With the 40th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons hitting in the past week, it has made me wax nostalgic for the tales of my gaming past. Thinking back to the beginning, to my first D&D game, it is amazing to see what an impact it has made on my life.
Happy 40th, D&D
Friday, February 8, 2014
With the 40th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons hitting in the past week, it has made me wax nostalgic for the tales of my gaming past. Thinking back to the beginning, to my first D&D game, it is amazing to see what an impact it has made on my life.
I grew up the typical brainiac nerd. Each day, I would come home from school and curl up with a science fiction or fantasy novel. Piers Anthony, Stephen R. Donaldson, Fritz Lieber, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, Roger Zelazny, Robert E. Howard, Anne McCaffrey and more told their tales of daring and adventure and I was hooked. Reading was a solitary hobby that fit well with my shy persona.
That all changed when I stumbled upon a very simple video game called Akalabeth. It was written by Richard Garriott (better known to most as Lord British) and involved a very simple interface where you would travel into dungeons, kill things, and take their treasure. I was hooked! I didn’t have my own computer back in 1980, but the folks at Computer World in Appleton, Wisconsin were more than happy to let me come to their store after school and play Akalabeth.
In the fall of 1981, I was off to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota to get my bachelors in biology. Right away, I went into withdrawal from my daily Akalabeth fix. I put up some posters around the cafeteria hoping that somebody might have a computer with Akalabeth on it. I never got a bite on that, but a guy let me know that he was starting a game of Dungeons & Dragons and I was invited to give it a try. Now, I had no idea what Dungeons & Dragons was, but I figured it probably had something to do with a computer, so I was interested in giving it a try. Imagine my surprise when I showed up at the designated dorm room and there were six other people there!
I had a bit of apprehension—what did I get myself into? But I fought down my fears and sat down as the guy who invited me explained that we were going to be playing this game called Dungeons & Dragons. As he talked, I became more and more fascinated. We were going to be telling a story together as a group. There were all these weird shaped dice and painted metal miniatures. I couldn’t tell you any details about the adventure that night. The GM never ran a second session. But I was hooked and told my mother about this new game I had discovered. That Christmas, I was given my very own D&D intro box which I devoured like a sailor dying of thirst. I also received two boxes of Grenadier miniatures, one of characters and one of monsters, which I painted over my Christmas break.
By the time I got back to St. Olaf, I was ready to GM a game. I was desperate to do so. Me, the shy bookworm nerd, was eager to reach out to people I hardly knew and take on the role of the director of a game, the narrator of a story. I was ready to become a leader!
My first regular gaming group was a couple of friends. We played Keep on the Borderlands, because that was the adventure that came with the Beginner’s box set that my mother had bought me for Christmas. Now, Keep was meant to train new DMs by encouraging them to add their own encounters and expand the adventure. I took the map of the area surrounding the keep and the Caves of Chaos, and made a more detailed map that included my own first dungeon, a ruined castle on a nearby river. Attached is my first ever dungeon map. I tried to make things as realistic as I could, but there are so many problems with my map, that it makes me laugh now to look at it. But I was just an eager new DM with a couple of eager players, and we had a blast in that first dungeon!
There were just a few players in my first campaign, so I did double duty. I DMed the campaign, but I also played a character in the campaign, the Fighter/MU Erwyle. Attached is his character sheet from the end of his career. A couple of notes: the character sheet is one that I made up on the school’s UNIX computers, and Erwyle’s possessions and magic-items aren’t on the sheet because they took up a print off that was seven pages long! Erwyle never made it beyond the first campaign except as an NPC, but I’ll never forget those first adventures. I even got superstar artist Clyde Caldwell to draw a picture of Erwyle for me at my first GenCon!
It wasn’t belong before the group had grown to six and we set out to tell tales of adventure across the world of Greyhawk. We met every Friday and Saturday night, playing well into the night, and sometimes into the next morning! The Slaver Series, Against the Giants, Descent into the Depths, the Temple of Elemental Evil, Against the Cult of the Reptile God, the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, the Sinister Secret of Saltmarch, the Secret of Bone Hill, and many, many others tested the wits of my players over the course of the next six years. Players came and went as some graduated and new players joined, but the core of my players stayed the same. It was a heady time for me as the campaign became the thing of legends among gamers at St. Olaf and I had a long waiting list to get into the campaign. Life-long friendships were formed and memories were made that shall never be forgotten.
It all came to an end when I was asked to join my first gaming company, Lion Rampant games in 1987. But it was those early years exploring the World of Greyhawk and learning to be a great DM that really helped me the most as I began a career that would go from Lion Rampant, to White Wolf, to Wizards of the Coast, and now to Paizo.
A couple of years back, something happened that was a first for me. I lost one of my original players, Dar Lund. It hit me hard at the time and I didn’t want to have to deal with the loss of somebody who shared those heady early days with me. Dar was one of the chefs at St. Olaf College and it was through one of my players, Rob, that Dar was introduced to me. I’ll never forget his first character, Roy P. Zabblapper III, the first born son of a vagabond scribe (yeah, I was using the character background charts from Dragon Magazine). Zabber (as he was affectionately known) was also knicknamed the Dwarven Blender, because of his two-handed, Hasted fighting style that left more than one monster beaten to a pulp. If the plot dragged too much during the game, Dar would look at me and blurt out, "Zabber heads through the door." He got himself into more than one pickle that the rest of the party had to bail him out of by doing this, but it only added to the legend. Dar played in my campaign until I left Minnesota in 1988. He was a player I could count on to be there rain or shine, with his trusty dice at hand, along with his dragon-shaped ashtray. When I spent two years deciding where my life was going to go, Dar and his new wife, Betsy, allowed me to sleep on their couch, running D&D games whenever I could get four players together.
To my friend Dar I raise a glass of Velunan Fireamber Wine—to days of adventure and friendship that will never be forgotten!
As I sit down to write my last retrospective blog, I find myself in a bit of a quandry. This is about stuff that happened this year, sometimes mere weeks ago. It's not ancient history—it's what I'm living through right now! That makes writing it up as a restrospective a little weird. Instead of providing the perspective of hindsight, I'm hoping that this blog will give you some insight into why we did what we did this year, why we're doing the things we've already announced for next year, and perhaps a little strategic thought about where Paizo will go in the future. Plans could change radically as the future becomes the present, but at least you can see some of what I'm thinking about right now.
As I sit down to write my last retrospective blog, I find myself in a bit of a quandry. This is about stuff that happened this year, sometimes mere weeks ago. It's not ancient history—it's what I'm living through right now! That makes writing it up as a restrospective a little weird. Instead of providing the perspective of hindsight, I'm hoping that this blog will give you some insight into why we did what we did this year, why we're doing the things we've already announced for next year, and perhaps a little strategic thought about where Paizo will go in the future. Plans could change radically as the future becomes the present, but at least you can see some of what I'm thinking about right now.
Our first big rulebook of the year was the Advanced Race Guide. This book came about due to requests for us to do something similar to the "Savage Species" book that Wizards of the Coast did for Third Edition. Now, I have to let you in on a little secret: Erik has this thing about not wanting to replicate books from D&D's past. When you're brainstorming new books to do, it's really easy to fall back on ideas like "our take on Deities & Demigods" or "our version of the Psionics Handbook." More than once, Erik has said in these brainstorm sessions, "If, at the end of the Pathfinder first edition run, I look back and see a bunch of reimaginings of books that TSR and WotC did in the past, then I'm going to be very disappointed in us." Erik is constantly pushing the staff to come up with innovative ideas, no matter how nostalgic we all are for past books.
So when it came to the Advanced Race Guide, we had a quandry. D&D has always had race books. It makes sense, because everybody has to play a race. But we wanted this to be a bit different. We decided that the first third of the book would have lots of cool stuff for the core races from the Core Rulebook—things that would make you look at each race in a new light. The second half of the book would provide you with playable classes for every zero-hit-die monster out of the first three Bestiaries—every single one. And the last section of the book would give you a rules system to create your own playable races out of pretty much any monster. With all of these things done, Advanced Race Guide turned into a book that I am very proud of, and that's more than just "our version of Savage Species."
For the summer hardcover, we wanted something super crunchy for Pathfinder Society players, so we came up with Ultimate Equipment. Packed from cover to cover with nearly every piece of equipment we'd printed to date, plus so much additional material that more than half of the book is brand new, there's literally something in here for everyone. We were even able to sneak in some of the best wondrous items from the previous four years of RPG Superstar. It's lavishly illustrated with artwork drawn from the decks upon decks of Item Cards we've released over the years; of course, there were quite a few pieces that haven't been in Item Card sets (yet), so there's plenty of new art too!
Vic Wertz channels his inner Karzoug as he shows off the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Deluxe Edition at PaizoCon!
Wayne Reynolds examines the printer sample of the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Deluxe Edition.
In the end-of-year spot where we've previously scheduled new bestiaries, we decided to try something different this year. Inspired by Gary Gygax's vintage Rogues Gallery product, we decided to come up with a big book of NPCs, which we dubbed the NPC Codex. Our goal was to help GMs who need NPCs on the fly, providing them with a character for every Core Rulebook class at all 20 levels. Add in prestige classes, NPC classes, and our iconic characters at multiple levels, and the result is a ton of very useful characters. This is a book that's going to get a lot of use at my table!
As this year was both the 10th anniversary of Paizo and the 5th anniversary of Pathfinder, we had to do something cool to commemorate it! Our first Pathfinder products ever—and still among our most popular—were the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path volumes, which were originally written for the 3.5 rules system. The original books from that 6-volume arc are either sold out or almost sold out, so reprinting the AP as a single collection—something we do not and will not regularly do—was a viable option. James Jacobs combed through pages upon pages of posts in the Rise of the Runelords forums on paizo.com, reaping the benefit of five years worth of our customers' actual play experiences, and he spent months updating and fine-tuning the book. Then he turned it over to me, and I spent two weeks doing a development pass of my own. Sarah Robinson and her art team made it look super sweet, and Wayne Reynolds provided an awesome new cover. The large hardcover has sold very well and received lots of critical acclaim. We celebrated the release at PaizoCon with all six of the Runelords authors present as guests of honor!
Of course, we couldn't just stop there! We've always wanted to do a superdeluxe game product and the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition gave us the excuse to pull out all the stops and really make something special. If you haven't seen the video of Erik Mona unveiling the Deluxe Collector's Edition, you really need to check it out! Words do not adequately convey how cool this product ended up! (We had to make it a paizo.com exclusive because if it went through the usual distributor and retailer markups, the price would approach $1000!)
For our regular Adventure Paths in 2012, we did two very different things. James Jacobs keeps a long list of potential themes for upcoming Adventure Paths, and we delve into its depths a couple times per year as we discuss what to do next. This time, I really wanted to return to more of a sandbox AP, since Kingmaker had been so popular. After looking through the ideas in James' list, we figured that pirates looting ships, establishing a secret base, finding lost treasure and thwarting an invasion would be the perfect backdrop for a sandbox game, and thus was Skull & Shackles born.
The second AP was all James' idea. He'd been wanting to return to Varisia for a while, and the details of what would become Shattered Star had been percolating in his brain. With the release of the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition, the time was right to write our first "sequel" adventure path. Shattered Star was written as if the events of the previous Varisia APs (Rise of the Runelords, Curse of the Crimson Throne, and Second Darkness) had already happened. Of course, you don't need to have played through those to play Shattered Star, but if you did, you'll find little easter eggs throughout the text.
The Pathfinder Companion line had a revamp this past year. When we launched the line a couple of years ago, we wanted to provide players with a regular supplement that would not only give them some insight into the world of Golarion, but also give them some crunchy rules stuff that they could use with their characters. Wes Schneider and James Sutter had taken ownership of the line, and they had some ideas on how to make it better for players. They began by going to our messageboards and asking what kinds of things you'd like to see in the Player Companion line—what you liked and what you didn't like—then they rolled it into a new format and pitched it to the admin team here at Paizo. The result arrived this year starting with Varisia: Birthplace of Legends. It seems to have been received as a change for the better, garnering many very positive comments on the new look!
For years, we've been contemplating Pathfinder card games and board games, and 2012 saw the beginning of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. In April, we were approached by an old friend of the company, Mike Selinker, with the genesis of the idea that would become the Pathfinder ACG. He had a mechanic that he had been working on with another company which he thought could bring the feel of Pathfinder to a card game format. You'd have a character, form an adventuring party, visit adventure sites, defeat monsters and villains, and find treasure. As you explore, you'd make changes to the deck of cards representing your character, and those adjustments would carry over to the next time you played the game, essentially "leveling up" your character.
Fans at PaizoCon get the first look at "Project Swallowtail", aka the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game!
We decided that we'd base the challenges in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game around our Adventure Paths, starting with Rise of the Runelords. (We code-named the game "Project Swallowtail" after the goblin fight in the beginning of Rise of the Runelords.) The first release will be a big box of cards representing monsters, items, spells, weapons, and more, including adventure scenarios to play through "Burnt Offerings", the first chapter of Rise of the Runelords; we plan to release subsequent decks for the other five volumes of the AP in a series of bimonthly releases, allowing us to produce a full Adventure Path in card form every year! The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is currently in playtesting, where more than 300 players are helping us make the game the best it can be. In the next few months, the game will be finished, and we hope to release it at Gen Con 2013.
I've personally been spending a lot of time working with Paizo's new sister company, Goblinworks, and the Pathfinder Online MMO. At the beginning of the year, it was pretty much just Ryan Dancey, myself, and a plan. As the year progressed, we've assembled an amazing team and started building Pathfinder Online. Instead of putting together another World of Warcraft "MMO theme park" clone, we're taking inspiration from the Kingmaker Adventure Path and are creating a sandbox in the River Kingdoms that will allow players to seek out fame and fortune, and maybe even one day, own part of the world! This scope allows us to make an MMO with a team and a budget that are much smaller than those used to make most MMOs. Pathfinder Online is a different animal—it's going to be driven by the players in a process we call crowdforging, which is modeled to some extent on the community-driven process we use to make new products at Paizo. The end result is going to be an MMO that I am confident will not only break new ground, but will provide players with a Pathfinder experience that will be one-of-a-kind!
Building Pathfinder Online won't take the tens of millions of dollars that most theme park MMOs require, but it is still a pricey venture. We launched a Kickstarter in May that helped us to build a technology demo—a proof of concept that tests internal systems and demonstrates to potential investors that you can do what you say you can do. Our Kickstarter was a huge success, raising over $300,000 in 30 days and allowing us to start hiring staff to make the game. In the course of three months, a staff of fewer than 10 people put together an entire dungeon level, built a section of wilderness, created a tower and catapults, and three of our iconic characters, Valeros, Seoni, and Merisiel. Oh, and goblins. Lots and lots of goblins. With the Technology Demo complete, we were able to ensure enough funding to make Pathfinder Online possible.
A by-product of this Kickstarter was a product called Thornkeep. It started off as a simple project, with veteran designer Rich Baker creating the town of Thornkeep, a chaotic hive of scum and villainy which is going to be one of the starter towns in Pathfinder Online. He also created a small dungeon beneath Thornkeep and populated the wilderness surrounding the town. The book would also include a behind-the-scenes look at the building of our Tech Demo. As the Kickstarter progressed, we added stretch goals that resulted in new dungeon levels beneath Rich's original one. By the end of the Kickstarter, Jason Bulmahn, James Jacobs, Erik Mona and Ed Greenwood were each supplying their own dungeon level for the book, which had swelled to a full 96 pages! We also created Flip-Mats for the latter four dungeon levels.
The funding that we received after completing the Tech Demo will ensure that Pathfinder Online is going to happen, but to create the game as big and as fast as we all really want to, we need to hire about three times as many employees as our current funding allows. Rather than seek out a venture capitalist that cares more about profit margins and having a short-term exit strategy than about creating an awesome game that people will play for years, we decided to enlist the support of our community, so that we can keep making the decisions that the community wants us to make. So we recently kicked off another Kickstarter effort, this time seeking the funding we need to make the game bigger, better, and faster! As I type this, the Kickstarter is reaching the halfway point in both time and money, which means that we're likely to get the capital we need!
In conjunction with this Kickstarter, we announced another Pathfinder RPG product similar to Thornkeep; this one is called the Emerald Spire Superdungeon, and it's going to be Paizo's biggest dungeon ever. We've enlisted top Paizo staff members as well as many of our famous designer friends to help out. As of right now, we have dungeon levels coming from Rich Baker, Wolfgang Baur, Wes Schneider, James Sutter, Keith Baker, Ed Greenwood, Erik Mona, Mark Rein•Hagen, Jason Bulmahn, Frank Mentzer, James Jacobs and myself! And if we surpass our funding goal—which is very possible, as Kickstarters usually have a big surge in the last few days—more and more dungeon levels from other amazing designers will be added. This baby could get crazy.
Of course, the Kickstarter rewards include some cool things for the Pathfinder Online game itself, including giving away a new in-game item every day. At the higher reward levels, you can own a tavern in the game, name a spell or magic item after your character, or even have your character drawn by Wayne Reynolds and turned into a prepainted plastic Pathfinder Battles miniature for a future set! And there are more and more things coming down the turnpike. By the time this Kickstarter is done, we'll be offering one of the sweetest deals in gaming history! And most importantly, it will help us to make sure Pathfinder Online is done right, with input from the most important people: you!
2012 has also been a banner year for Paizo's licensing efforts. Our friends at Reaper continued to release two or more new unpainted metal miniatures each month; we now have a very impressive array of over 160 different miniatures to choose from. And Reaper's extremely successful Kickstarter for their Bones line of unpainted plastic miniatures managed to add several miniatures from the Pathfinder line into the Bones line, which means that in 2013, there are going to be some very affordable Pathfinder minis coming in the Bones line!
In last month's retrospective, I talked about how our partnership with WizKids, to make Pathfinder Battles prepainted plastic miniatures, came about. Well, 2012 saw the release of the first two full sets of miniatures in the line. One thing that most people don't know is that WizKids was planning to enter the fantasy prepainted plastic miniatures market on their own when talks with us started. They had a number of miniatures in various stages of completion that we adopted—and in many cases, greatly modified—and that helped us get Heroes & Monsters out as quickly as we did. For the second set, based on Rise of the Runelords, we were able to work with WizKids from start to finish, creating one of the most breathtaking sets of prepainted plastic miniatures ever! Our third set of minis, based on the Shattered Star, is set to release in January, and there's a lot more on the way for 2013.
Our friends at Lone Wolf have been doing a great job making Hero Lab the go-to program for creating Pathfinder characters. They make a great effort to get new rules elements into the program at superhuman speeds. We've seen more and more of our customers using Hero Lab to make character creation a breeze, and their release of a Mac version this year was very welcome. We also saw two new Pathfinder dice sets from Q-workshop with the release of the Carrion Crown and Serpent's Skull sets. Our friends at Diamond Select Toys created the much-requested Pathfinder Goblin plush, which has been selling off the hooks since its introduction at Gen Con this year! Also at Gen Con, we announced a deal with Steve Jackson Games to create a Pathfinder version of Munchkin for release in 2013. Drawn by John Kovalic and designed by Steve Jackson himself, this promises to be a hilarious look at the Pathfinder game!
On the language translation front, we already have strong licensees for French (Black Book Editions), German (Ulisses Spiele) and Italian (Giochi Uniti). We also have a few other languages in the works, including Spanish and Portuguese, that will likely be announced in 2013. These translation partners around the world, coupled with the ceaseless work done by our international Pathfinder Society Venture Captains and Lieutenants, have helped Pathfinder find a strong international audience. Pathfinder is now a global brand, and we are looking forward to continuing our expansion!
The last big licensing news of 2012 was line of Pathfinder comics from Dynamite Comics. We'd always wanted to do comic books, but we needed a great partner. When Dynamite approached Erik with an offer to chronicle the adventures of our iconic heroes, it didn't take too long to say yes! The first issue was released at Gen Con with a convention-exclusive cover. Author Jim Zub really captures the essence of our iconics and is helping us to fill in their backstories. James Jacobs is writing small Golarion-specific background articles in each issue, giving these comics a shelf life beyond your first read-through. We're halfway through the first six-issue story arc, and they're already working on the story that will begin in issue 7. I can't wait to see where Jim and the team at Dynamite take these comics next!
Richard Pett, Nick Logue, Brandon Hodge, and Greg Vaughan hang out at PaizoCon.
Pathfinder comic artist Andrew Huerta was on hand at Gen Con to sign comics and do sketches for fans!
Will Chase shows off our new goblin plush!
Lisa Stevens signs the Pathfinder Munchkin deal with Steve Jackson Games at GenCon.
At the ENnie Awards, Paizo won 7 golds and 1 silver. The awards received were:
Product of the Year: Gold Medal to Pathfinder Roleplaying: Game Beginner Box
Best Publisher: Gold Medal
At the end of the 2011 blog, I mentioned the impending announcement of 5th edition that had us wondering what Wizards had up their sleeve, and what it would mean for Paizo and Pathfinder. Wizards made their announcement in January, and released the first playtest materials in May. At Gen Con, Wizards announced that 2014 was a likely release date for their new edition.
So what does this mean for Paizo? We've decided to stay the course. Pathfinder is doing amazingly well, with our products selling better and better each year, and our licensing partners are helping us make it the top RPG worldwide. We have a lot more that we want to explore with Pathfinder and we know that we have devoted fans and customers like you that want to go exploring with us. Paizo is good at making tabletop RPG products and we aren't deviating from that. We wish Wizards well with their edition launch; we will be creating cool Pathfinder adventures, expanding our Pathfinder campaign setting, and exploring new Pathfinder RPG rules while they do that. We will keep making Pathfinder until you tell us to stop.
We have already announced two rulebooks for 2013 that have me excited. The first, Ultimate Campaign, is one that I have been pushing for for years. It's the book that gives you rules for everything you do OUTSIDE of the adventuring in your campaign. It will have a robust character background generation system, "downtime" rules that help you keep track of what your characters are doing between adventures, an expansion of the kingdom-building system from Kingmaker, and much, much more! This is a rulebook that I've wanted since I first started gaming in 1981, and I'm thrilled that I'm finally going to get it!
The other book that has me jazzed is Mythic Adventures. One of the earliest RPG products I had a hand in was The Primal Order, the very first book from Wizards of the Coast, which presented a model for divine influence in fantasy settings. Now Paizo's own Jason Bulmahn has crafted his own system for divinity-touched characters that I think is really elegant. You can have your high-level characters work their way towards godhood, or you can introduce the rules earlier in a campaign to simulate a mythic hero like Hercules. We've been playtesting this product for about a month now, and the feedback has been great! Wayne Reynolds' cover for the book just showed up in house, and it is epic—or rather, mythic!
We're also planning a big change in our Pathfinder Module line for 2013. Pathfinder Modules—then under the name GameMastery Modules—were among Paizo's first RPG products to come out after the announcement of the cancellation of the magazines. Crown of the Kobold King kicked them off and since then, 62 modules have been published. At 32 pages, these adventures were great for short campaigns, or to insert into adventure paths. But in recent years, they seemed to get lost in the shuffle, so we've decided to make these adventures into individual events, starting by making them larger and packaging them with a poster map. The first, The Dragon's Demand, is a 64-page module by Mike Shel, due out in May. Expect us to push the boundaries a bit with these modules and make each one of them something that everyone is looking forward to!
One more change that you will see in 2013 is the retirement of the GameMastery brand. GameMastery predates every other Paizo RPG product, appearing on our first non-D&D product, Dark Elf Sanctum. Since those early Compleat Encounters, the GameMastery brand has adorned Flip-Mats, Map Packs, Item Cards, the Combat Pad, and a host of other gaming accessories. But we've decided that we should really brand them with the #1 RPG brand in the world, Pathfinder, since most of our customers are going to use them with our game. The name Pathfinder has much more cachet with retailers, so this should help us get our accessories into more stores. In preparation for this change, we decided to buy all of the rights to the Combat Pad and the Flip-Mat brand, which were previously produced under license from our friends at Open Mind Games and Steel Sqwire respectively. New Pathfinder-branded versions of these products will be hitting stores in 2013.
There's another major effort that has seen a lot of work in 2012, but that most people won't see until 2013: Paizo Game Space. For years, I've wanted to provide you with a means to play games with each other through paizo.com. There are a number of great virtual tabletops (VTTs) out there, but most of them require you to run a program on your computer. We wanted you to be able to play through your browser, anywhere and anytime. Earlier this year, Gary Teter finally had the time to focus on Game Space, and we announced it at PaizoCon. Since then, his team has been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get it ready for launch. We had hoped to release it in the later part of 2012, but it wasn't ready, and I don't like to release products before they are ready, even if that makes them late. Gary and his team are currently doing small-scale testing with outside participants, and all indicators are that this will open up to everyone early in 2013. We have big plans for Game Space, but like most things in the future, it will take time for those plans to be revealed. We are going to launch with a simple VTT and iteratively work on it in conjunction with you, our fans, to give you more options and a better and better experience over time. Just as the paizo.com website has evolved over time, Game Space will do the same. I can't wait to fire up my first game on it, or use it with a big monitor in my home game.
Sara Marie and Mikey Teter, with his official Paizo golem onesie!
The newest Paizo family member, Morgan Nicole Kenway!
I have mentioned in the past that Paizo is a lot like an extended family. We had our first intracompany marriage a few years back when Gary Teter married Sara Marie Rip. Earlier this year, they had what I like to think of as the first Paizo baby. Former employees Lisa Chido, Stacey Fiorito, Theresa Cummins, Josh Frost, and James Davis all had babies while they were employed at Paizo, but Mikey Teter is the first child of two Paizo parents. We all take great pride in Mikey. We also had our second intracompany marriage this year; longtime partners Crystal Frasier and Lissa Guillet were among the first in the state to be married after Washington voted to allow same-sex couples to wed. And Paizo's extended family grew by one just a few days ago when warehouse worker Mike Kenway and his wife brought Morgan Nicole Kenway into the world. We look forward to meeting her!
One other very cool thing happened at the end of 2012 that for me encompasses the adventure we have been on here at Paizo. In 2004, I had to lay off a number of employees to save a struggling Paizo, and one of the casualties was Jenny Bendel, our Director of Marketing. Jenny wasn't let go because of performance; she was amazing, but Paizo didn't have any money to spend on marketing. And if we didn't have money for marketing, we didn't have money for a Director of Marketing. So I had to lay Jenny off in a tearful meeting. She went on to do amazing things for computer game companies. We reconnected last year on Facebook, and when I saw that she was looking for a job earlier this year, I saw a way to correct an ancient wrong. I am really happy to say that Jenny rejoined Paizo a few months ago, and is already making a huge difference in our company. It gives me great pride that a friend whom I had to lay off can work with me again in a company that is growing and thriving. In many ways, the story of Jenny Bendel is the story of the old Paizo and the new Paizo. And that is very, very cool.
So where will Paizo go as we look into the next 10 years of our existence? We have a lot of cool things to do with Pathfinder, and I'm excited to see them come to fruition. There will be more licenses with companies that will allow us to expand the Pathfinder brand into different media—some are already in the works! I expect Pathfinder Society to grow even larger and better, becoming one of the main ways that Pathfinder fans can find and play with each other. Initiatives like Paizo Game Space will launch and continually improve, providing players with a new way to connect with their fellow gamers and play the game they love. And I expect that there will be more weddings and more babies. There will be triumphs and defeats. There will be life. And we will be living it together, with a sense of adventure and determination. I hope you will be there to live it with us. Here's to another ten years! I look forward to telling you the tales in 2022 as I write the blogs for Paizo's 20th anniversary. Thank you for indulging me in this trip down memory lane, and most of all, thanks for supporting Paizo and allowing us to do what we do!
Employees who started in 2012 (in order of hiring date):
Adam Daigle, Developer
Kevin Underwood, Warehouse Personnel
Matt Renton, Warehouse Personnel
Adam Lovell, Sales Representative
Jessica Price, Project Manager
Logan Bonner, Developer
Sonja Morris, Graphic Designer
Jenny Bendel, Marketing Director
Employees who left in 2012 (in order of their end date):
Lisa Stevens CEO
From Freelancer to Family
I first found my way to Paizo, like many of you, through Dragon and Dungeon magazines. I was just buying them off the rack, and after a while I figured it was time to get a subscription, so I headed over to the website and set that up. Shortly after I renewed for the next year, I heard the dreaded news that the magazines were going away. It was a particularly painful thing to read considering that very day I was ready to send in my very first pitch for an article.
Well, there went that idea—time to look elsewhere to pitch and keep trying to break into the freelance gig. I knew that being an unknown in this competitive world of freelance game writing there wasn't a place for me in Paizo's new endeavors, but maybe if I reached out to other game companies and built up a list of credits, hopefully good credits, I could get my chance. I transferred my leftover subscription credit to check out Pathfinder, knowing it would be great stuff. If I liked what that group was doing with Dungeons & Dragons, just imagine what cool things would come from having the freedom to do whatever they wanted!
Adam Daigle arrives at Paizo in style!
I knew some of the freelancers that Paizo used for Dragon and Dungeon, made friends with them online, and ended up getting invited into the WereCabbages, a guild of freelance writers and game designers. From connections within the group—which I learned a ton from—I got my first paid gig. After that, I kept working, never going more than a week or two without an assignment. It wasn't too long after that that Liz Courts reached out to a few of us with a task Wes asked her if we could help with. The task was to reformat all the spells and magic items from the SRD to the new format that was going to be used for Pathfinder Beta. I jumped at the chance, did my part of the work, and turned my section in well before deadline. Wes's response was, "You're a rockstar! What can I get you working on now?" I was elated. I let him know that I liked monsters and worldbuilding, and from that point on I was almost constantly writing for Paizo and for Pathfinder.
A little later down the line, I saw that Paizo was hiring, so I sent my resume. I didn't get the job then—the opening was filled by the ever-awesome Rob McCreary—but I was touched that Wes called me at home to let me know that they were going with Rob. That meant a lot. Despite being bummed that I didn't get the gig, it reaffirmed the awesomeness of the company, and of Wes. So, I kept writing, kept going to conventions and hanging out with the crew, and kept my eye on one day sitting here writing a blog about how I got started working for Paizo. (Whoa, that got a little meta.)
There was one other time that Wes called me to see if I was interested in a job, but the timing wasn't right to uproot myself from Texas and move halfway across the country. I hated to say no, but it was the right decision at the time. However, as time went on, I realized I should have taken the job. My day job, while it paid well, didn't really have much of a chance of giving me what I needed other than a big paycheck. I'd go to work, set up networks, cable offices, then come home and write all night before sleeping for a few hours and doing it all over again. So, when a little less than a year ago, Wes called me asking if now was a good time, I had no other response than, "Yeah. Now is a good time." I spent a few weeks tying up loose ends and packing my life into a truck before driving across the country to my new apartment (that I had never seen).
It was great getting here and having Wes, Sutter, Patrick, and Mark slip out of work to help me and my wife unload the moving truck. That showed great character for the company and the people I had regarded as friends even before working here.
The best thing about being part of the staff (instead of just a contributing freelancer) is that I already felt like part of the family. When I got here, other people kept asking me things assuming I had been here for much longer than I actually had. I was getting questions like, "This isn't your first PaizoCon with us, is it?" or "Were you at the last company party?" So it was good to know that the fact that I was finally here felt as normal to the rest of the crew as it did for me.
