This is a very hard blog entry to write. On Wednesday I received word that Bill Butler, my friend and co-founder of Bedrock Games, was in the hospital following a cardiac event and that he might not make it. Sadly as I walked out the door to go to the hospital his friend Ken told me that Bill had passed away. It didn’t seem real then and it doesn’t seem real now, but it is beginning to sink in.
Bill and I started Bedrock Games nearly five years ago. Together we designed five games and several modules. Over the years we worked on countless projects and I don’t think a week went by where we weren’t busy on some module, rulebook or supplement. Our collaboration style evolved with time and within the last couple of years I feel we hit our stride.
Working with Bill was a privilege. Like most collaborators we would sometimes clash over minutiae but we always understood the strengths the other person brought to the table, that the whole created through both our efforts was greater than what we might achieve on our own.
There are so many stories I could share to highlight the kind of designer Bill was. I think above all he was someone who understood what gaming was and what would work for the vast majority of tables. He didn’t follow trends, but he wasn’t afraid of them either if they had useful ideas. And though Bill was very much about roleplay and rulings over rules, he had deep knowledge of game systems built up from a lifetime of play at the table. Bill was the game mechanic wizard. He was great at finding the weakness in a mechanic and making it better.
Bill inspired me as a designer but also as a Gamemaster. He would often run campaigns of the games we made and his adventures always helped me think of new ideas. When we designed Sertorius I ran a campaign for the first half of development and Bill ran the second half. Bill’s campaign made the setting come alive for me.
A recent example is our Orcs of the North Campaign for Sertorius. When we made Gamandria, I put some Orcs in the far north who worshipped an Ice Lich and didn’t really give it a second thought. Frankly I was much more interested in the more Romanized Orcs to the south. But Bill was fascinated with the Northern Orcs of Atroxis and decided to base an entire campaign in the region. I don’t know what he had in mind when he started the session, but it really opened my eyes to the potential there. I think part of it was he wanted to show me that if we had Orcs worshipping a Lich, we really needed to think through the implications on the street level. It is one thing to say a group of Orcs worships an evil undead sorcerer, another thing to contemplate what motivates them to do so. Bill was very good at getting you to think about those things just in the way he ran a game.
But I didn’t just know Bill from Bedrock Games. I met him a long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, when I was running a Ravenloft campaign. A friend brought him into the game and I got along with Bill right off the bat. He was the sort of gamer everyone valued at the table. I have played in countless campaigns with him since, sometimes with him as the GM, sometimes with him as a Player. Whatever role he was performing, Bill worked hard to make the game fun for everyone. He always knew just the right thing to say to make people laugh.
Our co-designer, Dan Orcutt, shared a similar line of thought when we were thinking about Bill the other day. I think he sums it up better than I could:
I think what I'm going to miss most about Bill at the gaming table is his laugh. Whenever something was suggested, or a situation occurred in-game, he'd immediately leap several steps ahead to the potential ramifications from the perspective of some NPC or another, and he'd give that wry laugh of his and explain the potential fallout.
Dan and I both agree it is going to be strange playing without him. I don’t remember the last time I was at a game that he wasn’t also a part of.
Bill wasn’t just a great gamer, he was a great friend. He was the kind of person who you could count on to be there if you needed to talk. He was a very good listener, but also good at giving his opinions (which he rarely held back). I remember when I first met Bill and how easy it was to talk to him.
Bill really could talk about anything. His knowledge of all things geek-related was encyclopedic. When we would go to conventions together to promote our games, I always made a point of putting him out there to chat with folks because whether it was Superman, Doctor Who, Harlan Ellison, Rolemaster or World War II battle tactics, he had an informed opinion to express but also had that curiosity about other peoples’ thoughts that made him such a welcoming person to speak with. Bill knew a lot but he never felt the need to be the expert in the room. He could ask questions and didn’t pretend to know more than he did.
Writing about him now it really is hard to believe he is gone.
Our last session with Bill was this past Saturday. I’ve never taken pictures at a session before but I did so because I thought it would be nice to post some images on the blog for our Orcs of the North recap. You can see some of those images in the last Orcs of the North post. But I took a number of pictures of Bill as well while he ran the game and would like to share those with you now.
Bill cannot be replaced and he will be missed by us all.