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November 11th, 2010


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02:28 pm - Wow! Good Memory!
So, once upon a time, like, say 1992, I was doing freelance work for a microscopic little role-playing game company called Wizards of the Coast. I'd first been asked to do a re-write of their very first product, an RPG supplement called "The Primal Order," and ended up listed as a co-author on that work. In particular, I'd greatly expanded on the ideas describing how to handle interdimensional travel, or 'planar' travel, and just generally how different planes would fit into the Primal Order system. The fourth (and, as it happens, last) book in the series was a book entirely dedicated to handling planes in RPGs, and it was my job to write this one from scratch.

We had a tiny art budget. If I recall correctly, I actually donated my typesetting fee (I typeset all the Primal Order books) to help buy more art. I did the cartography myself (and really wish we'd been able to pay somebody else to redo them {sigh}), and the company didn't really have the time/resources to have somebody properly edit it, so it wasn't what it could have been, but then, that's really par for the course with RPG publishing. I did meet my deadline. The initial (and only) print run of 3000 copies was actually picked up from the printer by somebody at White Wolf Publishing (because they and the printer were both in the Midwest), and White Wolf brought it to GenCon 1993 to give to WotC. My first book! So exciting!

Of course, that's the same GenCon that we introduced a brand new game product; called "Magic: the Gathering."

Needless to say, the release of "Chessboards: the Planes of Possibility" was mostly overlooked in the hoopla. As far as I know, there was only one mainstream review, but at least it was a good one. Dragon Magazine rated products with a die. I used to tell people that the way it worked was "1 was really bad, 5 was really good, and 6 was a TSR product." The issue that they reviewed "Planes of Possibility" was also the one they reviewed TSR's new campaign setting "Planescape." Planescape got a 6. Planes got a 5. {grin} The sound bite I remember best from the review was "It's a mess, but it's a glorious mess."

Years pass, and I get laid off. I realize I only have two copies of my book. I figure I might want a few more. I talk to an old friend at Wizards who was in charge of the internal product distribution system about getting a few more copies. "Sure, no problem." Months pass. I eventually enquire again, and find out that Wizards had let Bob go. Back to square one. I check with a couple more friends, finally working with the exceptionally sensible and reliable Carol, who tells me that the reason it's so difficult for me to get any more copies is because the entire RPG line was discontinued and the books have been pulled out of the system, so nobody knows how to "find" them anymore. Further, the remaining stock is now, er, 'scheduled for termination.' There are a few hundred copies still unsold, and they're going to be shredded or recycled or some such. Carol manages to get a stay of execution on my book, so it will still be there when we figure out how to get me a few copies.

At one point, somebody told me that there'd be no problem getting a few copies, but I'd have to buy them. At retail. Since I already knew they were on death row, I reacted poorly to the idea that I should pay Wizards $12.95 a copy for a book they were trying to throw away. Eventually somebody agreed that this should fall under the same category as when TSR authors (since now TSR was a division of Wizards) wanted copies of works they'd written for TSR: the manufacturing cost, which I knew was around $3/book.

However, nobody at Wizards actually had records of what something this old had originally cost. Also, since I wasn't a current TSR author, I didn't have any royalty checks or such out of which the cost of the books could be subtracted, and nobody had a clue how to put cash, or a check, into the system in such a way as to get it to apply to these non-existant books. I pointed out that I had hundreds of dollars of 'in-house store credit' as a shareholder that I'd never spent, which relieved them no end; an account to which these could be billed that just involved moving numbers around. Whew!

It took almost two years after that stay of execution before Carol told me she'd finally figured out how to get me some more copies of "Planes." There were a few boxes in Wizards' warehouse in Kent, and some in the
East Coast warehouse. Was it OK if I didn't need the East Coast ones, 'cause they'd be kind of a hassle and expense to ship back? Good grief, yes. I only wanted, say, a dozen or so, and apparently there were two or three boxes here and a box or two there, where a box contained 60+ copies of the book. No, I couldn't actually just go to the warehouse to get them; they weren't prepared to handle somebody actually knocking on their door. They would have to be delivered to Wizard's offices first. Apparently Carol needed to 'jiggle' them, to make them move from Point A to Point B, in order to make them 'exist' in the system again and thus be able to hand some to me.

Except it didn't work out quite that way. A month or so later, there's a knock at the door. It's a delivery guy, with something to deliver. I find this 20 foot truck with a hydraulic lift parked in the street behind my condo. There's a stack of six boxes sitting on a hand truck in the back of the truck, which is otherwise a vast and empty box. He wheels the hand truck onto the lift, lowers everything down to the street ("beep beep beep"), and delivers over 300 copies of "Planes" to my door.

To this day I don't know if there were just a lot more of them in Kent than Carol had thought, or if I some how got the East Coast copies as well. I also don't know if anybody ever figured out how to deduct or account for them, because I don't think my shareholder product credit would have covered $1000+ of books.

I put a few more on my shelf, and I've given some of them away, including giving a couple to a used RPG book dealer at a convention. I'd also listed them with Amazon, which (some years ago) involved visiting theirwarehouse in the SoDo area to give them a couple copies for their stock, but the program under which that happened apparently dissolved at some point. This summer, I happened to Google the book for some reason, and found that somebody was offering a used copy of Planes on Amazon for over $100. So I jumped through the hoops to re-establish my seller's account and started offering shiny new copies, in case anybody actually wanted one.

A few weeks later, somebody did. That first copy I simply sold at the cover price, but since the other available copies were a lot more (there was a second dealer offering a used copy for around $45), I decided, especially given that it takes me about 1/2 hour to fulfill an order, to bump the price to $19.95.

A couple weeks ago, a second order came in, accompanied by a note: 'Hi! I've wanted to read *Chessboards* ever since I read a glowing review for it in Dragon magazine back when I was still a kid. Never was able to track down a copy, but now I see you're selling them directly from Seattle, where I live. Do you have a bricks+mortar location for your sales, or is shipping the only means of securing a copy?'

{blink} That was seventeen years ago! He's been waiting to read my book for seventeen years?

Wow.

Anyway, he (or possibly she, I'm not sure from the name I have) decided he didn't want to impose on me at home, and bus fare was about the same as shipping, so I'm just sending a copy.

When I was younger, there were plenty of people saying things like "live your dream," and "fortune favors the bold," and "no guts no glory," and all that usual stuff about how one shouldn't live life timidly. But nobody ever mentioned that one of the reasons to do so is that reflections of an interesting life would bounce off and return years later. At least once or twice a year, something like this happens to me. I think the previous echo was the person at . . . Foolscap? . . . who discovered I was the guy who'd shared the insider scoop about Magic to a crowd of gamers at a convention at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. (RudiCon had asked Wizards if they'd send somebody to their con, and I was scheduled to do some publishing meetings in New York, so I did RudiCon first, then business in NYC during the week, then I-con on Long Island the next weekend, then back to Seattle.)

Of course, I probably wouldn't have considered getting interesting echoes from earlier parts of my life all that important when I was twenty four. Still, I'm sure enjoying it now.
Current Mood: happyhappy

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