Jim Ward: SSI, Dungeons & Dragons and the Computer Industry
The time is about 1987. I had played Ultima and thought a computer game license could be great for TSR; besides I wanted to play a D&D computer game. I was surfing the net on a Commodore 64 and that was interesting and that effort gave me a little insight into the computer game industry. I went to upper management and pitched them the idea of searching for a computer game license. They didn't think much of the concept. None of them knew anything about computer games or had interest in such things, but they said I could write and contact companies and see what type of response TSR and AD&D would generate. I sent out letters to lots of companies and every one of them answered back. All of them had heard of D&D and knew it was all the rage among the exact same market as hand held and computer games. They were companies like Electronic Arts, Origin Systems, the Ultima creator, SSI, and Sierra Entertainment. I was able to slim down the choices to Electronic Arts and SSI and TSR invited them to come to the offices and present what they thought their company could do for TSR. At the time Electronic Arts had huge distribution with their sports games. The SSI people really impressed me with their depth of TSR products. I scheduled them for alternate Mondays. I picked up Joe Yabera(sp) at the airport in Milwaukee and drove him to TSR. He was one of Electronic Arts product managers. No, he didn't play D&D. No, he wasn't a fan of fantasy. However, his company was willing to offer TSR an unusually large advance check on the one game a year they would be doing and they wanted a five year license. He talked a good game and all of the upper managers were very impressed when he was done. After Mr. Yabera left, I found myself feeling very sorry for the SSI people. While I wasn't impressed with Mr. Yabera's knowledge of the game, we were all impressed by the check offer. We spent the week talking about EA and the possibilities of a game they could develop. Next Monday came...
When Random House Sued TSR For $9.5M
Benjamin Riggs is continuing to talk about his research into the history of TSR. He recounts here a tale of TSR's accounting practices which contributed to their eventual demise. Check out Ben's Plot Points podcast In April of 1996, Random House sued TSR for lack of payment on an $9.5 million loan. You may ask yourself how TSR came to owe its distributor such a large sum of money. The answer lies in the 1979 distribution agreement between Random House and TSR, in which Random House became TSR's exclusive avenue into the book trade. In that agreement, signed by Gygax himself, Random House agreed to advance TSR 27.3% of the retail value of their product upon receipt. Random House could also return the product to TSR for a refund. All this meant that TSR could produce cash by shipping to Random House instead of waiting for actual customers to purchase their products. The arrangement seems bizarre, but Jim Fallone, a TSR alum familiar with the agreement, said there may be an excellent reason for it. TSR's books were beautiful, and therefore expensive. Also, TSR had a back catalog that sold well. Sometimes, TSR faced a choice between printing new material, and reprinting old material that sold well, but might take time to make a return on printing costs. The Random House agreement was a way around this problem. TSR could print and ship new copies of the Player's Handbook knowing that they would get paid for it soon, and then also afford to print new material. According to Fallone, the math on all this works out fine, so long as no more than 20% of TSR's products are returned. But in the 90's, TSR's many forays into creating new game worlds increased their levels of returns to more like 30%. At the same time, TSR began overprinting products. DragonStrike, for example, was a hit game that was driven into the red by overprinting. The game sold 100,000 copies, and had reorders for 50,000 more. Management, however, decided to print 150,000 copies of the game, which...
