Tuesday, February 26, 2013

James M Ward Interview

If you want to touch base with someone who actually participated in Gary Gygax's home campaign, James M. Ward is your man. After TSR got on its feet, James was added to the payroll and proceeded to produce Metamorphosis Alpha, the first science fiction role playing game. He worked for TSR for more than 20 years, producing, writing, and contributing to a long range of products. James has kindly answered the interview questions below.

RW: You worked with David "Zeb" Cook, Steve Winter, and Mike Breault on the adventure Ruins of Adventure that was the basis for Pool of Radiance. What was your role like in contributing to this adventure? Was it written with the idea of using it for a video game? What was it like working with Cook, Winter, and Breault on the same adventure? Did you interact with Chuck Kroegel from SSI on the project?

JMW: Zeb, Steve, and Mike are very creative and professional people. I worked with them on many projects over the years. We all contributed storylines and encounters for that product. Keep in mind that it was written in the late ‘80s so the hows and whys of putting that together are dim in my memory. However, working with those three was always a pleasure and I very much enjoy seeing them even now. I’m hoping to catch all three of them either at Gary Con in March or Texas RPG Con in June.

JMW: I had the extreme good pleasure of working with Chuck Kroegel from SSI on many computer gaming projects. His drive to create quality product was always an inspiration for me. I had some very good times going to the offices of SSI to talk about the development of TSR licensed computer product with him. I was a stickler for using the AD&D rules but there were several times when they ran into programming snags that caused them lots of trouble. I think many of the area effect spells where especially hard to program. Chuck would bring these problems to me and he and I would work out a way to solve them and still keep the integrity of the rules system intact.

RW: Pool of Radiance was the first video game based on AD&D rules. Released in 1988 for the Apple II, MS DOS and Commodore 64. A year later, in 1989, a novel was released that tied into the setting and encounters of Pool of Radiance. You are co-credited with Jane Cooper Hong as the author of the novel Pool of Radiance. You then went on to write two sequels, Pool of Darkness and Pools of Twilight with Anne K. Brown. You must not have had much time to sleep with so much on your plate. Did you enjoy writing those stories? Was there are reason for Jane Cooper Hong only working on the first novel and not the entire trilogy? Do you work better writing with a partner?

JMW: I wrote a lot of successful product at TSR. When the company started looking for someone to write the novels for the first computer game I was a natural for the job because I knew so much about the game. I don’t think Jane was with TSR when the two sequels were imagined. At that time the book department at TSR was in a trilogy mood. Both women were very creative and talented and it was a pleasure working with both of them. I don’t usually pick up writing partners, but I was very busy with many TSR projects at that time so partnering up turned out to be an excellent idea that created what I think was a fun set of three books. While I am capable of working on projects with others, I favor working on things by myself. I’m a quick study and like to bring product in on their deadlines and within a budget.

RW: Stepping back in time slightly, Gary Gygax left TSR at the end of 1985. He started New Infinites Productions Inc. (NIPI) in 1986. Frank Mentzer joined him soon thereafter. You have mentioned many times that Gary was a mentor and a friend. Did Gary ever ask you to join NIPI?

JMW: For part of that New Infinites time I was still working at TSR. I truly loved my time with TSR and so would have said no. I was very jealous of Frank and Kim Mohan who went over there to work. They produced some excellent gaming material. After I was gone from TSR I loaded myself up with lots of writing projects and connecting with New Infinites just wasn’t in the cards.

RW: You worked on Greyhawk Adventures while working at TSR. Was it awkward working on the home campaign world of Gary Gygax after he had left the company? Were you chosen to write this hardback tome due to having first hand knowledge of Gary's campaign? 1988 must have been a very busy time for you as Greyhawk Adventures, Ruins of Adventure, and Pool of Radiance were all released during the year.

JMW: It wasn’t awkward. I was lucky to play in Gary’s Greyhawk campaign and consumers were interested in any Greyhawk material and I supplied it. I never said it was Gary material I was writing, but I gave them the flavor of that excellent campaign fantasy world. Every year was a busy time for me at TSR. The company kept me very busy with fun writing projects and I got more and more into helping to manage the many campaign worlds. There was a huge talent pool at TSR that would be difficult if not impossible to duplicate today. The combination of imaginative developing managers, designers, production editors, graphics specialists, and world class artists made TSR into the leading hobby game company in the world at that time. I had the fun opportunity of being right in the middle of all of that.

RW: Do you believe that people with beards have an extra reserve of strength, power, and creativity due to the power of their facial hair? 

JMW: Wouldn’t it be nice if beards had that power. Let me tell you a little story. The time was 1973 and I was in college getting a teaching degree. I spent one semester working at the Delevan High School as an assistant teacher for Mr. Beauford Bridenstine, a history teacher there. At the time I was fairly broad shouldered; not tall more dwarf-like than ogre-like. My teacher had given me a task and I was walking between classes from one part of the school to another. I smiled and walked past the assistant principal. Now, he was hill giant big. Before I knew it he had thrown me up against the lockers and demanded to know what class I belonged in. I was surprised and speechless for a minute. I was one of the instructors and didn’t expect to be treated like a student. From that day forward I’ve worn a beard and no one has thought of me as a youngster since them.

RW: Your name is listed as Jim Ward on some of your works, others have James M. Ward. Do you have a preference for how your name is displayed?

JMW: If you found something with me listed as Jim Ward you need to let me know what it is. Over the years since 1974 I’ve worked hard to make sure I was always listed as James M. Ward. I have another little story for that one. When METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA, the first science fiction RPG came out it listed me as Jim Ward. My dad saw the book and was quite irritated. He said that he gave me my James M. Ward name on purpose and I should be using it on anything important. From then on when asked, I always tell them to use the James M. Ward name for my products. I’m happy to report that the first version of MA and the larger fourth edition are still on sale at RPG.net. (METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA on RPGnow)

RW: You have had some major medical bills and expenses of late. Tim Kask set up a James M. Ward Relief Fund to help offset the cost of medical expenses. Is that fund still in operation? Where could readers go to help out the esteemed Mr. Ward?

JMW: In the last two and a half years I’ve been unusually sick. Things like a triple heart bypass and the removal of my gall bladder has created staggering bills of over a hundred grand. Tim was a good friend and set up the now defunct bailoutthewarden fund. Anyone interested in helping me out can send something to sirjmw@aol at my paypal account. People have been very kind and helped me quite a bit. I still have over $85,000 in medical bills.

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