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TSR Ernie Gygax on New TSR, WotC Beefs, Trademarks, Licensees, 5E, & More

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A YouTube channel, 'Live From the Bunker', interviewed Ernie Gygax about the new TSR. I've watched and decided to try to transcribe the most relevant parts of it, but the full hour-long video is below if you want to see the whole interview and full context.



Ernie Gygax is one of D&D co-creator Gary Gygax's sons, and recently announced that TSR, the company that launched D&D in 1974, and bought by WotC in the late 1990s, was returning.

All the below is Ernie Gygax's words as best I could transcribe. I'm posting the facts of what was said here, without commentary.

There's also talk about early TSR stories, Gail Gygax lawsuits and wills, etc. but I've tried to stay on topic. You can watch the full interview for more.

Why A New TSR?

TSR has been gone. There's a ton of artists and game designers and people that play..... and recently they were dissed for being old-fashioned, possibly anti modern trends, and enforcing, or even having the concepts of gender identity (laughs).

All I'm trying to do is fill in the stripmine, allow this old fertile soil to produce more games and products again. We're not gonna be able to get back the diamond that was Dungeons & Dragons. We'll be able to make things that might have chips of diamond material... we're never gonna see that great D&D diamond again, I don't think.

Why Two TSRs?

The other TSR is a licensee because [Jayson Elliot] let it lapse. But he had absolutely ... love for the game and the products. There was no reason to say 'oh you've screwed up, oh it's all ours, ha ha ha ha!' Instead, Justin [LaNasa] came to him and said ... we love that you're doing Top Secret things, we have a much broader goal for the whole thing. But there's no reason for you to stop or even have any troubles. Justin said, I'll take care of the paperwork, you just give me $10 a year, and you put out all this love for old school gaming that you can. And we appreciate that you were there to try and pick up things, and you produced Gygax Magazine, for in its time that you're also working on a game that you love to play ... because Top Secret was Jayson's love, as a young man.


On Gail Gygax, Wills, & Courts

We are in court right now with Gail Gygax, my father's last wife, who he impressed upon me, this is my wife, this was his last years, if you're going to deal with me, you're going to be dealing with my wife here. So 'OK father, understood'. And he said 'it doesn't matter what you think, because this is my wife'. That is important!

But he then did a will. The will was not put forth because the assumption was that there was not $50,000 in 19... or 2008, I should say, dollars worth of value in his estate. And right now though without that Gail had complete control of all the IPs and product, and she had pulled them all from the market hoping to sell them as one gigantic package to a large conglomerate, be it Pepsi or a studio or whatever.

Which did not happen, and at least in my opinion - and exactly that, an opinion - has lowered the knowledge and recognition of my father's name and his works. I think the best way to show and create value for anything is to have it in front of the public. And so in September there's going to be a couple of days where I get up really early - and it's not my style, like I said I was up until 6 in the morning - so by 8am I'm supposed to be bright and chipper and being questioned by lawyers as well as other family members.

Top Secret

[Top Secret] hasn't done real well, OK? But hopefully there will be a little bit of extra energy involved with Jayson and his material too, because we will be openly talking about them, and saying there's this fine gentleman, this ally. And there'll be other allies.

How Involved Are You?

With the two other gentleman as well as many volunteers and hopefully an ever expanding membership. This is kind of ... think of like an old British club where you know 'oooh, we sit around with our cigars'. This is gonna be hobby [champions?]

TSR Trademark

The TSR logo trademark was found in the dirt, by mistake, as we were setting up the museum. We were just looking for 'dungeon hobby shop', all that sort of thing, and Justin found, aching in the corridor, with the carcass of an old [counter?] this treasure. And instead of saying, like a thief and pocketing this, he said to Jeff and I, we have found this treasure. Let's make something of it!

Giantlands

Giantlands is a first licensee of a product that we are working with. I was involved with Giantlands just before Hobby Shop Museum became a reality. Jim Ward, he said, Luke and Ernie I would like either of you or both to be part of this project. So I said, well Jim Ward's got project, it looks like it was Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, which I loved, and then I started reading more and said 'oh there's this other gentleman, Stephen Dinehart, and look at this, Aztecs flying around on hovercraft and beam weapons, alright, this is starting to look good.

I said I really don't want to get involved deeply with actually writing, having my name on the top, I would love to be involved in basically criticizing, modifying, and polishing the work for somebody else as well as trying to see what we can do to get this to not be just a concept...

How many original TSR people are part of this new TSR?

Well, it's an ever expanding list as we go along. A lot of it are let's say it's involved in projects, so it's not like you're hired on a wage situation, it would be more like royalties, or potentially a job or an occupation. Sometime, though I doubt it will happen because my friend [couldn't make out words] I would love to have him as something to do with our shipping department. He was the longest lasting TSR employee ever, and he was a good buddy, he bought me beer when I was underage.