Lone Wolf (Hero Lab) Lays Off Staff
Lone Wolf Development, which makes the character creation software Hero Lab, amongst other things, has just announced that it is laying off staff, saying "for quite some time, we’ve spread ourselves too thin across different efforts". One of those people was Lj Stephens who was offered a job there three months ago and relocated across the US to work there; her husband, Owen KC Stephens, left his job at Paizo to go with her. He has a Patreon here if you want to support him. He posted publicly "As always, my heart goes out to the familes, friends, and fans impacted by this. Sadly, this includes me and Lj. This is the job we left WA for, she had it for about 90 days, and now it's gone." Realm Works, their campaign management software, has been cancelled. Hero Lab will continue. And a new product, Campaign Theater, is coming soon. Here's the full announcement: "Lone Wolf is undergoing several major changes and I wanted to personally take the time to update everyone on what those changes are and how they will impact our users. While Lone Wolf is a business, the company itself is comprised of people. And when it’s a small company, it’s more akin to family. There’s also our user community (you), which in many ways is like our extended family. Over the more than 20 years we’ve been creating software tools for gamers, we’ve garnered a significant number of loyal fans – fans who have been crucial to our success and whose ongoing support is greatly appreciated. This sense of family was core to how we operated in the past, but when I got deathly ill three years ago, I strayed away from that. Now that I’m mostly back to my old self and finally completing my rehabilitation, I’ve realized we need to get back to those roots. You should see that shift reflected here in the increased level of disclosure and in future communications from myself and staff. For quite some time, we’ve spread ourselves too thin across different efforts, and that’s been especially true for me...
5E One Page Adventure: Desert on the Road
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It's time for another ONE PAGE ADVENTURE - my 12th! This month's ONE PAGE ADVENTURE features elementals... fire elementals! Mephits, magmins, salamanders and more pour through a portal at the center of a new, scorched desert. Can the PCs help close the portal before it's too late? Based on an adventure by Cole Grandel.
Worlds of Design: "Your Character Wouldn't Do That"
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The Mighty Jingles (on YouTube) described what he really disliked about Far Cry 5 New Dawn (video game). The game took away player control at vital junctures. I wonder how often this happens in RPGs, and offer some reasons why it does. With a poll!
News Digest for the Week of October 11
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Hello everyone, Darryl here with this week’s gaming news! More previews from Pathfinder 2nd Edition, interviews with Owen KC Stephens and Shane Ivey, several free RPG products available, Fantasy Grounds quarterly usage statistics released, and more!
PF2 Lumen: An Undead Pathfinder 2E Ancestry
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It's a new edition for Pathfinder—and our 14th article in this new run of TRAILseeker, the weekly e-zine where we publish Pathfinder-compatible material thanks to the support of our lovely Patreons! As we move towards the creepiest night of the year, what better than to celebrate with an undead ancestry? If you want to play a character that's not quite alive, Jeff Gomez' Lumen ancestry may be...
Getting A Realms Campaign Up And Running
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One-shot adventures, like binge-watching a great mini-series, can be fun, but sooner or later any FRP gamer will want to try a campaign, a sequence of interconnected adventures where the stakes—and hopefully achievements—can be higher.
Pathfinder 2E Monster Building Rules
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Paizo has posted the Building Creatures and Building Hazards sections from chapter 2 of the upcoming Gamemastery Guide for free download. "As we’ve noted on some of our livestreams, the system for creating your own monsters and NPCs uses a top down system with benchmarks, allowing you to build a creature to match your top-level vision of that creature instead of requiring you to build them...
Tales from the Loop Is Free For One Day Only
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The Swedish sci-fi RPG of 1980s suburbia, Tales from the Loop, is currently free in PDF format on DTRPG - but only for today, so be quick! "To celebrate the release of the OUT OF TIME campaign module, the digital version of our multiple award-winning TALES FROM THE LOOP core game is now completely FREE for ONE DAY at DrivethruRPG"
Download Greg Stafford's 'The Quest of the Red Blade'
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Chaosium is commemorating the first anniversary of the passing of Chaosium founder Greg Stafford with the release of new free adventures for all our major game systems. To honor Greg's legacy they are encouraging Chaosium fans and gamers in general to play a tabletop game from October 10 to October 31 in his remembrance. For King Arthur Pendragon, here is The Quest of the Red Blade, by Greg...
