History

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...
The Beginning: 1968 and Meeting Gary Gygax and the Gygax Family
Roughly two years before Luke Gygax was born I walked through the front door of the Gygax residence at 330 Center Street in Lake Geneva. This was at the invite of Gary through his gamer friend and a very recent acquaintance of mine, Larry Zirk. Very few people from that time know of Larry Zirk, so I will tell the story of our meeting and how that would, soon thereafter, lead me to Gary's doorstep. Note from Morrus -- this is the first in a series of monthly articles by TSR veteran Rob Kuntz. Don't forget to also check out the monthly columns by Jim Ward, Ed Greenwood, and Jonathan Tweet! Larry lived on the same side of the street, two properties down Center, from Gary's residence--a 1 minute walk between. He worked as an assistant manager at Schultz Bros. Co. variety store (a regional chain encompassing 5 states that ended in 1988) on Main Street adjacent to the Clair Hotel (the latter which was purchased by TSR prior to its move there from the Williams & Marshall Street location). It is worth noting, as an aside, that Shultz Bros. was one of two "dime stores" that Gary would later frequent in his search for toy figures to use as fantastical creatures for his Chainmail Fantasy supplemental rules; and that I accompanied him on a great number of those forays, then, as it was (solely) him and myself who had locally (Jeff Perren who lived in Rockford, IL had his own collection) invested in 40mm Elastolin miniatures to play-test the original Chainmail rules (first occurrence of the rules being 1970, Geneva Medieval Miniatures rules, Perren & Gygax, in Panzerfaust Vol. V., #1). Back to meeting Gary via Larry. My (single) mother had been institutionalized August of 1968. Prior to that my brother had been placed in foster care. My Aunt Minnie traveled from Delevan (7 miles away) every weekend to see to my extended needs while the upstair's neighbors, a young, married and pretty liberal couple, saw to my immediate needs. I went to school and pretty much came...
Ed Greenwood: How The Realms Began
Begin at the beginning, saith the maxim. So here we go… Yes, I’m the guy who created The Forgotten Realms. Back in the spring of 1965. You read that right: 1965, about a decade before D&D, which came along in 1974, and wasn’t seen by most of the world (all the places that weren’t colleges in or near Wisconsin) until 1975. I was five years old. A few months away from being six. I was one of those kids they called “child prodigies,” and devoured all the books in my parents’ den. Like many book collectors, my Dad built his own bookshelves so he could cram the maximum amount of books onto them and out of the maze of boxes that filled the basement, so books ended up sorted by size, which meant an inquisitive young reader could stumble across anything. And I did. Everything from wartime National Geographics to “give one to a friend in uniform” wartime paperback murder mysteries and lurid pulps to fantasy and science fiction. Lots and lots of fantasy and science fiction. Note from Morrus -- I'm super happy to announce Ed Greenwood's new column here on EN World! Upcoming articles include Mirt Strides Out Of My Mind, and Making A Setting Come To Life! Please let us know in the comments about topics you'd like to hear, and don't forget to check out Jonathan Tweet's new column and, of course, Jim Ward's excellent column which delves into TSR's history! Many was the occasion upon which I’d go racing up the stairs waving a discovery I’d fallen in love with but just finished, calling, “Dad! Dad, where’s the next one? There IS a sequel, isn’t there?” And my father, who knew books and writers and the world of magazines like few mortals I’ve ever met (and I’ve worked for forty-five years in public libraries), would either direct me to where it could be found, or far more often would say something along the lines of, “Son, that writer died in 1938, and never wrote a sequel to that one, so far as I know, so if you want to read one, you’ll have to write it.” And I’d...
 
