But What Do They Do?
Production Managers
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RPG Project Manager
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Editors: R&D, Roleplaying Games
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But What Do They Do?
Production Managers
by Michael G. Ryan

Volunteer at the zoo. Spud boy. Fry cook. Pizza dough roller. Customer service rep. Production coordinator. Production manager.

And you thought your career path was a strange one.

It helps, of course, if you're already a fan of the products you'll ultimately manage, which Chas DeLong most certainly was. Nowhere in the job description for a roleplaying game production manager does it read "must be a gamer goob in order to succeed," but Chas freely admits that it might as well. The man loves RPGs, TCGs, and especially miniatures. He ended up at Wizards of the Coast after reading a random article about how much fun it was to work at the (then) small company and deciding he'd like to be a part of that. "Nerf wars, action figures, and gaming -- sounds like my dream world!" he admits.

More to the point, Chas was given the enviable responsibility of overseeing some of the greatest roleplaying games ever created. At any given time, he's tracking from five to 40 titles working their way through the various stages of production at Wizards. These products range from mass market paperbacks to roleplaying games. "I have the fine task of ensuring that we design books to meet the vendors' requirements," he notes. "I also have the task of working with the vendors and ensuring that they produce the best possible product for our customers."

Goob Wanted?

Topping his list of successes over the last four years (as it does the list of so many Wizards employees): the release of the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, D&D has moved like a force of nature through much of Chas's career.

"During one of my interviews back in 1998," he admits, "I totally goobed out when I saw the proofs for the product Return to the Tomb of Horrors. That moment is what most likely secured my job."

So, just what does Chas do as an RPG production manager? It's more complicated than you might think.

First comes the yearly schedule from various project managers for Wizards's monthly releases; the schedule indicates rough timelines for each step of the process, from design to release. "Most of our titles have set specifications that are detailed on a Product Brief Worksheet," Chas explains. "These specifications include trim size [a book’s dimensions], page count, color, and [paper] stock, as well as various other bits of information that pertain to a particular title."

Chas gets involved early on in a project to ensure that all manufacturing specifications are correct and to solicit competitive quotes to produce the job. "If necessary, I obtain the templates for covers, map sheets, and any other special needs from our vendors early in the life of the product," he adds.

From Text to Tome

Currently, the biggest project on Chas's plate is Power of the Jedi Sourcebook, which will be released in August and therefore is nearing the end of its design phase. "As far as I personally am concerned, this product consists of two components: a cover and the text," Chas says. "As they are designed, they route through the various departments -- R&D, Legal, Materials Management, Spine Design, Brand -- for approval. There are three approval routings; I usually see the second round for approvals." At this stage, Chas measures the components to be certain they meet the proper print specs. Then, once all parties have approved the various components, the job is stamped final.

"It is about this point that I receive the final print run number and work with our Purchasing department to create a purchase order for the vendor who will produce the title," Chas adds. "The files for all components are turned over to me, at which point I give the job one last look over. I then turn the file over to Digitech. Digitech double-checks the cover files to be certain that they were built properly for printing. They then turn the files over to Prepress, and Prepress sets up PDF files for the intended vendor and outputs proofs for one last internal viewing. After that approval, I send the files to the vendor who's been awarded the job."

Approximately two weeks later, the entire team receives from the vendor final proofs for color and content, and these are approved by Design, Editing, Materials Management, and Chas, as the production manager. "If an error is found at this point, we almost always fix it here at Wizards in Prepress to control external costs," he explains. "When the vendor proofs are approved, they get sent back to the vendor, who then produces the job." From beginning to end, the process for bringing the product to fruition takes roughly a month. And with so many different pieces of so many different projects all requiring attention at the same time, an eye for detail, organizational skills, and patience make all the difference in the world.

Memorable Milestones

Currently, Chas is working on several projects that fans will undoubtedly find intriguing. One in particular stands out for him -- City of the Spider Queen. "This is the first adventure produced for the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting," Chas says. "The cover just crossed my desk yesterday, in fact. The image on it is an albino drow priestess in her wispy gown of webs. This title ties in with the War of the Spider Queen series of novels that we are also producing, as well as the City of the Spider Queen miniatures." The complex interconnection between so many products simultaneously obviously adds an extra level of excitement, anticipation, and stress to the production process.

You might suspect that, four years and hundreds of products later, few titles would stand out in Chas's mind as being a particular source of pride. Turns out not to be the case at all. "My favorite piece of work to date is the Player's Handbook, the book that kicked off the 3rd Edition of D&D. The R&D and Design teams did a spectacular job creating a new look and feel for D&D. I remember being on the first press check for this title. I was so nervous, knowing that the final printed outcome was in my hands. Well, as we now know, it really did turn out to be a beautiful book, one that pushed roleplaying to a new level."

Of course, there are always more projects in the pipeline that demand Chas's attention. By his own admission, one of the most challenging ones recently was the TSR Silver Anniversary Collector's Edition. "Our Design and Imaging team painstakingly re-created seven of the original D&D modules and the original blue rulebook," he explains. (The final set also included The Story of TSR 1975-1999, as well as impressive artwork by artist Jeff Easley.) "Story's cover and the box that contained all of the components were created out of three metallic covers plus black. We had several test proofs made to ensure that they would print properly, and I had the task of going to the printer to check that quality was being maintained. Bringing all of the components together was quite a task in itself. There were so many different pieces that I was sure something would go wrong. Instead, it all came together in the end without any major problems whatsoever. I for one appreciated all of the efforts that were involved in getting these titles out. The final piece looked excellent!"

Chas's pride in his work as an RPG production manager could only have been rivaled if he'd actually stayed on the career path he'd once envisioned. "When I was a young child, I wanted to be Steve Austin -- the Bionic Man," he admits. "In fact, at one point, I asked my parents if I could change my name to 'Steve.' Fortunately, that never happened. . ."

Fortunate both for Chas… and for D&D.

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