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

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
Somebody was joking that the new TSR should be sued into oblivion. If the owners commit financial fraud, okay. But not just because the owners want a revival of some of that original TTRPG re-enactment, I hope.
They're going to get sued for infringement and damaging the D&D brand. (It'll start with a cease and desist order, but I cannot imagine Ernie will comply, based on this past week.)

There are dozens of OSR games that are already successfully recreating TSR-era gaming under the OGL. No one -- at least, no one worth worrying about -- is offended by that.

That's not the problem in this case.

This is like me deciding that I liked the Coca-Cola I drank as a kid, felt that my dad (who in this fictional scenario, worked for Coca-Cola at one point) passed the mantle on to me when he died, and decide to make my own new soda, calling my company the Coca-Cola company and saying I'm going to start selling Tab and that Coca-Cola should just chill out and let me "share" their branding. Oh, and also, the people who own Coca-Cola now have insulted my dad's memory by their current choices and lol, I'm also going to make some remarks about trans people while saying I'm the heir to the Coca-Cola legacy, please give me money.

If the dude wants to make RPGs, awesome. This is an amazing time for the industry and there are plenty of people who would still like to give Ernie Gygax money. He's going about it in as close to a wrong way as it is possible to imagine. He is a grown adult behaving like a teenager and is going to discover that the legal system doesn't care who his dad was.
 
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Weiley31

Legend
I think there's a difference through between racism as a narrative obstacle and racism in the ruleset. The first is a narrative choice, and the second is a systemic problem.

For example, originally female characters had a Strength cap. That's a sexist rule. I wouldn't want that in any form of D&D, nostalgic or modern. However, I could include a sexist baron who underestimates the female paladin. That's a narrative obstacle that can be overcome.

Producing a traditional RPG game doesn't require the author to build in a racist or sexist ruleset.
I fully agree. Keep the Narrative Obstacles in such as the Racist/Sexist Noble but to hells with the sexist/racist ruleset.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Technically, they used to term "barbarians" to refer to people who didn't speak Greek, because they thought all other languages sounded like "bar bar bar bar bar".

Not especially relevant, but a fun fact nonetheless.
It's an important point, though, as not all culturally conditioned prejudices are identical.
 

Zarithar

Adventurer
Where does this sense of oppression come from? 5e has bent over backwards trying to appease fans of earlier editions from the jump. Their attempts to address concerns over racial stereotyping in the game or sexism in the actual community have been actually very perfunctory. And yet even these very minimal steps are met at every step of the way with reactionary whining. It's embarrassing and disheartening.
Agreed. I started with OD&D myself... but 5e is my favorite edition of the game. The light beer comment makes it clear to me that Ernie has never really taken a look at 5e. Also, he sounds incompetent and directionless. I struggle to recall anything he actually contributed back when TSR was a real company.
 



As I said further up thread, lots of people say that they welcomed everyone to the table and I have no reason to think otherwise for their individual tables. But POC and women have attested for years that they felt excluded from the hobby because it was otherwise a sea of whiteness and maleness wherever they went, whatever they read, whatever art they looked at. Lots of women in the hobby have experienced the gawking, the harassment, the confrontation by gate-keeping asshats at conventions. And though D&D (at least after 1e with the stupid strength limitations on female characters) and other RPGs may be fairly inclusive or at least have that potential, hobbyists aren't necessarily so. And that's why WotC, Green Ronin, and other companies are pressing harder on the issue by incorporating it in their games and online marketing.
And that's why Ernie Gygax is making a wrong-headed appeal and to the wrong people in the hobby.
I still have 2 women playing at my table and they are very good players. The most "out there for blood " group I had, was a group of 6 teenage girls that were (and still are) dear friends. We were 14 and boy did they rock! And compared to some males, they knew how to play cooperatively! They almost won a tournament, so when people try to tell me that women have no place in gaming... I never respected strength limitations for females in 1ed (but did for races) as I always thought it was misogynistic. But I can believe that some players would make bad jokes or comments ar women, just as readily that I have seen these comments in other conventions related to teaching or other work areas. Gaming has nothing to do with these kind of behavior. It is a thing that permeates our society and that will fortunately disappear someday. The gaming industry has nothing to do with these bad behavior.
 





That's just not true. Yes, there are still people with fond memories of the older editions, but many, many people I've played with have zero connection to the older editions.
A few people I've played with weren't even born when TSR was a company; it became an ex-company 24 years ago. Which makes up according to WotC about 36% of their market not counting the under 14s. And I know that for old millennials like me who started playing in the 90s D&D was the old and uncool game - with the younger game and the more popular among my age group being Vampire: the Masquerade. Or are we including 3.0 and 3.5 (and possibly even 4e) under "older editions"?
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I think it is more like, when trying to produce something traditional, you have to guess what others think is and is not part of the tradition.
I'm a little confused by this. When an artist creates a work, they choose what to put in and why. If an artist is creating a "traditional" piece of work, then they are using a limited palette of themes from older versions of that medium. However, the artist still gets to choose what to and what not to include, right? So if I am writing a story in a Victorian tradition (such as 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel'), then I can choose to have it set in Victorian London, include lots of footnotes, have issues of class, etc, but I don't have to include harmful stereotypes of Jewish people, as many Victorian novels do. I could even subvert those ideas, why still producing a traditional piece of work.

Now what the audience sees as traditional, the artist has no control over!
 



qstor

Adventurer
The whole crowdfunding part... Where do I even begin? If he started with a Kickstarter without understanding the underlying economics of it and them blames the very people/company that is completely upfront about their costs to you... Yeah, no. Let's say the bite was just shy of 10%, where did the other 90% go Ernie?
Right! I got blocked on Twitter by TSR_Games for making some biting comments on this! That Kickstarter raised a LOT of money. Someone on Facebook said that he saw Ernie's bank statement and that all the money WAS still there. I find that personally hard to believe given that he's had medicial bills and other things come up. I feel sad for that given the state of healthcare in the USA but he should have had "all his ducks in a row" with the Kickstarter before moving forward. It's been 7 years and the module still hasn't been produced. I did Morrus's last Kickstarter and got the pdf just as soon as the Kickstarter was finished! That's extremely professional and that how it should have been done!
 


Gradine

Final Form (she/they)
Hiya!

I'm transgender and non-binary, so let me add my three-dollar bill to the conversation.

Wishing people like me just... didn't exist (or just stayed in the closet) is transphobia. That's like... the textbook definition of it. While the things being said by Mr. Gygax and a few select others in this thread are several degrees removed from that desire, make no mistake; wanting our erasure is at the foundation of it all.

Pretending we don't exist (because you want to remain "apolitical") is an incredibly political statement. As a matter of course, both acknowledging and dismissing my existence are political acts... there's not really a fence to sit on here. Do I wish my mere existence was not political? All the damn time. Sadly, I don't get to make the rules there.

A desire to enforce a gender binary, to insist upon the binary's "biological truth" (trademark: not actually biologically true), or even just to... complete avoid acknowledging there are non-straight and/or non-cis in your TTRPGs... yes they are different degrees of antagonistic, but at the root of all them is a wish that people like me did not exist.

I must, understandably then, refuse to allow anyone to insist that should be okay. It's not.
 


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