Adam Daigle Developer
From Playing to Making Pathfinder
RPGs are something I should have gotten into early: throw collective storytelling, world-building, social gaming, miniatures and systems for doing all this into a beaker together and stir, and you've tailor-made a drug guaranteed to hook me immediately.
But for some reason, I didn't try it for most of my life. It wasn't until I moved out to Seattle and was working in the game industry that my boyfriend floated the idea of his returning to the Pathfinder campaign that our friends Lisa and Vic hosted, and he mentioned that they'd invited me, too. Flattered that this group of industry veterans was willing to let a newbie join them, I said yes.
My first act in the game was to offer to pay off a bunch of thugs who attacked us in an alley so we wouldn't have to fight them. A few of my fellow players were horrified ("Do you understand how much gold that is?" one of them asked incredulously. "You just paid for their retirement, a new wardrobe for each of their wives, their children's college educations"). Four years later, I like to think I've gotten a bit more savvy, but I'm still learning from them.
Meanwhile, however, I fell in love with Golarion. I also came to admire Paizo, a company, I felt, that was doing it right: forming a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship with their player base, building a well-thought-out game world, treating their employees well, portraying a diverse and balanced slate of characters, and having fun doing it.
There came a point when I was ready to leave Microsoft and Paizo needed a project manager, so I came on board. During my first few days here, as I geeked out over favorite books and movies with my new coworkers, I felt like I'd come home. I'm now GMing my own Pathfinder game, and playing in a campaign with another first-time GM, and am grateful on a near-daily basis that my coworkers are kind enough to answer my questions and help me pretend I know what I'm doing. The most uneventful day here is still better than the best days at most of my other jobs. It's amazing how the most Sisyphean task seems possible when you're surrounded by brilliantly talented and genuinely good people. I'm thrilled to be in a position to contribute to my favorite RPG, and can't wait to see what we do with the next ten years.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, Paizo found itself in a very interesting position as we came to the end of 2010. Never before in the history of tabletop RPGs was there a market leader that wasn't Dungeons & Dragons. Why is that important? Well, there are certain tasks that the tabletop RPG industry has always relegated to the top dog in the category—and chief amongst those was player acquisition.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, Paizo found itself in a very interesting position as we came to the end of 2010. Never before in the history of tabletop RPGs was there a market leader that wasn't Dungeons & Dragons. Why is that important? Well, there are certain tasks that the tabletop RPG industry has always relegated to the top dog in the category—and chief amongst those was player acquisition.
Common wisdom in the industry was that only the market leader had the ability to bring significant numbers of new people into the tabletop RPG hobby. One major reason for this is an idea called network externalities. When the telephone was invented, its usefulness was limited until other people installed telephones; as the telephone network expanded, having a phone became more and more useful. The same thing goes for interstate highways, DVD players, and Facebook. And when products reliant on network externalities compete with one another, the one that wins is usually the one with the bigger network.
It may not be immediately obvious that RPGs rely on network externalities, but they do. Let's say there's a new RPG that you're really keen on trying. You can't play it yourself, so you need to find three or four other people who want to play that RPG. Chances are good that if you get a group of four or five people together and compare notes about what game they all know how to play, the answer is most likely to be the market leader. Which, for the entire history of RPGs, had been D&D. I remember when I first started working on Ars Magica back in 1987—I would have Storyguides (the Ars Magica equivalent of GMs) sending me letters lamenting the fact that they couldn't find a group because everybody was playing D&D. Matter of fact, another piece of the industry's common wisdom was that, in the odd cases that an RPG other than D&D brought you into the industry, you'd still eventually end up playing D&D because it was the one game that almost everybody knows how to play.
Network externalities also meant that only D&D had the name recognition and placement in stores to be able to attract significant numbers of new gamers into the fold. Even as D&D cycled through multiple editions, essentially creating a new branch of their network each time a new edition was released, the fact that TSR or Wizards focused on products for the current edition meant that players were incentivized to stay on the newest branch; they didn't have to compete with themselves. But then the OGL came along, and so did 4th Edition.
The fact that Pathfinder is built on the 3.5 SRD means that if you've played D&D, you can quickly become familiar with Pathfinder. 4E, on the other hand, was different enough from what had come before that it created a new branch of the network, and for the first time, gamers could choose to follow D&D to the new branch or stay on the old branch with Pathfinder. And at the end of the day, Pathfinder ended up being the one with the bigger network.
Before 2011, we never really had the reach through hobby game stores, book stores and organized play to be the game that people start gravitating to. Then, seemingly suddenly, big book stores were putting together islands of Pathfinder products. They were facing our books cover out on the shelves. They were talking to us about running games in their stores. And most of all, they were asking us for an introductory game that they could sell to folks who never played Pathfinder or D&D at all.
We had always dreamed about creating an introductory boxed set for Pathfinder. Paizo staffers each had their own story about buying one of the intro sets for D&D back in the late '70s or early '80s; the wonder of learning a new game that would become such a big part of our lives was something indelibly etched into our minds. But with those memories came expectations about how awesome our own version would need to be. And until 2011, Paizo didn't really have the clout or the reach to make our expectations a reality.
Boxed sets are complicated and expensive to manufacture. Most book printers don't make dice. Most dicemakers don't make boxes. And most boxmakers don't print books. So you usually need to deal with multiple vendors to coordinate delivery and assembly. And a lot of hands involved means a lot of cost. But an introductory box can't have a high price tag, so you need to work with pretty low margins. And that means that you need to make a LOT of them to make any money on them. And when you make a lot, you need to be able to sell a lot. Frankly, every time we'd looked into the logistics and finances of making a box set, it had scared the crap out of us. But now, we thought we could sell a lot. We had the opportunity to make the intro set we had always dreamed about.
To start the process, we had a meeting where I brought in every single D&D intro set TSR and Wizards had ever made. We opened up the boxes, rummaged through the components, scoured through the books, and made lists of things that we liked and didn't like about each set. One thing we noticed was that the earlier sets—the ones that had hooked us in our younger years—did a much better job of providing you with a simplified game system that you could actually run campaigns from. They provided young GMs with the tools to understand how to run a long-term D&D game. As the years unfolded, it seemed that the D&D intro sets moved away from that and became more and more a programmed intro that was meant to be played and discarded as the new gamer moved onward to the core rulebooks. While we needed new players to eventually graduate to the core Pathfinder rulebooks, we also wanted our own intro set to provide more of the tools we remembered from the intro sets we grew up with.
The white board becomes the design medium of choice for the layout of the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box.
Paizo staff members try to puzzle out character creation during an in-house playtest while Sean K Reynolds watches.
One of the things we knew we needed to work hard on was accessibility. When we looked at the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, we saw a reference book that was great for finding rules when you already knew how to play, but was not very friendly when you were a beginner attempting to navigate the sometimes arcane rules of our game system. We decided to approach our own intro set, which we had decided to call the Pathfinder Beginner Box, from a graphic design and layout point of view first instead of the normal process of providing our art team with finished text which they then laid out. Sarah Robinson, Paizo's Art Director, has a background in creating strategy guides for video games, and we thought we could learn a thing or two from their approach on teaching.
The process became a very collaborative (if time intensive) one. The design team would tell the art team what content they wanted to have in the book. Then the art team would create a graphic layout that they felt would be the most accessible, and they'd give that back to the design team. Then the design team would have to rewrite the content to fit the graphic design, sometimes needing the graphic design to change in order to present the rules better. This happened back and forth numerous times, each time with the product getting better and more clear.
Once we were done, we needed to do some testing to see if our theories would stand up to the test of actual use. Our first test was having some folks who were rather new to RPGs inside Paizo test out the character creation system to see how intuitive it was. When only one of the four testees was able to finish character creation without some help, it became apparent that there were problems. But it gave us some ideas, so we went through another couple of rounds of design and graphic design until we had a new iteration that we thought might work better.
The next test was to bring in friends and family of Paizo employees to create characters and run a short adventure under our watchful eyes. This test went much better, but there were still a few sticking points. After a few more cycles of tinkering, we faced the closed door playtest. In this test, an outside company that specializes in product testing recruited groups of people who didn't know how to play RPGs but, based on their other hobbies, might have an interest. These testers were given a prototype Beginner Box, and we were allowed to watch their progress through a one-way mirror. We would not be allowed to give them any help, thus simulating the experience a customer would have once they brought our product home. We took a lot of notes.
The experience was both stimulating and humbling. Some things that we thought were downright obvious weren't, while other innovations we had come up with in our iterative process proved to work very well. The best part of these tests was the disappointment on the gamers' faces when the testing came to an end and they had to stop playing the game. They were really having a good time and were genuinely bummed that they had to stop. That was a very good thing.
While design and art were working back and forth on the books, Jeff Alvarez took on the task of getting the Beginner Box manufactured. In addition to the box, books, character sheets, and dice, we had decided to include cardboard pawns similar to the ones we'd made for our Kill Doctor Lucky board game (which meant we also needed plastic bases for those pawns) as well as a Flip-Mat printed with an introductory dungeon on one side and a plain grid (for long-term play) on the other. Jeff's office became overrun with printer samples from all over the world as we tried to find the best prices and highest quality. Eventually, we found a place in China that could handle most of the components (and pack in the few things that needed to be made elsewhere), and we were off to the races. We wanted the Beginner Box out for the holidays—which meant it needed to be in stores at the end of October—and the deadline to finish up the product was tight. Many late nights and weekends were sacrificed, but we were able to get the product shipped to the printer on time.
When the Pathfinder Beginner Box came out in October 2011, we had unprecedented buy-in from the retail community. From Barnes & Noble to your friendly local game store, Beginner Boxes flew off the shelves that holiday season. Among the most rewarding things that have come out of the release of the Beginner Box are the stories we've heard from gamers who used it to introduce their children to the game, or first-time gamers who saw the product at their local store and are now gamers for life. We are very proud of the product we ended up producing, and of the group effort that allowed it to take form.
The core rules line in 2011 took a slightly different take with our first two rulebooks. With the release of the Advanced Player's Guide in 2010, we had added a number of new classes to the game. After a lot of discussion, we had decided that we wanted to get all of the major fantasy classes out early in Pathfinder's life cycle, so our 2011 books were strongly class-oriented. Thematically, we divided the two releases up into one book that focused on magical classes and one that focused on combat classes. Four new core classes were created: the magus, samurai, ninja and gunslinger, along with a wealth of archetypes that covered the fantasy gamut.
The rest of the schedule for Pathfinder pretty much followed our standard path. The Carrion Crown Adventure Path for the first half of the year allowed Managing Editor Wes Schneider to delve deeply into the haunted hillsides of Ustalav. Later in the year, James Jacobs finally got his chance to explore a new continent in Golarion with the Jade Regent Adventure Path, which took characters from familiar Varisia over the polar ice cap into Minkai.
The Pathfinder Society organized play program took an even bigger part in our marketing efforts starting in 2011. In previous years, Pathfinder Society was always part of one person's larger job, but we were never in a position where we could afford to have a single person focus on this vital part of our plan. In August, at Gen Con, we interviewed a number of candidates, focusing our efforts on people who had been in the trenches of Pathfinder Society on a local basis. After numerous interviews, we settled on Mike Brock, who had expanded the Pathfinder Society presence in Atlanta to impressive levels. Under Mike's guidance, Pathfinder Society has grown like gangbusters and now has a presence all over the world.
Will Chase surveys the first shipment of Pathfinder Battles: Heroes & Monsters miniatures from WizKids.
In our minds, one thing that a world-class RPG publisher should provide for its players is prepainted plastic miniatures. D&D Miniatures had been a huge seller in the paizo.com online store, so as Pathfinder grew, we constantly talked about the possibility of doing plastic minis. The problem stems from the fact that it is exceedingly hard to do well and profitably. Paizo's competencies lie more along the paper printing line, so we were stymied in our efforts. Then, one day in early 2011, Justin Ziran from WizKids emailed me asking if we might be interested in working with them to create a line of Pathfinder preplastic minis. Maybe I came across as too excited, because it took us months and a lot of information exchange before we managed to go forward with one single product: Beginner Box Heroes, a four-pack of miniatures depicting the iconics used in the Beginner Box.
When WizKids announced the 4-pack to their retailers, the size of the orders caused them to fast-track a 40-mini set dubbed Heroes & Monsters. We were hoping to have it come out at the end of 2011, but in the end, only Beginner Box Heroes made it out by year end. But the groundwork for a long and fruitful partnership had been made.
Early 2011 also brought a most unexpected opportunity. In January, I was browsing Facebook when I noticed my friend Ryan Dancey had left CCP, where he had been working on a massively multiplayer online RPG (abbreviated to MMORPG or simply MMO) called EVE Online. I sent him a message that ended with, "So what are you going to do now?" His response was not what I expected: "Have you ever thought about doing a Pathfinder MMO?"
I actually had thought about what a Pathfinder video game might look like, but I'd always figured that someone like Electronic Arts or BioWare would eventually come along and ask for a license to make such a game. But what Ryan was suggesting was starting a new company to make the Pathfinder MMO ourselves. I was scared and intrigued all at the same time. So I asked Ryan to come up with a plan and pitch it to me.
A month later, Ryan came to Seattle with his plan, and he won me over. The fear subsided and the excitement kicked in, because Ryan wasn't asking for the usual huge bankroll that many MMOs have blown through trying to take a crack at supplanting World of Warcraft as the market leader. No, he was being much craftier. He wanted to put together a tight team to build the Pathfinder MMO for a small, organically growing audience. No need for the enormous marketing budget that would attract millions of customers at launch, or the even bigger development budget used to generate tons of content for all those players to burn through; he was looking to launch for just a few thousand customers. Ryan was also talking about a making a sandbox MMO—a game where the story is controlled by the players and set in a digital world that they can help to build... or seek to destroy. It was a plan that learned from the failures of past MMOs and blazed new trails for the future. It was a plan I could get behind.
The teaser image for the launch of Goblinworks. We later announced the company and Pathfinder Online on the Paizo Blog.
But one doesn't decide to do something as epic as an MMO without a lot of planning and a fair bit of money. Over the next several months, Ryan worked on a business plan and a design document for the MMO, now called Pathfinder Online. We wrestled back and forth over the numbers—I needed this project to be as lean as possible, and I trimmed out all the fat I could find. In the end, we had a compelling game that would cost little enough that I felt it would be feasible to find funding.
In November, we announced Goblinworks, Inc. and Pathfinder Online to the world. Why would we announce it so early considering the game wasn't even funded at the time or even a certainty? I have always run Paizo in a very transparent manner. I knew that as we went out to look for funding for our new company, word would get out about what we were doing. I never want a Paizo customer to have to try to piece together news about our company from whispers and half-truths—I would rather put the news out there so our customers know what's going on directly from our mouths.
After we announced the company, we launched a series of bi-weekly design blogs on goblinworks.com, where we've been sharing our vision for Pathfinder Online, and we've been interacting with the growing Pathfinder Online community on the paizo.com messageboards. Our plan has always been to work closely with our customers to make Pathfinder Online, much like we have with the Pathfinder RPG. Thousands of brains and years of experience will lead to a much better game than a handful of folks, no matter how talented, working in a vacuum.
At the ENnie Awards in August, Paizo won 9 golds. The awards received were:
Product of the Year: Gold Medal to Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide
Best Publisher: Gold Medal
The Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box is unveiled for the first time at Card Kingdom in Ballard, WA.
Will Chase, Sean K Reynolds, Cosmo Eisele, Jeff Alvarez, James Sutter, Judy Bauer, Jason Bulmahn and Chris Self survey the cosplay outfits at PaizoCon!
The first Pathfinder Society Venture Captain dinner at Gen Con.
The Pathfinder Society room grew significantly for Gen Con 2011!
One specter that raised its head in 2011 was the rumor of a fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. In the spring we started to hear rumblings which surprised us quite a bit. Wizards had just launched their "red box" starter product the previous year, and we thought 4th Edition was just starting to get into its groove. The idea that they were seriously considering or even working on a fifth edition was a move we didn't see coming. Just before Gen Con, we heard that they would be announcing the new game at the show. Of course, this made a lot of sense; they'd announced previous editions at the show that was built by the success of D&D. However, at the show, the buzz went around that something happened and the rumored announcement was cancelled at the last minute.
Of course, the idea of a fifth edition had our heads swirling at Paizo. It made some sense since sales of Pathfinder had surpassed that of D&D, but it also seemed much earlier than we had expected. What should Paizo do? How should we respond? Since we didn't know anything about their plans, we decided that our best course of action was to just stay the course, put out the best products we could, and see what WotC had up their sleeve. In December, we found out that the fifth edition announcement had been rescheduled for the beginning of January.
As the year ended, Pathfinder was getting stronger and stronger. Sales of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook had been growing each year since its release. The number of people playing in the Pathfinder Society program were also jumping up year after year. All signs were looking up as we headed into our tenth anniversary year in 2012, but the impending 5E announcement was waiting for us in the new year.
Employees who started in 2011 (in order of hiring date):
Megan Armezzani, Customer Service Representative
Chris Lambertz, Digital Products Assistant
Michael Kenway, Warehouse Personnel
Patrick Renie, Developer
Dylan Green, Sales Assistant
Lissa Guillet, Assistant Software Developer
Mike Brock, Organized Play Coordinator
Erik Keith, Customer Service Representative
Employees who left in 2011 (in order of their end date):
Lisa Stevens CEO
Storming the White Castle
Mike Brock joins Paizo as our Pathfinder Society Campaign Coordinator.
Wow! I've already passed my one year anniversary at Paizo. That was fast—and the best year I have had on any job. As I mentioned when I came on board as the Organized Play Coordinator in my first blog, I am privileged and honored at the trust Paizo has given me to oversee Organized Play in general, and Pathfinder Society specifically.
I first met some of the current Paizo staff in the late '80s and early '90s. I played at Living City tables with Jason Bulmahn's character, Thalkin Talymir, human fighter of Torm, and Erik Mona's character, Ellund Torvin, another human fighter. I still have a letter dated October 1997 from Lisa Stevens, then Vice President of the TSR Brand Team, advising that she was helping to get the RPGA up and running again. It's kind of neat to look back and see that I have come full circle and actually get to work with these awesome folks who have been a part of my hobby for more than 15 years.
Like many of you, I started as a fan of Paizo with the magazines. I remember renewing my Dragon and Dungeon Magazine subscriptions only to be advised a month later that they were going away. Enjoying the Adventure Path installments in the later Dungeon Magazines, I of course opted into the Pathfinder Adventure Paths, becoming a charter subscriber. Shortly after receiving my first AP volume, and experiencing Paizo's awesome customer service (though I still haven't gotten any of Liz's cookies), I became a charter superscriber. I was hooked.
A year or so later, my home group was in its fourth year of a Forgotten Realms campaign when Wizards of the Coast announced 4th Edition. I gave my group the Pathfinder Beta rulebook and some of the other books I had added to my collection, and they voted to play Pathfinder instead of 4th Edition. Like many of you, while we awaited the finished RPG, I continued running Adventure Paths using the 3.5 rules for my home group (Legacy of Fire is still my favorite), while dabbling in Pathfinder Society occasionally when someone would miss a game.
Fast forward to Gen Con 2011. Shortly before the convention, the Pathfinder Society Campaign Coordinator position became available. I remember joking with my home players that if they didn't shape up their tricked-out characters in our Legacy of Fire game, I would apply for the job at Paizo. They surprised me by encouraging me to go for it. I emailed Erik and told him I was interested in the job but I didn't think it would go any further than that. Several weeks later, I was at Gen Con GMing 10 slots. I was surprised yet again when Mark Moreland came up to me and advised that Erik wanted to chat about the job with me. When Mark told me the meeting with Erik was going to be at White Castle, I thought it was a big joke my friends from Georgia had set up. Had I known that White Castle meant serious business to Erik, I would probably have been a little nervous. But Paizo bought my meal (if you can call it that), and I got to sit and chat with several employees over "wonderful" cheeseburgers, and then I went back to GMing, thinking that was the end of that.
Several weeks later, I received a call from Erik asking if I would like the job. Many would think I would have accepted it straight away. There was one problem, however: I had not told my wife, Mrs. PFS, that I was seriously pursuing it. I had to find a way to convince her that a move from Georgia to Seattle, uprooting our family, was a good thing. I eventually found a few ideas to bribe her with, and lucky for me, she accepted the position for both of us.
I've been here for several months past a year now and it doesn't seem like it. Time has flown, and Pathfinder Society is growing by leaps and bounds. The growth surpassed my 12-month goals, and I look forward to seeing how far it surpasses my 18- and 24-month goals. Even after a year, I am still honored and privileged to come into my office, with maps of Golarion and all the Pathfinder books I could ever want, sitting in front of me. And I love the tons of emails I receive about how Pathfinder Society has positively influenced people's lives. Much like my last job, making a difference in people's lives matters to me, and I am glad I am able to provide that in this line of work as well.
Thanks, Purple Golem!
Mike Brock Pathfinder Society Campaign Coordinator
Patrick Renie poses for one last picture on his last day as an intern.
It probably sounds cheesy, but that's probably because it is: ever since I was a kid, I'd always dreamed of writing these kinds of books. But I won't bore you with such a familiar tale; many of you doubtlessly already know that story. Let's skip to the middle, instead.
While studying at Western Washington University, I was originally on track to get my B.A. in a branch of journalism called Visual Journalism. I had always sort of figured that RPG writing, and by extension all of fantasy writing, was little more than a pipe dream for me; after all, I'd talked to countless talented GMs and players like me who would have loved nothing more than to work for a tabletop RPG company, and they'd never so much as scratched the surface of this occult industry, so what chance did I have? I imagined that a degree in journalism would be more marketable than one in English (I know, I know... I was young) even though I wasn't as passionate about it, but I checked the job listings on the Paizo website every week anyway, just to see if there'd be an internship open anywhere near me. At the very least, I thought, I could get to see what working at my dream job was like, if only for a few months.
I didn't have to wait long; by spring quarter of my junior year, there was an opening for the Editorial Intern position, and I leaped at the chance. When I actually landed the internship, I was ecstatic. I drove down from Bellingham to Redmond (a 100-mile journey each way) three days a week for over two months, and I couldn't have been happier. I switched my academic path to Creative Writing as soon as I got the gig and realized that perhaps my childhood dreams could indeed become manifest, and I even scored a not-inconsiderable amount of freelance throughout the year after my internship. I applied for the Developer position shortly after my graduation ceremony. Getting the job was far from a sure bet, in my mind—I worried incessantly about it, both before my interview and afterward. I remember having nightmares of getting hired, not getting hired, what I'd do if I didn't get hired, that kind of thing. But, well, I probably don't need to tell you I was eventually offered the position. Wes called me in late July while I was hiking around the Grand Canyon, and I said I could start Tuesday.
I've learned a lot since I began working full-time at Paizo almost a year and a half ago. Socrates is quoted as saying that "the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing," and while I would hardly consider myself truly wise in any sense, my first few months here served as a valuable lesson in teaching me just how much nothing one can know. Pathfinder is huge, and while I thought I knew the rules and world pretty well when I hired on, I was quickly proven wrong. Very, very wrong. It hadn't really occurred to me until I started working here full-time just how expansive Pathfinder was—Golarion, the history of the industry, the complexity of a large-scale publishing operation, the passion of the fans and employees. It all took me very much by surprise, and during those first months (when I was thrown headfirst into development with products like the Jade Regent Player's Guide and Book of the Damned III), I often wondered, "Is this what drowning is like?" Yet, with drowning, there is undoubtedly fear. Anyone who's ever swam in the ocean before knows the immensity and unbridled power of water, the strength and inherent danger of crashing waves. Paizo strikes a similarly awesome, similarly daunting figure, but I wouldn't say I was scared when I first started working here. I may have been scared or intimidated leading up to it, but once I was in the thick of the work and immersed in the culture, entrenched alongside the amazing people who worked at Paizo and the fantastic fans of our products, I wasn't scared—I was invigorated.
I've felt the same exhilarating sensation ever since, though the thought of drowning has since ebbed from my conscious mind considerably, now little more than a distant rumble of the waves that reaches my ears only when we're buried in the latest hardcover. Every day at Paizo, I get to relive the half-remembered dream-moments of my youth, when I'd spent innumerable hours crafting larger-than-life characters and building fantastic worlds for no one but myself. Only now, I get to work alongside dozens of brilliant and wonderful people, and the fruits of our labors are enjoyed by thousands of other gamers all around the world. Paizo even pays me to do the work I'd happily do for free (but don't tell my bosses that; seriously, don't—I've got bills to pay), and that's pretty nice too.
Patrick Renie Developer
The Little Robot that Could
Overall, my experience with roleplaying games and Pathfinder in particular was relatively novice when I applied at Paizo. I had been playing in a Kingmaker game for a little over a year at that point, and while I was confident in my ability to fill the job requirements (my previous occupation was in pre-production for a printing and manufacturing plant), I couldn't help but wonder if I should have done more research on wizards and combat maneuvers. It took a few months to hear back, and right when I'd assumed that they'd probably found someone else, I got an email from Gary asking about a phone interview. I was elated and somewhat shocked, but two interviews later, found myself trying to figure out how to transplant my life to Washington.
My first week at Paizo was crazy. I'd left my previous job on a Friday, traveled with my husband, pets, and belongings over 700 miles on Saturday, unpacked on Sunday, and was at Paizo that Monday, and somehow had overlooked that PaizoCon would be happening at the end of that week. I struggled a bit at the convention, getting fellow employees names and faces switched up (sorry, Sutter and Wes!), and truthfully not really knowing what people actually did at PaizoCon (was it games? dice? booths? meet and greets? prawns?). In retrospect, this was probably the best week to start at Paizo. There were no training wheels. I found myself tasked with a fairly sizable amount of projects and a long to-do list, but was ready to tackle it all.
My role as Digital Products Assistant is somewhat split between multiple kinds of work (part website tasks, part digital product delivery, part design, and part customer service) which took some time to adjust to. Prior to the release of the Jade Regent Adventure Path, I had been working on a new product feature that we now know as the Interactive Map PDFs. This involved bending InDesign to perform tasks that it's not usually intended to do, and finding a solution that worked with Paizo's existing workflow. We also had the release of the Beginner Box, the redesign of the Pathfinder Reference Document, and a myriad of other items that ended up on paizo.com before the end of the year. Being a member of the tech team also meant picking up an array of technical knowledge and valuable skills from Gary, Lissa, and Ross (and I still do).
I spent the first six months traveling 2 to 3 hours each day to and from the office (sometimes arriving at the unearthly hour of 6 AM, for which I now can thank my new coffee habit). And not only did a new job bring along the array of normal challenges, but relocation had brought it's own set of stressors to the table. It didn't really hit home until the Paizo holiday party that I had actually accomplished a somewhat monumental task. I'd moved my whole life successfully and everything else just seemed to be falling into place. And the best part: I'd found a company to work for with people that cared about the same things I did, who shared an intense amount of passion for the work they did, and who really do value each others opinions. Though I don't do anything very publicly remarkable like write rules and adventures, it's exciting to come into the office each day. I am grateful for the ability to be myself at Paizo: nerdy, somewhat awkward, but proud of it.
Chris Lambertz Digital Products Assistant
The Other Erik
Erik Keith shows off his cosplay chops to Wayne Reynolds.
The first time I heard of Pathfinder and Paizo Publishing was winter 2008. I was trying to rework one of my favorite homebrew adventure paths for a new group of gamers and had gotten together with one of my favorite friends to ping ideas off of. While I was over that night he mentioned a new system that a friend had picked up for him at Gen Con that was compatible with 3.5. I was a bit skeptical of trying a new system, but when he presented me with the system's softcover beta rulebook, I had to admit it had my complete attention. I quickly flipped through the amazing illustrations inside of the book, went over its designer notes, and promptly asked if I could borrow the book for the next few days.
From there I went to the Paizo website and followed the game from there. I was working a job as a night auditor at the time, which left me plenty of time to browse the messageboards and take in the clever banter of the Paizo community over the next few years. One particular night, a certain thread posted by the company's "Gninja" caught my attention—she mentioned that Paizo was hiring a new customer service representative. I enjoyed my job at the time, but felt like I had been shoehorned into a niche that I was unlikely to grow from. I created a resume from scratch that very night, attempting to balance professionalism with geekiness to create a suitable blend to potentially set myself apart from the other applicants. With a little luck (and a cosplay picture) I managed to find myself a short period of time later prepping for a phone interview, but with an entertaining twist.
The key thing about working as a night auditor is that, well, you work at night. I had planned on immediately going home and getting a few hours of sleep before my phone interview, but when one of my coworkers called in sick that morning, I had to cover for them. I found my plans foiled and myself on the phone with bloodshot eyes and almost no sleep. Despite everything, I felt that I delivered a fairly strong interview. I had answered all of the important questions in a decisive manner: My class was a paladin, dexterity was my highest stat, and I was genuinely looking forward to using my skills to make Paizo a better place for everyone. My greatest flaw was that I couldn't decide if my favorite animal was a honey badger or a snow leopard, but I felt I still sounded confident in my indecision. Afterward, all I could do was sit back and see if my delivery was strong enough.
A week later, I came to discover that while it had been a very close call, they had opted to go with another applicant. I had no regrets; even if I hadn't been their choice, it was still nice knowing that I was in genuine consideration for the position. Over the next 6 months, I attended PaizoCon and met the Paizo staff in person, which was the first time I truly came to regret not having landed the job. After PaizoCon, I started planning for my next convention, which was PAX. A few weeks before that show, after fulfilling my duties at work, I found myself browsing the Paizo messageboards again. This time, I discovered that they needed volunteer GMs for the Pathfinder Society area at PAX.
I signed up on the messageboards and found myself gamemastering at PAX. I had a lot of fun, and while my player survival ratio was embarrassingly high compared to the other GMs, the players I was hosting sessions for seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. I left my number with the Paizo staff in case they needed an emergency substitute GM, and didn't think twice about it, so I didn't expect the phone call I got a few days later. Because I'd made a good impression at the convention, and had been a close call for the CS job earlier, I suddenly found myself on the other end of another phone interview, this time with a much more relaxed tone and—equally wonderful—a full night's rest. I put in my one-month notice at work the next day and found myself at Paizo not long after. The events that have transpired since then have been truly amazing, but I believe I'll leave that story for another day. After all, I haven't even started talking about the daily games I run during lunch with the warehouse staff yet!
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 8 (2010) Following Up on Our Success Thursday, November 1, 2012 This blog entry is the ninth in a series of blogs commemorating Paizo's 10th anniversary. ... Click here to read the first installment.Before it was even released in August 2009, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook was already the single best selling product Paizo had ever produced, and October's Bestiary immediately captured the number two slot. The stunning...
Before it was even released in August 2009, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook was already the single best selling product Paizo had ever produced, and October's Bestiary immediately captured the number two slot. The stunning sales numbers made it very easy to see why many companies fall into the trap of producing too many rulebooks for their games—it's very tempting to go back to that well for another drink.
