Sunday, March 31, 2013

My First Full-Time Job

As I mentioned in my last blog, I got my job at Last Unicorn Games through a curious set of circumstances. Coincidence. Networking. Blind luck. And a measure of naiveté. Pull up a chair and sit down. It’s story time….

It was the mid-90s. I don’t recall the date, because it was a long time ago. And the drugs and alcohol sort of wiped out that particular fact. Anyway, the mid-90s. I get a phone call from Dustin Wright over at Chaosium. I was doing a lot of freelance work for them at the time…. So Dustin wants to know if I’d be interested in going to the Chessex Midwest retailer show. I don’t know if they still do this, but it was a show Chessex held for retailers where they’d invite manufacturers to show off their games and maybe drum up some business. I was living in Toldeo, OH at the time, and it wasn’t that far away. They needed someone to demo a game called Mythos, a trading card game for Call of Cthulhu. Of course I’d love to go. It was a chance to see a distributor.

First, let me say up front – it was an eye-opening experience. Chessex had just finished building their new warehouse. It had a marble foyer. Because a warehouse needs a marble foyer. Guess that Magic: the Gathering money was really rolling in. Anyway. Whenever I poked my head in what was supposed to be the offices where the salesmen worked, I always saw no less than three computers running some kind of game. Not sales projections. Not spreadsheets. Games. I remember thinking “must be nice.” The warehouse itself was stuffed with product; it was like a giant game store and I was in Heaven. I could pick up whatever I wanted at cost. They had tons of stuff that I’d never seen in stores before. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the implications of this. The other thing I learned over the course of the weekend was that the retailers – the alpha retailers who cared enough to show up – were actually just gamers who wanted a first look at the shiny new games. They really weren’t interested in being pitched. They just wanted the swag bag.

Now, I’m an inveterate, and unrepentant, smoker. So I would often go out on the loading dock to smoke. This is how I met Christian Moore, which would turn out to be a fateful event. Christian was there because he was pitching the Heresy and Dune TCGs. Now, I love Dune. I’ve read it a dozen times. I’ve been thinking about reading it again lately, but I just read it last year… And I thought Heresy, while not a great game, had a lot of neat ideas. So we smoked and talked about Dune and Heresy. We swapped phone numbers, because Christian said he might have something for me on which to work.

A few days later, Christian called. He swore me to secrecy, and revealed that LUG was about to acquire the rights to Star Trek. Not just The Next Generation, but all of it. See, Paramount hadn’t wanted to license the rights for years, because they didn’t really like the FASA version of the TNG supplement they produced for their version of the game (admittedly, it was based on one season, so what could they do?), and they’d had a mess with the Starfleet Battles guys. Somehow, Christian and crew convinced them to license what at the time was the second largest media license to a bunch of guys who’d done a game called Aria. I know, right?

Christian wanted to know if I could recommend anyone for the position of line editor. See, at the time, I had a reputation of being a decent writer, who turned his stuff in on-time and fairly clean. I was part of a small circle of "go to" guys. So I knew a lot of people. Freelancers. Editors. 

Sure. I mentioned some freelancers whose work I admired. Gave him their contact information. Hung up the phone, figuring I’d get some freelance work out of it some day. He called back a few days later. Seems no one was interested, and he wanted more names. Okay. I gave him some more names, this time editors with whom I worked. Again, I figured I was building good karma.

He calls back about a week later. Nope. No one was interested. The job required you relocate to LA, for one thing. Because you had to be close to Paramount Studios. (In fact, I would eventually visit the lot about once a week. It’s weird when you just know your way around a movie lot; “Yeah, it’s past the Brady Bunch movie set, then make a left at the game show. When you see Klingons smoking outside, you’re there. Let’s meet for lunch at the commissary with the giant wall of Oscars later….”) The other thing was that LUG was completely untested when it came to RPGs. Did I mention Aria? For all anyone knew, the game would be a disaster, they’d lose the license, and you’d be stranded in LA.

“Too bad you’re not a Star Trek fan,” Christian said to me.

Wait. What?

Christian. I’m a HUGE Star Trek fan. I watched the show since I was three. I forced my cousins to watch the show every day after school (when they wanted to watch The Brady Bunch). When I was 8, I used to crawl out of my bed at 1am to watch Star Trek on channel 11 (WPIX). In college (George Washington U, if you’re interested), all studying stopped to watch TNG. We actually played the crappy version of TNG that FASA put out. “Christian, while I’m talking to you, I have a shelf full of Playmates toy phasers behind me. I have every version, plus toy tricorders. Are you NUTS?!”

I was on a plane out to LA the next week.

And that’s how I got my first full-time job in this business. If I hadn't gone to the Chessex Midwest show, been a compulsive smoker, met Christian, taken a risk on an upstart company... Oh, the twists and turns, the connections and random events, that conspire to bring you to where you are in life. It's like a roadmap that only becomes clear when you stop and look behind you. The map can't tell you where you're going, only how you got there. 

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