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Close to the Edit

Who is Ross Winn?

by Ross Winn
Nov 28,2003


Who is Ross Winn?

Well the simple answer is 'me' of course, but I guess that is a bit too vague. I have said before that the only way to know where you are going is to understand where you have been. So I guess that is where we should start.

In 1977, for my eleventh birthday I received a box emblazoned with the words Dungeons & Dragons in weird serif capitals. Inside was a plain blue booklet. A friend, a man named Asa, thought it would be cool if we played. His brothers played, though they were a lot older, and they said it was cool, so they had to be right. As an aside, his older brother, Aaron, eventually had a cover story in Dragon Magazine a few years later. Pretty cool.

My first character was Sven. Do not ask me why he was Sven, he just was. Sven was a magic-user. Sven was a wimp. He had a lot of money, and that allowed him to hire people a lot more competent than him to keep him alive so he could work magic. We played incessantly. Sometimes five hours a day. Much of the time it was just my friend and I, but others played too.

Once, on a particularly warm summer day the older boys asked if we wanted to play with them. We acquitted ourselves well, I thought. Once, when Aaron corrected an interpretation of the rules I had made incorrectly he casually said 'I used to think that too, but try it this way...' After that game my feet didn't touch the ground for a week. I was a player, and they thought I was pretty cool for a little kid. I went to our local Hobby Town every Saturday. I learned to play other games. Chivalry & Sorcery, Arduin, Boot Hill, Traveller. Soon after that, I was ripped away from all I had known and deposited in Florida. The games came with me. In many ways the games were the thing that defined me.

In 1980 I ran my first Science Fiction campaign, using Traveller. Though I had run the occasional adventure I not ever tried something like this. I have no idea whether it sucked or rocked. I only know that I was completely hooked. I never looked back, and I ran more and more games. I lost sleep and played. I went to school and played. I just simply played. I started keeping notes in 1980 or so as well. By 1984 I had a few hundred pages of notes. I was looking for something that didn't exist yet. I would keep looking for about four more years. I wrote a generic SF game; huge troop carriers with hundreds of me firing volleys of lasers from the decks. Mechanical people toiling in rags under the watchful eyes of their masters. Everyone was pretty, except those who reveled in their ugliness.

In 1988 I went to Necronomicon in Tampa. A buddy named Steve pulled out a black box called Cyberpunk. As I skimmed the book over I was electrocuted to my seat. This was what I was looking for. Towering space-scrapers where corporate presidents ruled the world. Metal-faced monsters in an underworld populated by punks, glitterboys, and superstars. It was the perfect place to tell my stories. I wrote a letter to the creator early the next year.

I got to meet Michael Pondsmith at DragonCon in Atlanta. I was, as I recall, nearly gibbering. He was very gracious, though I am sure he was also very relieved to see me go away. I had spent just over twenty minutes talking to him. I was on fire. The next day I discovered Michael was to be the guest of honor at a party given by the worldcon bid committee. I bought an early membership and went. I don't know what I expected that afternoon. I did know what I did not expect. I did not expect the two guys hosting the party, Mike, and I to be sitting there for two hours just talking. We were the only people who showed up. Even after knowing him for over ten years and working for him much of that time, including one Christmas dinner at his house, it is the longest face to face discussion we have ever had. I still remember what he said to me as I left to meet my girlfriend. "Write something so I can publish it!"

I did. He did. That was how it started.

This leaves out little niggling details like the thousand hours I spent researching Home of the Brave, or the night sweats that were NeoTribes, the loud pontification that was 'Screwheads,' or the million other things that now make me cringe. Someone said invention was one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, and they were right on the money. I bet that one sentence took that guy a year to write.

I have been freelancing for a while now. People keep telling me I should write more, so sometimes I do. Sometimes it is fifty words on a page for a throw-away character, sometimes it is a game. The feeling of finding the perfect place to tell my stories with Cyberpunk faded after a few years. Though the setting and the paradigms were as enthralling as ever, I wanted to tell different stories. I still go there from time to time. In my mind it is like walking along a lake shore where you learned to swim. I see where I was, and revel in the memory of what I did. A while later some kids jump into the lake with squeals of glee and I realize that I am a bit of a stranger here now; that I shouldn't intrude on them, and I slip away into the trees. I realize now, a bit older if no wiser than I was then, that I am looking for different things now, and that many people are looking for something completely different from me.

So here we are in the end of 2003 and I have decided to write a column. Basically an amalgam of ideas that are run through the filter that is my twisted mind. I am sure I willl offend, incite, bore, and amuse some people. I hope that you are one of them.

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