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D&D General Lorraine Williams: Is it Time for a Reevaluation?

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You don't have to take our word for it--you can read Ryan Dancey's own words about it on this very site:

So, it seems to me that
"TSR had pledged most of the copyright interests in D&D as collateral for loans it could not repay"
and
"doing something spiteful and refusing to and ending up selling to the banks piecmiel"
have very little in common.

Specifically, that "spiteful" indicates an emotional intent that using rights as collateral on loans doesn't imply.
 

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MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
While I've been advocating for a re-evaluation of Williams' time at TSR, I think it's fair to say that it was her own actions that cast her as the villain. She is the proverbial captain who who is responsible for running her ship aground. And let's talk about the connection between Williams and D&D fans and for now we'll ignore whether or not she had contempt for bother games and gamers. What connection did Williams have to D&D fans? She wasn't the driving force behind the creative process that brought us AD&D settings, adventures, or miscellaneous sourcebooks. I might have some connection to George Lucas and Harrison Ford, but I don't really care who was the CEO of Paramount Pictures in 1981. There really aren't any strong connections between D&D fans and Williams.

Do you really think Williams wanted anything to do with D&D after TSR was sold to Wizards? The company failed on her watch and that's embarrassing. If I were in her position I sure as hell wouldn't want to be involved in any events with the people who bought my company. Even if I didn't have any hard feelings against them it's just a reminder of my embarrassment.
The thing is, she shouldn't have had to be in the public eye after her ownership ended. Her name should have faded into obscurity after she handed the keys to Adkinson. My point is that that didn't happen in part because WotC wanted to legitimize their ownership of D&D, and their campaign to do that ended up putting a face on what was just a name in the credits. By putting names and a faces on early D&D -Gygax and Arneson- and to a lesser extent on "modern" D&D -Dancey and Adkinson- they opened the door for the public to put a name on the recently gone 2e era. More so, by putting up a hero, they left a void open for a villain to be cast.

And well, why the double standard? either Lorraine was a driving force in TSR or she wasn't. You can't say she had nothing to do with the good and everything to do with the bad then say that because her actions she was indeed a villain. Yes, the boat sunk with her at the helm. Yes, under her TSR took many questionable actions, but do we know to what extent the bad actions where decided by her? Why blame her for failing to save a sinking ship when it was sinking before she was brought in instead of praising her for keeping it gong for longer than it would have otherwise?

I think you might have missed the point of my comment.

But sure, I totally believe that this guy was constantly thwarted in his ambitions by some "lady" who knew nothing, because he totally knew James Cameron and Francis Coppola who completely wanted to make a movie with him. Except the "lady" (remember, licensing Buck Rogers, brother wrote screenplays in Hollywood) had no idea who people like James Cameron were and didn't prepare for the meeting. The same James Cameron who, the year before had released T2. So this guy had to school the lady.

Sounds plausible.
Ironic, the guy who got the rights by pure cronyism accused Lorraine of having D&D because of nepotism... Stones and glass houses...
 

darjr

I crit!
So, it seems to me that
"TSR had pledged most of the copyright interests in D&D as collateral for loans it could not repay"
and
"doing something spiteful and refusing to and ending up selling to the banks piecmiel"
have very little in common.

Specifically, that "spiteful" indicates an emotional intent that using rights as collateral on loans doesn't imply.
She could have refused WotC out of spite. She didn’t have to sell to them.
The fact that Ryan Dancy kept who the buyer was a secret for so long is proof they were afraid she would do just that.

according to the snippet shared by Ben from his book she knew who it was before the deal was done and could have refused

To her credit she didn’t do that.

Though I’ll grant that using the word “selling” wasn’t correct. Is that the issue?
 
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Voadam

Legend
The thing is, she shouldn't have had to be in the public eye after her ownership ended. Her name should have faded into obscurity after she handed the keys to Adkinson. My point is that that didn't happen in part because WotC wanted to legitimize their ownership of D&D, and their campaign to do that ended up putting a face on what was just a name in the credits. By putting names and a faces on early D&D -Gygax and Arneson- and to a lesser extent on "modern" D&D -Dancey and Adkinson- they opened the door for the public to put a name on the recently gone 2e era. More so, by putting up a hero, they left a void open for a villain to be cast.
This seems close but a little off.

