Testing Your Wings

I went back to freelancing right after I left Pinnacle at the end of 1999. I worked for a lot of different companies, including the fine people at Atlas Games. I wrote a section of En Route for them, as well as the whole of Seven Cities. Michelle Nephew did a bang-up job editing both books, pushing me to make my work better and better.

While I was working on Seven Cities, Michelle contacted me about a freelancer she was working with on another project. He was a game designer at VR1, a computer game company in Boulder, Colorado. He’d been there a long while without ever seeing anything get published, a frustrating situation for any creative soul. He was thinking about making the jump to full-time freelancing in the adventure game industry. Would I be willing to answer some questions, give him some pointers?

Sure. Why not? Michelle says this guy has talent, I believe her.

His name was Keith Baker.

Keith had already made his first few sales as a freelancer, so he didn’t need to know how to break in. He was more concerned about the nuts and bolts of working for yourself, things like paying taxes, getting your name out, what kind of money he might be able to make, and so on.

I answered everything the best I could and went on my merry way, wondering if he’d ever summon up the guts to make the leap, to test his wings. Leaving behind a high-paying job for the life of a freelance adventure-game designer is not for the faint of heart.

Keith, of course, jumped. Here’s the punchline: Within the year, he landed the choicest gig of the decade for a roleplaying game creator.

Just after Keith took that leap of faith, Wizards of the Coast announced a hunt for its next setting for Dungeons & Dragons, a whole new world in which players could adventure. They wanted one-page pitches from anyone willing to send one in.

They got 11,000. They narrowed those down to 11 and asked those lucky, talented souls to write a 10-page pitch. They chose three of those and paid those designers $20,000 each to write a 125-page bible for his world.

Keith made the final cut, which included a check for $100,000 for the rights to his world, Eberron. He took the chance, made that jump, and what did he find when he unfolded his feathers? The wings of an eagle.