Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wizards: Peter on the Cusp, Part Nine

Cathleen Adkison, one of the three original principals
Writing poised between hope and despair in January 1993, Peter narrated his history of Wizards in fits and starts, pausing over the moments, people, and problems that resonated with his current circumstances, passing lightly over other periods, people, and issues that didn't come to mind when he thought about his hopes for Manaclash (soon to be Magic: The Gathering) or his fears about the Palladium lawsuit. Most of the missing details I'll explore when I finish covering his narrative, but I will take an intermission from the narrative for the next few posts to spotlight two topics that should not wait.

The second topic is Talislanta, which dominated Wizards's activities in 1992, but which Peter's 1993 narrative dispenses with in three sentences. We'll take a closer look at Talislanta next post.

The first topic is the other people who made it possible for Wizards to produce The Primal Order, the ones who he didn't have to bring in from the outside because they were already present. There are three in particular I want to pick out in this post for how central they were to helping support Wizards of the Coast between late 1991 and early 1992, the time frame when TPO was being finished.

Cathleen Couch, Beverly's childhood friend in Walla Walla since fifth grade, married Peter Adkison on Saturday, 11 August 1990. Peter and Cathy had been together for years before that, and their families and friends were present, including most of the early Wizards gang. Understandably, one of the topics of discussion was Peter's new company. Beverly, as one of Cathy's bridesmaids, and I shared a table with Peter and Cathy. This was when Peter first told Beverly that he was starting up a game company and told her who all was doing it with him. After a pause during which she thought to herself "But none of you can write!", Beverly diplomatically asked "Do you have anyone who knows anything about how publishing works?" In the conversation that followed, Peter learned that Beverly had studied publishing arts at Pacific Lutheran University under Megan Benton. It was this conversation at Peter and Cathy's wedding that set the stage for Peter later seeking out Beverly's help in reviewing the early Wizards manuscripts and eventually recruiting her as an employee.

This also might have been the first time I learned about Wizards. It probably didn't come up in our conversations before then, but you never know. Human memory is unreliable.

Michael Cook, quality-improvement guru
Cathy was there when Beverly and I learned about Wizards. She was also there when most of Peter and Ken's gaming group learned about Wizards, on that kickoff brainstorming session the night of Wednesday, 23 May 1990 three months earlier. Since she and Peter were living together long before then, she was also a part of Peter's life when he and Ken were putting together the initial ideas for Wizards of the Coast over the Internet. Although she was not part of Peter's gaming group in Walla Walla back in the early 1980s, she was just a few years later, and she and Peter would have discussed the emerging plans for Wizards soon after he and Ken began formulating them, which makes her pretty much the fifth person (after Darrell, Terry, Ken, and Peter) in on the dream of starting an RPG company called Wizards of the Coast. And when you look at her longevity with and contributions to Wizards over the years, it makes her one of the original three principals with Ken and Peter.

Mike Cook never starred in a lead role at Wizards (no media exposure, that is), but contributed much over the years in important supporting roles. Like Cathy, at Boeing he studied the work of William Edwards Deming and brought Continuous Quality Improvement, Plan-Do-Check-Act, meeting facilitation, and many other tools for focusing on and improving quality at Wizards of the Coast. Cathy and Mike worked hand-in-hand to keep Wizards focused on learning from their mistakes and always searching for ways to do better. This focus on high and improving quality made Wizards of the Coast attractive to top-notch game designers like Richard Garfield and Jonathan Tweet and to other game professionals like Lisa Stevens. What many organizations fail to realize is that the very best professionals feel stifled in organizations that focus on delivering the minimum quality for the maximum return and long for the chance to do their best work. Mike Cook helped turn Wizards into the kind of company that could give them that chance, and they noticed and responded. Without Mike and Cathy pushing this core focus of the company, many of the things that Wizards did right over the years could not have happened.

George S. Lowe, "Primal Caterer" (and friend)
George Lowe was another supporting actor at Wizards of the Coast who contributed more to the survival of early Wizards than most people realize. Like Jay Hays, he was a Jack of all trades who shifted roles frequently to fill in wherever the company was lacking - and when you're a small company, you're more holes than substance in most areas, like Swiss cheese. Among the areas George worked on in 1991 and 1992 were retroactively building a financial database to get their financial tracking under better control, and cooking for Dave and Beverly during their marathon editing session when they moved into Peter and Cathy's house. In these and many other ways, George helped hold the place together.

We'll spend more time with the early Wizards personnel in the writing to come, but I felt it would be inappropriate to move on to a new chapter in the history of Wizards of the Coast without bringing Cathy, Mike, and George back into the spotlight so they could begin to be recognized for their early crucial roles. When we finish with Peter's 1993 narrative, we'll go back to the beginning of our history to get to know each of the original actors better, including many so far unnamed in these posts.


  1. I should note (and am posting this per Rick's request) that there were *four* cofounders; the missing one is Lisa Case-Lowe, who Peter and I had known years before we met George. Lisa was studying at Walla Walla College during the critical 1982-1984 years there.

  2. Thanks for the correction, Ken.

    Throughout the course of this series, I will certainly make mistakes and I hope that my readers will follow Ken's example and point them out as we go, to stimulate me to improve my research to get the story right.

    Since my own involvement did not really begin until Peter and Cathy's wedding, I have a lot more research to do about the period before that. I look forward to talking with Lisa sometime soon so I can learn more about her early involvement and expand upon Ken's welcome correction.