Fantasy Setting Search Closes In on Finalists

(l-r): Peter Archer, Editorial Director of Book Publishing; Rich Burlew, Fantasy Setting Search Finalist; Anthony Valterra, Category Manager for Tabletop Roleplaying Games; and Rich's giant, $10,000 check.

Rich Burlew
Age: 28
Residence: Queens, New York
Occupation: Graphic Designer

Wizards: How long have you been playing RPGs, and how long have you been playing D&D?

Rich: I've been playing D&D for eight years, but not consecutively. I began playing in high school, and played with a group of friends. [That lasted] for six years, until life interfered and we stopped seeing much of each other during college. I didn't pick the game up again for seven more years, until 3rd Edition came out. A few weeks later, I was sitting in a game, and a few weeks after that, I was DMing again!

Wizards: What first interested you in gaming and D&D?

Rich: Honestly, the artwork. I was picking up copies of Dragon magazine based solely on the great covers when I was, like, twelve and then started realizing that there was this whole game that went along with it that had even more cool art. I bought the books for two whole years before I first got a group together to play.

Wizards: What are your favorite games/settings, and why do you like them?

Rich: I've never used any of the pre-published settings for D&D; I always preferred to create my own. I guess that's just my own quirk. I've also played Shadowrun and Paranoia, as well as a never-ending variety of strategy and board games, with Babylon 5 Wars and Talisman being my favorites in each respective genre.

Wizards: Do you have a particular experience or situation from gaming that stands out in your memory? Something funny, or exciting, or weird?

Rich: Ninety-nine percent of my time spent playing D&D, I was the Dungeon Master, so most of memories involve ways I've screwed with the players. I really am most proud of the times I've evoked real emotions from players over fictional events.

Probably the best moment for me in my recent gaming career came in a campaign where the PCs had been traveling with a bumbling NPC paladin since the beginning of the story. I finally revealed… that this so-called "paladin" was actually the very enemy they had been pursuing the entire time, and that he had in fact been using the PCs to aid his nefarious deeds. It was very tough for me to keep from blurting that out to the players for so long, but the payoff was great. And did they ever enjoy hunting him down after that.

Wizards: Do you have a favorite designer? If so, who?

Rich: I can't say I have a favorite designer because in all truth, I never read the names of who wrote the books until after I was selected as a finalist and realized I might be meeting some of these people.

Wizards: What got you interested in fantasy as a genre?

Rich: Fantasy books are, almost by definition, more exciting than real life. All my life, if I was going to invest the time in reading a book, it had damn well better be chock full of stuff that was never, ever going to happen [in the real world].

Wizards: Who's your favorite fantasy author, and what's your favorite fantasy novel or series of fantasy novels?

Rich: I actually read a lot more science fiction than fantasy. When I do read fantasy, I demand that it bring something new to the genre. I can't take another Tolkien retread. I've been reading the Rokugan books, which I find interesting for being set in an entirely different culture. I read a lot of comic books, particularly those that blur the line between fantasy and other genres -- a lot of Alan Moore's work: Promethea, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Wizards: Of Wizards/TSR's authors or books, who/what's your favorite?

Rich: Probably Hickman & Weis, though not the Dragonlance stuff so much as some of their more experimental stuff once they left TSR. I like the Death Gate Cycle a lot. It showed a lot of unique spins on fantasy.

Wizards: What interested you in submitting to the fantasy setting search?

Rich: Once I saw the announcement, I realized that if I didn't submit, I would spend the rest of my life wondering if my ideas could have made it. I'm not a professional writer, and I saw this as my one chance to get my ideas out to the world, so I grabbed it.

Wizards: Is your setting one that you've been working on for some time, or did you devise it just for the Fantasy Setting Search?

Rich: The world I am working on for Wizards now was created solely for the Setting Search. I entered four one-page submissions: the one that was selected, the one that my players have been exploring for the past two years, and two other new ideas.

Wizards: Without revealing too many specific details, do you work on your setting alone, or are you part of a team?

Rich: Nope, just me. I'm too much of a control freak. Of course, with 100 blank pages staring at me, I'm beginning to think that maybe [a team] wouldn't have been so bad!

Wizards: How did you feel when you found out that your setting was chosen as one of the 11 best out of almost 11,000 submissions? What about being chosen as one of the 3 best out of those 11?

Rich: As you know, there was a big delay picking the eleven semifinalists. By the time I got the call, the whole thing had completely and totally left my mind. So it was a bolt from the blue, complete and total surprise, shock, disbelief, then party time. This may sound conceited, but once it got down to eleven people, I was much more confident of my abilities. I basically had a little worse than a one in three chance, so it was really just a matter of doing my best and not worrying about the rest.

Wizards: What do you currently do for a living?

Rich: I'm a graphic designer. I mostly work on educational textbooks. I do layouts, electronic illustration, photo retouching, etc. I always thought if I got a chance to get into the game industry, it would be on the strength of my page design.

Wizards: What do you plan to do if your setting is chosen and you receive the $100,000 contract?

Rich: I'll do as much work as Wizards wants me to on the new setting, obviously. Beyond that, I have no idea. If I can figure out a way to combine my graphic design with my game design and actually make a living off it, I will pretty much have completed every dream I've ever had.

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