I Break Down the Door (F. Wesley Schneider)


I always wanted the monsters to win. Growing up, there was never any question: Jedi was the best in the series because of the Rancor, Skeletor was endlessly more interesting than He-Man, and the best Nintendo games were the ones with full-color manuals that included bestiaries of all the monsters. Monsters were just more interesting than heroes.

The Hero Quest board game was a game-changer, not because it was the first game I owned with roleplaying elements, and only partly because with it I could actually—finally—play the monsters. Rather, at some point I realized I could copy the maps and styles in the game’s adventure booklet and start making my own dungeons. In one summer, over the course of a dozen day trips, obligatory cookouts, and family visits, I filled a whole pad of graph paper with my own Hero Quest campaign, populating increasingly deep and dark dungeon levels with hosts of new monsters, named villains, and magic treasures. That no one ever played them didn’t matter. They were my adventures, filled with my minions, lairs, and secrets, and the addition of heroes wouldn’t do anything to make those depths any more exciting for me. That was the summer I started designing worlds and adventures, long before I even knew that was something anyone else did.

When I discovered roleplaying games some time later, it didn’t take long to similarly fill notebooks full of plots and perils—enough that I never had nearly enough players to run them all. I had several loves when it came to games and campaign settings, which made the variety show that was Dragon magazine a highlight of my month and a reason to keep tabs on my mail carrier’s comings and goings with stalker-like devotion. My own games never used more than the most modest percent of what appeared in the magazine, but that never mattered. Here was a resource that, monthly, gushed dozens of new ideas. The focus wasn’t on merely telling stories, but rather offering readers more exciting ways to tell their own stories. I loved that idea, as well as the sense of a greater storytelling community the magazine suggested—those were the earliest days of the internet, after all. So, naturally, at some point during my high school years, I decided I was going to be the editor-in-chief of Dragon magazine.

Changing my hobby into a career meant some obvious decisions, such as focusing on writing and publishing when I got to college. But it also meant some more subtle ones, most notably dedicating a portion of my brain to not necessarily what I wanted to write about, but to what other people wanted. I gave myself my first assignments and deadlines, hunting down contests, netbooks, and freelance open calls. If I was going to do this, I determined to be serious about it, even if that meant putting pen to paper despite considerable competition and daunting odds.

The Book of Shadows for the Ravenloft fan site Secrets of the Kargatane was the first time I ever saw my name on something that didn’t spool of my own printer… even though it kind of did, since it was a netbook—you get what I mean. My contribution wasn’t much, just a monster and a few NPC write-ups. But that small success was encouragement enough to keep trying. I submitted more to the next netbook, and more got published. The boom of third-party third edition publishers meant a groundswell of opportunities, many of which never promised a cent and which regularly resulted in rejections. But even rejected submissions ended up being useful, some going into a folder for revision, others imparting important lessons as they died the deaths they rightfully deserved.

Eventually paid work did come. Sword and Sorcery Studio’s Creature Collection 2: Dark Menagerie was the first time an acceptance came with a paycheck. The project had included an open call, so it’s not like anyone had asked for my contribution, but at that point, why would they have? But that first check was finally evidence: not only could I write gaming content, but I could make money doing it. Not great money, mind you, but money doing what I’d be doing anyway for free. It was more encouragement, and things picked up from there.

Those first confidence boosters were enough to put Dragon magazine in my sights. I figured I might as well start getting those guys to recognize my name if I was going to be working with them eventually. Did I ever send them some stupid pitches. Into the Dragon slush pile went such gems as cloud magic, cannibal spells, and “Bards from Below”—a collection of bardic prestige classes for subterranean races (including the bone thrivenist, a mindflayer flesh-bagpipe player). But eventually a submission took, “Bazaar of the Bizarre: By the Hands of Hags,” a collection of grotesque magic items for the delightfully infamous Dragon #300. My longest contribution to date, it came with feedback, a few revisions, a paycheck, color art, and definitely the widest readership. It felt like the big leagues.

I kept freelancing after that, pitching more to Dragon and companies such as Mystic Eye Games, Bastion Press, Bottled Imp Games, Atlas Games, and others. One night I stumbled across an open call ending that evening. Figuring what the hell, I gussied up a couple of creatures in my rejected folder and sent them in. Both got accepted. That’s when I realized something about the competition I was facing in these assignments: It wasn’t there. There weren’t thousands of people vying for the same work as me—there were maybe tens. The difference between me and everyone who always talked about how much they wanted to write games was absolutely basic: they weren’t actually writing and submitting work, and I was. That was all. Just doing it was making all the difference.

All of the unpaid gigs and small assignment paid off in 2003 when I submitted my application to be an assistant editor for Paizo Publishing on Dragon magazine. I was 22 years old, and against dozens of applications, I got the job.

That was almost a decade ago. Now I’m the editor-in-chief at Paizo Publishing, a company where the title “editor” largely means problem-solver. I oversee every printed project that leaves the Paizo offices; I’m a co-designer of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and co-creator of the Pathfinder campaign setting; I write hundreds of pages of game content every year and assign thousands more; and I work with a crew of the best and most imaginative authors and designers in the world. Now I’m the one who looks at resumes from would-be game writers and gets e-mails from enthusiasts looking for their first assignments. In every message I read similar stories “I’ve been playing roleplaying games for X-dozen years,” “Working on Pathfinder is my dream job,” “I’ll do anything for an assignment.” But when I’ve got a project in need of authors, deadlines to hit, and ravenous subscribers to satisfy, promises from strangers don’t do me any good. Today I need people who can prove they’re serious and won’t treat an assignment like it’s their weekly game—to be blown off or rescheduled on a whim. I need pros, and people who can prove they want to be pros by writing despite any perceived competition, by refusing to be ignored, and by taking any job they can get—even if it means working just for the credit. And when I do give someone an assignment, it’s because they’ve convinced me they’re going to treat their work as seriously as I do mine.

There’s only one book out there that has the name Dragon magazine on the cover and lists me as Editor in Chief, but that position isn’t far from the job I ended up with shepherding Paizo’s varied product lines. But instead of a relaxing twelve monthly issues, I somehow ended up with something to the tune of a hundred projects burning rubber across my desk. I did wish for this, though, and fortunately I have some amazing support and genius/lunatic teammates that assure that it’s always an adventure making each impossible new project not just feasible, but even more incredible than the last. But after all of the work, the rejections, the acceptances, finally breaking into the gaming sausage factory and learning so many of the dark secrets and unlikely truths, one thing remains absolutely the same: I still always root for the monsters to win.

I want more!

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