James Ward, after whom the wizard "Drawmij" was named, is a game designer who worked for D&D's original pubisher TSR for many years. Amongst other things, he was behind titles like Deities & Demigods, Greyhawk Adventures, Gamma World, and Metmorphosis Alpha. This column is part of the D&D/RPG History series.
Life at TSR was very good and very bad. It started out in 1983. TSR had 386 employees and nepotism had raised its ugly head. You couldn’t throw a rock anywhere in the TSR offices without hitting a cousin, daughter, son, uncle, wife or husbands of any of those, or aunt of the Blume brothers and the Gygaxs working or barely working at TSR. Off topic for a second, the person that replaced me...
We had a lot of design talent in the heyday of TSR. Zeb Cook and Jeff Grubb strode the world like giants and put together some amazing million dollar profit centers. There were other designers and editors and supervisors that also generated great stuff. However, I often had to get after those designers for something I called "Designeritus." Jeff Grubb bless his heart was the worst, but Troy...
In the very early to mid '80s religious nongamer people discovered AD&D had magical spells and demons and devils in its rules. The problems started with Sears and Penny's retail stores. TSR was selling thousands of Player Handbooks and Dungeon Master's Guides every month to both of those companies. I know this because I was in sales and inventory control at the time.
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.
In the '70s and early '80s the United States military used a system of infrared beams called the MILES system. The beams would hit sensors on a chest set of units and start beeping. This would cause the hit soldier to know they took a deadly strike. Training with these systems was an effective way for troops to learn combat situations.
The time is 1975. I'm a substitute teacher and I've learned how to play D&D at Gary Gygax's house. He and his family are wonderful hosts. Every Saturday in warm weather we are playing on his side porch. The group is Gary's son Ernie in 9th grade; some of Ernie's friends, and some of Gary's adult friends including Brian Blume, Gary's partner in TSR.
The time is 1987 and I was the Vice President of the design and editors. It was a great job because TSR had amazing people doing the design and editing of product. I wasn't liked much by upper management at TSR after Gary left the company. I don't do well with authority figures that I do not believe know what they are doing. So I was fairly sure I didn't have long to work at TSR. However, I didn't count on the product schedule keeping me there for as long as it did.
Gods, Demigods, & Heroes was a D&D supplement that I suggested to Gary [Gygax] and it was published in 1976. It presented gods and heroes for D&D. In those days there was no google or internet research features and so I had to do a great deal of library research to get the book done. I used the Golden Bough for a great deal of the legendary treatment. I read all the novels of the authors I mentioned in the book. The concept was a first attempt at combining gods into the game and sold well.
As “Young Jim Ward” I started out in the sales department as the inventory controller. It was my job to order the boxes and parts for the games and especially the D&D box set. That game was selling 100,000 units a month. One of “Young Jim Ward’s” jobs was to make sure the Hong Kong dice came in on time to fill the next batch of 100,000 boxes.
Thank you all for the very kind welcome onto the EN World pages. A writer always glories in the kind words of his readers. Also I want you to know I will be very responsive to the interests of the EN World group. From the notes already left for me [in the first article, Who In The World is James M, Ward?] I can see you want to hear about the design of Deities & Demigods and Gamma World. I promise that will happen in the months to come.
When Morrus emailed me that EN World would like to start running articles on my memories of TSR I was very pleased and honored. EN World consumers have a reputation for being very knowledgeable in the hobby market which is good and bad for an old dude like me. I am still a bit hesitant to enter this arena as I consider myself a very “Old Guard” designer and GM and many of my ways are considered obsolete by the players of today. Let me take a few paragraphs to explain who I am and what I intend to do in these articles in the hopes of sparking the interest of the readers of EN World.