I was honestly surprised to discover that the book had won. After the final nominees had been announced, I was certain that Jim Raggi’s the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Roleplaying was going to take the award and I sent him an email to wish him luck and to say that I thought LOTFP: WRPG was the title to beat this year. Jim replied that he was certain the Dungeon Alphabet was a shoe-in, which goes to show that not only does Mr. Raggi have a better sense of prophecy than I do, but that writers are wracked with self-doubt about the quality of their own work. In this case, I am pleased to have been proven wrong.
This is not to slight the other nominees. I own a copy of Rob Conley’s Majestic Wilderlands and found it to be a great book. Plus, as a fellow Goodman Games alumnus, I simply have to support his efforts and wish him well. Jonathan Becker’s B/X Companion has garnered its own fair share of acclaim and he too came out of nowhere to produce a book that was welcomed and respected by the old school roleplaying community. It was an honor to be included amongst them and I certainly hope they continue their efforts and submit their follow-up work for adjudication next year. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for them.
Winning this award is a fitting coda for a very strange and unexpected chapter of my life. I don’t speak much about my personal life on this blog, preferring to keep such matters to myself outside of the occasional game-related anecdote or observation. But in this case, a revelation is in order. A little over three years ago, I was quite literally homeless, living in my car and in skeazy motels when I could afford it. My life was in shambles and I was trying to follow a wildly-spinning compass that provided no direction. Luckily, before things could get any worse, I managed to find new guidance and started putting my life back in order.
Part of that process involved rediscovering what I enjoyed doing, which led me back to my earlier love of roleplaying games. That rediscovery guided me to the then burgeoning old school renaissance and then to this blog, a venue where I hoped to record my efforts to return to the hobby I had enjoyed and to give something back to the online community that had welcomed me. I expected nothing more.
Then, in November of 2008, what I considered a throwaway series of posts intended to buy me some relaxation time away from the blog caught the attention of the gaming blogosphere and catapulted me into the upper echelon of old school game blogs. This resulted in my getting noticed by Joseph Goodman, who approached me with the opportunity to expand those essays into a book. As a native New Yorker, I was skeptical (“What sort of scam is this?” was my first impression upon reading his email if I remember correctly), but some research allayed my fears and I started down a most unexpected path.
Like a lot of gamers, I remember wanting so badly to grow up and work at TSR. I read the TSR profiles in Dragon magazine with great interest, imagining how cool it would be to work with what appeared to be the most diverse and zaniest crew my young mind could comprehend. And while my interests shifted as I grew older and began worrying about making a living that could pay the bills and/or allow me to create art, I never truly lost my desire to maybe make games for a living. Joseph Goodman was kind enough to take a chance on an untried writer and designer to give me that opportunity—something which I will always be grateful for.
The Dungeon Alphabet continued to grow after I submitted my draft, nurtured by Joseph Goodman’s efforts. The occasional emails I received on its status staggered the mind as Joseph gave me progress reports on who was signed up for the art: Easley, Holloway, Roslof. Only Dee escaped the drag net due to other obligations. When the email that Erol Otus was doing the cover arrived, I knew that there must be some mistake. This was all intended for somebody else and an oversight at the Karmic Bureau had obviously occurred. I waited patiently for celestial agents to arrive on my doorstep and inform me that I’d be going back to sleeping in my car down by the river now. But that never came. The book, however, did and you fine, discerning folks embraced it and praised it. It remains (probably for only a short while longer) the most successful book Goodman Games has produced.
The success of the book and its suitability for winning this award does not rest solely on my shoulders and I’d be a fool and hypocrite to suggest otherwise. My writing merely served as a framework that Joseph Goodman provided the land for. Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Doug Kovacs, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Jesse Mohn, Peter Mullen, Erol Otus, Stefan Poag, Jim Roslof, Chad Sergesketter, Chuck Whelon, and Mike Wilson made that frame aesthetically appealing. Peter Bradley made sure the beams were lined up and the concrete had settled. Elizabeth Bauman ensured that the floors were level and free of typos to trip over. And David “Zeb” Cook, one of those people covered in Dragon’s TSR Profiles which I had read with great interest decades ago, stepped in to cut the ribbon and welcome visitors across the threshold. Without their efforts, The Dungeon Alphabet would still be a moderately successful, three-year old post series and nothing more. They are as worthy of this award as I am. For simplicity, I’ll keep it at my place, but they are all welcome to stop by to see it any time.
The Dungeon Alphabet led to other opportunities, the first being my other nominated book, Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls. I’d like to think that that book had something to do with my receiving the Three Castles Award as well, allowing me to demonstrate my design talents above and beyond the construction of interesting tables and instructive essays. Stonehell Dungeon would never had occurred had it not been for the work of David Bowman and Michael Shorten, both of whom I’m very grateful to and who I hope continue to produce and share their own creations with a wider audience. You guys both have talent you’re keeping under the bushel basket. Stonehell also owes a debt to Dan Proctor of Goblinoid Games who assisted me with my questions and was impressed enough to ask me to play with his Lovecraft action figures in that horrific sandbox know as the Realms of Crawling Chaos.
Despite these successes, it’s not been an easy year. Like a lot of Americans, I was hit by the downturn in the economy. My career is always somewhat dicey at best, being largely dependent on grant monies and other financial windfalls that can blow away all too easy in the financial breeze. I’ve been out of full time work for over two years now, making end meet with frugal living and by the occasional royalty check my game design work earns. Needless to say, any opportunity to do paid design work and writing is a welcome one, and I find it impossible to say no to those opportunities. (If you’re reading this and are looking to hire a new and now award-winning designer and writer, feel free to contact me. I can be there in a week if it’s a full time gig.) This award came at a time when I’ve been feeling especially low. It was a welcome respite from the doubts that have been plaguing me. Now, I’m filled with all new ones, the kinds experienced by the winner of “Best New Artist” each year in the record industry. Do I share the ultimate fate of Hanson, now? I shudder at the thought.
I think that I’ve carried on long enough. I’d like to close by offering my sincerest and deepest thanks to my friends who’ve supported and encouraged me during the last few years and to those designers who’ve welcomed me across the line between gamer and professional and offered me their own insights and wisdom in the process. And of course, I give my complete and utter gratitude to my family for being there for me even when I wasn’t. I love you all.
June 5th, 2011