From TSR to WotC: A History of D&D

From TSR to WotC: A History of D&D

Links, Articles, Posts & Essays

Being a collection of links and articles. Please help this project by adding any you know of. It's a wiki, y'know!

TSR

  • The Wikipedia page
  • Chainmail [1970] -- "The progenitor of Dungeons & Dragons. Ostensibly a straight-wargaming rulebook for miniatures, its "Fantasy Supplement" sparked a phenomenon. Originally published in rough form in Domesday Book issue #5 (in July 1970), the first two stand-alone editions were published by Guidon Games. Soon thereafter, Gygax and Kaye formed Tactical Studies Rules, and future printings of Chainmail fell under that auspice. Whether the "Fantasy Supplement" to Chainmail formed the basis of D&D is a matter of some disagreement between D&D's co-creators, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax."
  • A D&D review from 1974 by Arnold Hendrick. "In general, the concept and imagination involved is stuning. However, much more work, refinement, and especially regulation and simplification is necessary before the game is manageable.... I do not suggest these to the average wargamer."
  • History of TSR at Wizards.com
  • David L. Arneson, Plaintiff vs. Gary Gygax, Tactical Study Rules, a partnership consisting of Gary Gygax and Brian Blume, and TSR Hobbies, INC., a corporaton, Defendants [1979] (189-page PDF) -- "It is believed that the basic dispute which led to this law suit relates to TSR's position that under the Agreement, Arneson is not entitled to a 5% royalty on separately developed (and at times separately priced and marketed) playing aids, (e.g., polyhedra dice set, Dungeon Geomorphs set, and Monster and Treasure Assortment set) included along with an edited DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game rules book, in a boxed game entitled "DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Basic Set". Also, TSR takes the position that Arneson is not entitled to a 5%
    royalty for sales of what TSR submits are separately and later developed works which relate to the original game rules DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, but which are solely authored by Defendant, Gygax, for example, a one volume work entitled "ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, PLAYERS HANDBOOK" and a related one volume work entitled "ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, MONSTER MANUAL".

  • TSR v Mayfair Games [1993] -- "In 1993, Mayfair was sued by TSR, who argued that Role Aids—advertised as compatible with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons—violated their 1984 trademark agreement. While the court found that some of the line violated their trademark, the line as a whole did not violate the agreement, and Mayfair continued publishing the line until the rights were bought by TSR."
  • E Gary Gygax - Father of Roleplaying [2002]


"I was pretty much boxed out of the running of the company because the two guys, who between them had a controlling interest, thought they could run the company better than I could. I was set up because I could manage. In 1982 Nobody on the West Coast would deal with TSR, but they had me start a new corporation called "Dungeons and Dragons Entertainment." It took a long time and a lot of hard work to get to be recognized as someone who was for real and not just a civilian, shall we say, in entertainment. Eventually, though, we got the cartoon show going (on CBS) and I had a number of other projects in the works. While I was out there, though, I heard that the company was in severe financial difficulties and one of the guys, the one I was partnered with, was shopping it on the street in New York. I came back and discovered a number of gross mismanagements in all areas of the company. The bank was foreclosing and we were a million and a half in debt. We eventually got that straightened out, but I kind of got one of my partners kicked out of office. (Kevin Blume, who was removed as TSR CEO in 1984 - ed.. Then my partners, in retribution for that, sold his shares to someone else (Lorraine Williams - ed.). I tried to block it in court, but in the ensuing legal struggle the judge ruled against me. I lost control of the company, and it was then at that point I just decided to sell out."
- Gary Gygax




