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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The story of Third Edition D&D starts, perhaps, with Peter Adkison reading 2nd Edition AD&D (1989) and being sorely disappointed. For one thing, he felt the new system left several underlying problems in place, so players didn’t get much benefit from the effort it took to switch to a new system. For another, 2nd Ed stripped away all the charm and character of 1st Ed. No more half-orcs, arcane sigils, monks, or assassins. Demons and devils were renamed to avoid the ire of superstitious parents. The new AD&D was tamed and genericized.
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.
It's 40 years since Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson opened the first Games Workshop store in West London. Ian has been posting about it on Twitter. The company went from that one store location to the 460+ it has today.
"In general, the concept and imagination involved is stunning. However, much more work, refinement, and especially regulation and simplification is necessary before the game is manageable. The scope is just too grand, while the referee is expected to do too much in relation to the players. If you need ideas to help you along into your own fantasy adventure games, these booklets will be of use; otherwise your ten dollars will be wasted. I do not suggest these to the average wargamer." - Arnold Hendrick.