Originally, all I wanted from my game writing was to sell enough RPG game articles to afford a subscription to Dragon Magazine. But once I had done that, I found I wanted to write more. Much more. So, I kept sending pitches to Dave Gross, at Dragon, and began looking for other venues.
The 2nd edition of AD&D sold well when it was released. Combined, the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook sold over 400,000 copies in their first year. That’s a lot of books. Not the most ever sold by TSR, but a lot. To give some historical comparison, the 1981 D&D Basic Rules Set sold over 650,000 copies in its first year. To compare to previous editions of AD&D, the 1st edition DMG and PHB together sold over 146,000 copies in 1979. Putting those numbers together makes AD&D 2nd edition look like a solid hit. But it hides a deeper problem.
So how to turn a name on a map of the Realms into a place that “feels real”? Well, I start with an idea in my head of what’s there—and regardless of whether I’m developing a locale for a story or for gaming adventures, from that base idea I leap straight into what gamers now call “adventure hooks.”
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.
Welcome to a new column from veteran game designer Owen K.C. Stephens! He's worked at Green Ronin, Paizo, and Wizards of the Coast, as well has his own company, and was co-author of the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG and Design Lead for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. This first instalment covers his beginnings as a freelancer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.