Remembering Mike McArtor

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Yesterday brought the sad news that our old colleague, Mike McArtor, had passed away. Mike joined the Paizo staff back in the "magazine days," as an editor on Dragon Magazine. He was a mainstay of office campaigns, a pillar of our editorial operation, and once the magazines went away, Mike was one of the earliest architects of Pathfinder and the world of Golarion. He left Paizo in 2008, on the eve of the Core Rulebook launch, but his creative legacy remains an important part of the DNA of the Pathfinder world. His positive attitude and welcoming friendliness, I hope, also helped to shape the DNA of Paizo itself. We're a much larger, much different company than we were in those now nearly mythical magazine days, but we like to think Mike's spirit hung around and continued to influence the company years after he left.

In recent years, Mike was an editor for Magic: The Gathering at Wizards of the Coast. That kept him in the Seattle game professional orbit, and many of us found ourselves running into Mike again and again at public events and parties. He was always a warm, friendly guy, and it was fantastic to see him still working in the field, obviously loving his job.

News of Mike's death yesterday hit many of us hard, and it wasn't long before some of Mike's friends and former colleagues shared some remembrances of his time at Paizo and the quality of his character. (Or, in the case of a guy who went through at least four characters in our office Age of Worms campaign, the quality of several of his characters.)

Here are some of those remembrances:

James Jacobs

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Mike McArtor is gone. Been thinking back on all the antics and shenanigans we all got up to back in the early days of Paizo, and I realized that Mike was not only one of the first people I ever gamed with at Paizo after I started working here... he was also the first Paizo GM I ever had. His game was a crazy one—his only real rule was that none of the player characters could be humans, because in the campaign he wanted to run, the humans were the monsters. We all got to pretty much choose anything we wanted as far as our character's race, and he used various books and house rules to help us build the characters we thought up... pretty much anything and everything was on the table. Our group had, among others, an air elemental, an ogre mage, a gold dragon, and some sort of dwarfataur thing (part dwarf, part lion, part beard). My character was Torak, an awakened deinonychus who had hopes of some day growing himself a pair of wings so he could fly.

Mike was instrumental in helping us all make it through when we shifted away from the magazines and started working on our own brand of products for Paizo. He was one of the three folks who handled the module line and the campaign setting line in those days, and in fact he pretty much single-handedly got the first hardcover version of the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting put together—he wrangled all the freelancers and handled much of the book's initial developing and editing. He also wrote the second installment of the Second Darkness Adventure Path—you know, the one where you get trapped in a lighthouse that breaks off its foundation and rolls down a hill into the ocean, and oh yeah, the lighthouse is filled with alien dog monsters whose bite turns you into zombies?

But if there was one book I'd have to pick that Mike worked on as my personal favorite, that'd hands-down be the Guide to Korvosa. It's still one of my favorite books in the campaign setting line; the amount of details he packed into that thing were invaluable in helping me build the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, and it's a book I still reference today whenever I'm looking at designing new cities for the setting. While the city of Korvosa itself is from my homebrew setting, and while I was originally the one who was going to write the book, it became quickly apparent that I wouldn't have time... and Mike brought things to Korvosa that I never would have imagined. Things that, today, are what Korvosa is all about. From the little things, like the names for coins or those fun little squabbles between imps and pseudodragons, all the way up to elements that have become defining and iconic staples of our campaign world, like the name Jeggare or the infernal-minded Acadamae itself.

After I heard the news that he'd passed away, I went looking through my computer for any pictures I had of Mike, and it was tough. He never did like his picture to be taken, and I mostly respected that by not taking many pictures of him... I kinda wish I'd taken more now though. The only two I found, though, sum up Mike perfectly.

He was cool, and he was just about one of the friendliest, most peaceful guys I've ever known.

So indeed, Mike, my friend.

Stay cool, and be at peace.

F. Wesley Schneider

Mike and I started at Paizo the same week in 2003, joining Dragon magazine as assistant editors. You couldn't have chosen two people with more diametrically opposed tastes. We didn't agree on much, but that can be a good thing more often than you might think—especially when it comes to telling stories. Mike edited the same articles as me for years. Every day I found pages covered with his blue notes on my desk, challenging my design, correcting my grammar, and suggesting that maybe my articles needed more obscure historical factoids... or ninjas... or gnomes. Usually gnomes.

Our birthdays were the same week, too. When I was new here, Mike guaranteed I never spent a birthday alone.

