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:
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.
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.
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.
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.