But Ryan Dancey and I had spotted that trap in 1999 when we were at Wizards of the Coast, analyzing the recently acquired TSR business. Putting out rulebooks every month or two quickly overwhelms your audience. And once customers decide that they can't keep up with new releases, they begin making choices about which books they need and which ones they can do without, which means you sell fewer copies of even your most popular books. And fewer copies means lower print runs, which means higher unit costs, which means lower margins. And even worse: when customers start skipping releases, it becomes easier and easier for them to stop buying your products altogether.
On the other hand, if you publish new books too slowly, players who exhaust content quickly will begin to feel that their needs aren't supported, and they'll start looking for other game systems. And players left waiting too long for their favorite rules subsets will also get discouraged. You have to strike a balance.
Ryan and I decided that the magic number for major hardcover rulebooks per year—the number that would keep the most customers satiated but not overwhelmed—was probably three. That was part of the plan we were going to implement for D&D Third Edition at Wizards, but the two of us didn't last long there after the launch, and the management team that replaced us had different ideas.
So when it came time for us to formulate a strategy for the Pathfinder RPG line, I went back to our plan from ten years earlier. I pitched my team here at Paizo on it and was surprised how quickly everyone came on board. Then came the hard part—if you only have three products a year, what should those products be?
First, we came up with a timetable—there would be one release in the spring, another at Gen Con in August, and a third at the end of the year, close to the holidays.
The iconic summoner's eidolon looks a bit different in this early sketch by Wayne Reynolds!
Advanced Player's Guide approvals!
Pathfinder Society was growing by leaps and bounds, and the experience that Erik, Jason, and I had with the RPGA suggested that we might want to release our most rules-heavy books at Gen Con. We also knew we wanted to do one monster/adversary book each year for the foreseeable future, and because the Bestiary came out at the end of the year, we decided to schedule future ones in the winter slot.
That left the spring release, which we would keep flexible. We had a lot of ideas for books that didn't fall into the other two categories, and this spot would be the perfect place to put those. Our first spring release was a pretty easy choice. Because we had published all of our core rules in a single book, there wasn't a direct equivalent to D&D's DM's Guide, but we still felt a need to do a book aimed at Game Masters, giving them advice and tools for becoming an expert GM and elevating the experience for their players. To create this book, we tapped into the expertise of some of the best designers in the history of gaming, and they shared their tips and secrets. The GameMastery Guide came out in May 2010, and has been doing very well for us ever since.
For the first Gen Con after the release of the Core Rulebook, we needed to have something sexy that would allow us to show some design chops... something that would give Pathfinder RPG players new toys to play with. We sat in a conference room for about three hours and talked about character types we'd seen in fantasy books and movies, or played in other fantasy games. Then we talked about how we could build those characters using the Pathfinder rules. We could build many of those roles by tweaking existing classes in the Core Rulebook; this was the genesis of our archetype system, my favorite thing to come out of the book we ended up calling the Advanced Player's Guide. Archtypes allowed a myriad of character ideas to blossom forth, many of them very niche, without having to flood the landscape with a bunch of new classes.
But there were some roles that we felt we couldn't do justice without creating whole new classes. In the end, six new base classes rose to the top for the APG—the Alchemist, the Cavalier, the Inquisitor, the Oracle, the Summoner, and the Witch. Not only would these new base classes allow us to show off what the Paizo design staff could do, but they also gave players something new to dig into. We filled out the APG with a ton of new content, expanding nearly every part of the existing game.
Our third hardcover rulebook of the year was the Bestiary 2. In this installment, we wanted to provide Pathfinder RPG versions of many of the popular 3.5-era monsters that hadn't made it into either the first Bestiary or the Bonus Bestiary that we did for Free RPG Day 2009. We also wanted to flesh out outsiders, and provide an array of creatures of every alignment. So you saw a number of Aeons, Agathions, Angels, Archons, Azatas, Daemons, Demons, Devils, Elementals, Inevitables, Proteans, and Qlippoths in the book.
Wes and James playtest some of the kingdom building rules for Kingmaker.
For the Adventure Path line in 2010, we went a little bit outside of the box. The previous year saw the urban campaign Council of Thieves kick off the Pathfinder RPG era, and we wanted its successor to steer clear of that territory. So with Kingmaker, we tried something we'd never done before: a true sandbox AP. Our APs usually have a very solid and somewhat direct storyline, but in Kingmaker, the plot became more of a framing device for the true story: that of the characters forming and building their own kingdom. Each adventure had a number of mini-adventures that could be played in any order or skipped entirely. Players could create kingdoms large or small, passive or aggressive, dictatorial or democratic, or anything else they envisioned. We were a little apprehensive about the response to this type of AP, but Kingmaker has become one of the most successful APs of all time, rivaling even Rise of the Runelords in popularity.
We also added a whole new Pathfinder line in 2010: Pathfinder Tales. We had previously made a valiant attempt to get into the fiction business with our Planet Stories line of pulp fiction, but the book market never quite seemed to embrace the line, and sales were never strong. Erik Mona was the passion and vision behind Planet Stories, and it was a line he personally loved very much, but I felt that if we were going to put time, money and effort into a line, we should do it with books that helped support our other products.
TSR had built quite a nice business with their Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms fiction lines, and Games Workshop had more recently built a successful line of novels around their Warhammer line; it seemed that the book trade was more receptive to new gaming fiction than it was to bringing back long-lost classics. Thus was Pathfinder Tales born. For our first couple of novels, we wanted authors who would be familiar names to fans of gaming fiction, and to bookstore buyers as well. We chose two Forgotten Realms authors, Dave Gross and Elaine Cunningham, to launch the line. Dave's book Prince of Wolves arrived at Gen Con, while Elaine's Winter Witch was a holiday release. They didn't quite blast to the top of the bestseller lists, but sales were much stronger than Planet Stories had been, so we felt cautiously optimistic going forward.
2010 also gave me a chance to bring back a variation of the very first product I was ever involved with in the game industry! In 1987, my first company, Lion Rampant, came out with Whimsey Cards—a product that allowed players to insert their ideas into roleplaying games in a structured way. The rights to Whimsey Cards themselves are owned by other folks, so I modified the basic idea a bit, adding an optional Pathfinder RPG-based mechanic, creating Plot Twist Cards. The response has been great; we're currently in our second print run. Sometimes oldies are indeed goodies.
We also revisited another oldie but goodie in our boardgame line. Kill Doctor Lucky was—and still is—our best selling boardgame, so we extended that line with a deluxe edition of Cheapass Games' Save Doctor Lucky prequel. Where KDL is all about trying to get Doctor Lucky alone in a room so nobody can see you bump him off, the goal of SDL is to make sure that everyone sees you perform the heroic deed of saving an old man from a sinking ship. It features a game board that gets smaller as the ship slips under.
At the 2010 ENnie Awards, Paizo won 11 golds and 1 silver. The awards received were:
Best Free Product: Gold Medal to Advanced Player's Guide Playtest
Best Game: Gold Medal to Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
Best Monster/Adversary: Gold Medal to Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Bestiary
Best Production Values: Gold Medal to Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Core Rulebook
Product of the Year: Gold Medal to Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
Best Publisher: Gold Medal
Wes Schneider and James Sutter look down on the Paizo offices after their attempted escape was foiled.
The Paizo staff gets together to paint miniatures during lunch!
The editorial whiteboard lays out a week's priorities!
The editorial staff takes their first look at the big Pathfinder map Erik printed out for the Inner Sea Poster Map Folio.
With all of the success Paizo was having in 2010, it felt like we were living charmed lives. That all came crashing down in October when we lost Dave Erickson. At 63, Dave was our oldest employee. He joined the Paizo team in 2002, not even a year after we started, and took over the finance department, freeing me to focus my efforts on making the company more profitable and keeping it alive. Dave and I worked side by side on Paizo's finances. Dave designed reports that allowed Erik, Vic, Jeff and myself to analyze what was working well and what wasn't—insights that were invaluable to a small, struggling company like Paizo. Dave also wasn't afraid to sit down face to face with government auditors, each time sending them away with money due in Paizo's favor. He was a loyal and honest man, and someone I trusted implicitly.
The call came on the Tuesday after the Columbus Day weekend. I was refreshed from the long weekend and ready to tackle whatever came. I wasn't prepared for that call, though. Through tears, Dave's wife, Olga, let me know that Dave had passed away in his sleep during the weekend. I was crushed. Devastated. Dave had just started to plan his retirement, intending to spend his golden years with his wife. Now he was gone, just like that. Dave's death showed us all how fragile life could actually be.
A company Paizo's size doesn't have a ton of redundancies, but thankfully, I had hired Chris Self in 2008 with the idea that he would take over Finance in a few years when Dave retired. I had sent Chris to start accounting school just months before Dave passed, and he'd worked with Dave enough to fairly seamlessly take over the department a couple years ahead of schedule.
Here's my favorite Dave Erickson story: During Dave's first few months at Paizo, I quickly learned that if there was a discrepancy between what I thought the numbers should be and what Dave thought they should be, Dave was almost always right. Well, on one occasion, I finally figured out that I was right for once, and I burst into Dave's office, brandishing a sheaf of paperwork with all my figures, shouting "In your face, Erickson!" To say that he was surprised is an understatement.
Another negative for 2010 was the ongoing "edition war." The online arguing between fans of D&D 4th Edition and the Pathfinder RPG goes all the way back to our announcement of the Pathfinder RPG, but it took on new fervor in 2010 as 4E floundered a bit and Pathfinder challenged it in the marketplace. I need to make one thing clear—Paizo never wanted anything to do with the edition war. We weren't trying to take down D&D ; we were just trying to make a game that we enjoyed and that allowed us to tell the stories that we wanted to tell. I would be lying if I said we didn't enjoy the passion and loyalty of our customers defending their game—it was very flattering... but we really hoped that the edition war would just go away so everyone could enjoy their favorite game without attacking the other.
This will be news to most readers: By the end of 2010, the Pathfinder RPG had already overtaken D&D as the bestselling RPG. It would take almost half a year before industry magazine ICv2 first reported it, and several quarters more before some people were willing to accept it as fact, but internally, we already knew it was true. We'd heard it from nearly all of our hobby trade distributors; we'd heard it from buyers at book chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders; we could see it using industry sales trackers such as BookScan; we were even regularly coming out on top on Amazon's bestseller charts. Each individual market we sold in had us either tied with or outselling D&D, and none of those sources counted our considerable direct sales on paizo.com. Put all of those things together, and it was clear: Pathfinder had become the first RPG ever to oust D&D from top spot. It wasn't our goal, but here we were. And as we started planning for 2011, we knew that if we were going to be the industry leader, we were going to have to step up our game and act like a leader. 2011 would be our first chance to show what we could do with that position....
Employees who started in 2010 (in order of hiring date):
Judy Bauer, Copy Editor
Matt Vancil, Warehouse Personnel
Mark Moreland, Developer
Andrew Vallas, Graphic Designer
Hyrum Savage, Marketing Manager
Liz Courts, Customer Service Representative
Kunji Sedo, Staff Accountant
Stephen Radney-McFarland, Designer
Employees who left in 2010 (in order of their end date):
Lisa Stevens CEO
How Paizo 8 My Head
My relationship with Paizo began in 2007, when I subscribed to Dungeon one issue before the announcement that the magazines were going away. I basically wrote the timing off as bad luck, and decided to try to make the most out of the few issues I'd get before the end. I opted for the Pathfinder subscription instead of credit, primarily because I'd planned on mining Dungeon for ideas for a homebrew campaign and figured I could mine this new Golarion world for ideas too. In August 2007, I got my first issue of Pathfinder, glanced through it, and filed it on the shelf because I didn't think any of it would be useful for the campaign I was running at the time. I did the same for the next few issues. In the fall, I joined a group playing the Savage Tide Adventure Path, and my mind was no longer in GM space. But my involvement in this Adventure Path made me much more aware of Paizo as a company, and of the quality of work the editors on Dungeon (and likely, I assumed, Pathfinder) put out. So I started lurking on the messageboards and reading the Pathfinder books I'd been getting, but I still wasn't sold. Fourth Edition had been announced, and I was playtesting that with some of my friends who'd freelanced for Wizards of the Coast in the past. I was hyped for the new edition, and because I was invested in my Savage Tide group, I was quickly learning as much about the campaign's Greyhawk setting as I could. I didn't have time for another campaign setting when I had 30+ years of canon to catch up on in the world in which I was already playing.
Then the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game announcement came out, and my gaming group was all abuzz about the waves Paizo was making. I got the Alpha and started reading all those books I had on my shelf. I was thoroughly hooked. Here was a chance for me to be on the ground floor, not just of a new edition of the game that I was already familiar with, but also of a campaign setting that was only a few months old. I don't know what day it was, but I drank the Pathfinder Kool-Aid sometime shortly after the big announcement. I made my first paizo.com messageboard post on March 31, 2008, in which I said "I am getting ready to dive into Golarion myself." And did I ever follow through!
Razmiran Faith Barge Union #107 wins the PaizoCon trivia contest... again!
Around that time I joined a small group of folks working on the daunting task of cataloguing all the information about the Pathfinder Chronicles campaign setting (as it was called at the time). The PathfinderWiki was founded on March 8, 2008, and I quickly joined up, and am often miscredited as being the wiki's founder even today. My involvement in the project became something of a full-time hobby, and the countless hours I spent adding and editing content on there gave me a depth and breadth of knowledge about Golarion that rivaled even Paizo employees. I attended PaizoCon 2009 and helped my team, Razmiran Faith Barge Union #107, win the annual trivia contest, in no small part because of the work I'd done on the wiki.
At Gen Con a few months later, I approached Sean, Wes, and Josh independently and asked if I could write for Paizo, as I felt I'd displayed my knowledge of the setting and had a whole website of material I'd written about the world to show my writing talents. A few weeks later, I was working on a portion of Gnomes of Golarion, most of the Kingmaker Player's Guide, and a Pathfinder Society Scenario, all of which couldn't have come at a better time for a recently unemployed filmmaker. Once the freelancing started, it didn't seem to end as long as I met my deadlines, turned in my best work, and kept asking the folks at Paizo for more. A few weeks before PaizoCon 2010, I got an unexpected call from Erik (incidentally, while I was exploring Delvehaven as a player in a friend's Council of Thieves campaign). He asked if I was coming to PaizoCon (duh!) and if I had plans afterward (I didn't). I soon did, however, as he offered me a contract to work in the Paizo offices for a week following the con helping build the Inner Sea Poster Map Folio. I detailed my brief time as a Paizo employee in a guest blog at the time.
What that blog doesn't tell you, however, is that on the last day of the contract, Lisa, James, and Erik pulled me into Lisa's office to talk about how I felt the experience had been, how I liked working with the rest of the editorial team, and ultimately what I thought about working for Paizo full time. I thought hard about my response for about 3 seconds before accepting the offer. It took me another two months to get myself moved from New York City to Seattle, but once I started, it wasn't long before I was in charge of development of two product lines and making a sizable contribution to the very world continuity whose chronicling caught Paizo's eye in the first place. Now, two years later, I'm still amazed on a weekly basis that this is my real-life job, and that I get to work for such a great company and with such a fun and inspiring group of coworkers. It's a lot of work, for sure, but I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing instead.
Mark Moreland Developer
Liz Courts can't suppress a smile while looking through her new copy of Wayfinder!
"Who are these people, and what are they doing to my magazines?!"
Yeah, that was my first thought when I saw somebody else's logo plastered on the credits of my two favorite gaming magazines. I had just recently gotten back into gaming after a post–high school hiatus and life settled into a 9 to 5 routine. Lured in by the release of Third Edition and the Oriental Adventures supplement (and new dice, because new game = new dice), I immediately said to myself, "So what kind of adventures are out there for this system?"
High on the creative spark that often comes with a new game system, and yearning to see what other people had come up with, I picked up Dragon 288 and Dungeon 84 from Gambit Games in Bend, Oregon—I miss that place!—and was blown away by what was between its slick, glossy covers. Clearly, these were not the black-and-white productions of my youth, but for all of its sweet, candy-colored coating, did it satisfy?
I need not have worried. Month after month, I begged the store owner to stock these magazines to feed my habit—er, game mastering creativity. Somehow, the minds behind the magazine knew exactly what I was looking for in my game, knew that I needed it now (hungered for it, even), and I knew that I would gladly fork over the cash to keep quality game material coming. Yet I didn't venture on to the place that would become like a second home to me until almost four years later, during a period of idleness at work (you know you're doing that... right now). I found a messageboard community of like-minded gamers who had been playing long enough to know what chits were, who remembered when elves were a class, who knew the difference between githyanki and githzerai, and who were passionate about the game.
Did I mention that some of these were the writers, as well as the staff—the people who had made the magazine that helped lure me back into running a game three nights a week, arming me with a crowbar to pry open and shove in awesome gaming material like new alchemical items, chronomancy, and ghost elves into my campaign?
Through the Paizo messageboards, I met the staff, as well as a group of writers who gave me my first writing job (hello GM Gems), but there are a few things that could not have happened without talking and meeting people through the boards, and these are things that have not gone quietly into the night. They've managed to stick around for a bit, and I'm happy to say I've had my fingers in them, even if it was just the teeniest bit of my pinky finger.
First up: PaizoCon. (You may have heard of it.) Tim Nightengale bore the brunt of organizing the first unofficial PaizoCon, but even then, we referred to each other as Fellow Dictators as we plotted and planned ways to give thanks to the hardworking Paizo staff. (The fan award that I whipped up still hangs in the office today.) Second: the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook! Wes Schneider contacted me and a few other folks (Tim Connors, Adam Daigle, and Greg Oppedisano) to do some quick formatting alterations for magic items and spells. (My first "real" Paizo writing credit came later in "Infestation," the side trek adventure in Pathfinder 18.) Finally, the one that I am the most proud of to this day: the creation of the fan-created and fan-run Wayfinder magazine. When Paizo announced their Community Use Policy, I knew that I had to do something with it. Wayfinder is that thing, and it remains such a great way to get your toes wet into the world of roleplaying game publishing—and you get to play in the Golarion sandbox!
Skeptic, fan, superfan (yup, charter superscriber and all), freelancer, friend, and finally, employee, my relationship with Paizo ended up being the culmination of a lot of hobbies and interests all rolled up into a golem-shaped package. That step between "friend" and "employee" had a moment of "Am I going to fit in here?" though, that same sort of nervousness that you got on the first day of a new school. They knew my name, they knew my penchant for offloading my home-baked cookies at their offices pre-PaizoCon, but... still.
I was a fool for even worrying about it. After quietly starting in Customer Service, I got Cosmo's "you are the meat shield" introduction and was able to skip over all of the tedious "learn about the company's products" portion of a customer service job. (I believe Cosmo said something to the effect of "Well, this makes it a lot easier.") The moment that made me ask myself why I didn't do this sooner is when I was delivering the mail downstairs and Jason Bulmahn asked "...Do you work here now?"
The best way that I can describe working at Paizo is this: imagine all of your high school friends in one place, with the same overlapping interests, whether it's early Minoan art, the latest Studio Ghibli movie, the pros and cons of the latest sci-fi movie, or tapping into the depths of cryptozoology among the editorial staff. Really, it's not so much of who's a geek or not—because we all are here—it's a matter of degree.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
I came to work at Paizo by chance. My previous editorial experience was mostly in textbook development, but when the economy—and textbook industry—crashed, I moved to Seattle and started retraining in technical editing while freelancing to pay the bills. In December 2009, I was visiting my family in Wisconsin, fending off unsubtle suggestions to consider engineering as a more stable career path, when I got word through the gchat grapevine that Paizo was looking for an editor who was familiar with RPGs. Hello, me! Suddenly all of those years spent gaming from junior high through college and into grad school were a job qualification; I quickly added the dozen or so games I'd played to my resume and sent it off.
A few days later I had a phone interview with Erik and Wes—as it turns out, there are wrong answers to the question "What was the last fantasy book you read?", but not being a Twilight fan, I cleared that hurdle, among others. Then on New Year's Eve, I submitted an editing test. Because Seattle is a very small world, I bumped into Sutter at a party later that night. He gave me reason for cautious optimism, giving my new year a promising start!
Ten days later I started at Paizo as a contract editor. Wes, Chris, and Sutter handed me the style guide (a mere 40 pages long at the time), then threw me into the deep end with a pass on the GameMastery Guide and the second half of the Season 1 Pathfinder Society Scenarios. It was already the Gen Con crunch, and the pace was hectic—and then after work I'd dash to my technical editing classes to dissect software tutorials, nuclear accident reports, and medical device instructions (I know WAY more than I want to about femur traction splints). Needless to say, I didn't have a lot of free time for reflection. But one day while chatting with my classmates about our respective jobs and internships, I mentioned that I'd fact-checked the weight of a dragon that day. Jaws dropped. Their reactions confirmed my suspicion that this was definitely the most fun editing around! I wanted so badly to stay on—I threw myself into my work, offered to take on more when I could, and even moderated my hard-line stance on commas to better match Paizo's style.
A couple months later when my contract ended, I was offered a full-time position, and was so elated! It's been over 2 years now, with some stressful times along the way, but despite the fact that my wonderful coworkers seem to think it's a personal challenge to slip details into adventures that make me go fetal with horror, I love my job more than ever.
And you know what? My dad, who'd subscribed to Dragon since I was a toddler, is finally off my back about engineering!
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 7 (2009) Launching Our Own RPG Thursday, September 27, 2012 This blog entry is the eighth in a series of blogs commemorating Paizo's 10th anniversary. ... Click here to read the first installment.One of the things that has plagued Paizo through most of its existence is that every year, we end up throwing a major project or two on top of an already full product release schedule. In 2005, it was the Shackled City hardcover. In 2006,...
One of the things that has plagued Paizo through most of its existence is that every year, we end up throwing a major project or two on top of an already full product release schedule. In 2005, it was the Shackled City hardcover. In 2006, it was the Dragon Compendium, Monster Ecologies and the Kill Doctor Lucky board game. In 2007, we launched our Adventure Paths and Modules lines as well as the Stonehenge board game. In 2008, we published the hardcover campaign setting sourcebook and launched the Player Companion line, and we ran the Pathfinder RPG playtest as well.
Surprise! 2009 wasn't any different. And this time, we were taking on perhaps the biggest add-ons yet: the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, weighing in at 576 pages, and the Bestiary, with its hefty 328 pages. All told, we were adding more than 900 pages to our regular workload. It ended up requiring hundreds of hours of overtime and the combined effort of dozens of employees.
One of the first decisions to make was the physical form that our rulebooks would take. Traditionally, the core D&D rules encompassed three volumes: the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual. We thought about following a similar format for Pathfinder, but it had always bugged us that players needed to own the DMG if they wanted to look up magic items, so we decided to wrap all of the information that you would need to run a game of Pathfinder, minus the monster writeups, into a single Core Rulebook. The Bestiary would remain its own book.
We also had to make a huge decision about how far we were going to stray from the 3.5 SRD. Our alpha playtest had introduced a number of new systems that pushed the boundaries of backwards compatibility. Ultimately, we decided to keep Pathfinder fairly close to its 3.5 roots while using years and years of GM experiences to update and fine-tune the system. We certainly didn't fix everything we could have in 3.5—some issues are endemic to the math underlying the core system—but we did fix a lot of the problem areas.
The white board lets the editors exercise their inner artistic talents.
So why did we swing the pendulum toward backward compatibility? Because our customers were telling us that they didn't want their trove of 3.0 and 3.5 books to become obsolete. Everyone had a pile of Wizards of the Coast products, of course, but the OGL and the d20 license had also inspired an explosion of print and PDF books the likes of which the gaming industry had never before seen. And we really wanted people to be able to use all of those products with Pathfinder. For the most part, I think that we did a good job striking the balance between compatibility and innovation.
Not surprisingly, the new RPG had a huge effect on the rest of our product lines. Since we were launching a new system at Gen Con, all of the other products scheduled to be released from that date forward needed reflect the new rules. The problem is that we usually contract freelance writers eight months or so before the intended release date of a product, and the rules were still in flux at that point. What to do?
We decided to contract in-house authors to write the first adventures and adventure path volumes for the new game. Since our own people were working with the new rules as they were being written, we figured that they would be in the best position to use those rules to write adventures. Even hedging our bets that way, we still had lots of issues, but at least they could be worked out in person and in real time, rather than via email or telephone. Still, not a task for the faint of heart. Whenever possible, we also planned products that were relatively rules light for much of the year.
Lisa Stevens is flanked by future Paizo employees Liz Courts and Adam Daigle at Gen Con and cover artist Wayne Reynolds poses with his copy of the Core Rulebook.
As we prepared to send the game to the printer, we faced another big question—how many Core Rulebooks should we print? Until this book, we'd mainly printed adventures and campaign sourcebooks, products aimed pretty much exclusively at GMs. Now, for the first time, we had a book that was aimed at players. We ended up setting a print run three times as big as any other print run we had ever made. The cost was staggering and a bit unnerving. But distributor orders flooded in, and we sold out of our first print run before it even arrived from the printer! We were floored. We thought that the Pathfinder RPG was going to do well, but none of us thought that we'd sell out of a print run three times bigger than any other print run... and before the product was even released. It gave us an early indication of the success that the Pathfinder RPG was going to have. We ended up setting our second print run even higher than the first, committing Paizo to TWO staggering print bills before any money even came in from the first sale!
Of course, shipping all those books around the world also ended up being a bit of a struggle. We always pride ourselves in doing a great job of packing our shipments, but the hardcover Core Rulebook made us re-evaluate our processes, eventually leading us to use book corners to keep the books pristine. Another hurdle was the weight of the book. In 2007, the USPS discontinued surface mail, meaning that everything now goes by air, and international shipping costs go through the roof if your parcel weighs more than four pounds. The Core Rulebook exceeds that limit before you even add the weight of box and packaging materials! To this day, customer service continues to deal with a ton of emails and messageboard posts from customers complaining about the cost of shipping the Core Rulebook.
We also had a big debate when it came to pricing the Core Rulebook PDF. Normally, our PDFs are priced at about 70% of the cover price of the corresponding print edition, a formula that would result in a price of $34.99 for the Core Rulebook PDF. But we had already decided to post the rules themselves for free on the Pathfinder Reference Document, so the price to have them neatly laid out and beautifully illustrated needed to be something much closer to "free." We ended up settling on $9.99, and right out of the gate, PDF sales were astounding. We earned so much goodwill from that decision that we've continued to offer all of our rulebooks in PDF form at that price.
We also had to decide how we were going to let other publishers interact with the Pathfinder rules. We had long been believers in the OGL, so we never considered anything other than making our rules completely open. However, the OGL specifically prohibits publishers from saying their products are compatible with trademarked brands like "Dungeons & Dragons" or "Pathfinder" without another agreement, so we came up with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility License, which has allowed the existence of hundreds upon hundreds of Pathfinder RPG–compatible products by dozens and dozens of publishers. The growth of the third-party community has been one of my favorite parts of the whole Pathfinder RPG business.
We also created our Community Use Policy, which has allowed customers and fans to create an incredible diversity of free products, websites, and other materials that expand our game and our world in ways that we never imagined.
One great example of this community collaboration is Wayfinder. Originally plotted as a fanzine to be given away at the first official PaizoCon, Wayfinder has become a biannual publication that recently released issue #7. It has earned a lot of praise from the gaming community, even garnering its own ENnie award nominations. Liz Courts originally helmed the editor-in-chief role for Wayfinder, but she turned that title over to PaizoCon founder Tim Nightingale when we hired her on at Paizo.
One benefit of the success of Pathfinder is the ability to license other companies to produce Pathfinder products. One such deal in 2009 was with Q-Workshop, to produce a line of dice themed around our Adventure Paths. To date, they've released six sets of Pathfinder dice.
The sculpt for Reaper's first original Pathfinder miniature is unveiled at Gen Con!
In 2009, we landed one of our bigger licenses in Reaper, producing unpainted metal miniatures. We had initially licensed Crocodile Games to make Pathfinder minis, and their figures were great, but they were just coming out too slowly for us. So after a year or so, we decided to give Reaper a call to see if they were interested. Imagine our surprise when we not only received a "yes" but a resounding "Hell yes!" from them. With two to four minis released every month, Reaper has built up quite a stash, with 153 different figures in release or on the way as I type this!
The second year of our RPG Superstar contest saw an increase in the number of contestants. Original judge Erik Mona had to drop out as we were keeping him way too busy, so Sean K Reynolds came in as his replacement. Contestant Neil Spicer emerged as the victor with his Realm of the Fellnight Queen proposal. Neil is the quintessential RPG Superstar: hitherto undiscovered talent that Paizo has since come to rely upon. Since his victory, Neil has authored five Adventure Path volumes (contributing to Kingmaker, Serpent's Skull, Carrion Crown, Jade Regent and Skull & Shackles), and he has gone on to become one of RPG Superstar's best judges as well! In its first two years, RPG Superstar had already brought Paizo a number of great freelancers, as well as two employees—not a bad start!
2009 was also the year we took over PaizoCon as an official Paizo convention. We were all impressed with the job Tim Nightingale did with 2008's fan-run PaizoCon, but it was clear to everyone that it could be so much more if we as a company got behind it. Interestingly enough, the impetus for this move saw its genesis in another convention, the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio. Origins had been a big and important convention dating back to the '70s. For decades, Origins and Gen Con were the cornerstones of the summer convention season for many publishers. But over the years, Gen Con had grown in prominence on the national stage while Origins slipped away to become a large regional show. Paizo had been going to Origins since our inception, but we'd been spending an increasing amount of money attending the show each year. Sending a large portion of our staff across the country, providing them food and lodging, buying space in the dealer hall, and shipping our booth and product across the country is very expensive, and sales in the dealer hall continued to decline each year as attendence fell. So we decided to make a corporate decision—if we were going to (hopefully) just break even each year on a convention, we might as well make it one that we owned, right here in the Seattle area.
A mountain of Core Rulebooks awaits the swarm of gamers on the first day of Gen Con! There are more copies underneath the black cloth... and we sold them all!
So we reached out to Tim and asked him if we could take over PaizoCon for 2009. He gladly accepted and we were off to the races! Our first problem was securing a location. Tim's 2008 PaizoCon had around 50 attendees, and since we were aiming to have three or four times that many people for PaizoCon 2009, we needed a bigger space. We soon learned that most hotels are either set up for small corporate conferences the size of the first PaizoCon, or they're optimized for thousands of attendees. It seemed we were exactly the wrong size. After months of searching, we stumbled across the Coast Hotel in Bellevue, just minutes from where our office was. Its size proved perfect for the next couple of years as the con was growing. We were able to take most of the rooms in the hotel, packing it with gamers from top to bottom. The Coast gave PaizoCon a very intimate feeling that suited us just fine. We ended up having just over 200 paid attendees for PaizoCon 2009, plus another 50 or so guests and staffers. Our first ever Guest of Honor was super designer Monte Cook and his wife Sue, while our first artist Guest of Honor was Eva Widermann.
One of the big surprises for us was how well the Paizo store did at the show. We'd anticipated that only the most hardcore Paizo enthusiasts would journey all the way out to Seattle to attend PaizoCon, and hardcore fans—pretty much by definition—tend to already have everything you've made. So we expected sales to be tepid at best. To our surprise, we've eclipsed our budget for the Paizo store each year at the con.