We have Larry Elmore, particularly interested in Star Frontiers... and he is ready to maybe actually be a [one?] project art director.


On Wizards of the Coast, Lorraine Williams, & Original TSR

They just took as all corporate raiders do the treasures and then tried to make them their own. American Indians did the same thing they would, um, wipe out another tribe many times take the women and children and murder off everything else and leave to make your tribe that much better, room to grow.

On Star Frontiers

It would not be the same game. It would be a complete remake, sadly, or at least enough, as they told my dad when they did 2nd Edition, that I'm sorry you don't deserve any royalties from this because we changed it more than 10%. We're just a small company, we're defiantly not going to go to bat against WotC, that would be a stupid move, we'd just lose.

This is to fill in, and take all those holes where they've thrown back and said 'we don't want that'. So, OK, we're picking up apple cores and panting seeds.


On Cooperating with WotC

I would hope so but they just put out a big disclaimer recently trying to divorce themselves from the ethics and style of play that was involved in the origins of the game. They're basically trying to say 'we're a better company and a better type of person' than those who started playing. At least that's somewhat of the impression they've given and 'please switch over and be part of the new wave'. You know. Join the pack of lemmings, oh yeah!

.... and the problem is my fighter returns antagonism for antagonism. So that's where we start getting into some difficulties and I'm having to throw a protection from evil up. [Can't make out words] here and there, end of the party, and hopefully someday I'll be able to throw a fireball [can't make out words].

The Future of TSR

Justin is extremely interested in dealing with a Swiss firm .... this would just be a licensee .... but it's very possible that I may be taking some of my dungeon features from the old hobby shop dungeon and putting them into a game where it's virtual reality.

On [Online Theories That This Is A Test For?] 6th Edition D&D and WotC

I wish that I had better contacts with Wizards, and some of them probably would like to talk to me at some point too, because almost anybody that plays the games have been and are fans of older material. Though every edition, everybody that got involved somehow was taking their ideas and tried to make them canon, and that's been very interesting, so I guess we all like to own our own property, and I still feel that the best game I ever played in was my father's, probably followed by Rob Kuntz, and then Dave Arneson.

More on Star Frontiers

Unless for some reason they will allow us play royalties and things. We would still like to be friends with WotC for old things. We want to pick up things that were tossed in the dirt, brush them off, but if needed we are not incapable of creation. We'll create and we'll allow people to have things that aren't the method they are prescribing for people, it is not happiness for everybody, though it is happiness for many millions.

The 2019 Giantlands Kickstarter

That was individual. Stephen [Dinehart] is a licensee and my friend, and I'm part of it, but it's not TSR as the company and the people that have the museum. Those are two separate entities, which Justin is the first licensee in that we actually expect to have glorious things occurring.

On Crowdfunding & Late Kickstarters

I had a problem because when I did a crowdfunding on something called the Marmoreal Tomb, we are now just starting to deliver five years late ... its an incredible work! But I brought in an artist, a man of great talent, and more ambition than possibly foresight at the time. He's still cracking the whip, we have received years of hate from some people [can't make out words] Marmoreal Tomb, but not the whole thing, we don't have all the stretch goals, I'm saying that I have a burned hand from Kickstarters. But they do work. The reason that they really work is not just the money that they bring in, because you don't get all of it, maybe 7-10% of gets stolen by banks and other people, because that's why they do this crowdfunding thing, they say 'oh great, yeah, we'll handle your money' but it's gone.

But the idea is that we are going to be doing a membership drive, and a membership will be for playing at the museum, for buying products, and also conventions, probably having conventions where we have no fee, or a very reduced fee, if you're a member. And memberships will be lifetime memberships. A copper membership for like $50, there's a mitral or something for a grand. I don't know. That's something I don't have to worry about.

... [can't make out words] about $64,000 out of 125 or whatever they started with. I think I got 113 or something after Kickstarter peeled off their top. I've been paying for artists, I've wasted money on some accountants, I've got a gamer accountant now to help, and governments, and some people say 'oh you've got to pay tax on this, and oh no we didn't have to, the federal returned some money, the state said you give me money [laughs].

On D&D 5th Edition

The idea is let's share. The idea is there isn't a bad roleplaying game. 5th Edition to me is kinda like drinking light beer, when you could be having a Guinness. It's still cold ... has calories, some.

And more!

The above is selected quotes -- probably about half of the interview, but I tried to focus on new information. I've transcribed those as best I can, but there are a couple of bits where I couldn't make the words out. There's lots more (chat on gaming generally, old TSR stories, etc)! Watch the video for the full thing.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


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pemerton

Legend
Either it's a metaphor, or while cleaning the physical space they came across a logo, which inspired them to pursue the trademark for that logo.
Either way, what I don't understand is how they have registered as trademarks logos in respect of which I think WotC must own the copyrights.
 