Mike's most of the reason I know anything about editing. He taught me to see the value in other people's passions. He baffled me with how he could make friends with anyone. He proved that no matter the game, you can always play a ninja. He forced me to accept that some people can wear Micky Mouse sweaters unironically. Even now, there's plenty I'd argue with him about, and I doubt either of us would ever budge. But, even so, for all the candid corrections, all the enthusiastic suggestions, all the contrary perspectives, and all the countless other ways he was an honest, accepting, loving guy, I'll always be grateful.

Stephen Radney-Macfarland

I never had the opportunity to work with Mike McArtor. I worked at Wizards while he was at Paizo, and I was at Paizo during his stint with Wizards. But I did game with him, and always enjoyed the way we played and sometimes clashed at the table. Over my many years of chucking dice and playing roles amid a pile of books and the scattering of miniatures, I've found you can learn the measure of a person by gaming with them on a regular basis. I can tell you that Mike was one of the kindest, most sincere, and generous people I have ever had the opportunity to know. I will always cherish the roles he played around the table and the life he lived. Goodbye, my friend. You are missed.

Liz Courts

Mike was a sensei. In the very earliest days when I stepped into the Paizo board community pool, he was a warm and inviting presence. While my first attempts to pitch an article to Dragon Magazine died when the license ended, he still encouraged me to continue writing, a bit of motivation that later led to the formation of the (now ENnie Award-winning)Wayfinder fanzine. Without him, the tongue-in-cheek appellation of "gninja" that I use to this day would not be a thing, and marks of his subtle touch are everywhere, in both Pathfinder and in the Paizo community. He is sorely missed.

James L. Sutter

Mike McArtor was one of the first friends I made at Paizo: a majestic Assistant Editor of Dragon who deigned to take notice of a lowly editorial intern. Early on, he did me two big favors: the first when he let me write a Class Act article—and the second when he quietly killed it rather than let me embarrass myself in front of the rest of the staff with my own ignorance.

As time went on and I joined the editorial team in earnest, Mike and I bonded over a lot of things. We co-wrote articles. We formed a writers group with James Jacobs to work on our fiction. We codified The Rule—Paizo's system for when to use numerals versus spelling out numbers—and posted it on a support pillar with all the ceremony of Martin Luther nailing The Ninety-Five Theses to a church door. (Many years and an office change later, it still hangs in the Editorial Pit.) He would teach me about game balance and grammar, and in exchange I would try to shock him with tales of bohemian adventures and advise him on how to talk to girls. It was a good system.

Something you need to understand about Mike was that he was, at heart, a paladin. Or maybe a samurai. The point is, he believed in being a Good Guy, and honestly lived according to a code of honor. He was nice to everybody, and if you were his friend, there was never any question that he'd be there for you.

But let's not make this too mushy. If anything, Paizo's editorial team was built on its sense of humor, and there were pranks galore in the early days. One of my favorite memories of Mike was when, due to scheduling conflicts, I had to drop out of Jason Bulmahn's Eberron game that we'd been in together for years. To have some fun with it, I secretly arranged with Jason to punk everyone by killing off my character (tellingly named "The Kid") in the most spectacular way possible. When the time came, halfway through the session, everyone was shocked as my character was reduced to smoldering ruin.

But none more so than Mike. After a heartfelt, Darth-Vader-esque "NOOOOOOOO!", he tried desperately to save me, only to fail at every turn. I think there were actually tears in his eyes as I cleaned up my dice and walked—apparently heartbroken—out of the game. It was some of my best acting, and when Jason and I revealed the next morning that it had all been a setup, folks had a good laugh.

Except for Mike, who missed the explanation, and who later tracked me down to offer earnest condolences and make sure I was all right. I felt like a total jerk explaining the truth (even though he agreed it was pretty funny), but it drove home what I already knew: that Mike was a thoughtful guy who legitimately cared about people.

Mike moved on from Paizo while Pathfinder was still in its infancy, but if you've ever run a game in Korvosa, or worshiped Shelyn, or fought dragons, or interacted with any of a thousand other elements he contributed to the game, then you've been touched by his creativity.

Thank you, Mike. It was a privilege to know you, and none of us would be where we are without you. And as was drunkenly pointed out at many a joint birthday party—you had a heart of gold.

Jason Bulmahn

Just over 10 years ago, I moved to Seattle and one of the first friends I made out here was Mike McArtor. Mike and I both worked on Dragon. Along with Wes we were the ones responsible for developing the entire magazine month after month.

Being gamers, I soon started up an office game set in Eberron and Mike was one of my players. A lot of friendships were forged around that table and Mike, with his easy smile and good nature, was a huge part of that. I also killed Mike's characters... a lot. Mike had a tendency to make characters that would rush headlong into danger and I ended up using his PC as the "example" of how hard core my game was on more than one occasion. Mike would always laugh when his character was mulched, disintegrated, or charred. He always had another ready for the next session.