Gen Con was a very big deal for Paizo in 2009, for it was the first public release of the Core Rulebook. Our big question for the show: How many Core Rulebooks do we bring to sell? Memories of the year we brought too many copies of the Shackled City hardcover haunted us. We wanted to have enough rulebooks to last the entire convention, but we didn't want to ship pallets of the books home if we brought too many. To complicate matters, we knew that the quantity we were earmarking for Gen Con would be among the very last unsold copies of the first printing of the book, so for many folks, this was going to be one of the only ways to get the book for a few months while we waited on the reprint. We decided to go big, bringing a ton of books to the con, using cases of books to build a huge table in the middle of our booth, stacking more books on top.
When the doors opened on the first day of the show, the tidal wave of customers rushing to our booth was staggering. Chaos ensued, and it took the combined might of the entire Paizo staff to wrangle a semblance of order to the line, which wrapped around our booth once and then tailed off into the art show next door. In order to get people through the line quickly, I borrowed an idea from White Wolf's successful Gen Con launch of the Werewolf RPG. I quickly grabbed Erik Mona, and we gathered a box and a pile of books and headed down the line. If anybody in line was buying only the Core Rulebook, they could give us $60 cash—the cost of the Core Rulebook plus sales tax, rounded up to avoid making change—and leave the line, book in hand. Dozens and dozens of people took us up on our offer, and we were able to cut the line down to a paltry two-hour wait! Amazingly, we did a nearly perfect job predicting the number of books we needed, selling our last copies late on Sunday!
The first print run of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook made it to the new Paizo office before the rest of the company did!
The Paizo staff hangs out with the cast of "Burnt Offerings," a school play based on the first Pathfinder Adventure Path!
The Paizo golem is one of the last to leave the old office on moving day.
Conan O'Brien gives a late-night TV shout-out to our Yetisburg card game!
At the ENnie Awards, Paizo won 4 golds and 2 silvers. The awards received were:
When we got back from Gen Con, there was no rest for the weary; we had to move our entire operation from our old office in Bellevue to our new office in Redmond. For much of the previous year, we had been desperately searching for new office space to suit our changing needs. When we moved into our Bellevue office a few years before, we were a magazine business with a fledgling e-commerce store. Our warehouse needs were small. As our business had shifted to book publishing, pallets of new products were filling our warehouse, spilling over into the underground parking garage. We needed new office space with a seriously large warehouse, and soon. But on Seattle's east side, a fairly large office space adjoining a fairly large warehouse space is not a common combination. We searched high and low, and only at the last minute did we find the space we are currently in. Our new space had been leased by two separate tenants who both went bankrupt at the same time, leaving the landlord with half a building and a big warehouse to fill. He was very excited when we said we would take over the space with only minor changes.
As 2009 came to an end, Paizo was firmly settled into our new digs, and the Core Rulebook was selling so well that we were already preparing for a third printing. The Bestiary had just been released and was also seeing great sales. It was looking like Paizo was going to weather the shift to our own RPG game system with flying colors. Now we had the challenge of building on the successes of 2009 to establish Pathfinder as the preeminent brand in RPG gaming. A lofty task that was going to take a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck...
Employees who started in 2009 (in order of hiring date):
Ross Byers, Assistant Software Developer
Crystal Frasier, Production Specialist
Will Chase, Warehouse Specialist
Sara Marie Rip (now Teter), Customer Service Representative
Rob McCreary, Assistant Editor
Employees who left in 2008 (in order of their end date):
Lisa Stevens CEO
My Path to Adventure
Rob McCreary joins the Paizo staff!
My time with Paizo began with the inaugural RPG Superstar competition in 2008. I was living in Prague, Czech Republic at the time, and entered the contest on a whim. I ended up as one of the Top Four finalists, which led to my first freelance gig for Paizo, working on the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting. From that time on, I was hooked. I went to Gen Con UK in Reading, England specifically to meet Erik Mona, Jason Bulmahn, and Josh Frost (and joined Erik's trivia-dominating "Coalition of the Willing" team), and to play in Season 0 of Pathfinder Society organized play. And I kept bugging James Jacobs and Wes Schneider for more freelance work.
By 2009, I knew I wanted to work at Paizo full time. There were only two problems: I was still living in Europe, and Paizo didn't seem to be hiring. I decided to go and meet some of the Paizo staff in person, to put more names to faces, and even more importantly, give them a face to go with the name of their freelancer-in-Europe whom most of them had only talked to in emails. I flew back to the States to attend PaizoCon 2009, and while I was there, I made a point of mentioning to Lisa, Erik, James, and Wes that I wanted to work for Paizo, that I was willing to move back to the US to do so, and to keep me in my mind if they had any job opportunities.
In September, an editorial assistant position at Paizo did open up, and I wasted no time applying for it, once more assuring Wes that I was definitely willing and able to move back to the States for the job. After an editing test, a Skype interview (the only interview question I remember is Lisa asking me what class would I be if I were a Pathfinder RPG character), and lots of emails back and forth, I sat back to wait, and worked on convincing my European wife, whom I had just married a couple of weeks before, that moving to the US was a good thing.
I received word that I got the job in the middle of my honeymoon in Greece, and suddenly my wife and I had to start preparing for the move we had talked about but never really thought would happen. I had less than a month to get everything ready to move from Prague to the Seattle area, and on November 1, I started my first official day working for Paizo. Since then, I've moved from editing to development, and now I spend most of my time developing the Pathfinder Adventure Path.
Almost three years later, I still have trouble believing how everything worked out. Like almost every gamer, I used to dream of being a game designer, but I never seriously pursued that goal and never thought it would happen. I entered RPG Superstar on a whim, and fell in love with writing and working for Paizo.
I can honestly say that this is the best job I have ever had, and though it's hard work a lot of the time, it's also fun. Every day, I get to work with some of the best freelancers in the industry, and collaborate with amazing people who are passionate about their work and their play at a company that truly cares about its employees, its fans, and the game we all love.
Rob McCreary Developer
Customer Carebear Stare!
Mostly by sheer chance and dumb luck, I ended up in a gaming group with a GM who was really excited about this Pathfinder thing. He convinced the group to try out the Beta Playtest, and was also able to convince me to go to PaizoCon and tack on a banquet ticket.
The staff I met were super friendly, willing to just hang out and chat, and the members of the community I met were very inclusive. I left wishing I knew game design, not because I wanted to design games, but because I wanted to work at Paizo.
Several months later, someone in my gaming group casually mentioned Paizo was hiring for customer service. The listing had been up for a while, so I knew I needed to act fast. I nearly talked myself out of applying a million times. In the end it came down to knowing that never trying would hurt worse than the rejection of not being chosen.
I was asked to come in for an interview. I can't even begin to describe the nervous panic. Butterflies in the stomach, palms sweating, I sat in the conference room waiting, and then Cosmo poked his head in to let me know it would be just a few minutes until Lisa was ready. The CEO? In my interview? Ack! I did my best to stay outwardly calm while my insides turned to jelly. However, Lisa, Jeff, and Cosmo were great, and it immediately felt like a conversation rather than an interview. I kept realizing over and over how much I wanted to work with these people. The atmosphere and company philosophy were exactly what I was looking for. I left convinced Paizo would be perfect for me, but I was sure I would never get the position.
When Jeff called and offered me the job, I was through the roof. Uprooting to a whole new job and learning on a sharp curve? Bring it! Commute twice as long? Sure. Considerable pay cut? I'd make it work.
And I am so glad I did.
I found a job where I not only like my coworkers, but I like the customers. I found a company that actually cares about all levels of employees and actively encourages thinking about how to make things better for the customers. I was completely shell-shocked the first time I made a suggestion to Cosmo, and he said "Yeah, that's a good idea; go talk to the tech team and see if it's possible." And then the tech team said, "We'll have it ready the next time we roll the site." And then the next time they rolled the site, there it was: my idea, out there, making customers' experiences better! I found a place where I feel like I fit in.
I also found a husband, so that might be biasing my experience slightly.
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 6 (2008) Forging Our Own Path Thursday, August 30, 2012 This blog entry is the seventh in a series of blogs commemorating Paizo's 10th anniversary. ... Click here to read the first installment.As the cold and stormy start of 2008 settled on the Paizo offices, there was a palpable sense of tension. We were well past the point where we normally assigned freelance writing for our Gen Con releases. Wizards of the Coast was set to...
As the cold and stormy start of 2008 settled on the Paizo offices, there was a palpable sense of tension. We were well past the point where we normally assigned freelance writing for our Gen Con releases. Wizards of the Coast was set to release Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition at that show, and we were already planning out Second Darkness, the Pathfinder Adventure Path launching at the same time. If we were going to switch it to 4E, we needed to do it soon. But we knew little more about 4E in January than we did at the previous year's Gen Con. Early in the month, Wizards held a conference call with a host of third-party publishers telling us that they were working on a new third-party license and that we would probably have early access to the rules soon, but the lack of a firm commitment or any kind of schedule from Wizards was stretching our patience—and our deadlines.
We were going to have to start writing Second Darkness for 3.5. If Wizards came through quickly, we thought, there was a slim chance that we might still be able to rework it for 4th Edition... but the more we thought about the logistics of learning a new game system, bringing our freelancers up to speed on that system, and then having to develop adventures for a system we'd never even played, it soon became obvious that even if Wizards started to open up the lines of communication immediately, doing Second Darkness as a 4E product was a fool's errand. So as we turned to February, we made the difficult decision to commit to 3.5 for Second Darkness. Our flagship product line would be incompatible with the then-current edition of D&D for at least 6 months.
But that didn't yet mean that 4th Edition was out of the running for the Adventure Path after that one. The continued lack of information of any sort was driving us nuts, and having just had our whole company turned upside down due to Wizards' decision to end the magazine licenses, we were beginning to think that forging our own path forward might be a valid choice. With no license from Wizards in hand, it was unclear whether there actually was any other choice. Nevertheless, we dutifully sent Jason Bulmahn to Wizards' D&D Experience in Fort Wayne, Indiana that February. Jason's mission was to learn as much as he could about 4th Edition, play it as much as he could, and report back with his findings. From that, we would ultimately make a decision that could make or break us. The tension was agonizing. I could barely sleep at night as my mind wrestled with the options. If we made the wrong decision, it could very well mean the end of Paizo.
When Jason returned from D&D Experience, he laid out all the information that he had gleaned. From the moment that 4th Edition had been announced, we had trepidations about many of the changes we were hearing about. Jason's report confirmed our fears—4th Edition didn't look like the system we wanted to make products for. Whether a license for 4E was forthcoming or not, we were going to create our own game system based on the 3.5 SRD: The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. And we were already WAY behind schedule.
Thankfully, Jason had started to experiment with an alternative 3.5 rules system in Fall 2007. It was initially a lark that Jason was hoping he might be able to sell as a PDF somewhere down the road to the inevitable fans of the 3.5 ruleset that weren't going to 4E. He had dubbed the project Mon Mothma. Early in 2008, Jason had presented this document to us, a revision that added a variety of new options to a ruleset we already had experience and comfort with. Knowing the future was uncertain, we encouraged him to start turning his ideas into a complete, coherent rules set.
When Jason brought in his refined version of Mon Mothma, we liked what we saw. We knew that we needed to let our customers know about our decision as soon as possible, but it would take at least a year to wrangle a new game system into place, even one using existing rules as its basis. But we needed our customers to stick around for that year, so we came up with a cunning plan: if we could get people playtesting our new system, perhaps they would stick with us through the interim. And, of course, all that playtesting would certainly improve the finished product! It was a bold plan that seemed almost impossible as we started planning in late February. Jason felt that it would take him at least three months to wrangle a playtest document into shape, but we couldn't wait until May or June to make our announcement. So we decided to break our Alpha playtest into three different documents that we would release one per month starting in March. The first section of the playtest was pretty much ready to go, so we picked a date of March 18 to spill the beans.
Chris Carey, Chris Self, James Sutter (after casting blur), James Jacobs and Wes Schneider enjoy the fan-bought pizza feast that arrived for Erik Mona Day!
On the appointed morning, we took the website down and put up a graphic of a bunch of goblins running amok with torches. The caption beneath the picture read, "Goblins have taken over Paizo and are forcing a decision. Stay tuned." Meanwhile, behind the scenes, we were putting up blogs, adding Pathfinder RPG announcements and FAQs, readying the first Alpha playtest download, and building new messageboard forums to discuss it all. When the website went live, we all held our breath to see what folks would say. Of course, a number of people called it a stupid decision and predicted our demise, but a large majority of our customers seemed very happy with our decision.
The Alpha playtest was well received, and over the next couple months, we made good on our promise to release the next two parts of the playtest document. And while Jason read through thousands upon thousands of playtest comments, he was also on deadline to create the Beta playtest. To say that he looked a little harried during this time is an understatement.
The Alpha playtests were relatively small, but the Beta was shaping up to be about 400 pages. We realized that people would be paying a lot to print that many pages out, so we came up with another crazy idea—what if we printed the Pathfinder RPG Beta as a softcover book and sold it at Gen Con and on paizo.com? To the best of our knowledge, nobody had ever done that before, but since we were swinging for the fences anyways, we figured, why not? Of course, that meant we had about a month to put together a 400-page book so it could be printed and shipped to Gen Con. Now THAT was crazy.
In May, we announced that Monte Cook would be joining the Pathfinder RPG design team as a consultant. Since Monte had been a part of the D&D Third Edition design team, we thought it would be great for Jason to bounce ideas off him and to have him explain what the designers were thinking when they wrote certain rules. It also didn't hurt to have somebody of Monte's stature signed on to the project.
We released the Pathfinder RPG Beta at Gen Con, and the flood of people buying it was amazing. People bought stacks of copies for their entire gaming group. We sold out in the middle of the show. Over the next several months, more than 50,000 people joined the playtest, mostly by way of the free PDF. The open playtest proved to be invaluable, letting us avoid some bad design choices and implementing some good ideas into the final product. It was so successful that we've done one for every Pathfinder RPG release that has a significant section of new rules.
Superstar artists Eva Widermann, Wayne Reynolds, and Lydia Schuchmann pose at Gen Con UK!
As if we didn't have enough crazy in our lives, we decided that we need to take our Pathfinder campaign setting to the next level. We released the Pathfinder Chronicles Gazetteer early in the year as a player-friendly 64-page introduction to the setting, but to truly cover the entire Inner Sea region, we'd need a much heftier tome. So we put the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting hardcover on the schedule for Gen Con. In order to get it out on time, editor Mike McArtor had to wrangle 28 different authors, each of whom was given a country or two to flesh out. Because of the variety of authors and the speed with which the book was made, a number of things snuck into the early campaign setting that we later needed to adjust, but all in all, the book ended up being great, and it sold out upon release at Gen Con.
Our Adventure Path line stayed in Varisia for all of 2008, through the Curse of the Crimson Throne and Second Darkness adventure paths. Partly, this was because Varisia is the part of our setting that's closest to the baseline fantasy assumptions, and that's where we needed to stand as we built our brand and tried to keep customers from fleeing to a new edition. Also, since the campaign setting hardcover wasn't coming out until the middle of the year, we hadn't fleshed out the rest of Golarion yet.
In 2008, we also launched a new bimonthly product line, the Pathfinder Companion. To pull this off, we adjusted our Module line to bimonthly as well, alternating with Companions. The genesis of the Companion line was a wish to provide players with regular material that they could use for their game—something that Dragon magazine used to do. Our first product in this line was the Second Darkness Player Companion, and before the year was done, we added Companions for Elves of Golarion and Osirion, Land of Pharaohs.
Tim Nightingale presents James Jacobs, Jason Bulmahn, and Mike "He-Looks-JUST-Like-His-Avatar" McArtor with a Fan Appreciation Award at the inaugural PaizoCon!
2008 wasn't just a year for new books. In February, we crowned the first RPG Superstar champion. German Christine Schneider took home the win with her proposal for Clash of the Kingslayers, beating out hundreds of novice designers, many of whom ended up writing for Paizo, or even getting hired onto our staff! In addition to Christine, future Pathfinder stalwarts Clinton Boomer, Rob McCreary and Jason Nelson were also in the top 4, with contender Russ Taylor also becoming a valuable contributor and Ross Byers later winding up on Paizo's web team! All in all, it was a great start for our quest to find new talent for Paizo.
In the early part of the summer, another Paizo tradition was started: PaizoCon! Local customer and friend of the company Tim Nightingale decided to bring Paizo fans together at a hotel in Bellevue to play games and talk about Paizo and Pathfinder. He dubbed the get-together PaizoCon, and about 50 attendees turned up. Paizo staffers showed up on the Saturday of the con to hold a couple of seminars and run a few celebrity games. We adopted PaizoCon from Tim the following year, and it's now one of our most important conventions each year. From humble beginnings rises greatness!
Another milestone for summer 2008 was the launch of Pathfinder Society organized play at Gen Con. We dubbed the first year Season Zero because we wanted to use it like an open playtest, working with players and GMs to refine the system, with a formal Season One planned to launch alongside our new RPG in 2009. The Pathfinder Society room at Gen Con was packed, with four scenarios offered for play. Over the weekend, 400 characters were made and 600 registration cards were handed out for new players and GMs. Today, many thousands of GMs and players make Pathfinder Society a large part of their gaming lives.
Jason Bulmahn lovingly holds his baby!
We sold out of the Pathfinder RPG Beta and the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting at Gen Con...
...but our fantastic fans helped us replace them with a slew of ENnies!
Erik Mona holds the bounty from the ENnie Awards, including our first Best Publisher award!
Nick Logue and Greg Vaughan laugh it up at the Pathfinder Society table!
We kick off Season Zero of Pathfinder Society Organized Play!
Tiffany, our first Pathfinder cosplayer in her fantastic priestess of Desna outfit. Check out that awesome starknife!
Art Director Sarah Robinson LOVES Gen Con!
At the ENnie Awards, Paizo won 7 golds and a silver. The awards received were:
Best Free Product: Gold Medal for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Alpha
Best Publisher: Gold Medal
As the year came to an end, it felt for the first time in our history like we were finally in charge of our own destiny. The Pathfinder RPG playtest had been going phenomenally, and our product lines were being received well around the world. There was still a lot of hard work to be done to launch the RPG at Gen Con, but for once, everything was in our control. We were masters of our own fate.
Employees who started in 2008 (in order of hiring date):
Jacob Burgess, Online Retail Coordinator
Nick Logue, Organized Play Coordinator
Christopher Carey, Copy Editor
Sean K Reynolds, Developer/Designer
Brock Mitchel-Slentz, Warehouse Worker
Alison McKenzie, Customer Service Representative
Employees who left in 2008 (in order of their end date):
Corey J. Young
Lisa Stevens CEO
By 2008, my path in the gaming industry had taken an odd turn. I had time at TSR, Wizards of the Coast, Interplay, and Upper Deck under my belt. I already had a working relationship with Wes Schneider and James Jacobs from writing Greyhawk god articles for Dragon, an occasional adventure for Dungeon, and Golarion god articles for the Adventure Paths. I knew Erik from his dedicated involvement with Greyhawk (and from when he was one of my TSR online volunteers), and Lisa was my first boss in Wizards of the Coast RPG R&D for Team Greyhawk. So when I found myself unemployed after Upper Deck's most popular card game had a poor quarter, I emailed Erik to let him know I'd be available for more freelance. Erik countered by offering me a full-time job at Paizo. Developer Mike McArtor was leaving, and Erik needed someone to take over that role. (Mike was also one of my TSR volunteers from years before, and had asked to use me as a reference when he applied for the developer job at Paizo). I had never officially done any development before, but Erik assured me that I could do this job, so I accepted.
My move from San Diego back to Seattle was delayed for three weeks by my sister's wedding, but right after that I shipped my books, gave away my not-worth-moving furniture, and loaded up the car with my four cats and the rest of my belongings for a mad, three-day drive through a heat wave and northern California wildfires to reach my beloved Emerald City. In many ways, that period of my life was a significant reboot—work, home, relationships, finances, and motivations all changed radically in a span of about six weeks, in many ways very reminiscent of my decision 13 years earlier to leave California and move to Wisconsin to work for TSR.
I started at Paizo the day after I arrived in Seattle. The team was great. The energy was great. The company was still struggling financially, but I could see everyone's heart was in the work, and they were proud of what they were doing. I had my own cubicle in the editorial pit, with most of my desk obscured with rulebooks and minis, and felt right at home with the toys, posters, and dinosaurs decorating the other cubes. I wrangled freelancers, developed manuscripts, wrote art orders, and learned how to fiddle with text in layout. As a developer, I was able to influence more projects than I ever would have time to write myself. As it turns out, I had missed working on RPGs, and actually missed having real deadlines—even if we were behind on some of them. I went to Gen Con with Paizo and saw the Pathfinder RPG Beta sell out—a sign that the gaming community felt we were doing the right thing. It felt really good to be a part of Paizo. It reminded me of the best times at TSR and Wizards of the Coast. It was good to have that feeling again. As someone who has witnessed many of the highs and lows of the modern gaming industry, I'm glad to be at Paizo, and I wouldn't choose anywhere else.
Sean K Reynolds Designer
From the Editor's Desk
My road to Paizo was, I think, a bit unique. I first heard of Paizo not from its array of gaming products but rather from its revival of the old pulp Planet Stories banner in 2007. I was curious. Not only was someone bringing back into print the sword-and-planet classics of Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore, and Michael Moorcock, but that someone also happened to be based only a few miles away from me. After determining that the Paizo folks made up the same team who'd up until recently published Amazing Stories, I filed away the info and continued to work on my labor of love, a historical fantasy novel called The Song of Kwasin, coauthored with science-fiction luminary Philip José Farmer.
By spring 2008, I'd completed the novel and was looking for both a publisher and a job. As the pulpsters of old might say, Fate struck when I was perusing the Norwescon schedule and noticed that Erik Mona, Paizo's Publisher, was going to be speaking on a number of panels. A week or so later, I was at the con meeting Erik and pitching him my book, an adventure tale that fit right in with the rip-roaring spirit of the Planet Stories line. Erik was immediately interested, and we stood outside in the hallway chatting it up about the pulps for a good 25 minutes before I mentioned I'd applied for the recently listed editor position at Paizo. The Song of Kwasin ended up selling to another publishing house, but I'll always be thankful for the novel having broken the ice. A few short weeks later, I was called in for an interview and an editing test, and a week after that I was working furiously at my new desk at the Paizo offices.
And I do mean working furiously. You see, I came aboard right before both the Pathfinder RPG Beta and Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting hardcover were due to go to the printer. Printouts from both books were flying in a feverish blur from one editor to the next as I was trying my best to raise my voice above the tumult working to get everyone on the same page that Chelaxian was a noun and Chelish was an adjective. It was a crazy time to board the good ship Paizo, but I knew the trial by fire was worth it when I saw just how well both the Beta and the Campaign Setting were received. And now, more than four years later, it's even more worth it knowing how far Paizo and Pathfinder have come... and how much farther we can go.
Christopher Carey Editor
The Birth of a Roleplaying Game
This is an early version of the Pathfinder RPG that Jason dubbed "Mon Mothma" after the character from Return of the Jedi.
To tell the truth, this story actually starts in October 2007. With the announcement of 4th Edition, most of my freelance work for Wizards quickly began to dry up. I was not on the list to get an early look at the rules, and there were few remaining 3.5 hardcover books that needed work. With a bunch of idle time on my hands, I was looking for something to keep myself occupied. It occurred to me that there might be a fair number of people who would stick with the 3.5 rules and that maybe I could put together an easy PDF document with some rules revisions, just for fun. My first document had the title "3.75 Rules Set" in the margin.
As the months rolled by, my little rules document began to grow. At first, it was just a list of ideas with things like "fix grapple" and "do something about turning." As those issues got tackled, the document got larger and larger. Eventually, it came to include alterations to the core classes and a significant revision to combat and monster design. By the end of 2007, the "3.75 Rules Set" document was about 20 pages long.
Early in 2008, it was becoming apparent that Paizo was in a bind. We still had not seen 4th Edition (or what would become the GSL) and we were starting to run into the part of the year where we were supposed to be working on products for Gen Con. Realizing that we were running out of time, Lisa called a summit at her house to discuss our options. We struggled most of that day to come up with a viable plan. I kept thinking back to my rules document, even though it was little more than a mishmash of rules ideas and notes. Late in the afternoon, I brought it up to the folks in attendance. It took some convincing, and a whole lot of reassurances on my part, but I left that meeting as the Lead Designer of "Mon Mothma," the code name we gave to the Pathfinder RPG.
The next few weeks went by in a blur. We knew that we wanted to do a public playtest of the rules, and to put out the Beta by Gen Con, so I had very little time to get the first documents put together. The timeline gave me about a month to turn my rough rules document into the first of the Alpha playtest PDFs. Not only that, but I needed to make significant progress on the next two Alpha documents as well, because I would need to roll right into the Beta design as soon as the Alpha documents were released. I also went to D&D Experience during this time to check out 4th Edition; after playing the game, and talking to many of the fans at the show, it became clear to me that we were doing the right thing for our fans, our world, and the company.
I had so little time during this design period that I actually worked from home just to save me the travel time getting to the office, giving me an extra hour or so each day. On the days I came in, I was expected to update everyone on my progress and show off the current design, to get feedback and answer questions. There were a lot of insane ideas thrown around back then, some of which eventually got changed drastically before finding a home in the Beta and the final version of the game. There was once an insanely difficult "new" system for determining cover, which in retrospect, was a terrible idea. Fighters used to get a number of "combat tricks" at every level, many of which went on to become feats in the final version of the game. But for every misstep, there were dozens of great changes that were brought into the rules, like sorcerer bloodlines, combat maneuvers, and channel energy. It was a crazy few weeks, and probably some of the most creative of my career.
Finally, after months of tinkering and a few frantic weeks of work, the day had finally arrived: March 18, 2008. The Paizo website came down and I spent most of the day pacing the office like an expectant father. We ordered pizza. We monitored the unofficial Paizo chat room. We waited and waited for the site to come back up with the Pathfinder RPG announcement and the Alpha document for all to see. My nerves were a complete wreck. At 3:01 p.m. Pacific Time, the site came back up and the Alpha playtest of the Pathfinder RPG went live. I spent the next few days and nights glued to my computer, scanning every gaming website I could find for feedback, thoughts, and general reaction to the announcement. Some called doom, some rejoiced, some simply shrugged, but it quickly became clear that from the outpouring support from our messageboards that we had one thing going for us.
You were behind us from the moment the goblins forced our decision. You were behind us through the entire playtest process, which stretched out almost a year in total. You stood in that insane line to get the Beta print version and the Core Rulebook the following year. And you are still with us today. You make it all worth it.
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 5 (2007) The Year Everything Changed Thursday, July 26, 2012 This blog entry is the sixth in a series of blogs commemorating Paizo's 10th anniversary. ... Click here to read the first installment. ... Erik Mona's odd T-shaped map that would eventually become the Inner Sea Region of Golarion.As 2007 dawned, Paizo had a lot of work to do. The final issues of Dragon and Dungeon were coming in August, and we had already started...
Erik Mona's odd T-shaped map that would eventually become the Inner Sea Region of Golarion.
As 2007 dawned, Paizo had a lot of work to do. The final issues of Dragon and Dungeon were coming in August, and we had already started thinking about what we were going to do once they had run their course. Wizards of the Coast wanted to make an announcement about the magazines coming to an end sooner rather than later, but we knew that this announcement was going to cause an uproar with a fury usually reserved for new editions of D&D—maybe even bigger—and when people came to us with questions, we wanted to have answers. Once again, Wizards was gracious, and allowed us to make the announcement on our own schedule.
Our customers were used to getting something from us every month and we didn't want that to end. But starting a new magazine was not the way to go. Even if we had wanted to try to replace our venerable magazines, we just didn't have the cash reserves needed to make it happen. Besides, the magazine industry isn't what it used to be, and the profit margins on magazines are razor thin; I was very tired of fighting all the inefficiences of that product format.
So we took the thing that was working the best—the Adventure Path concept—and reshaped it into a 96-page softcover book that would provide a full AP over six consecutive monthly volumes. The front half of each book would be the Adventure Path, while the back half would house support articles and a short piece of fiction. In many ways, the front was Dungeon and the back was Dragon. The new book had the same number of pages as an issue of Dungeon, but since it didn't have all the advertisements, we actually had more content to develop each month. Also, it took 12 issues of Dungeon to complete an AP, and we were now attempting to do it in half the time. This task was going to be a tough one.
After much brainstorming, we eventually gave it the name "Pathfinder." (See the sidebar below for a look at how we came up with the name.)
The cover of the first draft of the setting bible that would become the Pathfinder campaign setting. Notice that Golarion was dubbed the "Planet of Adventure" way back then.
The front page of the outline for the first Pathfinder Adventure Path. It's called Adventure Path Four because there were three previous APs in Dungeon Magazine. Notice some of the early differences, such as Sularia (Thassilon), Ur-Giants (Rune Giants), and kobolds as the critters that infest Sandpoint.
Now the title of the AP is "Rune War" and things are looking closer to the final. Interesting differences include the Dihedron Rune (Sihedron Rune) and Sinseren (Xin-Shalast).
This incarnation of the outline finally has the name "Rise of the Runelords," and much of it survives unchanged in the final Adventure Path.
We also had to think long and hard about pricing. The printing quotes we'd received on 96-page full-color softcover books suggested that we needed to charge $24.99, a big jump from the advertising-subsidized $7.99 cover price of Dungeon. And in order to survive, we needed to capture as many Dragon and Dungeon subscribers as we could, and that meant we needed to make a compelling case to our subscribers.
Instead of $24.99, we set the retail price at $19.99. Then, to entice people to subscribe, we set the subscription price at $13.99 plus shipping, with the additional benefits of a free PDF and a discount on almost everything we sell at paizo.com. While it still cost more than Dragon or Dungeon did, we knew that we were providing amazing value, and we believed that once people saw the finished product, they'd understand that.
Another big problem we had to deal with was our subscriber debt. Even though we had stopped offering long-term subscription options the year before, and had recently switched entirely to month-to-month subscriptions, we had still taken a lot of money over the years for issues that would never come out. Some customers had purchased subscriptions extending for a frankly startling number of years into the future. I put together a big spreadsheet that looked at how many issues of each magazine we owed to each subscriber past the last issue, and how much the refunds we owed each of them would be. We looked at the cost for making an AP volume and shipping it to various places in the US and around the world, and then we had to make a gut-wrenching decision—how many volumes do we want to offer subscribers for the remaining value of their subscriptions? If we made an offer people couldn't refuse, not only would we not have to give a refund to that customer, but we'd get the opportunity to show them that we were making a product worth the asking price; hopefully at least some of them would keep their Pathfinder subscriptions beyond those volumes.
We ended up valuing these copies at such a low price that we actually lost money on almost all of them. That is, it cost us more to make and ship each copy than it would have cost to give refunds to the same people. But there was a benefit in addition to the chance to woo them over to Pathfinder: the cost of fulfilling those volumes to subscribers was spread over many months. If we'd had to write everyone refund checks all at once, that would have put us out of business. We also mitigated this problem by offering people the ability to fulfill their remaining issues from our stock of back issues, and by offering the option of taking a higher amount of store credit—120%—instead of cash.
