In 1994 the SoCal gaming community connected every holiday weekend at one of three Strategicon shows in LA. Shadis and AEG became regulars at these events, and when not at the show someone was always hanging out at our FLGS All-Star Games.
(RIP Dave and Carol Turrietta)
Like a tavern before a D&D adventure, this is where we slowly formed the party that would go on this first adventure with us. I have worked with a lot of talented people over the last 27 years, but I have never lucked into the kind of talent we had during those first few years. There was a lot of, a random gamer showing up at the house or offices to visit and then weeks later we realized they were just coming back every day, and then we would discover they were Beatles’ level rock stars.
When we decided to make a CCG, we started whiteboarding ideas. We ended up with three core ideas on the board. Cowboys (would become Doomtown) Pirates (would become 7th Sea) and Samurai. David and I had played a little RPG game called Bushido growing up and we loved the Samurai genre. We broke the tie and said, “Let’s make a game about Samurai.”
I don’t remember when Matt Wilson joined us, but I do remember that he did not talk about his art. He was just a guy wanting to help us make games. As we got closer to a publication date for L5R, one day he disappeared for long enough that we were asking where he was. He then showed up with his first L5R piece, Togashi Yokuni. Imagine our surprise when he came back with this piece of art. I was stunned. How does the perfect guy walk in from a local store to be your art director and he is also one of the best artists in the history of gaming? (Maybe my superpower is luck.) Matt’s story is a great one. After he left AEG he worked with Wizards and then started his own company. A small venture you may have seen around, Privateer Press.
Matt Staroscik was a friend of Matt Wilson’s. He was quiet and would show up every day and just grind on anything we needed to make things work. He helped with editing, game design, graphics. He is super talented and was willing to do just about anything for the team. He was a huge part of helping us get L5R out and keeping other projects flowing through AEG. I do not think the quiet Matt gets enough kudos during the telling of the tales from those days, but he and DJ were the glue that helped hold the place together.
Our vision for CCGs was to come at them from our RPG background. AEG was continuing to publish Shadis, a mostly RPG focused magazine, and so when we landed on the idea of L5R we immediately knew were going to be making an RPG as well. John Wick wrote an article for Shadis and was quickly recruited, and joined our team as continuity editor, storyteller, and writer. I think the most important thing he brought to L5R was his ability to tell stories. Not write them. John would not only write stories he would travel to shows and create them on the fly like a GM. As events at a tournament unfolded, he would weave them into a tale for the players and then come home and make them cannon.
The L5R CCG, RPG, and the storyline idea that would continue in our future games was a true team effort. We moved out of the apartment and into an office in Ontario, California, our home for the next 20 years. 1995 was a crazy blur. We were working on the CCG, the RPG, published the first CCG storage boxes, and we were publishing an issue of Shadis every month, We were doing everything we could to keep the business going until we got the CCG to market.
With deadlines looming, the team pulled through. Just days before Gencon 2015, Matt and Matt jumped into a car and drove to Dallas, Texas, to pick up the demo cards we were using at Gencon.
This team set the bar extremely high for future teams. It was they who opened my eyes to exactly what happens when passion, talent, and hard work converge.
Next week I will talk about how we launched L5R into the teeth of the first CCG crash and the things we did to survive that crazy year.