John Adamus belongs to the talented assortment of editors in the role-playing game industry. Currently part of the team working on Damage Control for the Marvel Heroic RPG from Margaret Weis Productions, he’s working The Dresden Files: Paranet Papers with fellow editor Amanda Valentine, and Project Ninja Panda Taco from past column visitor Jennifer of Jennisodes. With a solid catalog of past projects, Adamus works day and night as an editor of games and fiction.
How did you get into RPG editing?
I got into editing games on somewhat of a lark. I’ve playtested games before and didn’t realize that my attention to the details of the text (not the mechanics but the words around the mechanics) qualified as editing. I just thought that was what a playtester did and thought nothing more about it. I then continued to keep my game playing separate from my job (which at this particular point was teaching writing workshops and taking on private clients who wanted to write books), but that all changed last November at Double Exposure’s Metatopia Convention in Morristown (only a few minutes and a few traffic lights from my house). I figured it was at least a chance to meet the people whose games I played and enjoyed, as well as give a midnight writing workshop for those interested. Once I arrived and started attending panels, I started giving my opinion and sharing my ideas (which is not an uncommon occurrence once you know me), and that led to several game designers asking me if I was available to work with them on upcoming projects, as well as an interview on the Jennisodes podcast. From that interview, everything has just sort of ballooned, bloomed and blossomed into how things are today – my business has grown into more game-related work than novels (though I’m finding a hybrid with editing fiction lines for games), and I’m enjoying it loads more.
Most RPGs have a geographically diverse staff. How do you build a rapport with your authors and fellow team members who are located elsewhere?
That rapport is critical and for me starts as soon as possible, usually by contacting the authors or whoever is my liaison/bridge to the project and getting into a conversational tone with them. With a more ‘we’re-all-in-this-together-we-all-want-to-do-a-great-job‘ vibe established, it doesn’t matter if the whole staff is half a world away because whenever we come together (through chats or emails or even notes left in Dropboxes), that vibe is strong and clear. The other advantage to this attitude is moving the ego-jockeying to one side and bringing people together not because they’re just famous names but because they’re good at what they do and we all want the work to succeed.
You’ve worked on a variety of RPGs, some of which have been licensed properties. What unique editing needs have you encountered with licensed games?
While I cannot speak for the other editors I’ve been so fortunate to work with, I can say that for me, the biggest concern is respecting the canon of the source material through the license, rather than taking advantage of it. It is such a privilege to have access to someone’s hard work for the purposes of playing a game with it that I think so many people overlook that fact because they just want to handle their own ‘do-over’ to patch disagreements they had when they first encountered that source material (they thought Character X should have / didn’t need to die, they wanted Characters A and B to get together, they thought a certain plot arc was utter rubbish and want to ‘fix’ it, etc).
But it’s not their job to “fix” it, it’s their job to enjoy it. A licensed game especially has to translate from whatever medium it originated in to whatever marriage of mechanics and development the game incorporates while not radically altering the original material (you cannot suddenly have a flying character not fly because the mechanics don’t permit flight) – because you run the risk of doing a disservice to the license (which makes both the game and the original material look bad) but also alienating your audience (they come to the product with certain expectations and if you’re not meeting them as a product, you WILL hear about it).
Editorially, (again this is my perspective) if I can find the tone and emotion behind the ideas in the source material, I can make sure they’re present in the game material. If a certain property is known to be gritty but have a wise-cracking charm, that has to be present in the text, and that means I often have to read or re-read that text to work out the word choices and the sentence construction along with the chronology and setting (because a licensed property can’t contradict the source). This stems from the idea that the licensed game is an extension of the material, exposing a new audience to the material through a vehicle they understand (rolling dice, character sheets, etc) rather than a “take” or spin on existing material.
What’s working with the rest of the Damage Control team for the Marvel RPG been like?
Far and away the Damage Control team is a wonderful group of incredibly hard-working editors and developers who amaze me with the tremendous amounts of work they do (so much more than many people realize), and who deserve all the credit and praise they’re getting, plus an extra heap more. I have worked with a lot of other people on a lot of projects, and repeatedly I find myself mirroring Damage Control’s organization in other projects – it’s been a profoundly transformative experience. It’s an invaluable asset to me to know that if I have a problem, I can very quickly go to another person, state the issue and we work together to find a solution. It can be so discouraging to ask questions to unresponsive people, and that is not the case with Damage Control.
It’s also the most supportive group of people I’ve ever met, even outside the Marvel RPG work. If I say I’m also doing this or that project, or that I’ve written something for the blog, other people care and do their best to read or comment or share it with others – it leads to a feeling of not being overlooked, undervalued or ignored, which unfortunately can happen when, as an editor, you take on projects and discover that the author may not like you changing their words or that a certain project has quite a few problems bubble up to the surface as you get deeper into it and deadlines loom.
If I may take a moment, I want to single out two people, Amanda Valentine and Cam Banks, without whom I would not be so lucky as to be a part of such a great project and be able to contribute whatever I can to material I believe so strongly in. I owe so much of my recent successes and happiness to their assistance and friendship and am so thankful for their belief in me to do the work I do.