My budget had around 20% of our subscribers taking the Pathfinder AP volumes instead of a refund check. I assumed about 30% would take the store credit option, with the remaining 50% asking for the refund check. I hoped we'd do better than that, that maybe closer to 50% would take the AP volumes, but I budget for what I feel is the most likely course.
We also offered a special messageboard tag for people who committed to an ongoing Pathfinder subscription before they even saw the first volume (not just transitioning issues from their Dungeon or Dragon subscription, but making an actual commitment beyond that). These early supporters received the Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber tag, which they'll keep for as long as they keep their AP subscription going. Charter subscribers who stop their subs for even a single volume lose their charter status, so the number of charter tags slowly decreases over time; there are just 1,075 as I write this. The trust and ongoing support of our charter subscribers means a lot to us.
With our plans in place, we set a date with Wizards of the Coast to announce the end of Dragon and Dungeon. April 19, 2007 was going to be a nerve-wracking day for the Paizo staff as we unveiled our new plans and then sat back to see what would happen. Would it be the end of our company, or the beginning of a whole new adventure? Would unhappy subscribers come to our offices with pitchforks and torches? As always, the power rested in the hands of our customers.
At 9:00 AM PST, the paizo.com website was taken down for the first time other than to do maintenance; you can see the page we put up here. We were down for approximately two hours while we readied all of the press releases, subscription offerings, FAQs, and such, and when the website came back up at 11 AM, in addition to the press release about the magazines there was a message from Erik and we soon added a message from me on the front page. We explained about the magazines, and we explained about Pathfinder. Then we watched, interacted with everyone posting on the messageboards, and waited. And the most remarkable thing in my history in the industry happened. People came out of the woodwork to support us and stick by us. In the end, close to 66% of all subscribers ended up taking us up on our offer to send them Pathfinder AP volumes in place of their refund, better than double my budget. (The largest number of AP volumes received in lieu of a refund: 44!)
Also on that day, we launched the Paizo blog, which has now become a daily dose of Paizo news! We introduced Varisia on day 1, and the goblins on day 2! In the days leading up to the launch of the Pathfinder AP at Gen Con, we unveiled the new iconics, talked about the non-adventure content, and basically tried to keep up everyone's interest as we headed to launch.
Postage for the first Pathfinder subscription shipment pours out of our label printer in August 2007. (Our label runs are much more organized now.) And the same shipment neatly packed up and waiting for the Post Office.
Of course, there was a still a lot of work that needed to be done. With the magazines, we simply generated an Excel spreadsheet which we then uploaded to our printer, and they took care of all of the logistics of sending issues to subscribers. Starting in August, we were going to have to do that ourselves for the first time. We weren't exactly rookies at shipping products to people; we'd been running the paizo.com store for a few years, and it had grown to a pretty decent sized business. But the sheer volume of a single subscription run dwarfed any amount we had ever shipped at one time thus far. We needed to be able to print out massive numbers of labels at one time—check out the pictures of our first label run in this blog—and then have the manpower to pack them all as quickly as possible. It was "all hands on deck," and even Jeff Alvarez and myself spent many a long hour packing and shipping Pathfinder AP volumes that year.
But the APs weren't the only new line of products. In February, we had announced our line of GameMastery Modules launching in June with Nicolas Logue's now classic Crown of the Kobold King adventure. Our first Free RPG Day product was Hollow's Last Hope, a lead-in adventure for Kobold King that we also gave away as a free PDF on our website as a way of enticing folks to try out the new line of adventures. Follow-up adventures by Jason Bulmahn and James Sutter rounded out the GameMastery Modules launch titles leading up to Gen Con.
In March, we announced the Planet Stories line. The result of Erik Mona's love of old sword-and-planet fiction, Planet Stories was all about bringing out-of-print classics to a new generation of fans. We launched with a super strong line-up of Robert E. Howard, Gary Gygax, Michael Moorcock and C.L. Moore. Our hope with this line was that we could gain a foothold into bookstores with a product type they were used to carrying, and then leverage that into our RPG products. We also wanted to establish a line of products that weren't tied to our RPG business in case that didn't work out as well as we'd hoped.
Our other GameMastery products started to really take off in 2007. We had been selling Steel Sqwire's existing Flip-Mats for a few months before we released the first of our own designs, Flip-Mat: Tavern. We've released a new Flip-Mat every other month since then. Our biggest GameMastery release for the year, though, was a product that has since become a gaming table staple—the Critical Hit Deck. Masterminded by Jason Bulmahn, the Critical Hit Deck has perhaps put more characters in the ground than any accessory in gaming history and has been a consistently great seller for Paizo.
Of course, we still had the final issues of both Dragon and Dungeon to deliver, and we planned to go out with a bang! The final issues of Dragon had a slew of Demonomicons and Core Beliefs articles, as well as the world of China Miéville, the World Serpent Inn, and a super-sized final issue returning to some of the most iconic articles in Dragon's storied history, capped off with a cover by Larry Elmore!
Dungeon finished off the Savage Tide adventure path with a return to the Isle of Dread and a faceoff with the prince of demons, Demogorgon himself! In addition, Nick Logue returned to Scuttlecove one more time and Jason Bulmahn penned his infamous "Kill Bargle" adventure in the final issue.
One of the best things about publishing Dragon and Dungeon magazines was the ability to constantly try out new talent. It's really hard to try out new talent without risking the destruction of your production schedule if the new guy screws up his assignment. Matter of fact, trying out new talent was the very reason that the Class Acts section of Dragon was created. With the magazines going away, Paizo was going to need to find a new way to cultivate design talent.
I was ruminating on this problem when an idea came to me. Vic and I are fans of American Idol; I love the fact that talented unknowns can become overnight stars by winning that competition. Could we do the same thing for RPG designers? And thus was RPG Superstar born. Anybody could enter by designing a wondrous item, and our esteemed panel of judges (that season, Wolfgang Baur, Erik Mona and Clark Petersen) would hand-pick the top 32 before our community voted to winnow that number down via various design challenges until we had a winner. The prize was a paid gig to write a 32-page GameMastery Adventure. More than 1,000 people entered the contest that kicked off late that year, with the winner being crowned in early 2008.
Stonehenge game designers (from left to right) Richard Borg, Mike Selinker, Paul Peterson, Bruno Faidutti, and Richard Garfield pose with copies of the game at Essen Spiel in Germany. Mike Selinker holds a card inquiring about the missing James Ernest.
Our Titanic Games line released its most ambitious product in May. Stonehenge was not just a board game, but a flexible toolkit that could be used to create a wide variety of new board games, sold with rules for five different Stonehenge games from the world's best game designers. We published a sixth game from Paul Peterson called "Stonehenge Rocks" in the July issue of Knucklebones magazine, and launched the Stonehenge Library on paizo.com, where game designers of all stripes could easily publish rules for their own games and anyone could download them as a fully formatted PDF. To date, 42 different games have been posted there for free download!
Gen Con 2007 was one of the most memorable in Paizo's history. Not only were we sending Dragon and Dungeon off with epic final issues, but we were putting the Pathfinder Adventure Path into the hands of customers for the first time. I felt like an expectant parent waiting for the doors to open on Thursday morning. We'd decorated the booth with large banners of Karzoug, Valeros and Seoni. We were running a delve in the booth based on the Seven Swords of Sin module, crafted by the evil minds of the combined Paizo staff as we each tried to outdo each other in killing the most characters. Stats were kept throughout the convention; Phil Lacefield Jr, collected the most overall kills, while Erik Mona's vrock chamber was the single deadliest room.
Gen Con has always been a place where Paizo has made some of our biggest announcements, and this year it was the impending release of the Pathfinder Chronicles campaign setting in early 2008. With the launch of the Pathfinder AP and the GameMastery Modules, everyone was clamoring to know more about the world we were setting them in. Erik and Jason had already began throwing around ideas for filling out the world around Varisia, but that's a story for next year...
At the ENnie Awards that Gen Con, Paizo won 2 golds and a silver. The awards received were:
Best Aid or Accessory: Silver Medal for GameMastery Combat Pad (published in conjunction with Open Mind Games)
Best Miniature Product: Gold Medal for GameMastery Flip-Mat: Tavern
Best Free Product: Gold Medal for Savage Tide Player's Guide
The final tally for the Seven Swords of Sin dungeon delve in the Paizo booth at Gen Con.
Larry Elmore signs copies of the last Dragon Magazine, with his painting gracing the cover.
Cover artist Wayne Reynolds poses with the first Adventure Path volumes!
James Jacobs stands proudly next to his creation, Karzoug the Claimer.
Gary Gygax signs his Planet Stories novel The Anubis Murders at the Paizo booth during his last Gen Con.
Sales during the convention were brisk, and the feedback we received from our customers was nothing short of fantastic. And we needed all that good karma, because we were dealt another blow when Wizards of the Coast announced at the show that D&D 4th Edition was coming in August 2008. We had just launched two new lines of 3.5 compatible products, and it seemed that they could already be on a deathwatch towards obscurity. Sometimes it seemed as if every time we got up, there was something to knock us down again.
However, after talks with our colleagues at Wizards of the Coast, we were cautiously optimistic. There was talk of getting together when we were back in Seattle and running through a playtest of the current rules. We were also promised that there would be a third-party license, similar to the OGL, really soon.
When we got back to Seattle, we anxiously awaited the opportunity to playtest 4th Edition, but that never materialized, and the license that eventually became the GSL was delayed month after month. Meanwhile, the more the public learned about 4th Edition, the more our community—and our gut—was telling us not to go there.
One of the largest threads on the paizo.com messageboards began in October, when Erik announced that Paizo Is Still Undecided. The lack of any information from WotC and the seemingly overwhelming support for us to stay put were making us lean towards sticking with 3.5, but it would be suicide to produce support products for a game that no longer has core rules in print. So if we wanted to stick with 3.5, we knew that we'd have to release some sort of rulebook.
As the end of 2007 neared, we still held out hope that things might work out for 4th Edition. But we were already planning the Pathfinder Adventure Path that would begin shipping the same month that Wizards was releasing 4th Edition, and the deadline for soliciting August 2008 products to our distributors was rapidly approaching, so we needed to make a decision, and fast.
As the year ended, our new product lines were well-received, and the new Paizo was looking healthier than ever. But the decision about 4th Edition was now reaching a critical stage and the new year would again test our mettle. Fortunately, Jason Bulmahn had started tinkering on his own time with some ideas he had for a 3.5 revision, a project he had dubbed "Mon Mothma..."
Employees who started in 2007 (in order of hiring date):
Corey Young, Customer Service Representative
James Davis, Art Director
Keely Dolan, PDF Technician
Chris Sanders, Warehouse Personnel
Chris Self, AP/AR Coordinator
Carolyn Mull, Sales and Marketing Assistant
Employees who left in 2007 (in order of their end date):
Phil Lacefield, Jr.
A scan from Wes Schneider's notebook shows some of the brainstorming for the Adventure Path line. We mixed and matched words to create potential names. In the lower left-hand corner, "Path" and "Finder" are conveniently near each other. Coincidence?
With the name Pathfinder so prevalent in everything we make nowadays, it's almost hard to believe that six years ago, we were struggling with what we were going to call our new line. If you've ever been involved in a brainstorm for naming something, you'll know that it's an agonizing process. We gathered the Paizo creative staff into the conference room and started to brainstorm words that we associate with adventures. Here we see the notes Wes Schneider took from our brainstorm. Once we had a list of words, we started combining some of them to make potential names, so if we had the words crypt, morning, crawl, star, and sword, we'd try names like like Starsword, Morningstar, Cryptcrawl... After three long meetings, nobody was entirely happy with what we'd come up with. The leading candidate for quite a while was actually "Kobold," because we like the little buggers, and because we thought it would be a neat homage to Dragon Magazine (it turns out that Wolfgang Baur had a similar thought process when he named his new magazine). Pathfinder was one of the names that made the finalist list, but it took us a while (and a successful trademark search) to convince us that we'd found the path we were seeking.
Lisa Stevens CEO
Chris Self: His Account of Things
In summer 2007, Paizo wasn't even on my radar. I had looked at the website once or twice, mostly looking for dice, but I didn't have any ties to the company at the time. I wasn't a fan of the magazines, all of my adventures were homebrew, and I didn't have enough money to buy much of anything, let alone do it through an online store I'd never heard of anyone else using.
Earlier that year, I had packed up my books and my cats in an old station wagon, given away all of my furniture, quit my job, and moved to Seattle. I had always promised myself that I would get out of Albuquerque, and now that I had finished my degree and had a few years of work under my belt, I'd decided it was time to make good on that promise.
Once I arrived in Seattle, I threw around some applications and resumes, found a place to live, all the normal things you do when you move to a new city on a whim.
When I got the email from Lisa that she wanted me to come in for an interview, I was surprised. I had sent in my resume weeks earlier and had, in fact, accepted and been working another job for several weeks. But I was not about to turn down a chance to interview for a game company. So, in for the interview I went.
The offices were a surprise. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't boxes of magazines scattered about, product stacked on shelves in offices, and an office open but mostly deserted after 6 pm. Once I finally tracked down Lisa and started my interview with her and Paizo's corporate accountant, Dave Erickson... that's when the magic of Paizo struck me for the first time.
The vision that Lisa laid out for the company was... enticing. A magazine publisher for D&D who was also rolling out a series of science-fiction classics and expanding their gaming product lines sounded like exactly the type of company I wanted to work for. When Lisa offered me the job, there was no hesitation, despite the hefty cut in pay I was taking to take the job.
My first day in the office is also my most memorable. I had been set up in a desk in a cul-de-sac in the hallway, straddling the area between sales, accounting, Lisa's office, and the editorial pit, and with a view straight down the hallway to see all of the offices that it wasn't adjacent to. This gave me an excellent view of a certain PMG putting an Amazon package on the desk of a certain other employee (who will remain nameless). This also gave me an excellent view of said employee opening this box. This box contained a spider. An electronic spider. A remote controlled electronic jumping spider. And a certain PMG held the remote. The best view, though, was of a large man screaming like a little girl and running, cussing, from his office.
Yeah, that first day let me know that I had really made the right choice in choosing to work at Paizo.
That decision has proven a wise one over the last five years. Paizo has been the first job that I've looked forward to coming to every morning. The people I work with are remarkable, every single one of them; the company is amazing; I believe in the product; and I feel valued every day.
Since this is my moment in the spotlight on the blog, I would like to close with one note: Dave Erickson, the accountant whom I initially worked under at Paizo, was an excellent accountant, and one of the most scrupulously ethical people I've ever met. I learned a great deal from him, and learned even more from him once I shouldered his duties after his passing. You are missed, Dave.
Auntie Lisa’s Story Hour: Gen Con Reminiscences—The Paizo Years
Auntie Lisa’s Story Hour: Gen Con Reminiscences—The Paizo Years Thursday, July 19, 2012With PaizoCon 2012 now in the rear view mirror, my attentions turn toward Gen Con in Indianapolis, August 16–19. I’ve personally gone to every Gen Con since it was held at UW Parkside in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but since this is Paizo’s tenth anniversary year—and Paizo’s tenth Gen Con—I figured I’d limit this blog to stories from the last decade. Gen Con is and always has been our biggest show...
Auntie Lisa’s Story Hour: Gen Con Reminiscences—The Paizo Years
Thursday, July 19, 2012
With PaizoCon 2012 now in the rear view mirror, my attentions turn toward Gen Con in Indianapolis, August 16–19. I’ve personally gone to every Gen Con since it was held at UW Parkside in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but since this is Paizo’s tenth anniversary year—and Paizo’s tenth Gen Con—I figured I’d limit this blog to stories from the last decade. Gen Con is and always has been our biggest show of the year and the convention where we release our biggest products, so many seminal events in Paizo’s history take place at this granddaddy of all gaming conventions.
Our trip down memory lane begins in August 2002. Paizo was a newly minted company, having started business just one month prior, so we hadn’t lined up our own booth at Gen Con. Our friends at Wizards of the Coast had already allocated a part of their booth for the periodicals department that we’d taken over, so they allowed us to set up camp in their castle for the show. Paizo’s owners and a small team of editors spent the weekend talking to thousands of gamers who were wondering what the future held in store for their favorite magazines with Paizo at the helm.
Gen Con 2003 was all about the Paizo exclusive silver Boba Fett action figure we’d organized as part of running the Official Star Wars Fan Club and Star Wars Insider magazine. Vic and I knew what kind of excitement an exclusive figure would generate, but I don’t think Gen Con had a clue. So imagine their surprise when a huge storm of fans rushed the small Paizo booth and started a long line that stretched past and even through other vendors’ booths! We sold a ton of this action figure, but there was a little consternation among the employees who worked on Dragon and Dungeon: Gen Con was the D&D show, and they were used to taking the limelight at the booth. It was hard to argue with the fact that Boba Fett paid a lot of bills, though, and all in all, it was a really good Gen Con for Paizo.
2004 was the year we launched Amazing Stories and Undefeated, and relaunched Dragon and Dungeon. We put free copies of all four magazines into each attendee’s gift bag, which cost us a pretty penny. It didn’t ultimately make much of an impact on sales, so it was probably not the best marketing decision we ever made, but we were excited about what we were doing and we enjoyed giving potential customers issues to read at their leisure. To celebrate the relaunches of Dragon and Dungeon, we created T-shirts that customers could get for free by starting a new subscription or renewing an existing one. The Dragon T-shirt had Wayne Reynolds’ iconic dragon bursting through the cover page, while the Dungeon tee had a picture of Warduke, an homage to the D&D cartoon series and action figure line from the early 1980s. But the most controversial thing we did at the show that year was bring the Undefeated cheerleaders. Jenny Bendel, our marketing manager, wanted to create a stir and drive traffic to the booth, so we bought cheerleader costumes with the Undefeated logo on them and hired some local models who dressed in the cheerleader costumes and decorated passersby with Undefeated temporary tattoos bearing Johnny Wilson’s slogan for the magazine, “Nobody Likes a Loser.” Again, I’m not sure it helped sales all that much, but it sure did drive traffic to our booth, including a couple of local television crews!
By Gen Con 2005, we were already working toward making Paizo about more than magazines. Our big release was the Shackled City hardcover, and we decided to create a huge tower of books in the middle of the booth. We planned for hordes of customers to snatch up their copies, making the tower disappear throughout the course of the convention. Unfortunately, we brought way too many books, so even though sales were brisk, much of the tower was still standing at the end of the con.
My favorite memory from Gen Con 2005 was the ENnie Awards ceremony. Paizo had taken home our first ENnie—a gold award for Dungeon—in 2002, though all of the work that was being recognized had been done by our employees when they were still part of Wizards of the Coast. 2005 was the first year that the accolades were truly our own. All in all, we won 4 gold awards and one silver—but for me, the silver was the most exciting: it was for Best Publisher! Since its inception, Paizo had been struggling to gain an identity in the gamer community. If we were lucky, we were known as “the Dragon and Dungeon company”; many, many readers hadn’t yet figured out that we weren’t actually part of Wizards of the Coast. In industry surveys, retailers often reported Paizo sales as Wizards’ sales, and distributors still gave our magazines TSR product codes! So that silver ENnie was validation that we were finally stepping out from the shadow of Wizards and forging our own identity. It was a very sweet moment.
2006 was all about trying to fill the gap where Undefeated and Amazing Stories had been. Our GameMastery Map Packs and Item Cards were front and center in our booth, along with our Compleat Encounters line. It was a bit of a transition year for us, so we filled the booth with anything we think we could sell to gamers, including a big bin of Toy Vault plush right in front of the register. We partnered with Looney Labs that year to bring in a little more traffic and a little more sales; Looney also partnered with us in 2007.
2007 marks the launch of the Paizo that everybody knows today. We were sad to release the final print issues of Dragon and Dungeon at Gen Con, but we were very excited about the debut of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, with James Jacobs’ now classic “Burnt Offerings” adventure kicking off Rise of the Runelords. Our booth was decked out in large Pathfinder banners showing off Wayne Reynolds’ new iconic character artwork. Our line of GameMastery Modules was also a recent addition, and Nick Logue’s “Crown of the Kobold King” was being played delve-style in the booth using Dwarven Forge terrain. It was super impressive!
Gen Con 2007 was also exciting for our Titanic Games board game line. We’d already released our first board game, Kill Doctor Lucky, and at this show, we were debuting Stonehenge, a board game that I thought could change the way folks looked at games. Stonehenge consisted of a board, cards, and other pieces that were designed as a flexible toolkit that budding game designers could use to create their own board games, sold in a package with rules for five different Stonehenge games from the world’s best game designers. Our booth was abuzz with constant demos of both Kill Doctor Lucky and Stonehenge, with game designers Richard Garfield, Mike Selinker, and James Ernest stopping by the booth to show off their games.
A personal memory from 2007 was having Gary Gygax in our booth to sign autographs. We had just released Gary’s The Anubis Murders novel in our Planet Stories line, and the father of RPGs took the time to interact with our fans and sign their books. I’d first met Gary way back at my first Gen Con, when I was a fan myself, and we had become friends through the years. I am honored that Paizo was part of his last Gen Con.
The Pathfinder campaign setting saw its release at Gen Con 2008 with our 256-page hardcover book. For the previous year, fans of our modules and Adventure Paths had been clamoring for us to flesh out the world of Golarion, and this book was our answer. We ended up selling out of our Gen Con allocation on Saturday and having to turn away potential buyers the rest of the weekend. Another big Gen Con success for us was the Pathfinder RPG Beta. This softcover printing of our Beta playtest rules was something we weren’t 100% sure people would want to buy, but since we wanted to get folks excited about next year’s release Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, we brought a lot of copies of the Beta along, figuring we could always ship the extras back home after the convention was done. Little did we know that they would be gone by the end of the second day! The response was incredibly uplifting. The weekend culminated with Paizo winning our first gold ENnie for Best Publisher, a true honor, along with six other golds and a silver.
Gen Con 2008 was also memorable for the launch of our Pathfinder Society Organized Play program. Season 0 was our playtest season, and our smallish room was packed with gamers from the start of the con to the finish. Four hundred characters were made and six hundred registration cards handed out. Kicking off each new Pathfinder Society season at Gen Con is now a PFS tradition.
Of course, at Gen Con 2009, the Pathfinder RPG launch took center stage. The night before the show started, Paizo had our first contributor party for staff, freelancers and top Pathfinder Society GMs. It was the first opportunity any of them had to see the Core Rulebook, and I remember watching proudly as they devoured each page.
We again built a huge pile of the books in the middle of our booth, reminiscent of 2005’s Shackled City tower. But this time, selling out was a real possibility: the first print run of the Core Rulebook had sold out before the show even began, and as news circulated that Gen Con might be the only place customers might be able to buy the book for months, a large crowd of folks gathered outside the dealer hall, waiting to rush in to buy it. When the doors opened, our booth was inundated by hundreds upon hundreds of gamers hungry to grab a copy. The line soon spread into the artist area across the way, and we had to marshal every employee available to keep it from devolving into chaos. Erik and I quickly hatched a plan—I grabbed a box of books and headed down the line, offering people who just wanted the rulebook the ability to quickly hand over some cash and get out of line. Hundreds took us up on this offer, and we were able to get the line under control by the end of the first day.
2009 will also be memorable for me because of the start of our relationship with Reaper Miniatures. We’d worked out a licensing deal with them a month or so earlier, but imagine my surprise when they showed up at the convention with greens of the first minis to show off! Even cooler, they had sculptors actually working on new sculpts during the convention. I think I spent as much time in the Reaper booth as I did in the Paizo booth that year, constantly checking to see if the sculptors had completed new figures.
We’re really proud of the Core Rulebook, but it’s nevertheless very much a revision of what had come before. In 2010, we were able to offer something uniquely our own in the form of the Advanced Player’s Guide. Jason had conceived of the APG at the previous Gen Con, and we were all super anxious to see what everybody thought of our new classes and new ideas such as the archetype mechanic. We needn’t have worried; the APG was the hot selling book of Gen Con, with hundreds and hundreds of copies sold over the course of the show. We also launched our Pathfinder Tales fiction line that Gen Con, and author Dave Gross spent his time at the booth autographing copies for eager fans. We proudly won our second gold ENnie for Best Publisher, part of a grand total of 11 golds and two silvers! Wow!
2011 was all about the Ultimates at our booth. Ultimate Magic and Ultimate Combat both made a splash at the convention, as well as the kickoff of our Jade Regent Adventure Path—the first time that an AP travelled outside the bounds of the Inner Sea. But what had me super excited was the unveiling of the Pathfinder Battles line, our new prepainted plastic miniatures partnership with WizKids. We had paint masters of Valeros, Seoni, Kyra and Merisiel at the booth for all to see, as well as an unpainted prototype of the black dragon incentive mini for the first set, Heroes and Monsters. At the ENnies, we brought home the gold for Best Publisher yet again, a truly mind-blowing feat, along with seven other gold ENnies.
Gen Con 2012 is just a month from now and my mind is racing. How will everyone like Ultimate Equipment? Will we have enough plush goblins to last the weekend? Even with our Pathfinder Society room almost three times as large as last year, will it be enough? I can’t wait to see people playing games with our Pathfinder Pawns for the first time. Oh—and wait until everyone sees WizKids’ Rise of the Runelords minis set for the first time in person—people are going to freak! It’s going to be great watching folks playtest the new Pathfinder Adventure Card Game for the first time at Gen Con. And this will be the first year that Goblinworks will be at the con, showing off some of our early visuals for Pathfinder Online. We’ll also have the first issue of the Pathfinder comic book at our booth, complete with a unique Gen Con variant cover! And we’re returning to Varisia in Shattered Star, the first-ever Adventure Path sequel. There’s so much going on I can’t even think of it all! But I do know that I’ll have another year of memories from the Best Four Days in Gaming!
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 4 (2006) Battling Headwinds Thursday, June 28, 2012 This blog entry is the fifth in a series of blogs commemorating Paizo's 10th anniversary. ... Click here to read the first installment.Paizo was optimistic heading into 2006. The previous year, we had worked very hard to build a business that could not only stand on its own, but also be innovative. We weren't out of the woods yet, but we could at least see the edge of the forest...
Paizo was optimistic heading into 2006. The previous year, we had worked very hard to build a business that could not only stand on its own, but also be innovative. We weren't out of the woods yet, but we could at least see the edge of the forest drawing ever nearer.
As I mentioned in the 2005 blog, we had decided on a six-point strategy to build a more solid foundation for Paizo. We dubbed 2006 a "retrenching year," since our plan was to continue to build upon the strategy of 2005. Many projects started in 2005 saw their fruition in 2006, and we started projects in 2006 that wouldn't see the light of day until 2007. Here's how we attacked each of our six key strategies in 2006.
Expand our subscriber base for Dragon and Dungeon while continuing to make those businesses more efficient.
Dragon Magazine had a bit of a retrenching year too, since it was hitting its stride and things were looking good on the subscription and circulation fronts. Both the Demonomicon of Iggwilv and Core Beliefs regular series saw new installments, and the much beloved Campaign Classics themed issue returned with all-new features for every published D&D campaign setting! But the big news was Dragon 344, which celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. For this special occasion, we asked Gary Gygax to write a new Gord the Rogue short story, Bruce Heard to revive his Voyage of the Princess Ark column, and Ed Greenwood to pen another Wizards Three short story installment.
Dungeon Magazine continued its string of amazing Adventure Path installments, finishing up the Age of Worms in Dungeon 135 with a battle against old Kyuss himself. Then in November, Dungeon 139 launched the Savage Tide Adventure Path with a return to Sasserine, a town first introduced in the Shackled City AP. In that same issue, we added to the infamous Maure Castle with a Rob Kuntz–penned adventure, "The Greater Halls."
The cover for the Savage Tide Adventure Path Player's Guide.
But the biggest news for Dragon and Dungeon came behind the scenes, and was something that the public wouldn't learn about until early 2007. In April, I'd asked Wizards of the Coast for a meeting with the following agenda:
We would like to discuss the long-term relationship with Wizards for Dragon and Dungeon magazines beyond the term of the current contract. Paizo has plans to spend money and resources to build up the magazines, but since these expenditures have a long window of monetary recovery, we are hoping to come to a consensus on how our two companies plan to work together on the magazines past next March.
Our license for publishing Dragon and Dungeon was due to expire in March 2007, and this meeting would be the first step toward negotiating a renewal of that contract. It took a while to find a time that fit everyone's schedule, and we finally had to resort to meeting by phone rather than face-to-face. On May 30, 2006 at 2 pm, I had a conference call with Wizards, and it was during this call that they let me know that they had other plans for Dragon and Dungeon; they wouldn't be renewing the license for the magazines. I personally don't remember much of my reaction, but after the call, I brought Erik in to my office and told him the news, tears streaming down my face. (Read Erik's recollection of this major event below.)
We always knew that this might be a possibility. That was, after all, one of the main reasons we had been building the other parts of our business: so we wouldn't be caught unprepared if the unthinkable were to happen. But I don't think any of us ever really thought that this was much more than a remote possibility. Dragon and Dungeon were finally firing on all cylinders and were enjoying critical acclaim that hadn't been seen in years. So this news struck us to the core. In one meeting, the last large chunk of the company that we started not quite four years before was going away. We were numb. How the heck were we going to cope with this? Frankly, it seemed impossible at the time.
I have to give Wizards of the Coast a lot of praise for how they handled the end of the license. Contractually, they only needed to deliver notice of non-renewal by the end of December 2006; without the extra seven months' notice they chose to give us, I'm not sure that Paizo could have survived. Wizards also granted our request to extend the license through August 2007 so that we could finish up the Savage Tide adventure path. This gave us quite a bit of time to figure out how we were going to cope with the end of the magazines. It would have been very easy for WotC to have handled this in a way which would have effectively left Paizo for dead—all they would have had to do was follow the letter of the contract. Instead, they treated us like the valued partner we had been, giving us the ability to both plan and execute a strategy for survival. For that, I will always be thankful.
The news caused us to kick our plans for other product lines into a higher gear. In fact, before even two hours had elapsed, we'd already scheduled an offsite meeting at my house. We knew that the key to our survival beyond Dragon and Dungeon hinged upon our mastery of creating adventures, particularly Adventure Paths. So we started to plan for what would end up being one of the most shocking announcements in the history or RPG gaming... but that tale will have to wait until the 2007 blog!
One decision we had made earlier in the year ended up helping us quite a bit in this transition. As I mentioned in a previous blog, sending renewal notices for subscriptions is a very expensive task that eats up a lot of a sub's profits, so we were trying to encourage more and more folks to manage their subscriptions on paizo.com. In April, we had unveiled month-to-month subscriptions, which allowed subscribers to be charged for an issue each month instead of prepaying for an entire year—to our knowledge, this was virtually unprecedented in the magazine industry. Sending magazines until the subscriber told us to stop meant that we didn't have to send renewal notices, and that was helping our bottom line. We had no idea at the time, of course, but this system would be our salvation the following year—it meant that there were were a lot fewer people we'd have to refund subscription money to when the magazines ended. For the first part of 2006, month-to-month subs were offered in addition to the usual 1-, 2-, and 3-year subscriptions; soon after we learned that the magazines were ending, we discontinued the long-term subs and added a new six-month sub.
