See that photograph? That's the oldest picture I have of me in the Paizo offices, taken by former Paizo Art Director Sean Glenn back in early 2006. At that point, I had already been at Paizo for a year and a half, working my way up from website image wrangler and editorial intern to Paizo's sole customer service person, then at last into a coveted Assistant Editorship on Dungeon. Much like Jon Snow, I knew nothing. While I'd spent my college years practicing to be a journalist, and had a whole adolescence of RPG gaming under my belt, I was a rank amateur when it came to professional game design—living proof of the "fake it till you make it" strategy. (I actually bought my first 3.5 rulebooks with the money from "Shut In," the first Dungeon adventure I co-wrote with Wes Schneider.)
It was a crazy time. All of us in the Editorial Pit were pretty much broke—until Paizo brought me on full-time, I'd been teaching SAT prep classes at night and living off some modest Wheel of Fortune winnings—but it didn't matter, because I was spending every day learning about games and world-building from my coworkers. Folks like James Jacobs, Erik Mona, Wes Schneider, and Jason Bulmahn, who remain in my eyes some of the world's foremost experts on what makes fantasy cool. We would argue furiously. We would go out drinking (once I finally turned 21, that is). We would occasionally all ditch work—with Lisa's approval—and go to the movies in the middle of the day. Wes would orchestrate elaborate pranks. Jacobs and I taped off our combined cubicle and declared it the Independent Republic of Jameslandia, within which he would draw me sticky-note cartoons or perform impromptu puppet shows with his collection of Godzilla plushies.
It was, in short, freakin' magical.
Smash cut to September of 2017, and I've been at Paizo for 13 years, almost to the day. A lot's changed. The company is huge. Pathfinder's a household name in RPG circles. I've run a novel line, managed critical teams through high times and crises, written probably millions of words about Golarion, and now find myself Creative Director of Starfinder—a game which, after more than a year of grueling (but exciting!) work, has just had one of the biggest launches of anything Paizo's ever done. Watching the frenzy at Gen Con this year, walking down the line signing autographs and chatting with folks who'd been waiting for two hours or more to buy the Starfinder Core Rulebook, was one of the most satisfying moments of my career.
Which is why it's time for me to leave. As of September 12th, I'll be stepping down as Starfinder's Creative Director and resigning from Paizo to write full-time.
Sound crazy? Let me explain:
As a kid, I was heartbroken when Bill Watterson ended Calvin & Hobbes. I couldn't understand how somebody could do such great work—work that touched so many people—and then just stop. In the last few years, however, I think I've finally begun to understand. By walking away when he did, Watterson ensured that Calvin & Hobbes would never slowly slide into mediocrity. He'd never burn out and start to resent it. He gave us the best of what he had to give in that arena, and then he moved on. So even as I miss those characters, I salute his artistic integrity. And it's in that same spirit that I'm now leaving Paizo.
I'm extremely proud of everything I've helped to create here at Paizo, but of course Starfinder is my most recent baby. While the world is just now getting its first taste of the game, the production times involved mean that we on the Starfinder team have been living it for a year and a half, and I've actually already overseen the whole first year of releases. But as much as there's still plenty more I'd love to explore with Starfinder, I can't escape the fact that I've been making RPGs at Paizo for my entire adult life, and it's time now to devote more than a few scattered hours each week to my other artistic loves—particularly fiction and comics.
Does that mean I'm done writing for Pathfinder and Starfinder? Heck no! If anything, I hope that no longer working for Paizo full-time means I'll have more time to write for both games as a freelancer. And while it's hard to give up Starfinder's captain's chair, I'm positive that Rob, Sarah, Owen, Jason, and the rest of the team are going to continue to take the game in amazing new directions. As both a fan and a freelancer, I can't wait to see where they go.
After 13 years, there are far too many people to thank, so I hope everyone will forgive me if I keep this short and just shout out a few of my fellow old-timers. To Lisa, who scraped together a job for an ambitious kid. To Erik, the editor-in-chief who slapped a copy of his own adventure "The Whispering Cairn" down on the new editorial intern's desk and challenged him to find things wrong with it. To Jacobs, for educational movie nights and teaching me what makes adventures fun. To Sarah, who taught me how to work well with artists, and Bulmahn, who taught me that you should never bring algebra to a drinking contest. To my longtime partner in creative crime, Wes Schneider, for always having my back and consistently forcing me to up my game. To Chris Carey for being my fiction buddy, and Judy Bauer for kindly but firmly teaching me to be a better, more mindful person. And to everyone else—thank you. There's no one here that I haven't learned from or laughed with at some point.
Last of all, I want to say one giant thank you to everyone reading this. I've always found the Paizo community unbelievably supportive, and for the last 13 years you've been the reason I'm able to live the dream. Whether you're one of the superfans who sent us pizzas during those first big Pathfinder crunches or a new friend trying out Starfinder for the first time—thanks.
All right, no more stalling. It's time for me to cue up the Annie Lennox track from the end of Return of the King and sail off into the west. I hope some of you will continue to drop in and say hi on my Twitter at @jameslsutter and my Facebook author page, or keep up with my latest work on jameslsutter.com.
It's been an amazing adventure. Now on to the next!
James L. Sutter
Creative Director Emeritus