Thursday, May 10, 2012

Q&A With David Silvera, author of WIZARDS' WORLD

David Silvera was kind enough to write up a Q&A of some of his thoughts and recollections of WIZARDS' WORLD. Thanks David! I'm delighted that this game is reaching a new audience.

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Q: Why did you create Wizards’ World?

A: Before Wizards’ World, my gaming group mostly played AD&D. At that time, AD&D’s roots in strategy gaming showed a little too clearly for our taste – basically, we wanted a system that let characters be more unique. We wanted fighters who could be great with rapiers but lousy with axes, thieves who could pick locks but not pockets, and wizards whose spell repertoire could not be predicted simply by knowing their class level.

Over the years, we accumulated a growing volume of house rules to help us achieve our gaming goals, until I eventually came to the conclusion that our game was more house rules than core rules. At that point, it seemed at least worth considering publishing our own system. And, of course, it would be really cool to do that…

Q: How did Wizards’ World come to be?

A: We eventually found a friend of a friend of a friend who was willing to provide the publishing know-how to get out a book. He showed pity on poor college students and helped us a lot figuring out how to proceed, and undoubtedly also cut us a really good deal on printing prices.

I did most of the writing in 1982, which is eons ago by publishing standards. In particular, I didn’t have a computer, I didn’t have word processing software (much less publishing software), and I was 100% dependent on typesetters and fancy publisher machinery to make Wizards’ World happen. The actual production process was about like this: Any chance I got over a period of 6 months or so, I went to a friend’s house and typed like a maniac while discussing both how to design various game elements (given that there was no longer a need/reason to anchor our design in a pre-existing system) and how to explain everything so gamers would understand what we were trying to do.

The biggest glitch in the process was that it turned out we were not allowed to edit the document after typesetting. In other words, my stream-of-consciousness typing is pretty much exactly what you see in the Wizards’ World book. Considering that, I’m shocked at how well written Wizards’ World is, but I did have some regrets about things I never got a chance to fix in the official copies. We got out an errata sheet to fix most of the meaningful errors (i.e., ones that influenced gameplay as opposed to formatting inconsistencies and typos), but that was as far as we were able to go. An updated second edition with errors fixed, a few new game elements added, and a million or so spells and monsters would have been great, but unfortunately never came to pass.

Q: What about the business side?

A: This is a tough one… Basically, we were a bunch of college kids who thought we had a good idea for a game. In fact, I still think we had a good idea for a game. Our biggest obstacle was that we didn’t have two business brain cells to rub together between us. None of us had any relevant experience, and none of us were studying any aspect of business (although I did get a belated MBA degree 7 years later).

Luckily, we happened to have a gaming contact who was also involved in the business side of gaming. His name was Russell Powell, and he was a huge help in getting Wizards’ World started. Without Russ, I’m not sure Wizards’ World would even have gotten off the ground at all. We made a lot of contacts through Russ, basically with him trying to get us to meet people to tell us what we were in for and how to deal with it. The most memorable was a great dinner we had with Dave Arneson. Dave was a super nice guy and really encouraged us to push forward with Wizards’ World.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day Wizards’ World wasn’t polished enough to be successful even back in the early 1980’s. We went to some industry conventions without a lot of success, and reviews from within the industry (public and private) were mostly negative.

Although the scale was way too small to produce mass interest in Wizards’ World, the place we really had success was at gaming conventions. We ran games at local conventions for about 5 years where we would give a basic orientation about the rules then run a session. In that context, we got a lot of positive feedback about Wizards’ World and developed a fairly large following in the local gaming community. Gaming convention sales weren’t enough to drive a business, though, and all of us college students drifted our separate ways after graduating. That was pretty much the end of Wizards’ World as a commercial enterprise.

Q: What is cool about Wizards’ World?

A: To make up for the previous question, I threw myself a softball this time. Like I said earlier, our gaming group wanted characters to feel unique and special. We also liked to be able to spend time outside of sessions planning and thinking about our characters (I know this is controversial and some people would prefer to get right to gaming with zero prep time). Although some game components evolved after the book was published, you can really see this in the Wizards’ World spell system if you look past all the scary numbers in the spell tables. You can basically customize to focus on anything you want – for example, in the last Wizards’ World game I played we had one character who dominated most combats by spamming one super-powerful paralysis spell but was pretty much a one-trick pony, whereas my character was a utility caster who had a few decent combat spells plus a ton of low level spells that collectively covered almost any imaginable occasion.

Another thing I really like about Wizards’ World is that even low level characters get to feel useful. Especially back in the 1980’s, a lot of times low level characters literally couldn’t do anything (old school players must remember the “I’ve cast my one first level spell for the day; I’m done until we rest” feeling). We wanted to get at least a bit of a heroic feeling from day 1 of gameplay, but still have enough upside that characters get to grow over time. I think we did a pretty good job of achieving that.

Q: What are your best Wizards’ World memories?

A: The top of the list has to be the fact that I met my wife while running a Wizards’ World game. Aside from that, I think it is the humorous stuff that sticks most in my mind. Here are some examples: I gave a player a magic suit that let him stretch his body like Mr. Fantastic (from the Fantastic Four), and he later used that to stretch his neck through a prison cage to trip a lever that enabled the party to escape. We had a running gag with one of our regular convention players where each session we found a new way to get the player’s character tied up in a Salin’s Magic Rope spell. Another player had a zombie toucan familiar that produced some interesting interactions. Hmm, maybe you had to be there, but those were all really funny at the time…

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WIZARDS' WORLD is available in PDF format and in print.

9 comments:

ancientvaults said...

Great Q&A! What is keeping the author from making that revised second edition now, with printing and publishing being much easier than before? I would really like to see a revised and expanded version of this.

Dan of Earth said...

If there is enough demand maybe that is possible!

James Maliszewski said...

Thank you so much for doing stuff like this, Dan. It's a real service you're providing everyone interested in preserving the heritage of this hobby.

ancientvaults said...

We need to drum up demand, I want to see this man's 2nd edition of the game come true.

Billiam Babble said...

No, wait a second! I'm still reading the first one! :D

ancientvaults said...

So I ordered the print version, then the pdf because I couldn't wait. Yes, this is really a neat approach. I do want to see a 2nd edition of this, revised (Valley Giants?!) or made OGL! As a matter of fact, Dan, could you give the author my email address if possible? (ancientvaults at gmail DOT com)

Dan of Earth said...

Hi bat, sent you a PM over on the forums.

Ed Bailey said...

Hi all! I am the player behind that "one-trick pony" and have a lot of fond memories of WW. In over 20 years of gaming, Hermes (er-mez) is still one of my favorites.

WW is a fun system - with simple rules that work up and down the levels. One of the things I really appreciate is that awesomeness is about your abilities much more than cool toys.

steve hellar said...

Thanks for share your ideas..This is so informative..

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