There were also some major personnel changes for the two magazines. With the departure of Keith Strohm early in the year, Erik Mona was promoted to Publisher. Erik and I have been working together since the late 1990s, and have developed a very similar mindset when it comes to the business end of things: perfect for somebody overseeing the entire publishing arm of Paizo. In June, we promoted James Jacobs to Editor-in-Chief of Dungeon Magazine, filling the spot Erik vacated. Erik remained the Editor-in-Chief of Dragon Magazine until it's end.
The final Dungeons & Dragons book published by Paizo, The Art of Dragon Magazine Hardcover.
Expand our license for Dragon and Dungeon to create official non-magazine Dungeons & Dragons products—especially those we could base on in-demand but out-of-print material from the magazines.
Following up on the success of the Shackled City hardcover in 2005, we managed to publish two more D&D products before our license expired. The first was Monster Ecologies, a compilation of the very popular article series from Dragon Magazine that found its genesis all the way back in Dragon 72 in 1983! We compiled the best of these articles and updated them for D&D 3.5. The final D&D book we published was the Art of Dragon hardcover, released on the last day of 2006! Dragon had launched the careers of many of the most famous fantasy artists, and this book was a celebration of that artwork. We spent hours poring through old magazines and looking through boxes of old transparencies from TSR, culling the best and putting them into a book beautifully designed by Sean Glenn. All in all, a fitting end to our licensed D&D book line.
Create generic gaming accessories that would appeal to our RPG customers.
At the end of 2005, we had just launched the GameMastery Map Pack line. 2006 saw five more packs: Graveyard, Countryside, Fortress, Haunted Mansion, and Dungeon Chambers.
In March, we launched the GameMastery Item Card line with Item Pack One. Item Cards were designed to provide GMs with beautiful full-color cards to represent the loot they give out in games. Players could then use the cards to keep track of their inventory rather than scribbling things on their character sheet. Later in the year, we released two expansions in booster pack form. Hero's Hoard and Relics of War turned out to be very divisive, with many customers complaining about the randomization and collectibility of the cards, including special foils. Paizo had gone with the booster format in response to some discussions with our distributors, but it almost killed the Item Card line. (In 2007, we went back to the non-random deck format that continues today; there have been 19 total releases in this line so far.)
In December, we also released the GameMastery Campaign Workbook, a pocket-sized journal for GMs to record a wide variety of information for their campaigns. Unfortunately, the glue used to bind the book was faulty, and we had to to initiate Paizo's first (and so far, only) major product return program, exchanging glue-bound copies with new spiral-bound copies early the following year.
Though this doesn't adhere to the "generic" part of the goal, we released a line of unpainted metal miniatures for Monte Cook's Ptolus campaign. Erik has a longstanding friendship with Monte, having played in his Ptolus campaign for years. When Monte came by the office to show off some of the incredible artwork going into his magnum opus, we just had to jump in and make miniatures for it! We had already started making metal minis as part of the Compleat Encounter line, so it was fairly easy to get the Ptolus line going. We made twenty miniatures over the next year or so, and when we started to create our own campaign setting in 2007, Monte allowed us to add the figures from this line to the minis we already had from the Compleat Encounter line, creating the Pathfinder Chronicles Miniatures line. (Two of the Ptolus miniatures were deemed too different to be included in our setting: the Arcane Pistoleer and the Leonine Warrior.)
Expand Paizo into areas of gaming outside of RPGs that would spread our risk around.
The first Titanic product, Kill Doctor Lucky.
As I mentioned in the 2005 blog, we'd started Titanic Games, a sister company to Paizo, partly as a means to publish some of the more successful Cheapass Games in high-quality editions. The first product from Titanic was the Kill Doctor Lucky Deluxe Edition, released in October 2006. With a full-color fold-out board of the Lucky mansion and painted wooden tokens to represent the characters, it was an instant success, and continues to sell well for us; it's now in its third printing! We also started work on a couple other Titanic games that would appear in 2007.
Use our strong position in the distribution chain to help other publishers get their products into game stores, taking a bit off the top for our efforts.
We were fortunate to add several wonderful sales partners to our roster in 2006, companies which we are still representing into the distribution trade today!
In January, we added Cheapass Games to our distribution efforts—a logical move due to the formation of Titanic Games. Instantly, Paizo's catalog grew by more than 75 products.
We also joined up with Dead Gentlemen Productions, the folks who created the critically acclaimed movie The Gamers. As big fans of their movie, we were super excited to help get the DVD into game stores around the world.
We'd met Steel Sqwire at Gen Con that year, and we loved their Flip-Mats and their wire area-of-effect templates. We started off simply distributing their products, but we eventually added them to our own GameMastery line; to date, we've released 44 different Flip-Mats.
Paizo's 2006 Gen Con crew. We shared our booth with Looney Labs; they're the folks in the white lab coats.
At the end of the year, we also started selling an accessory from Open Mind Games that also ended up becoming a GameMastery staple: the Combat Pad, which revolutionized tracking initiative with an innovative write-on/wipe-off magnet system.
Increase paizo.com sales by expanding the scope of products available on the website through partnerships with other publishers, who would in turn bring in new customers for us.
The paizo.com online store had a number of huge milestones in 2006, the biggest of which was the addition of the old TSR PDFs. Because of our connection with WotC through Dragon and Dungeon, Wizards was very open to letting us sell the whole catalog of PDFs. This created a lot of buzz among our community, and the cash flow was very welcome.
Our new web store manager, Phil Lacefield, Jr scored us another D&D coup—Milton Bradley's Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Adventure Board Game and its two expansions, Eternal Winter and Forbidden Forest! This board game wasn't generally available in the United States, but Phil found a source in the UK that let us bring these cool D&D collectibles to folks here in the US.
Products like these helped paizo.com sales nearly double in 2006. This led to myself, Vic Wertz, and Jeff Alvarez augmenting the warehouse crew as they fulfilled orders, especially during the Christmas season.
At Gen Con, Paizo raked in 4 golds and a silver at the ENnie Awards:
Best Cartography: Silver Medal for The Shackled City Adventure Path
Best Adventure: Gold Medal for The Shackled City Adventure Path
Best Campaign Setting/Setting Supplement: Gold Medal for The Shackled City Adventure Path
Best Supplement: Gold Medal for Dragon Compendium, Vol. I
Best Free Product/Web Supplement: Gold Medal for Age of Worms Overload
Lisa, James, Erik and Jason at the 2006 ENnies.
Sarah Robinson snaps a photo of Wes reacting to his White Elephant gift at the Paizo holiday party. Web Store Manager Phil Lacefield Jr. Jr. Jr. throws a... um, let's go with "Vulcan gang sign."
With all of the successes that we had in 2006, it should have been a year of rejoicing; Jeff, Erik, Vic and myself had been keeping the cancellation of Dragon and Dungeon to ourselves as the four of us planned out how Paizo would survive this turn of events. Eventually, we could keep silent no longer and we brought the rest of the employees up to speed. One of our biggest fears was that we were going to lose a bunch of employees as they headed out to look for more stable employment, but we needn't have worried: not a single employee left the company once the cat was out of the bag, a true testament to the loyalty and dedication of our staff.
By the end of the year, our plans were in full swing, and I sent a long email to our lawyer asking him to look into trademark registration for something called "Pathfinder." But that's a story for next year...
Employees who started in 2006 (in order of hiring date):
Phil Lacefield Jr, Web Store Manager
Michelle Barrett, Special Project Coordinator
Employees who left in 2006 (in order of their end date):
Lisa Stevens CEO
Paizo 2006: Behind the Closed Door
As summer 2006 approached, I had plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future. Paizo had (barely) survived the loss of Star Wars Insider, Amazing Stories, and Undefeated magazines, but things on the Dungeons & Dragons front were considerably sunnier, or at least I thought so at the time. For much of the previous year, then-publisher Keith Strohm had been warning me that the tea leaves suggested we might soon become "the Dragon and Dungeon company," and while that represented a significant reduction in the company's original scope, it did put the focus purely on magazines that were under my personal control, and I felt confident that the teams working with me on those magazines could handle a little adversity. We'd just completed a creative relaunch and visual re-design of both magazines that was generating significant good will with an approving audience, and I had big plans for the two magazines I had read for virtually my entire life. To make things even more interesting, Keith left the company to pursue a new relationship in Chicago, and I was promoted from editor-in-chief to publisher of the whole company. I was eager to apply the same improvement standards that we brought to the magazines to the entire company. Our relationship with Wizards of the Coast was going strong, and I was ready to make "the Dragon and Dungeon" company a creative and financial success.
Sure, we were approaching the end of the Dragon and Dungeon licenses, too, but with the popular relaunches behind us, subscriptions on the rise, and powerful wind in our sails from the Shackled City and Age of Worms Adventure Paths, there seemed little reason for concern. In the five years since we'd started the company, every single issue of both magazines had sailed through approval meetings with our pals at Wizards of the Coast (in all that time, the only final layout item they ever rejected was a single panel in a cartoon strip), most of whom were former colleagues and personal friends. Heck, several of them used to work in the periodicals department that eventually became Paizo, or had left Paizo to rejoin the mothership, so going over there for business meetings always seemed like a bit of a reunion. I was riding high in the early couple of months of my publisher-hood, and although Paizo faced some clear challenges, I had big plans for the future.
Unfortunately, Wizards of the Coast had big plans for the future as well, and they didn't involve working with Paizo Publishing. In fact, they didn't involve printed magazines at all. Much to my surprise, our 2006 year of "retrenchment" and building on past successes was about to become the most stressful year in the company's history, and one of the biggest turning points for my own career.
A ratty old collection of Dragon magazines stuffed in the back of a comic longbox I received as a gift as a grade-schooler cemented my love of D&D and inspired me to a lifelong dream of editing Dragon magazine one day. From that point in about third grade, virtually every academic and professional decision I made was aimed at learning the necessary skills and making the right contacts to one day put me in the editor-and-chief seat at Dragon magazine. My heroes were people like Kim Mohan and Roger E. Moore, and I watched the careers of folks like Wolfgang Baur and Dave Gross, studying them for patterns and paths others had taken to the position I so desired. By 2006 I'd finally clawed my way into that role, the culmination of more than 20 years of hard work and concentrated effort. I had finally arrived, and my preference was to remain editor of Dragon as long as humanly possible. I wanted it to be my career. I wanted to leave a lasting mark on the magazine that had been such an important part of my life. For someone who had lived so much of that life dedicated to a plan designed to get me to exactly where I was, I hadn't really planned much about what might happen after Dragon magazine.
That seemed like a solid strategy until the day in late spring when Lisa Stevens called me into her office to discuss a phone call she'd just had with the higher-ups at Wizards of the Coast. As soon as I saw the tears streaking down her face, I suspected that the call had not gone quite as expected. Lisa was in shock. Not only would Wizards not be renewing our license to create Dragon and Dungeon magazines, but they were going to cease publishing the magazines entirely. There was some vague chat about Wizards wanting to start a kind of online subscription program tied to their upcoming edition (something they'd been very cagey about, and about which we'd only heard the barest of rumors by this point), but the upshot was that in just a few months, the magazines as printed products would be dead and buried.
And I was the one who would get to shovel the grave dirt onto their corpses.
Not exactly the role I had been prepping for since third grade. While Lisa's tears showed her human concern for the business we had built and the employees she referred to as family, I wasn't quite ready to think about any of those big-picture concerns, yet. I was still fixated on the massive sense of rejection I felt from folks who had been my coworkers at Wizards, and whom I still considered close friends. I was worried about my own career, and about the fate of two pillars of D&D that had helped support the brand (and my own gaming hobby) for decades. I couldn't even contemplate a world without Dragon and Dungeon magazines, even as I had just been told that world was coming. Soon.
I don't remember a lot of the details about that conversation in Lisa's office. I do remember numbly wandering out of the building to take a quick walk to gather my thoughts. It was a gorgeous day, and I'd lately been in the habit of taking a half-mile walk on my lunch hour, so my slipping out must not have seemed odd to my co-workers, who had no idea what had just transpired. I walked down Richards Road to an old abandoned residential hospital that had a nice lawn behind it facing a gorgeous wall of trees. I sat down on that lawn for a half-hour, going through the ramifications of the day's news, and building a huge list of questions and next-steps in my head.
What will happen to Paizo?
Will the members of the editorial staff land on their feet if the company collapses?
How do we let them know? When?
How in the world am I going to explain this to the readers?
How can we end Dungeon magazine in the middle of the Savage Tide Adventure Path?
Will the prisoners who send me mail every week blame me for canceling the magazines?
Where do we go from here?
In the days and weeks to come, a lot of those answers grew more and more clear. Paizo would go on. Once we came up with the idea behind a "monthly Adventure Path book" (not yet called Pathfinder), the management team resolved to chart a path to the company's survival that kept every employee intact. We'd already experienced a bunch of layoffs, and to transition the company into its new form in 2007, we'd need all hands on deck. To their credit, Wizards of the Coast graciously extended our license by a few months so we could bring the Savage Tide Adventure Path to its proper conclusion, and even though it's fair to say things between the two companies were very awkward for a while, everyone still remained friendly and cordial. I wrote a cover-my-ass editorial directly to the prisoners, laying out their importance to the magazine, lest I incur some unfortunate vendetta.
Telling the editorial staff was the most difficult part of the transition for me. It took us several weeks, perhaps even months, before we had our business plan for what would come next, and in that time we decided not to tell the editorial staff about the potentially fatal blow to the company (holding that secret for so long was probably the most soul-warping experience of my life). We were worried that once the staff knew the end was in sight, they might abandon ship for a more stable career somewhere else (perhaps even at Wizards of the Coast). And we needed the staff focused on the magazines if we were going to bring the Paizo Era to a close with the style and care that we knew these magazines required.
So it was with a lot of trepidation that I walked into the "editorial pit" and closed the door behind me. That door had only closed once before, when I had to tell the staff about the loss of Amazing Stories and Undefeated several months earlier, and all knew it was a grim omen. Everyone gathered around the editors' cubes, and I dropped the bomb as gently as I could. They had concerns and questions of their own, it's fair to say, and everyone in that room could probably write an essay as long as this one to explain what was going through their own minds upon hearing the news.
I know what was going through my mind. "You guys are the best. The magazines are better now than they've ever been. And we're about to make something even better together, to chart a new future for the company where we will be masters of our own destiny. But you've got to stay at Paizo for us to pull it off. Please don't leave. Please don't leave. Please don't leave."
Six years later, it seems almost silly that I was so concerned. The vast majority of the folks in that room still work at Paizo today. James Jacobs, Jason Bulmahn, Wesley Schneider, James Sutter, Sarah Robinson. That's basically my editorial management team these days at Paizo, and they were all there that day, all scared out of their minds, but all ready for what was right around the corner.
These folks are among my best friends, and among the strongest employees Paizo has ever had. Yes, I was worried about a life without Dragon and Dungeon magazines, but I was even more worried about a Paizo without these pivotal employees.
They all stuck around, and they've all made innumerable contributions to Paizo Publishing and the project that would eventually become Pathfinder. I tend to think of that day "behind the closed door" as a real bonding moment for the staff, and the first day of the new Paizo Publishing.
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 3 (2005)—Laying the Foundation
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 3 (2005) Laying the Foundation Thursday, May 31, 2012 This blog entry is the fourth in a series of blogs commemorating Paizo's 10th anniversary. ... Click here to read the first installment.At the start of 2005, the loss of our friends and co-workers who had worked on Undefeated and Amazing Stories still lay heavily on our hearts, but the feeling in the company that we had already hit bottom and there was nowhere left to go but...
At the start of 2005, the loss of our friends and co-workers who had worked on Undefeated and Amazing Stories still lay heavily on our hearts, but the feeling in the company that we had already hit bottom and there was nowhere left to go but upward was oddly hopeful. Nevertheless, there was a lot of revenue that still needed to be made up for from the loss of Star Wars Insider a year and a half earlier. If we were going to be just the Dragon and Dungeon magazine company, we would still need to get much leaner, which would mean more layoffs—something none of us wanted to go through again. Instead of retreating, we needed to secure new territory.
In January, the top managers in the company met at my house. The goal was to find new uses for Paizo's existing people and skills, with an eye toward quickly increasing revenue. Instead of focusing on actual product ideas at this meeting, we were looking for broad categories of things we were already good at. Here are the strategies we devised that afternoon:
Use our strong position in the distribution chain to help other publishers get their products into game stores, taking a bit off the top for our efforts.
Increase paizo.com sales by expanding the scope of products available on the website through partnerships with other publishers, who would in turn bring in new customers for us.
Expand our license for Dragon and Dungeon to create official non-magazine Dungeons & Dragons products—especially those we could base on in-demand but out-of-print material from the magazines.
Create generic gaming accessories that would appeal to our RPG customers.
Expand Paizo into areas of gaming outside of RPGs that would spread our risk around.
The tower of Shackled City hardcovers at Gen Con was as tall as some of our customers!
Expand our subscriber base for Dragon and Dungeon while continuing to make those businesses more efficient.
With those in place, we next had a brainstorm session with the entire Paizo staff to come up with some product ideas that might fit those strategies. A key rule of brainstorming is that you don't critique any ideas at first; you just write them down and discuss them later... so everything got recorded for posterity: the good, the bad, and the ugly. (See below for the results of our brainstorm.) Some of these ideas came to fruition, including the compilation of comic strips, the DM Workbook (which turned into our Campaign Workbook), preprinted plastic/vinyl maps (which evolved into the Flip-Mat line), and a few others. Some were just plain silly, like LARPing with paintball rules, the swimsuit edition, minted Greyhawk coins (though the GameMastery Campaign Coins line comes close), cereal bowls, and replica D&D artifacts. (That last one, and some of the others, also involved a lot of wishful thinking about things that our license with Wizards of the Coast didn't even begin to cover.)
Now that we had a plan, we spent the rest of 2005 executing it. The most visible result was probably our first two hardcover books. The Shackled City hardcover compiled the first-ever Adventure Path into a huge 416-page book. Magazines have a short shelf-life by design, and The Shackled City was originally spread across 11 non-consecutive issues of a magazine that was still bimonthly at the start, so the first chapters of the AP had already been out of print for over 2 years. Because D&D 3.5 had been released during this time, we also needed to update the first few chapters from 3.0. We generally fine-tuned things throughout based on customer feedback, and we even had Chris Perkins write a whole new adventure to fill an XP gap. James Jacobs slaved away many an evening—on top of his normal Dungeon duties—getting this book ready to go. We released it just before Gen Con, and had a huge stack of them for sale at our booth.
At the end of the year, The Shackled City's sister book was released. The Dragon Compendium Volume 1 (yep—we had hoped to release additional volumes in subsequent years) compiled some of the top articles from the long history of Dragon magazine, updated to 3.5 where necessary. Erik Mona spent many an evening going through the entire Dragon archive and tagging pages for future reference. To this day, our archive copies have those little tags sticking out of the top of every issue, a testament to how thorough Erik was in his task!
We brought Dungeon one of the most highly anticipated events of its history at the beginning of 2005. Back in the days of Team Greyhawk at Wizards of the Coast, we had begun making the Greyhawk map to end all Greyhawk maps. We pored through every Greyhawk source we could find and made sure every single location ever mentioned was on the map. Sadly, the project was shelved at the time. However, when Paizo was looking for something to help raise awareness of the new and improved Dungeon, we hit upon the idea of breaking that enormous map into four parts, which we released in consecutive issues. Dungeon #118–121 ended up being some of the most popular and best-selling issues in the magazine's history.
The Age of Worms Adventure Path kicked off in 2005.
Another big change for Dungeon was making the Adventure Path a monthly feature. Beginning with Erik Mona's now infamous adventure "The Whispering Cairn" in Dungeon 124, the new Age of Worms AP brought new stories every single month, climaxing in the demigod Kyuss's attempt to enter the world of Oerth. From that point in July 2005 onward, we've scheduled a new Adventure Path installment every single month!
Dragon didn't have any earth-shattering events in 2005, just a refinement of the changes we'd debuted at the previous Gen Con. A couple of regular articles in particular had become reader favorites: One was James Jacobs's "Demonomicon of Iggwilv" articles, delving into the details of D&D's biggest bads. Fraz-Urb'luu and Zuggtmoy had their fiendish plans unveiled in issues #333 and #337 respectively. We started Sean K Reynolds's "Core Beliefs" series, which covered Greyhawk deities in the same depth that Faiths and Pantheons had brought to the Realms gods. We also started the "Worm Food" series, providing information especially useful to folks playing though the Age of Worms Adventure Path running over in Dungeon.
While our first two hardcovers were certainly the stars of the 2005 lineup, we also launched another line of products which has been much more prolific over the intervening years. GameMastery was envisioned as a line that would provide GMs with a wealth of tools that they could use to augment their ongoing campaigns. Our first product was the Compleat Encounter line, which brought to reality an idea I'd had for years. In my own campaigns, I struggle when my players have random encounters that turn out to be more substantial than an orc or two. I'd always wanted a line of products that would give you a map, a couple of miniatures, and a mini-adventure that you could just plop into your campaign. I really wanted the miniatures to be prepainted plastic, but that was beyond our capabilities. My good friend Bob Watts (formerly at Grenadier, Heartbreaker, Ral Partha, and Games Workshop) helped Paizo create our first unpainted metal miniatures by getting us in touch with the best sculptors, painters, mold makers, and miniatures spinners. All we needed was somebody to draw the maps and write the adventures.
For the first two releases, we turned to longtime Dungeon cartographer Chris West for the maps. Wayne Reynolds provided us with design sketches for minis that we turned over to sculptors Neil McKenzie and Dennis Mize. And Mike Mearls wrote the adventures, using one of our spare desks as his part-time office. Dark Elf Sanctum and Death Shrine of the Ninja Cult released in September and October, and saw pretty good sales for a miniatures product. In the subsequent months, further Compleat Encounters were written by James Jacobs, Keith Strohm, Jason Bulmahn, and Sean K Reynolds, with Corey Macourek contributing maps and Andrew Hou designing minis. Some of the villains that would become iconic in the not-yet-even-dreamed-of Pathfinder campaign setting saw their births in this line, including the Whispering Tyrant and the Gorilla King. Ultimately, though, the line was more effort than it was really worth, and because the cost of metal for making the miniatures skyrocketed that winter, we decided to end the line in April 2006. (For trivia buffs, this line provided three of the very few Paizo products that were cancelled after being officially announced: Fane of the Black Adept, which would have been written by Wes Schneider; and Stand & Deliver and War Golem Factory, which hadn't been assigned to writers.)
The other GameMastery line that debuted that year, Map Packs, have done quite a bit better for us. We kicked off the line in November 2005 with the now sold-out Map Pack: Village. Using the same 5" x 7" map tile configuration that we created for the Compleat Encounter line, Map Packs were envisioned as a tool that GMs could use on the fly, giving them high-quality graphics to replace the marker scribblings most of us manage on our own. The fact that we've just released our 37th Map Pack shows you just how successful this product line has been!
In an effort to expand Paizo's business into other types of games, we announced the formation of Titanic Games at Gen Con. Titanic Games found its genesis at the same con the previous year when Bob Watts and I were talking with Cheapass Games proprietor James Ernest. James had built an entire business around the premise that folks tend to have all the bits and pieces they need for most games—dice, pawns, and such—so he could provide high-value games at low cost by supplying only the unique parts—usually, rules, game boards, and cards, printed in black-and-white on thick paper, with clip-art illustrations, often packaged in an unassuming envelope. Titanic Games started with the idea of flipping that premise back around—bringing high production values to some of the most popular Cheapass Games. Of course, we announced that we'd be starting with the number one game in the Cheapass portfolio, Kill Doctor Lucky. James, along with fellow designer Mike Selinker, had a few non-Cheapass ideas kicking around too, including one that we thought could be a real game changer... but that story will have to wait until 2006.
We also took our first shot at using our existing distribution chain to help out other companies in 2005. Order of the Stick creative guru Rich Burlew had already produced two printed compilations of his webcomic early in 2005, and they'd quickly sold out and already needed to be reprinted. Rich had found that sending out all of those books was taking time and effort that he really wanted to direct back to drawing his strips, so he was open to working with us to handle those things for him. We announced our partnership in September, along with the news that Order of the Stick would now appear monthly in Dragon. We had similar deals in the works with other companies; we'll talk about those in the 2006 blog.
The paizo.com online store really started to take off in 2005. We created several strategic relationships with manufacturers and publishers that wanted to get their products into the hands of the growing Dragon and Dungeon customer base. In 2005, among the most successful were a variety of T-shirt manufacturers who began to offer their funny and geeky designs through paizo.com. We also began selling PDFs of Paizo issues of Dragon and Dungeon in March, and added our first third-party PDF publisher, Ronin Arts, in May. And we alerted gamers to the trove of products available at paizo.com by adding a few catalog pages to the back of Dragon. By the end of the year, paizo.com online sales had beaten 2004 by more than 500%.
At Gen Con, Paizo made our return to the ENnie Awards, raking in 4 gold awards and a silver. The awards received were:
Best Cartography—Gold ENnie: World of Greyhawk 4-part map from Dungeon #118–121
Best Adventure—Gold ENnie: "Maure Castle" from Dungeon #112
Best Aid or Accessory—Gold ENnie: Dungeon
Best Free Product or Web Enhancement—Gold ENnie: Dungeon Maps & Handouts (Issues #114–122)
Best Publisher—Silver ENnie: Paizo Publishing
Erik Mona, Jeremy Walker, and James Jacobs accept an ENnie award for Paizo.
Five minutes later, Paizo wins another ENnie. Note the ribbon from the previous award hanging out of Erik's pocket!
Keith Strohm, Vic Wertz and Lisa Stevens accept the silver ENnie for Best Publisher!
The Paizo table at the 2005 ENnies. (Clockwise from the front of the table: Erik Mona, Jason Bulmahn, Jeremy Walker, Wes Schneider, James Jacobs, Keith Strohm, Vic Wertz, Lisa Stevens, and our 2005 Dream Dates)
Winning the silver ENnie for best publisher—an award voted on directly by gamers—was a real validation that Paizo was finally on the right track. We still had a way to go to fill the gap left by the loss of Star Wars Insider, but 2005 showed lots of progress, with our losses being just one-third of what they were in 2004. 2005 would be the last year that Paizo lost money.
Our hard work in 2005 set the stage for Paizo's growth into an RPG powerhouse. Little did we know that more rocky weather would be coming in 2006...
Employees who started in 2005 (in order of hiring date):
Joshua Frost, Sales Manager
James Sutter, Customer Service Representative
Jeff Strand, Warehouse Manager
Drew Pocza, Graphic Designer
Cosmo Eisele, Customer Service Representative
Employees who left in 2004 (in order of their end date):
Lisa Stevens CEO
James Sutter: The Little Intern That Could
First off, let's set something straight: I started working for Paizo in 2004, not 2005. Sure, I may not have had a desk, or technically been inside the office more than a handful of times. And maybe only Lisa knew my name. But I was there, dang it!
In fall 2004, I was 20 years old. I had graduated from the University of Washington the previous spring, and was scraping by via a combination of freelance journalism for local papers, teaching SAT prep courses to high school kids, and a chunk of change gained by getting my butt kicked on Wheel of Fortune (a story in itself). Having already realized that I didn't want to spend my life covering obituaries and little league games, I was searching the classified ads for some sort of magazine job when I ran across a listing for the Editor-in-Chief of Amazing Stories. The realization that such an important SF magazine—not to mention Dragon and Dungeon—was located just a few miles from where I was living clinched it: I needed to work at Paizo Publishing.
The only problem was that there was no way I was qualified for the Editor-in-Chief position. So instead, I emailed folks at the company trying to find out if perhaps there were any other positions that needed filling—things they hadn't got around to posting yet. Eventually I ended up talking to Lisa, and she brought me into the old office (now the old-old office) for an interview.
Before this blog results in a flood of people asking Lisa for a job, I should emphasize that I already had a pretty solid portfolio at this point—I'd sold more than a hundred articles to various papers, and had a few short stories published in fiction 'zines. In any case, Lisa looked at my credentials, and told me that while there were no editorial positions open, she thought she could find something for me.
Which is how I ended up collecting images for products on the newborn paizo.com web store at a nickel a jpg. Hardly the most glamorous position, but every time I walked into the office to pick up a check, I would look over at the side of the office with the big Amazing Stories banner and think, "Someday, I'm going to have a desk there."
It turned out I was right. After several months of contract work, Lisa brought me in as Paizo's very first Editorial Intern. The position even came with a desk in the Amazing Stories side of the building!
Except that, unknown to me, the entire staff of Amazing Stories and Undefeated had been laid off a few weeks prior. The banner was still there, right above my desk—but now all the other desks were empty. I was alone in a cubicle wasteland.
Still, it didn't matter—I was officially on the inside now. Wes Schneider, himself the youngest person at Paizo until I came along, was the first of the editorial team to make the long walk across the building and introduce himself, exposing me to a wide array of internet humor in an effort to determine my taste. Slowly the other editors—a generally shy and skittish lot—began to get to know me as well, and I ceased to be just "that kid," instead becoming "Sutter."
There were still tests, though. On one of my first days as an intern, Erik Mona walked over and threw a manuscript down on my desk.
"I hear you want to edit," he said. "Let's see what you've got."
I agreed happily, and asked who wrote the document.
"I did," he said.
The mystery manuscript? Erik's first draft of "The Whispering Cairn," the leadoff adventure in the Age of Worms Adventure Path. Sweating bullets, I put my head down and began to edit.
Fortunately for me, Erik found my comments worthwhile, or at least respected a newbie bold enough to question his comma usage. I was judged competent, and turned loose on the Shackled City hardcover, my first real project. Though still working my newspaper and teaching jobs in the evenings, I was elated.
Nothing lasts forever, though. Six months into my internship, management informed me that they were going to bring me on full-time—as the new customer service person! (Back in the day, this was considered a one-person job.)
I thanked them, but pointed out that I was perfectly happy as the editorial intern. They pointed out that they needed customer service, not interns.
So began a six-month stint as Paizo's only customer service specialist. I learned a lot about psychology and human nature in those months, talking people down from canceling their subscriptions, sending out replacement copies, and helping Jeff Alvarez set up our very first warehouse in the building's basement. But my dream of being an editor hadn't died—and in fact came to a head late that year when a local paper began feeling me out for a position as the features editor. Not wanting to leave Paizo, but fearing a missed opportunity, I told Lisa and Erik—and as of the dawn of 2006, I was Dungeon's new Assistant Editor.
(As it turns out, my replacement as the customer service department was this weird guy from Idaho named—I kid you not—"Cosmo." If you've had to deal with him in the years since, I apologize. I trained him as best I could, but some creatures just refuse to be housebroken.)
