What Do They Do?
R&D, Roleplaying Games
by Michael G. Ryan
nearly ten years now, Michele Carter has been an RPG editor. In that decade,
she's worked on some extremely complicated projects -- the Planescape
boxed sets, for example (which contained, according to Michele, "about
a zillion components each"); Axe of the Dwarvish Lords ("extreme
map complexities"); the Dark*Matter Campaign Setting
("a wholly new setting and a complete departure from anything we'd
done before"); the new D&D edition of the Forgotten
Realms Campaign Setting ("balancing the history of
the line against the needs of the new game and the evolution of the setting");
and the new version of Deities and Demigods ("deity stat blocks
-- enough said").
of these more complicated projects have turned out to be her favorite
ones. And none of these have convinced her that she has anything less
than her dream job.
recognize just how lucky I am to be able to say that," she hastens
to point out. "How many people really love what they do for a living?
It's not all playing games -- there's an enormous amount of work that
goes into producing RPGs, and I spend a lot of weekends in the office
-- but it's fun."
of the senior editors for the Roleplaying Games Division, Michele's time
and energy are often spread out among multiple projects, though she generally
tries to focus on only one of them at a time -- she tracks the progress
of her previous projects as they move through the production process,
she attends concept meetings for the next ones, and she keeps up with
other things around the department. "I've worked on most of the lines
we've published at one point or another," she says. "As a sample,
my last project was the new Deities and Demigods for the core D&D
line; my current project is Power of the Jedi for Star Wars;
and my next one will be a massive Forgotten Realms adventure .
. . that I'm not allowed to talk about yet."
process of bringing these projects to fruition has been a learning experience
from the very beginning of Michele's time with TSR. In 1991, the game
company placed an ad in Dragon Magazine advertising for
editorial positions on the roleplaying staff. "It was pure coincidence
that I happened to see it, because I wasn't reading Dragon Magazine
regularly at the time," Michele remembers. "But I loved gaming
and happened to be flipping through the issue when I saw the ad. I remember
the feeling very well: standing at the magazine rack, staring at the ad
and thinking, 'Yes. This is what I want to do with my life.' I went home
and immediately sent off my resume."
rounds of letters and phone calls later, she found herself traveling from
Florida to Wisconsin for an interview. "That was an amazing experience,"
she says. "Walking around the old TSR building, I met these people
who had comic books piled up in their cubes, swords hanging on the walls,
action figures everywhere. There was a guy sprawled out on the floor,
drawing a map for an adventure. It was this wonderful creative madhouse
and I wanted to be a part of it." When TSR offered her a job in July
of 1992, she was more than willing to move on from the Public Administration
program she was enrolled in at grad school. "When I got the acceptance
phone call, the first thing I did was call my parents and tell them, 'I'm
moving to Wisconsin.' No hesitation at all, even considering the fact
that I'd grown up in southern Florida and had never seen snow. Now, that
was a shock. . . ."
assignment was to work on Assassin Mountain by Wolfgang Baur, for
the Al-Qadim line. "I had no idea what I was doing,"
she admits. "It was a really fascinating project, though, and I got
a lot of good advice from other editors in the department. It became immediately
apparent that the editor's job was far more than proofreading. We're responsible
for the entire project, start to finish. While my introduction was a little
like being thrown into the deep end of the pool, there was no better way
to learn how to edit RPGs than just to start doing it."
does "just doing it" entail? In Michele's case, she's involved
in a project from start to finish, beginning with concept meetings even
before the designers have begun to write. At these meetings, the designer,
the editor, the creative director "and anyone else who's interested
in the project" weigh in with their thoughts about the upcoming project.
Then the designer is off to write. "Depending on the size of the
project, it might be months before the editor sees it again," Michele
points out, "though at varying times the designer might call for
additional input on concepts or story direction or other aspects."
the design phase is completed, the manuscript goes to the editor. "When
I get a manuscript, the first thing I do is look to make sure all the
pieces are in place," she explains. "That means consulting the
product brief, which has information on how many pages the project has,
its art and map allotment, and other technical details. Then I generally
read through the entire thing to familiarize myself not only with what
the text actually says, but how it flows as a project, how the graphics
will be integrated, and if it meets the goals set for the project. Is
it a good adventure? Does the sourcebook give all the necessary information
in a clear and interesting manner?"