Years later, we both played in the office Age of Worms playtest. Mike's first character was a mute ninja (Mike loved ninjas). I honestly can't remember how he died.. but I am sure it was "quietly". His second character was a druid that was killed by his own animal companion. His third was Frothlethimble, a murderous, backstabbing gnome.

How I hated that character. Mike loved to goad on my honorable dwarf with his nasally gnome voice. We had a damn fine time going back and forth threatening to kill one another. At one point I even forced a confrontation with the rest of the party over which one of us would stay. After that, Frothlethimble promised to kill me in my sleep. Gar (my dwarf) had heard enough. In the next fight, against a mindflayer, the entire party was stunned except Gar. After putting down the aberration, Gar turned to Frothlethimble and his axe swung one more time.

Its the only time I have ever intentionally killed a fellow PC.

Mike laughed and laughed. That is what I loved about Mike. He was kind, he was honest, and he was a good man. I will miss him.

Erik Mona

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Good Ninja Minion

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My condolences to his family and friends.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

That was both sad and somehow uplifting to read. Thank you for sharing your memories with us, and my condolences to everyone.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

That's sad news. I never had any direct interaction with him, but I often found myself turning to the credits page of those Paizo books I really loved to find his name prominently displayed. It sounds like he was as good and decent as he was wonderfully creative.

In times like these we remember many good friends we have all lost and we continue to remember them in our work our family and most of all our daily lives by every choice we make. Mike I never met you and my only regret is I now never will but your friends have shown me and the rest of the world you were nothing less than a scholar and a gentleman may you find happiness wherever you are.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4; Contributor; Publisher, Legendary Games

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Having gamed with Mike for several years, I can attest to what James Sutter said - whatever class was on his character sheet, Mike McArtor was a paladin through and through.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Designer

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In addition to a lot of my stuff in Dragon magazine, Mike was the editor on my Harrow deck project and on my first words in a Pathfinder adventure, Edge of Anarchy. He had a way about him that could handle the crazy nonsense that Kyle Hunter and I were throwing at him every day on the Harrow deck, which is that he acknowledged that everyone around him was no more crazy and nonsensical than he was. It was a privilege to work and play with him, and I will miss him very much.

Folks might like to see this similar tribute from my friends at Wizards of the Coast. I would not plan on being productive after reading it, though.


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Sad news, I have a lot of fond memories of Mike from back in the day. Farewell old friend, "kono sora wo daite kagayaku shounen yo shinwa ni nare!"


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I feel very comfortable saying that if it wasn't for Mike, I likely wouldn't be a freelancer today. The first article I submitted to Dragon fell on Mike to edit. And, let's just say I gave him a lot of work to do on that article. It would've been easy for him to pass on it; instead, he opted to polish the turd. And the damn thing shined like a diamond when he was done with it.

But he didn't leave it there. He encouraged me to keep sending him queries. He answered any question I asked about how to be a better writer - including explaining passive voice to me (more than once) because I either wasn't taught that in school, or that was taught on one of the many days I skipped.

We had plenty of conversations that weren't writing, too. His friendliness shone through even in his emails, and he was ridiculously easy to talk to.

By the time the magazines were moved off to digital-land, I had managed to get 13 articles printed in Dragon. And out of that work, everything else followed. And I'm quite sure that after that first article, if it wasn't for Mike's encouragement - "Send me more queries! Whatever ideas you have!" - I'm pretty sure that would've also been my last article.

Thank you, Mike. For your encouragement. Your guidance. Your mentorship. And, especially, your friendship.

Liberty's Edge

These were very touching accounts of Mike McArtor. May his memory shine brightly in the hearts of those who knew him I think that his legacy will continue long after him. (Ironically, my newest PFS character is a cleric of Shelyn.)

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Very sad news indeed. Mike was always a favourite of mine back in the olden days. I loved interacting with him on the boards and was always eager to see what new things he was up to.
He will be sorely missed. :'(

Dark Archive

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

I hope I still have writers for friends when I die. Great praise for a man who, it appears, deserved every word.

And Frothlethimble. Nothing more needs to be said.

I was always sad that I missed the only PaizoCon Mike ever attended. I only knew him through the boards and his writing, but I always felt infused with good cheer and enthusiasm after reading his words. Guide to Korvosa remains one of just two Chronicles/Campaign Setting books that have captured my attention cover to cover.

Sad indeed - thank you for sharing your tributes to him.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Would it be possible to retire Mike's avatar? There was a small Facebook discussion on this.