Not even old enough to drink when I started here—Wes was actually present at my 21st birthday—I've spent more than a quarter of my life working for Paizo. I spent years learning what was cool at the feet of Wes, Jacobs, and Erik, while simultaneously fascinating them with my post-collegiate bohemian lifestyle. (I swear, you eat out of a few dumpsters, and you never hear the end of it.) I published my first adventure—"Shut-In" from Dungeon #128, co-written with Wes Schneider—and used the money to buy my very own copies of the 3.5 rulebooks. I earned the nickname "The Render" from freelancers for my uncompromising evaluation of the slush pile. And I was at ground zero for several of the pivotal points yet to come in Paizo's history, in which we were forced to adapt radically or die.
But it wasn't all work. There was also the Independent Republic of Jamesonia, established when Jacobs and I placed masking tape across the entrance to our shared cube (the one whose window looked out on a primordial swamp). There were the impromptu puppet shows whenever Jacobs got distracted by his pile of stuffed Lovecraft monsters. There was Operation Banjo Thug, an impromptu musical performance from Jacobs and me that caused Wes—the only witness—to question his sanity. There was the time I turned orange for a few months, and the long drive to a cabin in the woods with Wes and Jacobs that resulted in Jacobs calling me "Caligula" for several years.
It's been a long time since those early days. I'm not even "Young Master Sutter" at Paizo anymore—in the editorial department, the new youngster is Patrick "P-Ren" Renie, who no doubt seems just as alien to us with his youthful ways and speech patterns as I did to the other staff once upon a time. From website image-monkey to Senior Editor, I've seen Paizo from just about every angle, and I'm proud to say that we really are a family. A weird one, to be sure, but aren't they all?
James Sutter Senior Editor/Fiction Editor
Cosmo's Place in the Cosmos
"We have to get you out of Idaho," he said. It was late summer 2005 and my week's vacation in Seattle was coming to a close. Josh Frost, with whom I've been friends since grade school, was lamenting my impending return to our hometown where, we both agreed, I was stuck.
"Then find me a job." It was the same refrain I'd given to all of my Seattle friends that week when the question of my living situation came up.
2005 was not a very good year for me. I was living in small-town Idaho, working a job I hated with few prospects for the future. I made a decent enough paycheck to be comfortable, but I was desperate to get out and short on options.
Two months passed before I received word from Josh: "We have an opening at Paizo for a customer service position. Send me your resume. Now."
I knew that Josh worked for some company in the gaming industry, but I had never heard of Paizo. What I did know, though, was customer service, something I had been doing in one form or another for nearly 10 years. I sent my resume, and immediately went out and bought a copy of Dragon (issue #338, by the way) so I would not be completely clueless if they called me.
They called, and I had one of the strangest interviews I've ever had. Phone interviews are never easy, and I was shocked to discover that, in addition to being interviewed by my potential manager, Jeff Alvarez, I was also being interviewed by the CEO of the entire company. For a customer service position.
This was my first clue that the job would not be like any other.
That year, I had Christmas with my family in Idaho. The next day, I loaded as much as I could into the 1995 Geo Storm that I had bought for $100, and drove to my new life in Seattle. The day after that, I started my new job at Paizo.
Sometime in my first month, I was taking everyone's mail around to their desks. I still did not really know any of these delightful weirdos that I worked with, and I was always intimidated about going into "The Pit." As I quietly crept in, I saw that all the editors were huddled together discussing something very intently, and there was a definite air of "meeting" in the room. I tried not to make a sound, so as to not disturb them. Then I started overhearing what the meeting was about:
"No... if the barbarian goes unconscious, then the rage ends and the temporary hit points are lost!"
"...but that means that any time a barbarian goes into the negs, they just auto-die?!? That can't be right."
The discussion wound on, and I quietly finished distributing the mail and went back to my desk, silently giggling over the absurd luck that had brought me to this place. It was precisely at this point that I realized that I loved my new job.
The thing I was most unprepared for, I think, was the level of empowerment I had. My last job was as a bank teller, where my responsibility was to toe the company line and make the customer accept whatever rules and policies were dictated to me. Rules were handed down from on high, and I was to follow without question.
Not so at Paizo. From the get-go, I was being asked "What do you think?" And my ideas were considered, and implemented if they stood up to the consideration. I could, and would, cry foul if I saw something that I felt was confusing to customers, and I was listened to. At previous jobs, if I ever felt that one of our customers had gotten a raw deal, I would approach management to make it right and just get shot down. At Paizo, if I find something wrong, Jeff's answer is "Well... fix it! Make it right."
For my first year or so, I was the only customer service person at Paizo, but I've never been the only one at Paizo doing customer service. I was (and still am) always getting ninja'd on the messageboards by Lisa or Vic, or any number of other folks. I had thrown my lot in with this strange little company where an entire culture of customer service made me, the low-man on the totem pole, feel like I was a key member of a team.
Paizo Publishing’s 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 2 (2004)—The Worst of Times
Paizo Publishing’s 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 2 (2004) The Worst of Times Thursday, April 26th, 2012 This blog entry is the third in a series of blogs commemorating Paizo's 10th anniversary. ... Click here to read the first installment.As 2004 opened, there was a cloud hanging over Paizo. The reality that Star Wars Insider and the Star Wars Fan Club were going away in a few short months really hit home. Star Wars accounted for more than half of Paizo's revenue, and supporting...
As 2004 opened, there was a cloud hanging over Paizo. The reality that Star Wars Insider and the Star Wars Fan Club were going away in a few short months really hit home. Star Wars accounted for more than half of Paizo's revenue, and supporting the company purely on income from Dragon and Dungeon wasn't going to work. I personally had two options. The easiest would be to shut down the company. As I mentioned in my first anniversary blog, it takes a long time to get paid for magazine sales, and while that makes starting up a magazine very difficult, it also means that if you stop publishing, money keeps coming in for almost a year. It would have taken a while, but eventually, we'd have been able to recoup most of the money that Vic and I had invested in Paizo.
The other, much more daunting option was to try to replace that lost revenue. Subscription and advertising revenue would dry up immediately, of course, and that would hurt a lot, but we would still be receiving big Star Wars Insider newsstand checks for almost a year after our final issue went out in April. That gave us some time to ramp up new business to replace the lost income. We had already launched Undefeated in 2003, and were hopeful that it would start to pick up some of the slack. The other arrow in our quiver was the venerable Amazing Stories magazine, which had been included in the license along with Dragon and Dungeon when we took over Wizards of the Coast's magazine business. Amazing Stories launched in 1926 as the world's first magazine dedicated to science fiction. TSR had acquired it in 1982 and published it for 13 years, putting it on hiatus just a couple of years before Wizards acquired TSR. Wizards almost immediately brought Amazing back, publishing it for about 3 years before resting it themselves in 2000. We decided to try to make it work yet again, with the staff from Star Wars Insider mostly moving directly to Amazing and Dave Gross becoming the magazine's 16th Editor-in-Chief.
This time, we had a slightly different plan. Amazing Stories had always focused almost entirely on prose fiction, with short stories making up the bulk of each issue. We wanted to continue running great original fiction, but we also wanted to cover the rest of sci-fi/fantasy genre: movies, TV shows, comics, video games, etc. We were hoping that we could make a magazine that appealed to fans of science fiction and fantasy, and that the expanded media coverage would make the magazine appealing to a larger advertising base.
Michonne Bourriague and Amy Allen pose with members of the 501st Legion at the Star Wars Fan Club Dinner With the Stars.
But before we relaunched Amazing, we needed to finish up our run on Star Wars Insider and the Official Star Wars Fan Club, and we didn't take that job any less seriously while our time was running out. In February, we held the first and only Fan Club Dinner with the Stars here in Seattle to coincide with Emerald City Comicon. Our guests were Michonne Bourriague (Aurra Sing in The Phantom Menace), and Amy Allen (Aayla Secura in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, which hadn't yet been released). In addition to dinner with the guests, attendees received a stash of Star Wars merchandise supplied by Paizo and Lucasfilm, and a special autographed souvenir photo ticket created just for the event (we still have a few of those for sale here on paizo.com).
Paizo's final issue of Star Wars Insider in April revealed Episode III villain General Grievous, who had previously only been seen in animated form. And as my reign as President of the Official Star Wars Fan Club concluded, I got a chance to go down to San Francisco and dig around in the Star Wars product archives, which was a real thrill for Vic and me as collectors.
With the loss of Star Wars, Dragon became king at Paizo, boasting both the largest number of subscribers as well as the best newsstand sales. Dragon #315 was the first issue ever published which had support for every D&D campaign setting—19 of them—from Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk to Red Steel and Hollow World. Dragon #319, coupled with its sister publication Dungeon #110, gave 3.5 DMs everything they might need to set a campaign in the world of Dark Sun. Dragon #320 celebrated the 30th anniversary of D&D with one of my favorite pieces of cover artwork ever!
Lisa Stevens at the Paizo booth sporting the Warduke T-shirt made for theDungeon relaunch and Erik Mona showing off the T-shirt designed for the relaunch of Dragon.
The biggest news for Dragon that year came at Gen Con, in the form of a relaunch that began with Dragon #323. We had heard from our readers that our issues were often too hit-or-miss for them—with narrow themes such as Dark Sun or ninjas, there was always some portion of the audience that wouldn't find it useful. And if a large enough group skipped a particular issue, we'd lose money on it. So our new goal was to provide something for everyone with every issue. Since many of Dragon's readers were players, we started the Class Acts section, which would include a short article for each of the core classes. We also put more consideration into balancing the types of articles that made up each issue to ensure that we didn't leave anyone out. For the most part, this seemed to really work, and Dragon's sales started to improve.
With the continuation of the Adventure Path concept we'd launched the previous year, things were also looking up for Dungeon. 2004 ended up being one of the most important years for the magazine, and its success eventually heralded Erik Mona's rise from Editor-in-Chief to Publisher and James Jacobs' rise from Associate Editor to Creative Director.
Dungeon #111 introduced the first-ever adventure for Eberron, and the following month saw Dungeon's most ambitious issue ever: Erik and James worked with Gary Gygax and Robert J. Kuntz to revise and expand Kuntz's famous Maure Castle superdungeon. This issue also marked the first and only time that Dungeon had just one massive adventure packed between the covers.
The Undefeated cheerleaders and the temporary tattoos from Gen Con 2004.
At Gen Con, Dungeon also had a relaunch with issue #114, with even bigger changes than we'd made in Dragon. First off, Polyhedron went away as the companion offering to each Dungeon issue. This was significant to Erik especially, as he had come up through the ranks as Polyhedron's Editor-in-Chief, and the magazine held an important place in his heart. But readers were making it clear to us that Polyhedron was a very divisive feature, and if we wanted to give Dungeon a chance to catch up to its more successful brother, Polyhedron had to go.
We also moved Dungeon to a format that featured one low-level, one mid-level, and one high-level adventure in each issue. This gave DMs a treasure trove of adventure content that ensured there was something that could fit their campaigns no matter what levels they were currently playing. In addition to the three adventures, Dungeon would now feature new campaign content in each issue. Dungeon #114 revisited the Isle of Dread and saw the start of Monte Cook's "Dungeoncraft" and Wil Wheaton's "Wil Save" columns. It also featured the very popular "Mad God's Key," the first published work by Jason Bulmahn. The end of 2004 saw the final adventure in the Shackled City Adventure Path and the start of the well-received three-part Greyhawk Istvin series.
Undefeated magazine grew a little bit, finding new subscribers and appearing in a few more mass-market outlets. However, we were still having trouble getting the traction that we really needed in our key market: hobby game stores. At Gen Con, we had Paizo's most controversial promotion ever: the Undefeated cheerleaders, who applied Undefeated temporary tattoos to con-goers arms. It definitely helped drive traffic to the Paizo booth, even if not everyone was happy about us having "booth babes."
Spider-Man adorns the first Paizo issue of Amazing Stories.
Amazing Stories launched in September, though we offered a sneak peek at Gen Con in August. The first issue showed off Amazing's new look with a Spider-Man movie cover. It also had my favorite thing we published in Amazing Stories: Dave Gross had devised a column called "1,000 Words," where we would provide a writer with a picture, and they would write a story using—you guessed it—1,000 words. Harlan Ellison—er, sorry... "Harlan Ellison®"—was pegged to write the first installment, but due to a miscommunication, he wrote only 100 words. When we pointed out the problem, Harlan befuddled us again by turning in... another 100 words. Desperately, we reached out to Neil Gaiman, who saved the day by writing a hilarious 800-word introduction to Harlan's 200-word story. I couldn't stop laughing!
At the end of August, Paizo moved into new offices on Richards Road in Bellevue. Located just a few blocks away from our first office space, it finally gave us room to give everybody a desk—and most importantly, we actually had warehouse space, and no longer had to stack back issues in the hallways (something that had caused many frowns from the fire inspector).
The biggest change we made at Paizo, though, was largely hidden behind the scenes until late in the year. Webmaster Rob Head added programmer Gary Teter to our web team, and the two of them spent months building an infrastructure that would completely transform paizo.com. Our original website had really been little more than a portal to sign up for magazine subscriptions and a place to post news releases. In August, we rolled out a new paizo.com complete with messageboards, which quickly become home to an incredible community. And in November, we launched our e-commerce store selling not just Paizo's own products, but for the first time offering thousands of gaming items from hundreds of gaming companies. Our first day's sales, on November 24, 2004, weren't earth shattering—in fact, we only did $1,124.56 in total sales the first week! (Trivia: the first non-Paizo product sold through the site was White Wolf's World of Darkness: Antagonists hardcover.) Though it started slow, eventually the paizo.com community and our web store would become two of the most important things that keep Paizo running.
The Paizo office on Richards Road and a peek through the front door, where David Neri answers calls at the new office. To the right, Prepress Manager Kelly O'Brien shows off our high-end Creo Veris machine, used to create color proofs for each page of our magazines.
We'd also had a few big staffing changes at Paizo. After Mary Franklin left the company to join Lucasfilm—where she still is today—Jeff Alvarez, who had started only the previous year as a Customer Service Representative, was made Director of Operations. Keith Strohm was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in August, and in October, Erik Mona was promoted to Editor-in-Chief of both Dragon and Dungeon, a well-deserved change of title for all of his hard work on Dungeon and Polyhedron that year.
The entire Paizo staff had worked their butts off in 2004, but at the end of the year, I was faced with a very tough choice. Even with the launch of Amazing Stories and the growth of Dragon, Dungeon, and Undefeated, Paizo wasn't even coming close to making up the lost revenue from Star Wars Insider. We had finally located the flaws in Johnny Wilson's "Three-Legged Stool" model of the magazine business (detailed in the "Debunking the Three-Legged Stool" section below). Our cash reserves were depleted, and I had actually started to put some of my retirement money into the company to make ends meet—something I had promised myself that I would never do. The stress on me personally was the highest that I have ever borne in my 25 years in the industry. I now knew what they meant when they said that Conan ruled over Hyboria with a heavy brow. There was one particular moment that will forever be etched into my brain: It was a Friday in early December, and Vic and I were driving home from the office late in the evening. It had been a particularly hard day, with money being tight and a bunch of bills going unpaid. I had been agonizing over spreadsheets with sobering names like 2005Hardline.xls, 2005BudgetcutUndft.xls, 2005NoAmazing.xls, 2005BudgetSmallSalaries.xls, 2005Budgetcutpeople.xls, and 2005Armeggedon.xls.
You have to understand, the people at Paizo are my friends. And with just a few keystrokes on a spreadsheet, I was potentially destroying lives, or at least changing their trajectories forever. The stress took over while driving home and I had to pull over to the side of the road and started bawling. I knew in my heart that I needed to make some drastic changes to give the company a chance to survive. I needed to cut Amazing Stories and Undefeated and all of their staffs to give Paizo a chance. But at that moment, sitting on the side of the road, I just wanted all of it to end. I turned to Vic and said, "I am done. I can't do this anymore. Let's just close it all down. I don't care about the money anymore. I just don't want to feel like this each day. I am not strong enough to carry this burden." If I had been alone, I might just have ended Paizo on that day; I was that low. But Vic picked me up, got me talking about the good things we had at Paizo. Got me thinking about how this wasn't the end, just a very large bump in the road.
But it still was a very hard time for me. The first thing I did was lay myself off. There was no way that I was going to draw a paycheck if I had to lay off a bunch of my colleagues. I would work for free and not get paid again until Paizo was on better footing. Then, on December 16, I had to do something that I promised myself I would never do: I had to lay off a bunch of people. All told, six people lost their jobs that day.
At the end of the day, Paizo was a lot leaner and focused. For now, we were the Dragon and Dungeon magazine company. But laying off six people wasn't magically going to put us on the path to prosperity. There was a LOT of hard work to be done in 2005. We needed to start building the foundations of an entirely new company.
Employees who started in 2004 (in order of hiring date):
Jenny Bendel, Director of Marketing
Gary Teter, Software Developer
Ole Sorensen, Graphic Designer
Sarah Robinson, Graphic Designer
Mike Schley, Graphic Designer
Jeff Berkwits, Editor-in-Chief, Amazing Stories
Jason Bulmahn, Associate Editor
Employees who left in 2004 (in order of their end date):
*laid off as part of the cancellation of Amazing Stories and Undefeated
Debunking the Three-Legged Stool
In our first anniversary blog, we mentioned Johnny's Wilson's "three-legged stool" model for magazine publishing, which dictates that successful magazines need to garner revenue from three streams: newsstand sales, subscriptions, and advertising.
Unfortunately, 2004 was the year that we discovered the major flaw in Johnny's model.
We knew that Undefeated was never going to attract a ton of subscribers; instead, we hoped to make most of our money on that title by selling to the hobby gaming market which—unlike sales to newsstands—couldn't be returned and was generally finalized within 90 days. We planned to bolster that solid, predictable income with advertising revenue from game publishers.
Amazing Stories took the opposite tack. We didn't expect much at all in the way of hobby sales, but we hoped to maintain a decent newsstand presence, and, over time, build a small-but-loyal subscriber base like we enjoyed with Dragon and Dungeon. We hoped to attract advertising from book and comic publishers and TV and movie producers.
Best of all, we had a shortcut that would give Amazing an immediate newsstand presence. Newsstands effectively have standing monthly orders for magazines. They may adjust that order from month to month, but once they start buying from you, they generally keep buying from you. The surprising part is that these standing orders aren't done by magazine title, but by something called a bipad. Once you have a bipad, you can actually replace one magazine with another, and the standing order will essentially transfer to the new title. And our distributor told us that we'd be able to use the Star Wars Insider bipad to launch Amazing Stories, so we wouldn't have to spend time and money to convince newsstands to pick up the new magazine—it would be automatic.
In our last blog, we explained that it took over a year to get final newsstand sales figures for a particular issue, so it wasn't until early 2004 that we had full data on even our first few all-Paizo issues of Dragon, Dungeon, and Star Wars Insider. Accountant Dave Erickson and I spent a couple of months poring through that data, and we finally emerged with a spreadsheet that let us predict sales data for recent issues with a fairly high degree of accuracy. Which meant the real analysis could begin.
By the end of 2004, we finally had enough data to prove that magazines don't actually make money from newsstand sales. It turns out that almost all of the costs associated with newsstand distribution increase in direct proportion to the number of copies you distribute; there are almost no economies of scale to be had. Therefore, increasing the number of copies you distribute doesn't increase your margin at all. The only way to increase the potential profit on newsstand sales is to increase the magazine's sell-through—that's the percentage of magazines that you've actually sold to customers once all the returns have been finalized. But it turns out it's virtually impossible to improve sell-through in any long-term way.
Unlike hobby stores, newsstands get to return any magazines they don't sell. This means that there's no risk associated with them ordering too many copies. In fact, retailers deliberately order more than they expect to sell, for a couple of good reasons. The most obvious is that they can't sell magazines they don't have, so ordering more than they think they'll need ensures that they'll have copies to sell in case sales are better than expected. Less obvious is the fact that it's easy for customers to overlook a small stack of magazines on the stand. On a shelf with dozens of different titles, a single copy of a particular magazine can literally get lost in the crowd; it's harder to overlook a stack of four or five copies. So retailers don't just want an extra copy or two on hand‚ they want an extra stack or two. So, no matter how many copies you sell in a month, retailers will order more the next month, assuring that if your sales continue to be strong, your sell-through percentage will stay pretty much the same. And if the next issue proves to be less successful, then they'll just return more copies, decreasing your sell-through, and the fees associated with the extra printing and the extra returns will likely wipe out any extra revenue you may have earned from the previous issue doing so well.
What is good sell-through, anyway? Anything above 30% was considered pretty good in the industry. Our best-ever issues were in the neighborhood of 40%. That means that 60% of the issues we printed were destroyed unsold. A bad issue would have sell-through in the 10% range. So not only were we sometimes paying to print almost nine times as many copies as we actually sold, but we were also paying to have all those copies trucked around the country, put out on newsstands, removed from newsstands a month later, and then destroyed. Along with, of course, a fee to the distributor for tracking all of that activity for us.
At this point, you may be wondering how all of those other magazines on the newsstand survive if none of them make any money. The answer is that those magazines make their money almost solely from advertising. (Open up a popular newsstand magazine and look at the masthead—that's magazine lingo for the credits page—and you'll usually find that the advertising sales staff vastly outnumbers the editorial staff.) These magazines are willing to lose piles of money on newsstand distribution in order to get people to buy them. The reason is that the more readers they have—whether profitable or not—the more they can charge advertisers to reach those readers. (This also explains why they often have low, low cover prices that don't even cover the cost of printing, or subscription rates that don't even cover the cost of postage, much less printing and editorial costs.)
But specialty magazines like Dragon and Dungeon can't bring in the same kinds of ads that those magazines can. They're not going to pull high-revenue ads for cars, cigarettes, or designer watches. At best, we might get ads for video games or high-profile fantasy novels‚ and those only because of Dragon and Dungeon's strong position in those markets, the result of decades of history. Amazing Stories and Undefeated didn't have that going for them.
Generating ad revenue is a difficult business. Advertisers want to know that the money they're spending on advertising results in increased sales. But it's usually very hard for advertisers to determine whether their ads are bringing them customers. From the publisher's side, we could provide estimates of the number of people that were potentially reading the ad, and we could talk about the prestige of being in the magazine. We could even tell them how some distributors would only carry RPG products that were being advertised in Dragon. But we couldn't tell them how much of a return they'd get on their investment. And as the internet became a more viable—and more measurable—means of spreading the word and selling products, magazine ad sales became harder and harder to do.
Worse still, even when we did manage decent ad sales, actually getting paid was a difficult prospect. Leaf through a bunch of old Dragon magazines, and you'll find loads of ads from game publishers and game stores that aren't in business anymore. In many cases, those folks were already in trouble when their ads were in print, and paying us was among the least of their worries. Now, look at some of those full-page ads from big companies... would it surprise you to learn that many of them didn't bother paying us either? The only recourse we had to keep people paying was that we wouldn't run more of their ads until their accounts were paid up—but if companies decided they didn't really need to advertise with us, we were just out of luck. Eventually, we required advertisers to secure ad placements with credit cards, and that helped eliminate most of the deadbeats—but it also reduced the number of people willing to place ads with us. Couple that with the start of a recession, where advertising is among the first things to drop from a company's budget, and you have a very difficult business indeed.
Now recall that our intent for Amazing Stories was to make its money on the newsstand and from advertising, and that we had the benefit of the Star Wars Insider bipad to launch Amazing. Well, shortly before launch, we learned that we had been misinformed about the bipad. We'd have been able to use the bipad if Insider had ceased publication, but because it was simply going to another publisher, the bipad had to go with it. That left us needing to spend months upon months and thousands upon thousands of dollars to build up an unprofitable newsstand presence from scratch, just so we could get circulation numbers high enough to begin the daunting task of trying to attract advertisers that might want to pay us. We hadn't yet realized it, but before our first issue even hit the stands, the world's oldest sci-fi magazine's days were once again numbered.
So what about Undefeated, with its non-returnable hobby sales revenue? We mentioned last month that if we could just get every game store in the country to buy two copies, we'd be set. (And frankly, we probably could have gotten by with just one copy per store.) But what we hadn't considered was the low value proposition for hobby distributors. Hobby distributors make a percentage of the retail price of everything they sell to their retailers. They have a limited amount of time each month in direct contact with each retailer, though, and if they have the choice between spending five minutes trying to get them to buy an $80 trading card game display box or trying to get them to buy an $8 magazine, well, the game makes them 10 times the money. After 10 issues, we realized that we weren't going to get around that fact, and coupled with the lack of ad revenue, we had to pull the plug on Undefeated.
Working with creative people in a high-stress environment such as magazine publishing can lead to crazy and fun times. In 2004, a meme started with photos of employees slapping Advertising Director Rob Stewart. Of course, it was all choreographed. As time went on, the phony slaps became more and more animated. Here are a number of pictures of folks doing "The Slap" on Rob.
From Left to Right: Amanda Titus, David Neri, Erik Mona, Keith Strohm, Sarah Robinson, and Sean Glenn.
Lisa Stevens CEO
The Bulmahn Cometh
2004 was a crazy year for me. I was working for an architectural firm in Milwaukee while moonlighting with the RPGA as one of the Living Greyhawk campaign directors. My duties included writing, editing, and approving adventures, so I decided to try to get published in Dungeon, sending them an adventure that was tied into Living Greyhawk. Erik and James liked the idea and published "Mad God's Key" in Dungeon #114.
I had always wanted to work in the game industry, and with a publishing credit under my belt and a few years’ experience working with Wizards, I decided to shoot for the moon and applied for a job in Wizards of the Coast's R&D department. I was incredibly surprised when I made it all the way to the end of the process, and in July, Wizards flew me out to Seattle for a face-to-face interview. I knew the job at Wizards was a long shot, so it came as no real surprise when they eventually offered the job to someone else.
But while I was in town for the Wizards interview, I also paid a visit to Paizo, where Erik hastily put me to work combing through the slush pile. As it turns out, while Wizards was interviewing me, they were also interviewing Dragon editor Matt Sernett for a different position, and when they hired Matt a few months later, that left Paizo with a job opening. Erik dropped me an email to let me know that Paizo was hiring, and just two weeks later, after a few quick calls and an interview, I was driving out to Seattle. My first day of work was October 11.
The whole time was rather surreal. I was incredibly excited to be working on Dragon, a magazine I had been reading since I was a kid, but I didn't know much about how magazines were put together. It was a steep learning curve, but I had plenty of time in my life for work. I was living in a tiny place with rented furniture until my belongings back in Milwaukee could be packed up and shipped out to join me. I didn't know anyone other than my coworkers, so I didn't have too many distractions. That said, I nearly quit and drove back to Milwaukee just a few weeks later.
Everything had seemed to be going fine. I was finally getting a handle on how the job worked when Erik came back into the editorial pit and closed the door—and nobody ever closed that door. He explained to everyone that Paizo was laying off a number of employees and putting Undefeated and Amazing Stories on permanent hiatus. I was shocked. I was worried that I had joined a company that was in danger, and I'd left behind a good stable job to do it. Later that afternoon, I pulled Erik aside and asked him if I should plan to move back to Milwaukee. After all, my old lease wasn't even up, and I was pretty sure I could get my old job back. He reassured me that Dragon and Dungeon were doing great and that I had nothing to worry about, but it took me a few more weeks to come to believe that. Looking back, sticking with Paizo was the best decision I've ever made.
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 1 (2003)—Fine-Tuning the Magazine Business
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 1 (2003) Fine-Tuning the Magazine Business Thursday, March 29, 2012 This blog entry is the second in a series of blogs commemorating Paizo's 10th anniversary. ... Click here to read the first installment. ... The paizo.com homepage in late 2003 showing off our ability to take subscriptions!As January 2003 rolled in, the rose-colored glasses that accompany any new venture had faded, and it had become obvious to me that relying on the...
The paizo.com homepage in late 2003 showing off our ability to take subscriptions!
As January 2003 rolled in, the rose-colored glasses that accompany any new venture had faded, and it had become obvious to me that relying on the expertise of others wasn't working out—I needed to gain a full understanding of the complex magazine business myself. So I spent many a long hour in the offices of Paizo's resident magazine gurus, Publisher Johnny Wilson and Circulation Manager Pierce Watters, asking questions and challenging common practices. I also took the month of February to lock myself in my home office and pore over all the financial data we had, looking for better ways to make a profit in the magazine business.
One thing that made my analysis difficult is that we didn't yet have final sales figures on a single Paizo issue. While the publishing part of the magazine business happens at a breakneck pace, the distribution end of things operates at near-glacial speeds. Newsstands and bookstores have the ability to return unsold magazines for up to ten months after they're no longer available for sale, so the distributor holds back part of the publisher's revenue from sales as a reserve against these late returns. So, even though we had sent out first issues to the printer in July 2002, we wouldn't have final sales figures for those issues until late summer. And those were issues that had begun life under Wizards of the Coast; we wouldn't see final figures for the first magazines that Paizo was entirely responsible for until late 2003, nearly a year and a half after we started.
This also means that it took us ages to see the results of changes we made. If we came up with an idea for a particular issue, it would take a couple of months for that idea to reach the newsstand, and by the time we had final sales figures on that issue, a full year had passed. We liked to imagine that making running changes to a magazine must be a lot like trying to turn an oil tanker in the dark with no instruments.
One of the first things we figured out was that we were paying too much to have an outside firm handle our subscriptions. I did an in-depth analysis of where the money from a subscription goes, and determined that there was very little margin for error. If we needed to send out a single replacement for a lost issue, it pretty much destroyed any profit we might have had on that subscription. If we needed to send more than one renewal notice, same thing. And the fees that our subscription service charged made things even worse.
But bringing subscriptions in-house was a big task. Our staff was set up to create magazines; we didn't have the customer service or data management people we'd need to handle subscriptions ourselves. We figured out quickly that we needed to take advantage of the internet to cut down on the costs for data entry and sending renewal notices. If we could get subscribers to move away from sending in checks in response to mailed renewal notices, shifting them to renewing online with notices delivered by email, we could actually begin to make some profit on subscriptions. But that meant we'd need a website that could process credit cards and a robust database to keep track of customers and issues sent. At the time, nobody in the world provided e-commerce solutions for managing magazine subscriptions over the web.
Enter Rob Head, one of Vic's friends from high school who had been working at Amazon. We hired him to create our very own subscription fulfillment system from scratch—a system that has successfully evolved to support all of the business we do today. (Rob also provided Paizo with our first unofficial motto: "We suck less every day.")
We also needed to make changes to the magazines themselves. At the time, Dungeon magazine was bimonthly, but with each issue having a higher page count than the monthly Dragon. I quickly figured out that we would need to charge close to $12.99 per issue to bring in the same profit as the smaller Dragon issues, and that just wasn't feasible on the newsstand. So, in May, Dungeon/Polyhedron went monthly with a smaller page count and a lower cover price.
But the most important development for Dungeon in 2003 was a bit more subtle: the debut of our first ever Adventure Path, The Shackled City, in the March/April issue. The idea for running a full-length campaign in Dungeon, one adventure at a time, predates the start of Paizo, but the process of turning that idea into reality took long enough that the concept only saw fruition in our hands. Dungeon #97 included Chris Perkins's "Life's Bazaar" adventure, set in the town of Cauldron. The reaction to The Shackled City was nothing short of fantastic, yet little did we realize that the Adventure Path would eventually become our flagship brand, and our salvation in our most difficult time.
