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TSR Ed Greenwood: In Memory Golden

It all started with taxes.

Legally avoiding them, that is. The sort called “Customs duties,” to be precise.

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Back in those dear gone days, Canada (I’m Canadian, born and lifelong resident) let returning citizens legally import goods worth a paltry pittance (little more than a tank of gas in your car) if you were gone from Canada for 48 hours, and two hundred-something dollars if you were gone for a week (really 8 days or more, as you weren’t allowed to count the day you left the country).

And being as I was a gamer desperate to buy gaming stuff I couldn’t find in any local stores, and when it came to gaming stuff GenCon was Christmas, birthdays, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow all rolled into one, I lusted after that higher Customs limit. Which soon resulted in driving into the USA a few days before GenCon, every year, and driving home a few days after.

And once TSR jumped on the Realms, that got me invited to show up at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and hang out at TSR for those few days. My wife and I would drive the 670 miles, sometimes stopping over with family in Windsor, and in other years doing it all in one long, long pilgrimage, put up at what later became the Harbor Cove hotel, and I would show up at the former Q-Tip factory at 201 Sheridan Springs Road and temporarily join in the happy insanity that was TSR.

Which was a company, yes, but was also a family, more so than any company I’ve seen the inner workings of before or since (I work in public libraries, and they’re families, too, but they aren’t really companies; nobody loses their library job because of poor sales).

And it was a family of, er, lunatics. Er, game designers, I mean. Folks who ran amok in the maze of aisles up in Cubicle Land with katanas, and wrote pithy sayings on a whiteboard in the games library, or hung all manner of things in their cubicle doorways, like artificial arms ending in Captain Hook-like hooks impaling “DO NOT DISTURB” signs. To say nothing of what was in the cubicles.

I shall censor the name of the faithful employee who kept duplicate copies of everything in his cubicle, and betimes slept overnight at his keyboard—and survived the eventual sudden collapse of his cubicle under the weight of all those games and game books and magazines only because he’d gone to sleep under his desk, and its demise folded over him, and prevented him being crushed and suffocated.

I discovered that the male designers kept a stack of Buck Rogers boxed games atop the toilet tank in the upstairs men’s restroom because management had installed motion sensors to turn out lights and save money, and anyone sitting on the porcelain in the single stall across the back of the room couldn’t be seen by the sensor, and would therefore soon be plunged into Stygian darkness (“Sty-piggian darkness”), until they reached behind them, grabbed the top game off the stack, and hurled it at the ceiling to make the light return so they could see to get out…or see anything at all.

The building was a maze, and different areas were dubbed such things as “the French Quarter” because of how they looked, or “The Grand Duchy” because of who in the company worked there. The art department was an artist’s dream of art references. No, not pages of naked ladies torn from magazines, I mean branches and bird’s nests, leaves, glass eyeballs, shards of broken glass and car chrome, and bits and pieces of human and other skeletons, so at will an artist at work could grab something, hold it under a lamp, and see the colours, and how it reflected light, and so on.

There was a Hardee’s chain burger joint down the hill behind the parking lot at the back of TSR (the building sat in a sea of mown grass, and backed onto a small shopping plaza) which was known to the TSR staff as “Hardly’s” (as in: hardly food).

Visitors like me had to have an escort, to keep them away from seeing “sensitive IP,” but employees had magnetic entry cards that could be slapped against square metal pads beside most exterior doors to unlock them at any hour of day or night; many creatives came in in the wee hours to get their work done with a minimum of interruptions from management, kibitzing colleagues, or meetings.

And to me, a D&D fan, it seemed like heaven.

All around me, cool new things were being created and nudged in the direction of publication, step by step. And people with bright minds alive with the fire of creativity were everywhere; some of them were soon to become friends, and all of them were My People. Gamers. THE gamers, the font of all the cool stuff I couldn’t wait to get.

And they were real people, sweating and swearing and working themselves to falling-over weariness at GenCon. People who could have animated arguments about how a fireball worked, or blade barrier spells manifested, or how two weapons could be wielded at the same time as the wielder used psionics and cast a spell.