Dire Bare

Legend
Gygaxian Prose is filled with metaphor and that's how Ernie writes and speaks, even in casual Facebook comments.
And the metaphor isn't that odd or confusing, at least not to me.

While Ernie and his partners were going through legal paperwork preparing to open the Hobby Shop Museum, they discovered that the TSR trademark was, once again, up for grabs and unused . . . in the dirt.

Of course, it wasn't unused, Jayson Elliot was still using it for TSR 2.0 and his Top Secret revamp. Elliott, apparently, simply failed to register it. Kinda seems like a dick move to snatch it out from underneath him, especially considering they were business partners over Gygax Magazine.

Although, I'm not a fan of the appropriation of TSR in the first place, nor the appropriation of Top Secret and Star Frontiers (and Alternity while we're at it, although that's a different bunch of folks).
 


Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
I am still, after all these years, looking forward to Marmoreal Tomb. Based on what's been shown over the years of production, it looks like it will be a fantastic adventure and mini-setting with a great deal or artistry and detail and care poured into it by some skilled writers and artists.

And I think it was mismanaged, by people lacking business experience, in a manner which may also plague this new TSR company. Their products are likely to be high quality, but their business abilities are likely to be far behind their artistic skills. That is, unless they've learned to hire people with business skills to run things better than they've run them to date on other projects.
 

darjr

I crit!
That leads me to a question? Why isn’t Marmoreal Tomb one of their products? After Kickstarter backers get their pledge rewards.

I mean the hobbiest shop is the museum and the dungeon was run and originally developed there, right? And it’s Ernies book written by Benoist. It sounds like it would be a perfect first fit.

 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Although, I'm not a fan of the appropriation of TSR in the first place, nor the appropriation of Top Secret and Star Frontiers (and Alternity while we're at it, although that's a different bunch of folks).
Merle Rasmussen's involvement in Top Secret NWO should negate any appropriation with respect to Top Secret.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
That leads me to a question? Why isn’t Marmoreal Tomb one of their products? After Kickstarter backers get their pledge rewards.

I mean the hobbiest shop is the museum and the dungeon was run and originally developed there, right? And it’s Ernies book written by Benoist. It sounds like it would be a perfect first fit.

The Marmoreal project has been taken over by Troll Lord Games. It is thanks to them that the project has made some progress and the main module PDF has been distributed to backers.
 


Dire Bare

Legend
Merle Rasmussen's involvement in Top Secret NWO should negate any appropriation with respect to Top Secret.
I disagree.

It's certainly cool that Rasmussen is the creative force behind both the original and the "New World Order" versions of the game. But . . . it's not the original rules system, or even an update to it. It's not the original IP or setting. Like the Star Frontiers and Alternity reboots, the only thing the games have in common is the name. I'm not interested.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Well, I backed the Marmoreal KS because I wanted (what I thought would be) a cool dungeon and some environs, certainly not because of this political garbage, of which I was actually unaware back then, so I must say that I did not appreciate this comment, even though I get where you're coming from.
Sorry if I communicated that badly. I wasn't trying to bash people who supported either of these. I meant it as a go forward statement. I.e., the people he's catering to (gamers who get criticized for wanting to enforce only two traditional genders) probably won't see any products because Ernie has an abysmal track record. Nothing to do with backers or supporters' character, everything to do with Ernie's failure to manage projects or promises to deliver.
 


Dire Bare

Legend
That leads me to a question? Why isn’t Marmoreal Tomb one of their products? After Kickstarter backers get their pledge rewards.

I mean the hobbiest shop is the museum and the dungeon was run and originally developed there, right? And it’s Ernies book written by Benoist. It sounds like it would be a perfect first fit.

This new version of TSR coalesced after Troll Lord took over Marmoreal Tomb, and even after the Giantlands kickstarter.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
Sorry if I communicated that badly. I wasn't trying to bash people who supported either of these. I meant it as a go forward statement. I.e., the people he's catering to (gamers who get criticized for wanting to enforce only two traditional genders) probably won't see any products because Ernie has an abysmal track record. Nothing to do with backers or supporters' character, everything to do with Ernie's failure to manage projects or promises to deliver.
Fair enough :)
 



Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
That leads me to a question? Why isn’t Marmoreal Tomb one of their products? After Kickstarter backers get their pledge rewards.

I mean the hobbiest shop is the museum and the dungeon was run and originally developed there, right? And it’s Ernies book written by Benoist. It sounds like it would be a perfect first fit.

I assume because the company with business sense (Troll Lord Games) which bailed them out of the hole they'd dug themselves into has rights to the product?
 


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