Dungeon #97 also marked the debut of our first PDF product, a free web enhancement containing extra content that we couldn't fit into the issue. In the future, PDFs would become a huge part of Paizo's success, but at the time, it was just a way to keep Chris Perkins's overwriting from ending up on the cutting room floor!
Later in the year, Chris once again wrote too much, leading to our first for-sale PDF, the Tu'narath City Guide supplement for Dungeon #100. This PDF provided an entire githyanki city to go with our Incursion super-event, a huge crossover that ran in Dragon #309, Dungeon #100, and Polyhedron #159, each cover featuring one part of a three-piece mega-cover by Wayne Reynolds. (Wayne's original triptych hangs in my office today.)
The following issue of Dragon, #310, had the first-ever 3.5 DM Screen polybagged with it. The screen was a huge success, driving record sell-through in stores and increasing our subscription numbers quite a bit.
I had also realized that Paizo had a bunch of resources that weren't being used to their fullest. While the editorial staffs of Dragon and Dungeon rarely had a spare moment, the editors of Star Wars Insider (which Lucasfim limited to eight issue per year) and the people who handled advertising, circulation and print brokering could easily shoulder the burden of adding a new magazine to the fold. So Johnny came up with Undefeated, a magazine about competitive games such as card games, board games, and miniatures games. When Johnny was at Wizards of the Coast, he had helmed a magazine called Top Deck, which had pretty good sales. Top Deck was linked to Magic: The Gathering, an advantage we didn't have, but we figured that if we could capture even a small amount of the Top Deck crowd with Undefeated, that would be good enough for Paizo. We did the math, and worked out that if we could just get each hobby store in the country to order two copies of each issue, we'd be set. We also knew that companies that published CCGs, board games and miniatures games had more money to spend on advertising than RPG companies, and since there were no magazines dedicated to covering them, we figured we'd be able to bring in decent advertising revenue. In addition, the fact that Paizo was built entirely on licensed magazines we didn't own—and that could someday go away—wasn't lost on me. Undefeated was our first shot at building equity in something we owned.
We announced the magazine on April 9 with the tagline "Covering Games You Can Win... Because Nobody Likes a Loser!" A stealth mission of Undefeated was to serve as a test bed for taking subscriptions in-house. On June 6, we announced that you could subscribe to Undefeated on paizo.com. We used the next few months to tweak our system, hire a full-time customer service staff, and figure out how to port all of the legacy data from our third-party fulfillment service before we moved the other three magazines' subscriptions to our website later in the year.
Undefeated was a huge part of our Gen Con push that year, as the first issue was released at the con, introducing thousands of gamers to our new baby.
Lisa Stevens and Mary Franklin address the crowd at the Brown Derby during the first Official Star Wars Fan Club breakfast.
On the Star Wars front, our primary efforts revolved around making Star Wars Insider more than just a magazine—we wanted it to be the voice of a revived Star Wars Fan Club, which had been reduced to little more than a magazine subscription over the years. The original Star Wars Fan Club offered exclusive merchandise to its members, so in that vein, we worked out a deal with Hasbro to be the exclusive seller of a special silver Boba Fett action figure. Again, there was a stealth objective here—we wanted to test our ability to take orders for and ship a product through paizo.com. The silver Fett was a huge sales success, with the barrage of people making a run on paizo.com bringing the site down for a short while and lines of folks stretching out of the Paizo booth at Origins, San Diego Comic-Con, and Gen Con.
The summer of Fett also saw us launch a series of Star Wars Fan Club Breakfasts. The first was held at the Brown Derby restaurant at Disney/MGM Studios in Orlando, coinciding with their annual Star Wars Weekends event. Hundreds of ardent Star Wars fans got up very early to get one of the coveted silver Fetts, and to meet Jeremy Bulloch and Peter Mayhew, who played Boba Fett and Chewbacca respectively. We then took the whole group into the park for an early morning Star Tours ride before the day's regular festivities kicked in.
At our other three conventions that year, we had Jeremy Bulloch and Daniel Logan (young Boba Fett in Episode II) at our booth signing silver Fetts. They were also guests at our Fan Club breakfasts at Gen Con and Comic-Con, with Star Wars author Mike Stackpole filling that role at Origins.
We also adjusted the content of Star Wars Insider to appeal more to the ranks of Star Wars collectors. In addition to including more articles on collectibles, we arranged to reveal upcoming Hasbro toys for the very first time in each installment of a new regular column called "Toybox."
Vic Wertz shows off the Holiday Yoda action figure at San Diego Comic-Con 2003.
Later in the year, Paizo spearheaded a partnership with Hasbro, Del Rey, and Scholastic to offer an exclusive Clone Wars short story collection (get the free 1 MB PDF here!) that bundled original Star Wars fiction with select Hasbro toys for the first time. And at the end of the year, we celebrated the holidays with our second exclusive Star Wars action figure, the lovable Holiday Yoda, inspired by the Christmas card artwork of Ralph McQuarrie.
The end of the year also saw a big change in the management of Paizo with the departure of Johnny Wilson. As I mentioned earlier in this blog, I spent a lot of 2003 analyzing the magazine business and coming up with ideas about how to make it work better for Paizo. This led me to clash quite a bit with Johnny as I questioned decades of common industry practices that he considered sacrosanct. Eventually, it became apparent that our differences were too vast to reconcile, so on December 8th, we announced his departure from Paizo. While this move relieved some of the pressure in the office, it also put me in a position I didn't intend to be in when we started Paizo: I was now fully in charge of a business that I had all of 18 months experience with. It was daunting, but I had a great staff. Nevertheless, I needed some additional help running the company, so I brought in Keith Strohm, whom I had worked with as part of the Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition team at Wizards of the Coast.
The final big event of 2003 happened at the very end. As Vic and I were about to leave the office to join the rest of the staff for a holiday screening of Return of the King, I received a phone call from Lucasfilm. They were invoking a clause in our contract that would allow them to end our license should Johnny Wilson ever leave Paizo. They had put this clause in at the beginning of our relationship because of my lack of experience with magazines—they wanted to be protected if Johnny, the guy who knew the business, left. I had also spent a lot of the year convincing Lucasfilm of the potential I thought the Fan Club held, and it turns out I'd done that perhaps too well—they now wanted to manage it themselves. They gave us a few months to tie things up before Star Wars Insider went away, which takes us into 2004, so I'll talk more about the implications to Paizo in the next anniversary blog. (Needless to say, after receiving that news, Vic and I weren't much in the mood for watching Return of the King, so we went home and only shared the news with the company the next work day.)
As 2003 ended, there were a lot of big questions for Paizo. Could I run the company without the years of magazine experience that Johnny had brought to the table? Could Paizo survive the loss of its biggest magazine, Star Wars Insider? Could we continue to make the hard decisions we needed to become more profitable?
Employees who started in 2003 (in order of hiring date and with the title we originally hired them for):
Sean Glenn, Art Director
Rob Head, Webmaster
James Jacobs, Associate Editor
Rob Stewart, Advertising Director
Greg Hanson, Customer Service Representative
Jeff Alvarez, Customer Service Representative
Wade McNutt, Customer Service Representative
Jeremy Walker, Customer Service Representative
Kelly O'Brien, Prepress Supervisor
Patrick Velotta, Graphic Designer
Jenny Scott, Editor
Amanda Titus, Customer Service Representative
Dave Neri, Warehouse Manager
Mike McArtor, Assistant Editor
Keith Strohm, Vice President
Wes Schneider, Assistant Editor
Employees who left in 2003 (in order of their end date):
Scott Ricker (now Okumura)
Stacie Fiorito (now Magelssen)
Chris Thomasson (now Youngs)
A Star Wars Fan's Dream Comes True
One of the benefits of being the president of the Official Star Wars Fan Club and publishing Star Wars Insider was being invited to Australia to see the filming of the final Star Wars movie. Vic Wertz, Dave Gross, Mary Franklin, and I got to spend three glorious days on the set of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith watching the filming, including much of the final lightsaber duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. We also interviewed many of Lucasfilm's department heads, including props, stunts, wardrobe, makeup, special effects, set design, production, and editing. This culminated in a lunch with the maker himself, George Lucas. Here I was, watching the last days of filming of the last Star Wars movie—an event that I will cherish for the rest of my life!
One little-known 2003 project was, like Undefeated, an attempt to leverage our expertise—and extra bandwidth—in prepress and printing. From the beginning, Paizo did our own prepress work, something many companies outsourced at the time due to its specific expertise and relatively high equipment costs. But Wizards of the Coast had been doing all of its prepress in-house, so we inherited the necessary skills and equipment. Our Production Manager, John Dunn, felt that we could make some money selling our prepress services to other companies, and he spent much of 2003 pitching our services to no avail before he left to do print management for Microsoft.
We did have one bite, though: one of Johnny's friends was starting a company called Play Interactive in order to publish a videogame magazine to be sold through GameStop stores, so Johnny offered up our services as prepress and print coordinators. Paizo would receive the finished magazine files and Play Interactive would pay us to handle things from there. Vic and I had insisted that Play Interactive put money into an escrow account to cover their costs before we began work, but Johnny decided to proceed without waiting for payment. Of course, by the time Maximum Play #1 hit our warehouse, things had already started to break down. Play Interactive's deal with GameStop had gone south, and they couldn't pay us. Play Interactive quickly disbanded, leaving us holding the bill, and with no place to sell the already printed magazine to recover our costs. We eventually won a lawsuit against Play Interactive, but, as they say, you can't get blood from a stone, so we never recouped a dime, and the cost of the lawsuit just increased the amount of money we lost on this little venture. You can still buy a copy of the first—and only—issue of Maximum Playhere on paizo.com: it's a lasting memory of a deal gone bad.
Lisa Stevens CEO
"That's Not A Desk": The Wes Schneider Story
Today, I would think, "That's not a desk. Desks are about 2-1/2 feet tall. This is over 3 feet tall and attached to the wall—making it a mailing counter." At the time, though, still less than 96 hours off the plane from my former home in Maryland, all I could think was: "I'm here. I have a desk. I work on Dragon." Then I smirked, because my face was cracking trying to hold back another bout of maniacally delighted laughter.
Less than a week earlier, when Dragon magazine Editor-in-Chief Matt Sernett asked if I could start Monday, I told him of course! It's only a 3,000-mile move to a place I've never been—it's an adventure! I'd known since 10th grade that I wanted to be the editor-in-chief of Dragon magazine, so it's not like I was going to say no.
The Paizo offices were not glamorous in 2003, but it'd be years before I realized that. All I knew was that this was how the world of professional gaming and magazine publishing looked: four magazines' worth of staff in one room broken up by cube walls, stacks of Wizards of the Coast-branded boxes stacked in corners and squirreled away under desks, leaking black beanbag chairs, enough RPG manuals to fill three games stores, a galaxy worth of Star Wars tchotchkes, and desks crammed with incoming and outgoing manuscripts, sketches, letters, interviews, previews, and articles all created by the best-of-the-best in the gaming world, each aimed at its own sickeningly imminent deadline. It would take days to take it all in, but there wasn't any time for that—Dragon #314 had to get out the door. (Pro Tip: The first thing you do at your new magazine job should NOT be to criticize the cover of the issue hours away from shipping—even if that's not how Strahd looks, and even if you're still right a decade later.)
The next few months were professionally about learning the ropes the Paizo way, coming to live with deadlines, sitting and editing on top of my misproportioned desk, getting the inside story on the gaming industry, and undergoing the quintessential new guy rite of passage: shoveling through the mountain of unsolicited article proposals in the slush pile (sorry P. L., the crawling head has some dues to pay before it gets an ecology). My education in the history of Dungeons & Dragons beyond my second edition roots also started about this time. With freshly minted Dungeon Editor-in-Chief Erik Mona laying the foundations for elaborate schemes like Maure Castle (and eventually the Age of Worms Adventure Path), the Dragon and Dungeon editorial pit was awash in inspiration from gaming's oldest and fondest-remembered adventures. Only a few years later, many would start considering revitalized stories and characters from these early adventures among Paizo's and the magazines' signature talents—a knack we still indulge as often as possible today.
Unprofessionally, those first days were for figuring out what I'd gotten myself into. Mike McArtor and I had been hired as Dragon's new assistant editors at the same time, and as we both sported similar hairstyles and facial hair at the time, many staff members either couldn't initially tell us apart or didn't realized there were two of us—a matter that was urgently addressed and led to the destruction of all evidence of my goatee-wearing days. Happenstance and insane odds also had it that I'd moved all the way across the country and into the apartment directly next door to James Jacobs, which began a long (and still ongoing) tradition of movie marathons, commute-based collaborations, and thoroughly blurred professional/personal boundaries. Dave Gross, editor of Star Wars Insider at the time and man of a dozen congenial but often mysterious agendas, also made it a point to introduce the company's freshest fish to Seattle's vibrant art and film culture—ensuring that I'll live in this city for as long as it runs a film festival. In the office's cramped quarters, any moment without a headset blaring meant listening to coworkers, typically Sean Glenn, Kyle Hunter, and Erik Mona's mile-a-minute, in-joke riddled banter on the bleeding edge of nerdery (key pieces of which I started transcribing into a still-living document that gets printed out for every other Paizo Christmas party, and that—for reasons of legality and good taste—will never be publicly shared).
It's been a while since I was the newest and youngest guy at Paizo, and since I've done every editorial job there is at a company where "editor" means "guy who does everything." We've come a long way from being a bunch of distinct operations with a communal living space. There have been plenty of laughs and raised cups, but also a fair share of yelling and even a few tears—that's what you get when you have a group of the world's most passionate gamers devoted to putting out projects they're excited to use in their games. But after nearly a decade and almost a third of my life, one thing about Paizo has remained the same since my first day: it's definitely still an adventure.
F. Wesley Schneider Managing Editor
James Jacobs: Fifth Time's the Charm
It took me five tries to get hired to work on RPG stuff.
Attempt 1: I was told that I interviewed well, but that I hadn't done enough design work for D&D—as such, the magazine department at Wizards of the Coast (where I was working at the time in the Sales department processing mountains of Pokémon orders) didn't have a good idea of my skills and strengths as a designer/developer/editor (AKA "as a writer"). Owen K. C. Stephens ended up getting the job I was interviewing for.
Attempt 2: A few years later, with several more adventures and articles and even a few hardcover book credits under my belt, I interviewed again, this time for an assistant editor position on Dragon. They ended up hiring one of my closest friends, Eric Haddock, instead, because he had more experience editing.
Attempt 3: Not long after, I interviewed again... but they hired Matt Sernett instead because he came into the interview with actual "had worked on a magazine before" experience.
Attempt 4: By this point, the magazine business had been spun off and Paizo Publishing was up and running. A new design position opened in Wizards of the Coast's R&D department, and I interviewed for that position and felt VERY good about my chances. By that point I'd helped write quite a few D&D hardcovers and who knows how many adventures and articles for the magazines (including a few that had become relatively notorious—thanks, Book of Vile Darkness!) A few days later, on the day I knew that R&D would be making their decision, I was walking down the hall at lunch to go get a soda from the machine. I happened to look out the window and saw Chris Perkins shaking Jesse Decker's hand. Both were smiling.
Attempt 5: My phone rang at work a week or so later (it was still a few weeks before Jesse Decker would be leaving Paizo to come work at WotC)—it was Johnny Wilson. His words, more or less: "They took one of my guys, so I'm gonna take one of theirs—do you want to come work at Paizo as an Associate Editor on Dungeon?" Since that had more or less been my dream job since the mid '80s when I'd had my first published work appear in Dungeon #12... I said yes.
I started work in the middle of the year, and from the very beginning I knew that I'd indeed found the proverbial dream job. Here are a few memorable highlights from my first half-year working at Paizo that convinced me I'd finally landed the job I wanted to stay at as long as they'd let me keep hanging around...
Playing in a D&D game where the CEO of the company was playing as well. Lisa played an ogre-mage, if I remember correctly. May have been a gold Dragon, though. Being the boss lets you play the best monsters, apparently.
Sitting across from Sean Glenn's desk, I got to see all the incredible art as it came in, and also got to watch how he built each issue of Dungeon into a work of art from nothing more than an art order and a big bucket of words.
One of my first tasks that first week: Erik dropped a document on my desk and said, "Here's stats for Rary. He's 23rd level. Make sure he's a badass." No pressure!
Kyle Hunter getting worked up enough to grab the plastic rim off the top of a cubicle and wield it like a katana. I still don't remember what I said to get him that freaked out. I should have written it down.
Watching a snake fight a hawk in the Paizo parking lot.
Finding out about Erik's fear of bears.
Watching Wes adjust to the rinky-dink desk they had to build for him in the hall because we'd run out of desks. Ha.
Reading adventures by new authors like Richard Pett, Greg A. Vaughan, and Nicolas Logue, and getting to decide that they'd be put into print. And getting a picture of Warduke on the cover of the magazine.
The day Erik accidentally clicked on a particularly "festive" Christmas-themed link that, while he managed to close the browser before the picture loaded completely, still scarred many of us for years to come.
Finding out that one of Wes's superpowers was an uncanny ability to bowl REALLY WELL.
All in all... good times! And I still had the one and only performance of Operation Banjo Thug, a (false, alas) pterodactyl sighting, the chance to work with Rob Kuntz on Maure Castle, the excitement of ordering my first magazine cover (Dungeon #119), seeing an adventure I wrote get turned into a stage production, and more to look forward to in the years to come!
James Jacobs Creative Director
Sean Glenn gets settled into his new surroundings!
Vic Wertz, Lisa Stevens, Mary Franklin and Dave Gross along with Star Wars magazine editors from around the world on the set of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith!
Johnny Wilson and Vic Wertz challenge all comers at the Gladiator Arena at Gen Con and Origins.
Two Boba Fetts! Jeremy Bulloch and Daniel Logan show off their silver action figure incarnation.
The Paizo booth in 2003. In picture: Mary Franklin, Vic Wertz, Lisa Stevens and Mike Mikaelian.
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 0 (2002)—The Thrill of Starting Something New
Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 0 (2002) The Thrill of Starting Something New Thursday, February 9, 20122012 marks Paizo’s 10th anniversary. I plan to do monthly blogs for the rest of the year that relive the highlights (and some of the lowlights) from our first ten years of business, and then I’ll take a look into the future as the year comes to a close. There will be side anecdotes and hopefully more than a few embarrassing pictures. And at the end of it all, I hope...
2012 marks Paizo’s 10th anniversary. I plan to do monthly blogs for the rest of the year that relive the highlights (and some of the lowlights) from our first ten years of business, and then I’ll take a look into the future as the year comes to a close. There will be side anecdotes and hopefully more than a few embarrassing pictures. And at the end of it all, I hope our readers will have a better sense of where Paizo has been—and where we’re going!
The paizo.com home page in 2002.
The seeds of Paizo Publishing were planted in late 2000: I was working at Wizards of the Coast as the Brand Manager for Star Wars when the seemingly annual Christmas layoffs claimed me as their victim. As I was walking around the building saying my goodbyes to a lot of good friends, I mentioned to a few of them that I thought Hasbro might decide to divest themselves of parts of their business in the next few years and, if that were to happen, they should feel free to give me a call.
My partner Vic had recently departed his previous job as well, so 2001 was a year of relaxing for us; we traveled a bit and spent a lot of time building up our Star Wars collection. But by the end of the year, the two of us were stir crazy. So we were both relieved when, shortly before Christmas, Johnny Wilson, Group Publisher for the Periodicals division at Wizards of the Coast, called me to let me know that Wizards wanted to divest itself of its magazine business, which at the time included Dragon, Dungeon, and Star Wars Insider magazines, as well as the Official Star Wars Fan Club for Lucasfilm. I was a longtime subscriber to Dragon and Dungeon, so that was right up my alley, and the thought of running the Star Wars Fan Club and publishing Star Wars Insider excited both Vic and myself. Our own experience with magazines was limited, but Johnny had been in magazines for ages, so we felt we had our bases covered.
We met with Johnny in early 2002 to start planning the company. Johnny taught us what he called the “three-legged stool” model of the magazine business. Magazines needed income from three sources: subscriptions, newsstand sales, and advertising. If you ever let one of those three “legs” suffer, the whole would become unstable. (It took us a couple of years to figure out that there was a major problem with this model, but that’s a topic for a future installment.)
One of the earliest decisions we made was naming our new company. Johnny, being a religious scholar, had the name “Paizo”—biblical Greek for “I play”—floating around in his head for a number of years. It fit our gaming company nicely, and we could get a trademark for it, so we settled on it quickly. Of course, if we would have realized how easily it was going to be mispronounced over the years (pay-zo, pi-at-zoe, paz-zo, even pee-zo) we might have changed our minds and settled on something easier to pronounce.
We went over the financials Johnny had, and it looked like a promising business. Over the next few months, we had numerous meetings with Wizards and Lucasfilm, both of whom approved our plans, so we were good to go! We set up Paizo Publishing as an LLC with three owners: myself, Vic Wertz, and Johnny Wilson.
Paizo's first office was on the far right of the ground floor of this building in Bellevue.
We had our first bit of great luck when our real estate agent found us an office space that had been vacated in a rush by another company—it was still fully furnished, including desks, chairs, a photocopier, and even a postage machine. We paid the landlord $1 for all of the equipment, a fantastic deal which kept getting better as we explored our new digs—we found a $20 bill in one of the drawers, and there was over $100 in prepaid postage in the postage machine! We’ve moved twice since then, and the postage machine is long gone, but we still use the copier and a lot of the furniture—it was the best dollar we’ve ever spent.
We took over the entire magazine division from Wizards lock, stock, and barrel—all of the department’s employees signed on with Paizo, and Wizards gave us a nice deal on their computers, office supplies, printers, back issues, and pretty much anything else we could load into our moving truck. We made a couple new hires to round out our administrative staff, and we officially started operations on July 1, 2002.
Our initial staff was as follows:
Lisa Stevens: CEO
Johnny Wilson: Publisher
Vic Wertz: Technical Director
Mary Franklin: Director of Operations and Marketing
Wailam Wilson: Corporate Admin
John Dunn: Director of Production
Pierce Watters: Circulation Director
Jefferson Dunlap: Prepress Supervisor
Theresa Cummins: Production Specialist
Dawnelle Miesner: Ad Traffic Manager
Jesse Decker: Editor-in-Chief
Matt Sernett: Editor
Stacie Fiorito (now Magelssen): Associate Editor
Lisa Chido: Art Director
Chris Thomasson (now Youngs): Editor
Erik Mona: Editor
Kyle Hunter: Art Director
Star Wars Insider Team
Dave Gross: Editor-in-Chief
Michael Mikaelian: Managing Editor
Vic Wertz: Editor
Scott Ricker (now Okumura): Art Director
Scott Ricker (now Okumura) looking up from his gig art directing Star Wars Insider.
We continued the production schedule that Wizards had set up for the magazines, and finished the issues they had in the pipeline as we worked on their followups. The first all-Paizo issue of Dragon was #299, followed by the milestone 300th issue, which included a special sealed-content section covering The Book of Vile Darkness. In all, we produced four issues of Dragon that year.
Dungeon was bimonthly at the time and had two issues come out under Paizo’s watch in 2002. Issue 95 also had a sealed-content section like its sister periodical. Dungeon garnered Paizo our first ENnie Award, for Best Aid/Accessory.
We did quite a lot with Star Wars Insider and the Official Star Wars Fan Club in 2002. We brought the Bantha Tracks fan section back to the magazine for the first time since the late 1970s. It had also been a while since the Fan Club had done a membership kit, and we put together a great one. It included the following:
Official Star Wars Fan Club Membership Card
Letter to members from George Lucas
Exclusive 3-D fold-together mini-standee
Three travel destination postcards from the galaxy far, far away
Travel stickers from exotic Star Wars destinations
A letter from myself as the President of the Official Star Wars Fan Club
But things weren’t all rosy. While Johnny knew everything about actually producing magazines, it turns out that he had never been exposed to any of the financial details. In particular, newsstand distribution terms were far more complicated than we’d anticipated. It took us a while to find an accountant that could make sense of the hideously complex reports we were getting, which thoroughly obfuscated the answers to seemingly simple questions such as “how much do we get paid, and when?” Once we negotiated our way though it all, we realized that the time it took to get paid for a given issue was many months longer than Johnny expected, and the distribution fees involved were also higher than we’d been led to believe. That meant that we were going to have to stretch our startup capital much longer than we’d intended.
Also, along with the Star Wars Fan Club, we had inherited the phone number 1-800-TRUE-FAN, which was printed as part of a “join the Fan Club” blurb on the back of every Star Wars product produced in the previous few years. That seemed like good marketing, but it really meant that we were paying a lot of money to answer calls from five-year-olds who wanted to talk to Luke Skywalker, or from slightly more sophisticated nine-year-olds hoping to speak with George Lucas. We dropped the 800 number as soon as we could reasonably phase it out.
Paizo receives its first ENnie as part of the second annual ENnie Awards, held on a makeshift stage in the hallway of the MECCA during the last Gen Con in Milwaukee. Left to right: Eric Noah, Russell Morrissey, Erik Mona, Chris Thomasson (now Youngs), Ryan Dancey
We had also continued using the out-of-house subscription fulfillment service that Wizards had used for the magazines, and we soon learned that their costs were much higher than we’d expected. They handled all customer service related to subscriptions, and charged us based on each customer contact—there was a fee for every letter, email, and phone call they received, and another fee for every reply they made. We soon realized that meant they had no incentive to solve problems quickly—in fact, they’d make more money if it took multiple contacts to resolve an issue! It became clear that we’d save a lot of money—and provide better service—if we could bring subscriptions and customer service in-house. That became our first major goal for 2003.
We ended the year with a multi-course holiday dinner for the employees at my favorite restaurant at the time, Gene’s Ristorante in Renton. Chef Charles Maddrey created a feast for us, and lots of wine and beer were served. Even though things weren’t working out exactly as planned, we were hopeful and wanted to celebrate the founding of Paizo and looked forward to what the new year would bring!
Employees who started later in 2002:
Grace Liang, Corporate Accountant
David Erickson, Corporate Accountant
Matt Beals, Lead Prepress Operator
Employees who left in 2002:
Jefferson Dunlap, Prepress Supervisor
Grace Liang, Corporate Accountant
For myself, 2002 will always be remembered for the excitement of starting something new and for the realization that I had a lot to learn when it came to the magazine business.
Lisa Stevens CEO
The Paizo Company Logo
Once we had settled on the name of the company, Johnny had Art Director Kyle Hunter take a stab at some logos for the newly minted corporation. There were two basic styles: one was a calligraphy letter pi fused with a smoke monster, and the other was the same letter pi in the shape of the now familiar golem. Each of these creatures was given varying sets of eyes to convey different moods. From top left: Fangeye, Cyclops, Grin, Glare, Shades, Mongo, Spacey and Vigilant (the logo we ended up choosing). With the design settled, Kyle then did a number of different color treatments. We eventually went with the now-familiar “Paizo purple,” although Kyle was angling for the rusty color you can see in the bottom sample of his business card.
Kyle Hunter’s first takes at a Paizo logo and designs for the first Paizo business card (in a few different color schemes). We ended up picking the business card design on the far right of the second row.
Erik’s Memories of Year Zero
The first half of 2002 was a strange time to work at Wizards of the Coast. On one hand, the Hasbro purchase was still recent, and the luster of big bonuses and watching friends with lots of seniority get new cars and houses was still relatively fresh. On the other hand, Wizards was busily streamlining their business to focus on “core competencies,” and starting in 2000, lots of people lost their jobs in a series of layoffs.
Erik Mona and Kyle Hunter discover a haunt near their desks.
Despite individual successes at work, there was a strong undercurrent of “I’m sure I’m going to be fired soon” that seemed that year to be even more potent than it had been in the past couple of years. I had only recently been transferred from the RPGA Network to the Periodicals Department, and the two magazines I was shepherding at the time—Polyhedron and the Living Greyhawk Journal—had become sections of Dungeon and Dragon, respectively. I was really enjoying the challenge of integrating these sections, and was doing some of the most fun creative editorial work of my career, but it soon became clear that magazines were not a safe place to work when the company was paring its focus to just its core game business.
About this time, our Group Publisher, Johnny Wilson, began whispering about his plan to save everyone’s jobs and ensure that the venerable magazines of Dungeons & Dragons would continue indefinitely. He had found some investors interested in taking over the magazine business in the likely event that Wizards cut it off, and in his impish way he named the effort “La Cosa Nostra,” or “our thing.” Yes, that’s also the name of the Mafia, but Johnny has an evil sense of humor for a guy as religious as he is, and he’d rub his hands together while talking about his diabolical plan. Coming from between his rosy cherub cheeks, his words filled us all with hope at a time when it was in extremely limited supply around the office.
I was much relieved to learn that Johnny’s mystery investors turned out to be Lisa Stevens and Vic Wertz, two of my earliest Seattle friends. Lisa gave me my first real break in the industry as a continuity consultant for the Greyhawk products she was managing in the late 1990s, and I knew that she and Vic knew enough about business and were the kind of game-loving advocates that it would take to make a project like this work.
Chris Thomasson (now Youngs) and Erik Mona at the Paizo booth, Gen Con 2002.
They were (and are) major Star Wars collectors, and many of us around the office joked that the real reason Vic and Lisa wanted to run the magazine business was to add Star Wars Insider to their considerable Star Wars collection, but my time working on Greyhawk with Lisa convinced me that the Dragon and Dungeon elements were just as important—if not more important—to their interests. I wasn’t worried at all. In fact, once I learned Lisa and Vic were our potential saviors, the only real question was when we were going to move out of the building. My stress evaporated with that revelation, and as I recall things, we were all pretty excited about moving on to the next phase of our professional lives.
As it happens, I am a collector too, so one of my favorite early Paizo memories involved physically loading up all of the department’s assets into a moving truck headed to the new Paizo offices. Johnny suggested that we leave all of the back issues at Wizards, mostly because hauling them all down to the truck would take hours of physical labor, and nobody really wanted all those old magazines anyway. Lisa and I refused to let that happen, knowing just how valuable those dozens of boxes would be, and how criminal it would have been to throw them away. So long after most of the staff had gone home, Lisa, Vic, and I (and perhaps others I can no longer remember) worked into the early morning hours to load those back issues onto the truck.
Even as we loaded them up, Lisa explained (and I well knew) that we weren’t just salvaging the old issues for nostalgia. “Someday we’ll have a website where we can sell these to people who want them,” she said. “We are going to make a ton of money off of these things.”
We still sellthose back issues today. That website grew to become paizo.com, one of the internet’s leading hobby stores. Even from the very beginning, Lisa showed that the company would be managed with a balance of genuinely geeky love for the game and strong business sense. It’s the main reason I’ve stuck around here every year since that first night we loaded up the truck with old back issues, and it’s the reason why the company has been able to survive and grow stronger far longer than many companies in this industry.
Erik Mona Publisher
Lisa Stevens at the Paizo booth, inside the Wizards castle at Gen Con 2002.
Dave Gross checks out the new Paizo digs before we move in. (The photocopier in the back is part of the best dollar we ever spent.)
Jesse Decker with a coveted window seat.
Matt Sernett doing his best to ignore the camera.
Johnny’s wife Wailam Wilson holds down the front of the office.