Saturday, July 9, 2011

Wizards: Peter on the Cusp, Part One

The ancient Greeks noticed that because people are such excellent mimics, they often don't show you who they really are but rather who they think you want them to be or who they wish they were. Worse, because we're so good at losing ourselves in the roles we play, often the last person in the world you should ask to find out who someone really is is the person himself, because he is the most committed to the role and not the reality.

The Greeks believed the best way to find out who someone really is is to put him under such extreme levels of pressure that he has no energy left for pretense and has to fully engage with the problem with nothing left but his own authentic resources, the truest, strongest part of himself. Since it would be sadistic to conduct such experiments on real people, they conducted them upon artificial people, putting them under pressure to reveal their innermost character, and so the art of tragedy was born.

Sometimes, though, life decides to run that experiment anyway.

In some ways, Christmas 1992 was the most characteristic time in the history of Wizards of the Coast. Under extreme financial pressure from a harassment lawsuit, Peter was forced to write his last paycheck to his small staff for the foreseeable future. Everyone struggled to keep moving the company forward while simultaneously worrying about out how they could each pay their rent and other bills to survive through the crisis. Poised between hope and despair, the true nature of the relationships the team had forged came to the forefront.

It was while under this pressure in January 1993 that Peter was asked by James A Seymour on a mailing list:
Peter, could you please post a brief history of your company? I'm curious from both a casual standpoint, and from a game writer wanta be viewpoint.
Peter's response, which I will quote in its entirety over the next several posts on this blog, is where we will begin our exploration of the early days of Wizards of the Coast. I chose it in part because the story he tells is true, in part because it came before the distractions of Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons changed the way we looked back at our origins, and in part because its hopeful, honest, and friendly tone even at a time of extreme pressure shows something important about the character of Peter Adkison:
Jeez, this could take hours--make that days! Asking a gaming company president, er, I mean janitor [We'll discuss the "janitor" another time --Ed.], for a brief history of his company is like asking a historian for a brief history of the world.  :-)
Thanks for being interested; I'll try and be brief.
Along about 1979 or so a product came out called "The Overlord's City" or something like that from Judges Guild. [City-State of the Invincible Overlord --Ed.] A friend of mine named Terry Campbell saw that and was really excited about it--thought it was an incredible piece of work and was really inspired to make up his own city module. He suggested to myself and two other friends, Darrell Judd and Ken McGlothlen, that we start a gaming company. Darrell came up with the name, Wizards of the Coast, from the name of a mage guild that one of his characters belonged to in another guy's campaign. We sat around and discussed it but figured that there was no way we had the time, experience, or funding to pull something like this off. The discussion sorta ended with a "maybe someday after we have real jobs." Little did we know.
To be continued . . .

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