I was never on staff at TSR. I was on the masthead of The Dragon as a Contributing Editor (Kim Mohan offered me the job) and later a Creative Editor, but those were unpaid positions, ways of printing more of my huge flood of submissions than other freelancers without offending anyone, and because it gave Kim (a journalist by trade, and a very good person) someone he could assign topics to, and get something back he could publish.

So those annual visits were my glimpses of heaven. The rest of the year, it was letters and courier packages and phone calls; there was no such thing as the Internet, back then. And it meant the world to me to be able to put faces to the voices on the other end of the often-crackling phone line.

And time has passed and D&D is in very good hands right now, but the world is a little less golden, because TSR isn’t in that building any more, and none of my friends are toiling away inside it, and the years have started to take them away, now…

And the world is a lot less golden.
 
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Ed Greenwood

Comments





Dungeonosophy

Adventurer
I'm guessing "The Grand Duchy" was either Aaron Allston's or Bruce Heard's domain -- The Grand Duchy of Karameikos -- the BECMI D&D Domain.

I made a pilgrimage to Lake Geneva some years ago, and it was sorrowful to see the semi-deserted state of the Sheridan Road facilities,...but I could still somehow glimpse the golden mood of my 1980s childhood shimmering behind the bare corporate Americanist architecture and asphalt parking lot.
 



Michael Dean

Explorer
I moved to Oscoda, Michigan in December 1978. The following Christmas my parents bought me the Basic D&D box set, which didn't even have dice. The box came with laminated sheets of "chits," numbers that you cut out and put in a cup and drew the numbers instead of rolling, ha ha!

Going to Gen Con would have been heaven to me back then, and I regret never making the trip. I'm fortunate that I live only 4 hours from Indy now, so I've been able to go regularly since 2005. I love these looks back to the 1980s.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I won't lie, on reading the thread title my first reaction was 'Oh no...', until i saw who'd posted it!
Me too.

Jim Holloway recently passed. Others have serious health issues, like Jim Ward (not "outing" his illness; he's very public about it and is using his platform to try to warn others not to follow his path). Many of my heroes of my childhood are gone now. So I'd suggest to everyone to take this time for those who are still with us, to listen to them. Hear their stories. Let their imagination meld into your own and allow them to be the storytellers.

Before you know it, we won't have many left. Such is the curse of time. :(
 


Olaf the Stout

Adventurer
Thanks for the story Ed. Everything I’ve read and heard about the original TSR workplace suggests it was a crazy, but very fun place to work. It would be rare to get that many writers and artists all in the one workplace.
 



thank you for your memories. These insights are.always welcome. And I still remember these articles/essays with Mordenkainen, Dalamar and Elminster. It was very fun to see their views on the various subjects.
 


Orcslayer78

Explorer
I'm sorry Mr Greenwood (I don't dare to call you Ed because of the enormous respect I have for you) but while the Forgotten Realms made a jump of 100 years killing almost all the historical NPCs and now they've been basically shrinked from a whole continent to a single region I seriously doubt that "D&D is in very good hands right now".
 


Henry

Autoexreginated
I am always happy to hear people who have found those oases in time in their lives; for me, it was one particular place I worked where I knew the name of everyone in the building, where I knew seemingly every little private joke or nickname for rooms or memes in the building, and every bit of scuttlebutt that went on. I’m sad when I meet people who have NEVER known that oasis, or yet to find theirs because their careers are just starting.

But I’m not sad for it no longer being here, to the contrary it is its finite existence that makes it precious to find. Same with old TSR - would we value so much of what was created had it existed for a half century as it was at that time? If we had seen hundreds of boxed sets of every idea they could produce instead of their best work with the limited time and resources they had at the time?

I kind of feel the same way about Nutkinland, the old Dragonsfoot forum, and online places that no longer exist - I celebrate what was because it was able to be.

So here’s to the oases in our lives, our Corners (to borrow a term from the Continuum RPG); may we find them for however long we can.
 

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