an RPG, however, includes a great deal more than just the body text (though
Michele notes that the body text is usually the largest part); there's
also the cover copy, art order, map order, other special graphics needs,
and often additional material such as web enhancements. "The editor
makes sure all the pieces are in place and then delivered to the appropriate
departments: art order to the art director, map order to the cartography
department, and so on," Michele explains.
then I edit the text," she says. "That's a very simple statement
for a very complex process. Spelling, grammar, and general proofreading
is certainly a large part of it, but it also includes checking for consistency
both in world-details (is this village really where the text says it is?)
and technical elements (does this new spell magic item or trap work in
accordance with the "rules" set out for creating new spells
in the new D&D?). Editors check for the overall feel of the
manuscript: Does it accomplish what it's supposed to? Does the text read
well, without too much passive voice? I'm responsible for all the printed
words that are read by thousands of people, so they'd better be the right
includes all the words, in fact -- from text on the back and front
covers to the microscopic legal text on the first page to the tags printed
on the maps and the captions under the art. Michele accounts for all of
this, in addition to practically everything else that goes into the product.
"Every art piece, for example, needs a description so that the art
director can tell the artists exactly what they need to draw," she
explains. "The art needs to be placed in reference to the text, without
too much art in one chapter and too little in another. The same process
applies to maps. Storyboards can be immeasurably useful here in detailing
how the final book will look. Page by page, I'll construct a storyboard
that includes every art and map that goes into the project, where the
chapter starts fall, and other specific details of the layout."
the editing is finished, the project moves on to the managing editor and
Michele begins the entire process over again for her next editorial assignment.
Yet even once the next project is underway, she still answers any questions
the managing editor has about the previous project, looks at the generated
art and maps to make sure they're correct in all details, and follows
up on any specific needs that the project requires as it goes through
the production process toward publication. "Every project is different,
and every editor works differently," Michele says. "This is
a unique job; it's both technical and creative. A strong grounding in
the use of language is essential, from spelling to grammar to punctuation.
Knowledge of the game worlds and rules is equally as important. Beyond
that, you learn about layout issues and production processes, how to assemble
a complete product and track its multitude of pieces. It's easy to look
at a single bound book and think of it as one work, but any number of
people have contributed to it, and it's up to the editor to pull it together
into a complete package."
Michele's career is not that far removed from where she had planned for
it to go in the first place. She acquired her B.A. in English, a field
she chose as her major "because I was good at it -- and because I
wasn't sure what I really wanted to do when I graduated. While I wasn't
interested in teaching or journalism (often assumed as career choices
for English majors), I knew it'd give me a strong background for whatever
I chose to do next. Those skills never go to waste." And they certainly
come up regularly in her work at Wizards of the Coast. It's been quite
a decade for her. Looking back, she can easily pick out those projects
that were the oddest ("the Marvel Dice Game")
and those that were the most fun to work on. "The Planescape
line as a whole," she says. "That was very much a collaborative
effort between the designers and editors; we camped out in each others'
offices, discussing various aspects of the game world. Also the Dark*Matter
Campaign Setting, because of its unique needs and the time I spent
researching some truly odd material. There are some bizarre websites out
all, Michele feels she's been lucky enough to work on some of what she
considers to be the most innovative projects that TSR or Wizards of the
Coast has ever produced. "Early on, I got involved in the Planescape
product line and went on to edit a number of books for that setting. I
loved everything about it -- the concepts, the unconventional layouts,
the art. More recently, the Forgotten Realms Campaign
Setting, which was a complex project for a number of reasons. I think
it turned out well.
without a doubt, the project of which I'm most proud is the Dark*Matter
Campaign Setting. We had the chance to do something entirely different
with that book -- concepts and layouts and subjects we'd never touched
before. It was a vast project with an enormous scope, and it was absolutely
wonderful to work on with the designers and my co-editor, Andy Collins."
no matter how much they enjoy the work they've done to date, most editors
can cite an editing assignment that would be their ultimate editing experience.
Michele is no exception. "Of course, the comic-book fan in me would
love to edit those books that I enjoy the most," she admits. "It's
similar to what I do now: self-contained worlds constantly evolving with
input from multiple sources, with the editorial staff contributing not
only to the accuracy of the text and world-details but to the direction
of the book as well."
words, a dream job for the next decade.
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