  • The Ultimate Interview With Gary Gygax [2005] - original no longer exists; retrieved via personal archives. This one is very long and in-depth. "[Gygax] Here I must insert my own introductory comment. The laundry list of questions that follow were not initially well received by me. What a chore, I thought, as I looked through the lot. Of course many of the inquiries need be answered in greater detail that has been furnished; but the fact is that I have to earn a living writing, so the time called for to respond fully is just not possible save by being taken in bits and pieces over a period of weeks. Although I have gone to some lengths in several areas to supply as full an explanation as possible, all things considered, I am not totally satisfied. While I enjoy communicating with my fellow gamers, there are limits to the extent I can do so in this sort of interview. If you find my answers incomplete or unsatisfactory, sorry: I did what time allows just now, as Ciro can't wait forever for my response. Contact him about this and possibly he'll compile another list. Then I will groan, grumble at him, and eventually answer those new questions too, most likely. Allow me to add that Mr. Ciro Alessandro Sacco has clearly spent a lot of time researching and preparing his questions. Because of that, I made a greater effort than usual to answer as fully as I was able. Be sure to thank Ciro for this, as he deserves lauds for his penetrating questions covering subjects seldom if ever touched on by other interviewers."
  • Interview with Dave Arneson [2005] - "David (Dave) Arneson is one of the most important figures in gaming, because he was co author of Dungeons & Dragons, that little game who spawned an entire industry (or two, if we count videogames). Despite this, he doesn't enjoy the immense recognition given to Gary Gygax, the other author of Dungeons & Dragons. This is perhaps explainable with the fact that Gary Gygax had a long and high profile career as game designer and manager of TSR Hobbies (then TSR) for many years and for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons' creation. Anyway, Dave remains a sort of 'unsung legend' of the gaming world and after interviewing Gary Gygax himself, I jumped at the chance, courtesy of Dustin Clingman, to interview Dave Arneson himself and launching another array of probing questions. Due to the many activities of David and some health problems, this interview required a long time (more than a year) to be completed, but here is at last."
  • Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary Gygax [2008]
  • Interview: Kevin Hendryx - Part I and Part II [2009]
  • Mike Breault on Lorraine Williams [2009]
  • I Was a Gen Con Spy for TSR [2010] by Colin McComb
  • A semi-brief history of D&D and some other RPGs: 1967-1979 [2010]
  • A semi-brief history of D&D and some other RPGs: 1980-1989 [2011]
  • Secrets of TSR Panel [PaizoCon 2012] (video; Jeff Grubb, Pierce Watters, Rob Lazzaretti, Dave Gross, Wolfgang Baur, Stan!)
  • Interview with James M Ward [2012]
  • Evil Hat's docu-book, Designers & Dragons, is a detailed look at the history of the RPG industry. And they've just released the entire TSR chapter - that's over 100 pages, and about a quarter of the 1970s volume - for free. You can download it right here. It's a fascinating read, and it you're even vaguely interested in D&D and the history of the game, it's also a must-read.

Wizards of the Coast


In the winter of 1997, I traveled to Lake Geneva Wisconsin on a secret mission. In the late fall, rumors of TSR's impending bankruptcy had created an opportunity to made a bold gamble that the business could be saved by an infusion of capital or an acquisition with a larger partner. After a hasty series of phone calls and late night strategy sessions, I found myself standing in the snow outside of 201 Sheridan Springs Road staring at a building bearing a sign that said "TSR, Incorporated". Inside the building, I found a dead company.
- Ryan Dancey


1980s: Adventures were selling mostly between 50,000 and 150,000 units. A few of them (the ones we all know by name) exceeded that. I think White Plume Mountain was around 175,000.

1990s: Adventures were selling mostly between 7,000 and 15,000 units, though they varied a bit on either side, depending on the brand. Planescape, DragonLance, and Birthright were on the bottom end of that, Ravenloft in the middle, and Dark Sun and Forgotten Realms were at the top.

Now: Starting with the launch of 3rd Edition, we've cut down the number of adventures from 6-8 per year to 1 per year, so that has cut down on cannibalization of the market. Thus, sales for a new D&D adventure are now more like 35,000 to 60,000 units. Keep in mind that these are generally MUCH larger adventures though, with at least 128 pages, rather than the short, 32-page adventures we used to do.

Masters of Fantasy: TSR The Fantasy Factory



Peter Adkison's Open Letter, 2000

Greetings friends,

As of January 1st 2001 I will no longer be an employee of Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro. No, I'm not getting fired or layed off. I'm leaving voluntarily. I'm sure many of you will want to know why. Well, I don't think that the core of my reasoning is any more complicated than this. When you start a company and run it as CEO for many years you think of it as your own. Yes there are other shareholders and a board of directors you answer to, but your vote is always the biggest vote. Then you sell the company and you go along trying to make the best of the situation, telling yourself that you still have the same responsibilities as before, plus a vote in something even bigger. That works for a while until something happens that you object to and in spite of your best efforts you find yourself powerless to stop it.

