed down ever since. Sutter has always been a constant source of new ways of looking at seemingly old, unsolvable problems, and has never been shy about his more eccentric personal traits—communal living, dumpster diving, and Star Trek body painted naked bike rides not the least among them. He's taught me a lot about the creative process, the logistics of getting books made, building one's online persona, and more. I'll miss him in the office, but know that as long as we keep putting out books about space and the First World, he won't be too far away.

Mark Moreland
Franchise Manager

Sutter's had my back since I first started freelancing with Paizo. He's always been tremendously supportive, encouraging, positive, and willing to take time out of his (incredibly busy) schedule to encourage and advise. He's a model for how to give credit where credit is due—though he really could stand to give himself his share of that credit. I'm lucky to have been able to work with him and even more lucky that I can count him as a friend.

Lyz Liddell

Meeting James Sutter is like being swept up in a cyclone made of flashing neon lights, skydivers' screams, and pulsing electronic dance music: you have no damn idea what's going on, but whoa are things fun. Sutter's enthusiasm for everything creative immediately struck me the day I met him. Since then, it seems like the cyclone hasn't stopped, as we've worked on everything together from brainstorming Pathfinder canon to the massive undertaking that was the Starfinder RPG. As that project took shape, I also learned a thing or two about managing from Sutter, and the admirable depths of his experience for Paizo.

In the end, when push came to shove, I knew I could be my weird self around Sutter. And, I'll let you all in on a little secret: it's because he's weird, too!

Yeah, I know, Sutter. I'm rude!

Amanda Hamon Kunz
Development Coordinator

I've only been working at Paizo for a few months now, so I don't have the awesome, "way back when” stories that others are sharing. However, I did work with Sutter quite a bit for the marketing of Starfinder. I can say that there were evenings when I would burst into his office and say, "They need a 700-word article, in an hour!!” and Sutter would give me a look. The look was a combination of annoyed, tired, amused, and determined. In every one of those situations, I got the 700-word article with time to spare. The guy is a machine that creates and creates. It's been a blast working with him and he'll be missed.

Dan Tharp
Marketing Coordinator

When James L. Sutter started at Paizo, he looked like he was about 12 years old. To top it off, we already had a few James' in the office, so he got relegated to being referred to as Sutter or Young James. Well, Sutter eventually turned 21 and discovered the wonders of alcohol, and being 21 he also thought that he was invincible. And so the stage was set for one of the most epic nights of drinking the editors of Dragon and Dungeon had ever seen.

We in the developer's pit would sometimes take jokes a bit too far. Such was the case with our quoting of the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic "Total Recall”. Responding to any deadline with "Two Weeks" was common practice. Crying out like Arnold at any injury was accepted as normal. We enjoyed the flick so much that we thought it would be a great idea to get together and watch the movie, complete with mars themed drinks and food. Seeing as we are all gamers, I dug up the rules for a Total Recall themed drinking game. We gathered at Wes' place late one Saturday to partake in our favored film.

It all started great until we realized that drinking every time the word "recall” or "mars” was said was going to lead to disaster. Well, many of us realized that… but not Sutter. He vowed to keep pace with me, matching drink for drink. He was, after all, invincible, despite the fact that he was literally half my weight and about a foot shorter than me. As the movie drew to a close, I was quite tipsy. Sutter… well, Sutter was ruined. Incapable of coherent speech and unsteady on his feet, it was clear that he had drank more than enough. Soon after, it was Wes' kitchen sink that paid the price.

A lot has happened since those early days of Paizo. Sutter went on from editing dungeon to working on Pathfinder and eventually managing our fiction lines and overseeing the creation of Starfinder. He may not have been invincible then, but he sure seems like it now.

Jason Bulmahn
Director of Game Design

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Tags: Paizo
Creative Director, Starfinder

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I wouldn't be who I am today without all of you. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart—it's been an honor.

Paizo Employee Starfinder Design Lead

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I will remember "Why do I even have this sand to draw a line in, if you keep convincing me to let you step over it?!" to my dying day.

Also "I have learned the sound of your stride nearing my door."

It's been an honor and a privilege giving rise to a new universe with you, sir. We will do our best to take care of it.

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

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I take no responsibility for any image searches people might do that result in them uncovering NSFW content of our dearly departed Sutter.

Paizo Employee Senior Editor

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I was kind of hoping if I didn't write something for this blog post, Sutter wouldn't leave. Drats.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Mr Sutter, you will be missed. Good luck with your writing career. Be sure to drop in here when you got a project out, so this potential reader gets it!

Paizo Employee CEO

11 people marked this as a favorite.

Wait, did that Sutter kid stop getting pictures and descriptions for the webstore? Does he still sit over in the old Amazing Stories area?

It is insane to think that not that long ago you sent me an email asking me to give you a shot. Now 13 years later, here you are leaving with a bright future ahead of you and a legacy left here at Paizo. It has been a distinct pleasure working with you all these years and watching you grow into the man you are today. Congrats on all you have done for Paizo and all you will do in the future!


Lone Shark Games

Rock star.

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