Following on our exploration of women creators in the world of American comics, let’s take a look at women creating our favorite American RPGs. Once again we find women involved in the earliest days of the medium, though the names tend not to be as widely known.
Take Darlene Jean Pekul, for instance. The name might not spring immediately to mind, but if you’re a fan of TSR’s earliest publications you’re almost certainly familiar with her work. A graphic artist, her illustrations in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide straddled a line between the Pre-Raphaelites and Art Nouveau. In that book, she is most remembered for her shy succubus and mermaid illustrations. More widely known was the map she did of Greyhawk’s Flanaess. The hand-done calligraphy gave that original map a unique look unmatched in today’s era of Photoshopped text, and it remains the go-to map for fans of the Greyhawk setting.
Another name from the early days of D&D, perhaps better known than Darlene Pekul’s, is Jean Wells. While Wells did contribute some art to the adventure Lost Tomoachan and the fourth printing of the Monster Manual, she was hired by Gygax as the first woman in the design department. In that capacity, she was the editor for the adventure White Plume Mountain and the inaugural author of the Sage Advice column of rules advice and clarification in DRAGON magazine.
Wells’ major claim to fame is as the original author of the adventure module Palace of the Silver Princess. Originally written by her to be a follow-up on the introductory adventures of the B series, the original printing created such controversy when it arrived at the TSR offices (possibly due largely to Erol Otus art that caricatured certain employees of TSR at the time) that nearly all copies of the orange-cover version were destroyed. A later green-covered version included lots of reworking by Tom Moldvay. Still, there are a few of the original orange-cover versions of the adventure out there. In 2008, one sold at auction for over $3,000, the highest price ever paid for non-unique D&D adventure.
Nicole Lindroos is one of those lucky people who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. She was at Lion Rampant when it merged with White Wolf in ’90, just before the release of Vampire: the Masquerade. She then joined Atlas Games just in time to discover the Once Upon a Time storytelling card game. In 2000, at the dawn of the d20 boom, she and her husband, Chris Pramas, founded Green Ronin Publishing, which later published the Dragon Age tabletop RPG based on the computer game. Most recently, she’s spearheaded the Kickstarter for the second edition of the Blue Rose romantic fantasy RPG which should be hitting store shelves soon.
Shanna Germain has been a pillar of the Monte Cook Games team for a while now. Her background writing kinky erotica and being “an outspoken advocate” for GLBTQ rights frequently shows up in the games she’s worked on. She also writes fiction based on the worlds of MCG.
Perhaps the most influential woman in gaming today might be someone you’ve never heard of: Lisa Stevens. She got her start in gaming in college, even hanging around to DM after earning her MBA. Her college friends Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein-Hagen founded Lion Rampant Games, publishers of Ars Magica, where she worked as an editor. She’s the one who pitched the idea of merging with White Wolf, where she supported Rein-Hagen’s ideas that eventually became Vampire: the Gathering. She became the first full-time employee of Wizards of the Coast in ’91. She launched The Duelist to support a fledgling game called Magic: the Gathering. She became Brand Manager for Greyhawk after WotC acquired TSR and D&D.
After leaving WotC, Stevens founded her own company in order to publish DRAGON and DUNGEON magazines. She was there when her company published the first modern adventure path, The Shackled City. When WotC took both of those properties back in-house, Stevens shepherded her company into creating its own RPG, leveraging their reputation for high quality, high production values, and a strong relationship with their fans. That game, of course, is the Pathfinder RPG and the company she founded and still serves as CEO is Paizo Publishing.