At that point you are forced to accept the fact that the company is no longer yours, that you no longer carry the biggest vote, and that can be difficult to take. I'm not naive. I always knew intellectually this was the case, but to think you understand something and then actually experience it are two different things. I have several thoughts I want to leave you with. First do not by any means feel sorry for me. I made the choice to sell and if I had it all to do over again I'd make the same decision. I fulfilled many amazing dreams through this company. I made a lot of people a lot of money. I feel very good about that. And although I didn't design many of our games, I know that I contributed significantly to many of them, not just by starting this company and running it well but also as a CEO who is a gamer at heart and made for an effective sounding board with our R&D department.

In particular I'm very proud of having written Wizards of the Coast's first product, The Primal Order; the role I played in the publication and development of Magic: The Gathering; the acquisition and subsequent turnaround to profitability of TSR; and the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, a game I've loved since 1978. I feel particularly privileged to have worked with so many amazing people. Richard, Jim, Skaff, Jot, Vince, Monika, Jesper, the list goes on and on and I can't hope to list everyone. Truly the hardest thing about leaving is leaving the companionship I have with so many people who are here. What will I do next? Hard to say. Many people dream of having the means to not work, travel around, goof off, etc. Most people don't get to do that until they are perhaps too old to enjoy it; I'll get to try it in my 30s (barely)! I'll stay in touch and send pictures of me rock climbing and snow boarding in exotic places! You'll also see me around here from time to time I suspect. I have a couple of D&D campaigns I intend to keep running whenever I'm in town. Eventually I'm sure I'll want to work again. I'll go crazy not being productive. And some sort of change will do me good. I have an amazing resume thanks to Wizards of the Coast and I hope to leverage that by either running or starting another company someday. I have some truly incredible opportunities ahead, and no one can take away the incredible accomplishments I can now list on my resume. I want all of you to understand that I still strongly, adamantly, passionately believe that this is a very magical place. What we are doing is producing amazing games, bringing joy to millions of gamers around the world. Our customers are a tough crowd. They love to bitch. But don't let that fool you. I've found that deep down inside most of them hold us in very high respect and are truly amazed by the games we make. And at least within the Hobby Game segment, as long as we make money Hasbro is not likely to interfere with the way we do business. And I hope you'll all be proud of being part of Hasbro too.

Hasbro is a great company that's produced many toys and games that we've grownup with, like Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, and so on. If I were someone else and I were offered a job here at Hasbro I would be ecstatic at the opportunity to work for such a great company and with so many great people. Finally I want to put in a good word for Vince, Al Verrecchia, and Alan Hassenfeld. I'm leaving you in very good hands. Effective January 1st, Vince will be CEO of Wizards of the Coast. Vince has been COO of this company for several years now and I know better than anyone else that he's fully capable of leading this company through the rough waters ahead. Vince is also a hobbyist at heart and understands our business very well. He's also an inspirational leader; I know,I used to work for him at Boeing and that's why I hired him in the first place. He's also a great friend and I hope you'll support him in the times ahead. Regarding Al and Alan, in spite of some differences of opinion on a couple of business issues, I have the utmost respect for both of them. Both are men of integrity, are hard workers, have the best interests of the company at heart,and they've never mislead me or played political games with us. These are incredible attributes to find in the people at the top.

Well, this has dragged on long enough. I'll be around until Christmas break, so feel free to stop by and say hi/goodbye if you like (but only if you promise not to cry I'm trying to keep positive!).

It's been truly an honor to serve with you all.

Peter D. Adkison
Founder& CEO,
Wizards of the Coast
December14, 2000

License to Game: An Hour With Ryan Dancey

In this interview with Morrus, Ryan Dancey covers a lot of WotC's early history.


