How I Got A Job At TSR

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I get this asked a lot, so I'm finally putting together a short rundown of how I started working at TSR and eventually became a designer.

    In 1995, TSR was really clamping down on web sites with fan-created AD&D material (stupidly, mind you ... saying that you couldn't create a new monster for your game and share it with people on the internet made it hard for people to network about AD&D, and thus discouraged people from playing game instead of other games whose companies weren't so restrictive...). The guy in charge of TSR's online presence was Rob Repp ... but he was saddled with that job on top of his other duties at TSR and didn't really have time to get into it (and IIRC it was given to him because he was one of the few employees that the management knew of who had any internet experience at all). To put it bluntly, he pissed off a lot of people with his attitude and posts (not all of it was his fault, TSR's online policy was draconian and unproductive, Rob was just tasked with enforcing it, but not being a gamer he couldn't relate to the fans' side of the story). I felt I could do a better job of it than he was; he was making people mad when he didn't have to.

    In May 1995, there was a post (by Rob) to the AD&D mailing list (which, at the time, was a fan-created list, not one of the lists run by WotC like you have nowadays) about a job opening for an "online coordinator" at TSR. Job responsibilities included managing TSR's web presence and AOL site. As I had just spent the past year working for a video game company (Time Warner Interactive) doing just that, I sent in an application, and promptly forgot about it.

    Two weeks later I get a phone message from Rob Repp, saying that he liked my resume and wanted to do a phone interview. We arranged a phone interview, and he liked the result, but wanted to do an in-person interview, so they flew me out to TSR. I got a tour of the TSR building, met some people on the staff, and then went to lunch with Rob to do the actual interview. As we were heading back to the office, Rob told me, "Well, I have a few other resumes to look over, but that's pretty much a formality -- you have the position if you want it."

    Certainly I was surprised. I told him I'd need to discuss it with my girlfriend and family (I was 23, she had just gotten her bachelor's degree and was looking for a grad school, and I had never lived outside of California, so moving to Wisconsin on short notice was a big decision). So I talked to the people with whom I needed to talk. Three days later I called him up and accepted the job. I gave my two weeks' notice at the video game place, and two weeks later to the day I was in my car driving out to Wisconsin. (Oddly enough, I beat out Bruce Cordell for this job, though fortunately for D&D players everywhere he was hired shortly after as a designer.)

    I was TSR's online coordinator for two years. In that time, with much help from Jim Butler (now of Bastion Press, but at the time was one of the web-savvy editors who was on the fans' side in the matter of the online policy) the TSR online policy changed. A lot of people badmouthed me for a long time because of that policy, but while I was TSR online coordinator not one website was shut down for D&D material that wasn't an actual copyright violation (such as posting scans of books or artwork) ... nobody was ever bothered by me because of fan material on their site. So, I like to think that I made a difference. I also got TSR a web site (hosted through Interplay -- which oddly enough is my current employer -- because Interplay had the D&D computer game licenses and therefore an established relationship with TSR).

    When WotC bought TSR in 1997, I was one of the employees they moved out to Washington in September after the buyout. I joined the WotC web team, where I become friends with Alex (the WotC webmaster), Tim and Dave (two web designers/programmers) and Marc Schmalz (of The Game Mechanics). With Jim's help, we got the online policy even more relaxed so that people could post their own stuff without worries of being sued or having it taken by TSR/WotC without permission. After working there for a couple of months, I realized that my two initial goals for my TSR job -- fixing the online policy and building a TSR web site -- were completed, and that my duties as TSR webmaster could easily be fulfilled by the rest of the web team staff. I told Marc (who was my boss at the time) that I would be looking for work elsewhere in the company and that they could eliminate my position because it wasn't needed. I interviewed for a couple of jobs within WotC and then heard about a design job that was going to be created in February (by this time I was friends with most of the designers & editors brought over from TSR, as I had been working with them for two years). Since I had done some design work for TSR (mainly RPGA adventures and a piece of Children of the Night: Ghosts) I applied, and interviewed with Lisa Stevens (now head of Paizo Publishing) and Harold Johnson (who has worked on just about every TSR game line at some point). I was hired and placed on Lisa's team (to work on Greyhawk).

    Unfortunately, due to some paperwork requirements, they couldn't open the design job until later than they expected. For budgetary reasons WotC was happy to close my old webmaster job, which meant I was scrounging for work in the company to tide me over until I was transferred to the designer position. I ended up working for WotC's facilities department for a little bit (working on some e-floorplans used to track where computers and other assets were to go), the training department (creating their intranet web site with class schedules and such), and even as Peter Adkison's personal assistant for a while (because his normal assistant, a very lovely woman named Monika, was on maternity leave). But finally I got moved over to my design job and started working on the Greyhawk revival of 1998. Since then I've worked on Greyhawk, Alternity, Birthright, D&D core, and Forgotten Realms for WotC.

    So that's the roundabout way I ended up getting a job as a designer for D&D. :)