Interviewing Owen KC Stephens Green Ronin’s Fantasy AGE
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Owen KC Stephens is one of the living legends of tabletop RPG. With two decades of creations for Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Green Ronin Publishing, and many more, his work is synonymous with D&D, Star Wars, Pathfinder, and Starfinder, so when Green Ronin announced his new position as Line Developer for the Fantasy AGE, it opens a new and interesting path for a creator of Owen’s pedigree.
Crowdfunding News – Root, 3PP Pathfinder 2e Products, and more
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At least 13 crowdfunding projects end between October 18th to the 24th. Among these are notable projects like Root and Under Hollow Hills as well as a follow-up to Welcome to Tikor | The Swordsfall RPG Setting and Art Book in the form of an IndieGoGo for Swordsfall Art Booster 1: Vehicles and Transports.
Podcast #69: Dungeons & Desktops with Shane Stacks and Matt Barton
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This week, Morrus is joined by Shane Stacks and Matt Barton to talk about their book, Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games! In the news, The World of Farland has a new release, Ulisses North America purchases rights to Space: 1889, new Unearthed Arcana, Wendy’s releases a tabletop RPG, and more! Plus Our Favorite Game in All the World and a brand new sketch!
Meet Shane Ivey: An Interview with Arc Dream Publishing
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Shane Ivey agreed to discuss all things Arc Dream Publishing with me including Delta Green and his Swords & Sorceries D&D 5E adventures inspired by ancient myth.
5E EN5ider #295 - Mini-Adventure: Desert on the Road
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There's more adventure on the docket for EN5ider this week as we take you to a spontaneous desert, the arid and heat-blasted landscape a sudden and strange sight amid much more tolerable climes. How did such a thing happen? Who is responsible? Can such a thing be undone? Read on to find out!
5E Mythological Figures: Hippolyta
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Today the Mythological Figures column is returning to Ancient Greece and once again we’re looking at a queen of the Amazons. This one however is infamous for being the only one to ever wed, and plays a part in not just the tales of Theseus but Heracles as well (although boy howdy is it up for debate as to how). We’re talking about Hippolyta!
RPGs Have a Health Problem
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Increasingly, the families of older gamers in the U.S. are turning to crowdfunding campaigns to fund their medical costs. Although gaming hasn't always been a lucrative field for designers, it's clear that even our most experienced designers aren't making enough to manage a medical crisis. Can we do anything about it?
Jim Ward: SSI, Dungeons & Dragons and the Computer Industry
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The time is about 1987. I had played Ultima and thought a computer game license could be great for TSR; besides I wanted to play a D&D computer game. I was surfing the net on a Commodore 64 and that was interesting and that effort gave me a little insight into the computer game industry. I went to upper management and pitched them the idea of searching for a computer game license. They didn't think much of the concept.
Fantasy Grounds Top RPGs (Last 12 Months)
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Fantasy Grounds has sent along its latest figures for RPG rulesets used in the last 12 months. 5E dominates with 70%, of course (up by 1%); Pathfinder 2E has snuck onto the chart at 6th place (though it's only been available for a couple of months), and Starfinder has taken 4th place. As always, "MoreCore" is FG's default generic module used when there isn't a specific game package...
Sketch #1: Polearm Shop
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Each week we revisit a short skit from the main podcast, a year or more back. In this one, an adventurer enters a shop looking to buy a polearm. With apologies to Monty Python. Performed by Morrus and Angus Abranson.
News Digest for the Week of October 4
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Hello everyone, Darryl here with this week’s gaming news on our new day of Friday! A new preview of Eberron: Rising from the Last War book and minis, a new Unearthed Arcana, Kickstarter rejects petition to unionize, Wendy’s releases an RPG, Monte Cook Games—Wait, go back one…
Wendy’s Presents: Feast of Legends (a Late Night Review)
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I have to be honest. I have a lot of adult responsibilities going on. What Stephen King calls stark raving reality. So when Wendy’s (yes the hamburger joint) released an art and map filled 93 page RPG called Feast of Legends in PDF and in print at New York Comic Con I had to dive in (PDF for me).


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