Paizo Publishing

Lisa Stevens and other Paizo staff published a series of retrospectives - one for each year. These restrospectives sum up the company's history. Key events were the termination of the DRAGON and DUNGEON magazine licenses in 2006 and the decision to create the Pathfinder ruleset in response to little progress on the GSL. I've excerpted a quote or two from each, which I feel helps give a quick "at-a-glance" history of the company.
  • 2003: Fine-Tuning the Magazine Business -- "As I mentioned earlier in this blog, I spent a lot of 2003 analyzing the magazine business and coming up with ideas about how to make it work better for Paizo. This led me to clash quite a bit with Johnny as I questioned decades of common industry practices that he considered sacrosanct. Eventually, it became apparent that our differences were too vast to reconcile, so on December 8th, we announced his departure from Paizo. While this move relieved some of the pressure in the office, it also put me in a position I didn't intend to be in when we started Paizo: I was now fully in charge of a business that I had all of 18 months experience with."
  • 2004: The Worst of Times -- "As 2004 opened, there was a cloud hanging over Paizo. The reality that Star Wars Insider and the Star Wars Fan Club were going away in a few short months really hit home. Star Wars accounted for more than half of Paizo's revenue, and supporting the company purely on income from Dragon and Dungeon wasn't going to work. I personally had two options. The easiest would be to shut down the company. As I mentioned in my first anniversary blog, it takes a long time to get paid for magazine sales, and while that makes starting up a magazine very difficult, it also means that if you stop publishing, money keeps coming in for almost a year. It would have taken a while, but eventually, we'd have been able to recoup most of the money that Vic and I had invested in Paizo. The other, much more daunting option was to try to replace that lost revenue."
  • 2005: Laying the Foundation -- "[A] big change for Dungeon was making the Adventure Path a monthly feature. Beginning with Erik Mona's now infamous adventure "The Whispering Cairn" in Dungeon 124, the new Age of Worms AP brought new stories every single month, climaxing in the demigod Kyuss's attempt to enter the world of Oerth. From that point in July 2005 onward, we've scheduled a new Adventure Path installment every single month!"
  • 2006: Battling Headwinds -- "Our license for publishing Dragon and Dungeon was due to expire in March 2007, and this meeting would be the first step toward negotiating a renewal of that contract. It took a while to find a time that fit everyone's schedule, and we finally had to resort to meeting by phone rather than face-to-face. On May 30, 2006 at 2 pm, I had a conference call with Wizards, and it was during this call that they let me know that they had other plans for Dragon and Dungeon; they wouldn't be renewing the license for the magazines. I personally don't remember much of my reaction, but after the call, I brought Erik in to my office and told him the news, tears streaming down my face. (Read Erik's recollection of this major event below.) We always knew that this might be a possibility. That was, after all, one of the main reasons we had been building the other parts of our business: so we wouldn't be caught unprepared if the unthinkable were to happen. But I don't think any of us ever really thought that this was much more than a remote possibility. Dragon and Dungeon were finally firing on all cylinders and were enjoying critical acclaim that hadn't been seen in years. So this news struck us to the core. In one meeting, the last large chunk of the company that we started not quite four years before was going away. We were numb. How the heck were we going to cope with this? Frankly, it seemed impossible at the time."
  • 2007: The Year Everything Changed -- "One of the largest threads on the paizo.com messageboards began in October, when Erik announced that Paizo Is Still Undecided. The lack of any information from WotC and the seemingly overwhelming support for us to stay put were making us lean towards sticking with 3.5, but it would be suicide to produce support products for a game that no longer has core rules in print. So if we wanted to stick with 3.5, we knew that we'd have to release some sort of rulebook. As the end of 2007 neared, we still held out hope that things might work out for 4th Edition. But we were already planning the Pathfinder Adventure Path that would begin shipping the same month that Wizards was releasing 4th Edition, and the deadline for soliciting August 2008 products to our distributors was rapidly approaching, so we needed to make a decision, and fast. As the year ended, our new product lines were well-received, and the new Paizo was looking healthier than ever. But the decision about 4th Edition was now reaching a critical stage and the new year would again test our mettle. Fortunately, Jason Bulmahn had started tinkering on his own time with some ideas he had for a 3.5 revision, a project he had dubbed "Mon Mothma..."
  • 2008: Forging Our Own Path -- "As the cold and stormy start of 2008 settled on the Paizo offices, there was a palpable sense of tension. We were well past the point where we normally assigned freelance writing for our Gen Con releases. Wizards of the Coast was set to release Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition at that show, and we were already planning out Second Darkness, the Pathfinder Adventure Path launching at the same time. If we were going to switch it to 4E, we needed to do it soon. But we knew little more about 4E in January than we did at the previous year's Gen Con. Early in the month, Wizards held a conference call with a host of third-party publishers telling us that they were working on a new third-party license and that we would probably have early access to the rules soon, but the lack of a firm commitment or any kind of schedule from Wizards was stretching our patience—and our deadlines....Thankfully, Jason had started to experiment with an alternative 3.5 rules system in Fall 2007. It was initially a lark that Jason was hoping he might be able to sell as a PDF somewhere down the road to the inevitable fans of the 3.5 ruleset that weren't going to 4E. He had dubbed the project Mon Mothma. Early in 2008, Jason had presented this document to us, a revision that added a variety of new options to a ruleset we already had experience and comfort with. Knowing the future was uncertain, we encouraged him to start turning his ideas into a complete, coherent rules set."
  • 2009: Launching Our Own RPG -- "As 2009 came to an end, Paizo was firmly settled into our new digs, and the Core Rulebook was selling so well that we were already preparing for a third printing. The Bestiary had just been released and was also seeing great sales. It was looking like Paizo was going to weather the shift to our own RPG game system with flying colors. Now we had the challenge of building on the successes of 2009 to establish Pathfinder as the preeminent brand in RPG gaming. A lofty task that was going to take a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck..."
  • 2010: Following Up on Our Successes -- "This will be news to most readers: By the end of 2010, the Pathfinder RPG had already overtaken D&D as the bestselling RPG. It would take almost half a year before industry magazine ICv2 first reported it, and several quarters more before some people were willing to accept it as fact, but internally, we already knew it was true. We'd heard it from nearly all of our hobby trade distributors; we'd heard it from buyers at book chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders; we could see it using industry sales trackers such as BookScan; we were even regularly coming out on top on Amazon's bestseller charts. Each individual market we sold in had us either tied with or outselling D&D, and none of those sources counted our considerable direct sales on paizo.com. Put all of those things together, and it was clear: Pathfinder had become the first RPG ever to oust D&D from top spot."
  • 2011: Taking On the Role of Industry Leader -- "As I mentioned in my previous blog, Paizo found itself in a very interesting position as we came to the end of 2010. Never before in the history of tabletop RPGs was there a market leader that wasn't Dungeons & Dragons. Why is that important? Well, there are certain tasks that the tabletop RPG industry has always relegated to the top dog in the category—and chief amongst those was player acquisition."
  • 2012: Laying Groundwork for the Future -- "At the end of the 2011 blog, I mentioned the impending announcement of 5th edition that had us wondering what Wizards had up their sleeve, and what it would mean for Paizo and Pathfinder. Wizards made their announcement in January, and released the first playtest materials in May. At Gen Con, Wizards announced that 2014 was a likely release date for their new edition. So what does this mean for Paizo? We've decided to stay the course. Pathfinder is doing amazingly well, with our products selling better and better each year, and our licensing partners are helping us make it the top RPG worldwide. We have a lot more that we want to explore with Pathfinder and we know that we have devoted fans and customers like you that want to go exploring with us. Paizo is good at making tabletop RPG products and we aren't deviating from that. We wish Wizards well with their edition launch; we will be creating cool Pathfinder adventures, expanding our Pathfinder campaign setting, and exploring new Pathfinder RPG rules while they do that. We will keep making Pathfinder until you tell us to stop."