Webstore Gninja Minion

Lazaro wrote:
Would it be possible to retire Mike's avatar? There was a small Facebook discussion on this.

Mike's avatar was already private and unable to be used by other people. (I checked.)

I figured it must have been. I haven't seen that avatar on these boards in a long time, and I still firmly associate it with the ninja himself.

You will be missed Mike. ~sighs~ Mike was, no, IS my friend. I remember the many times that we would be playing in City of Heroes or when I would call him up and talk to him. He was a very good guy. May your next life be better than this was.

Shadow Lodge


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

May Pharasma's herald guide you to your Paradise.

Dark Archive

No. Just... no. No.

President, Jon Brazer Enterprises

Liz Courts wrote:
Lazaro wrote:
Would it be possible to retire Mike's avatar? There was a small Facebook discussion on this.
Mike's avatar was already private and unable to be used by other people. (I checked.)

I actually looked for Mike's avatar as a way of honoring him. But I settled on this as the closest I could find.

Sad news, RIP Mike


Very sad news. I loved his work.

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Very sad news. Condolences to his family and friends. Rest in peace Mike.

RIP Mike and sincere condolences to family and friends. Korvosa will always be my favourite city in Golorian, next time your at the Posh and Turtle raise a glass in memory.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

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Mike was the editor at DRAGON who I had regular contact with. He was warm, funny, smart as hell, and he always made time for contributors. He was truly a Class Act. You will be missed, Mike.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16, Contributor

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This is the third attempt I've made to post something. Each time I end up deleting it after the first few sentences.

Everything seems trite and cliched.

And then it just hit me.

Mike would know how to fix it.

Maybe he'd casually cut out a sentence and merge two others into one. Or he might send it back for revision with a couple offhand comments that would make me slap my forehead and wonder why I didn't see the problem myself.

He was a wonderful editor. He made everything better. And of course, he was a fantastic writer in his own right.

The thing with great talent is how much we are willing to forgive. For most people, if they can produce what others can't, if they prove, time after time, that we need them more than they need us, they let the darkness out. And we accept that as the price for the wonders they create.

The thing about Mike is he wasn't like that. Even with all his gifts he was still warm and generous and filled with joy.

There's a thread in my email stretching out over months that began as just another rejection. I replied with a joke. He replied with a joke. And then a witty observation. More banter from me. And more banter from him. Every now and then I commented on how weird it was that he was taking time out of day to keep a perfunctory rejection email thread alive. By then he must have realized he didn't need to salve my feelings but he kept on hitting reply.

I wrote a lot of things for Mike. He was my favorite editor. Everything he touched came out better. And, in my own way, I feel like I came out better too.

I'm sad that I never got to meet him in person. But I'm ever so glad that I got to know him even if just at a distance.

I can only imagine how much pain the people who actually knew him the flesh must feel.

While I can't say that I knew the man, I am brought to tears by the kind words that all of the staff at Paizo have to offer. And as a PC and GM who spent a lot of time in Korvosa, I can safely say that using his book was one of the most entertaining and positive experiences I have experienced in the many years I've been playing RPGs. I offer my most sincere condolences to his friends and family.

The next time my PC (or myself, whichever comes first) sits down in a seedy bar, the first tankard I drink will be to his memory.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

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I don't want to suggest that Mike and I were any more than online acquaintances. I also don't want to make this post about me, but....

Mike played a critical role in the chain of events that led me to writing professionally. He's not the only professional who would influence me, but he was the first.

My condolences to his friends and family.

Dark Archive

At a loss for words, as usual in such cases. I love his work.

Rest in Peace, very sad news

Dammit. He had a great body of work, he leaves behind some family and friends who will miss him, and he leaves behind fans who will not benefit from what secrets were locked in his mind...

I'm sorry, Paizoians. I weep with you, and cheers to his memory.

The Exchange

Rest in Peace, Mike. Your work was some of my favorite from Paizo's early days.

Silver Crusade

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Reading everyone's remembrance, it really leaves you wishing you got to know Mike better. He always came across as a great guy online. Reading everyone's confirmation of it is beyond heartwarming.

Rest in Peace, Mike. Your creations were a big part of what drew me here and are always going to be close to my heart.

God, the story about him tracking down James Sutter to comfort him and the birthday guarantee are really getting to me.


Happy travels Mike!

You've left some great and enduring footprints on our favourite games.

It was great to know someone with the awesome template.

My sincere condolences to the Paizo folks at Mikes passing. Yet the deeds of noble and kind men live on, and thus, so shall Mike in the hearts and minds of those whose lives he touched, which seems to be an awful lot of people.

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