Greyhawk Theatrics, Comments and Quips in Play: Snippets, Funny Lines and Outbursts from the Lake Geneva Gamers
  • 8
What follows are some dear and treasured memories—snippets, funny lines, and outbursts recalled from play. Many eluded both myself and Gary over the years. But these few should serve to indicate how the majority of us gamed in those days, and especially how we gamed while the original D&D game was still in the midst of being play-tested.
Jonathan Tweet: Streamlining Third Edition
  • 94
The D&D 3rd Ed project was part big-picture vision and part a collection of individual decisions about rules, terms, and characters. In terms of rules, a lot of what we did amounted to streamlining.
Getting A Realms Campaign Up And Running
  • 12
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.
Jim Ward: SSI, Dungeons & Dragons and the Computer Industry
  • 53
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.
Jonathan Tweet: Legacy of Ars Magica
  • 14
Ars Magica had an obscure origin, but it had long-lasting effects. We did a number of influential support products that influenced 1990s game design, and it launched the careers of five of us who were part of the Ars Magica crew. Over the years, I had bought a ton of roleplaying games, and I was almost universally disappointed by how difficult it was to get a new roleplaying game off the...
When Random House Sued TSR For $9.5M
  • 86
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.
The Beginning: 1968 and Meeting Gary Gygax and the Gygax Family
  • 45
Roughly two years before Luke Gygax was born I walked through the front door of the Gygax residence at 330 Center Street in Lake Geneva. This was at the invite of Gary through his gamer friend and a very recent acquaintance of mine, Larry Zirk. Very few people from that time know of Larry Zirk, so I will tell the story of our meeting and how that would, soon thereafter, lead me to Gary's doorstep.
TSR Cutting Writers Rates (In 1994!)
  • 24
Writer James Lowder posted about TSR (the company which created and owned D&D until WotC purchased them) cutting it’s writing rates back in the 1990s, along with restrictions on freelancing.
Making The Realms Come Alive
  • 35
I’ve worked on the Forgotten Realms every day of my life now for over fifty years, and for over forty of them have been joined by scores of fellow creators, all of us pumping our energies into the setting. So a lot has happened, in-world, and with so much going on, the place certainly seems alive. Some hapless crofters in the Dales or shopkeepers in Waterdeep would probably tell you their world was a lot too alive, a lot of the time.
Jim Ward: Laser Tag and TSR
  • 8
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.
When TSR Passed On Tolkien
  • 129
Benjamin Riggs recently revealed this tidbit of TSR history -- Lorraine Williams passing on the rights to Tolkien's works in 1992! "So, in 1992, TSR almost acquired the rights to JRR Tolkien's work. John Rateliff was sent to London to negotiate the deal, missing Gen Con. (Apparently, no TSR employees were allowed to miss Gen Con, but he was for this...) He met Christopher Tolkien at the...
Jonathan Tweet: On The Origins of Ars Magica
  • 22
By the time I started college in 1987, I was a die-hard Chaosium fan, and I taught my new college friends RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu. These friends and I talked a lot about roleplaying games and game design, and we tried to figure out how to create the best possible games.
The Dueling Essays of Arneson & Gygax
  • 217
A recent article and documentary about Dave Arneson's involvement in Dungeons & Dragons shares a different perspective on the game's creation, with a particular emphasis on Rob Kuntz's testimony. Some of it contradicts what Gary Gygax positioned as D&D's origins. Fortunately we can read what both designers thoughts in their very own words -- published in the same book. Alzrius pointed out...
Ed Greenwood: A World of a Thousand-Thousand Stories
  • 6
So the Forgotten Realms began ten years before I first saw those initial three booklets of D&D, as an imaginary world for one young boy to explore by writing stories in. Stories written to entertain myself, that usually flowed from something I’d read written by someone else, in a “So what happened next?” fashion.
The Origin of Monty Haul
  • 57
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.
Ed Greenwood: The Origins of Mirt the Moneylender
  • 16
It’s the spring of 1965, and in an unassuming house in a back corner of the ritzy North York neighborhood of Don Mills, a tall, thin, shy geek of a boy is sitting in the dimly-lit den of the family home, scribbling tiny words in pencil all over a piece of paper.
Jonathan Tweet: My Life with the Open Gaming License
  • 33
In 1978 at age 12, I bought my second roleplaying game, Metamorphosis Alpha (MA) by Jim Ward. That’s the day I became a fan of the Open Gaming License and the d20 logo. Or at least I would have been a fan if someone had gone back in time and told me about them.
Ed Greenwood: How The Realms Began
  • 45
Begin at the beginning, saith the maxim. So here we go… Yes, I’m the guy who created The Forgotten Realms. Back in the spring of 1965. You read that right: 1965, about a decade before D&D, which came along in 1974, and wasn’t seen by most of the world (all the places that weren’t colleges in or near Wisconsin) until 1975.
Elf Stranded on the Warden: A Short Gary Gygax Story
  • 22
One of the great joys of working at TSR was being part of the group that played in Gary Gygax's weekly game. Over the years we had been the test subjects for many of the now classic Gygax adventures.
TSR's Amazing Accounting Department
  • 98
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.

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