Discussions for From TSR to WotC: A History of D&D

Current Discussion: Main discussion

  1. Updated this page today with a few new items.
  2. Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
    Updated this page today with a few new items.
    Really interesting history of Paizo. I didn't realize the human courage and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants gusto that took the Paizo crew to the top. I feel good about the Pathfinder Beginner's Set being the one rpg I've bought in the last couple years.

    And while I'm sure the WotC workers are nice people as individuals, the rather dark-toned dickering which WotC (Hasbro) displayed toward the Third Party publishers is indicative of an institutional ill-will which I call 'corporatism'. It appears that WotC purposely held back, 'teased', and delayed the Third Party enterprises *purposely* so that their deadlines would get stretched, resulting in lost sales and business rupturing...to weed out the 'competition'.

    Life gets better when people and enterprises transparently and authentically co-operate and co-ordinate with each other. Yet the 'dog eat dog' corporatist culture has now pervaded economic life. Since Habro is a large economic corporation, it's not surprising that that dark culture influences the unfolding of the D&D game, which ought to be a field of free cultural life. That corporatist tone, I feel, even shaped the 4e game and art, which made it ugly and unappealing to me.

    The 5e game looks interesting (I'm glad for the streamlining and quickness of play), but for those deeper institutional reasons, I'm considering holding off on purchasing it, and waiting for Pathfinder 2e.
  3. The Basic D&D pdf is a step in the right direction. Now if it were to be released as Open Source...