3e WotC put Gygax and Arneson credits front and center in the new books and OGL as co-creators of D&D.

From the inside of my 3.5 PH "Based on the original Dungeons & Dragons game created by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson."

In the SRD the credits are "System Reference Document Copyright 2000-2003, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David Noonan, Rich Redman, Bruce R. Cordell, John D. Rateliff, Thomas Reid, James Wyatt, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson."

This seems more a promotion of Gygax and Arneson as game designers and not as people in charge of TSR. Similarly Jonathan Tweet and Monte Cook were game designers in WotC and not executives like Peter Adkinson or Ryan Dancey whose names are not in the SRD credits.

Gygax was asked to write columns in Dragon/Dungeon and from what I remember they were about game stuff, not CEO stuff.

I think the promotion was on Gygax and Arneson as creative designers of D&D as a game and did not bring up stuff like their lawsuits or corporate decisions of TSR.

There is a line of CEOs going Gygax, Williams, Adkinson but that does not seem to be part of the narrative here, more that 3e was linking itself to D&D and the co-creators of D&D. You have to intentionally take other steps to bring CEO Williams into the narrative.

And well, why the double standard? either Lorraine was a driving force in TSR or she wasn't. You can't say she had nothing to do with the good and everything to do with the bad then say that because her actions she was indeed a villain. Yes, the boat sunk with her at the helm. Yes, under her TSR took many questionable actions, but do we know to what extent the bad actions where decided by her? Why blame her for failing to save a sinking ship when it was sinking before she was brought in instead of praising her for keeping it gong for longer than it would have otherwise?

So Gygax and Williams were in charge of TSR in different times, but Gygax got primarily remembered fondly for his creative contributions to D&D as opposed to being primarily linked to TSR actions during his CEO tenure. Williams was only CEO of TSR so the only associations are to TSR actions while she was in charge. She has no goodwill and primary association from being a creator of D&D the way Gygax does.
 
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I think you might have missed the point of my comment.

But sure, I totally believe that this guy was constantly thwarted in his ambitions by some "lady" who knew nothing, because he totally knew James Cameron and Francis Coppola who completely wanted to make a movie with him. Except the "lady" (remember, licensing Buck Rogers, brother wrote screenplays in Hollywood) had no idea who people like James Cameron were and didn't prepare for the meeting. The same James Cameron who, the year before had released T2. So this guy had to school the lady.

Sounds plausible.

I understand that you're trying to discredit Soloman's statements. And I understand that he's not the most trustworthy source; I included Weis's comment on purpose. FWIW, the discussion of Cameron and Coppola being involved was also mentioned by Allen Zeman in an interview in 2000, so that part of the story has some credibility. Zeman doesn't mention Williams directly, though.

But when you say things like "Who are you going to trust? Soloman or Williams?", it's helpful to actually have both sides to compare. For all we know, Williams could corroborate the story. She might also corroborate that Soloman referred to her as "lady" and that she bought D&D for a steal because Gygax lost all his money on a coke binge. Without more info, we don't know.

What I'm trying to do is provide statements from people who worked with Lorraine Williams directly, specifically talking about her or how she ran the business. And Soloman was a person who worked with her. He's also a person not employed by TSR, which seems relevant to many of the earlier comments in this thread.

And regardless of your opinon of Soloman, all of this shows that the early history of the D&D movie license (and it's a long, sordid, confusing history) can definitely be tracked back to Williams. She was definitely involved with negotiating how Sweatpea got the rights "in perpetuity", and in ensuring that she maintained a significant amount of creative control over the project. If you want to re-evaluate Williams and her tenure at TSR, reviewing the history of the movie license should be part of it.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
This seems close but a little off.

3e WotC put Gygax and Arneson credits front and center in the new books and OGL as co-creators of D&D.

From the inside of my 3.5 PH "Based on the original Dungeons & Dragons game created by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson."

In the SRD the credits are "System Reference Document Copyright 2000-2003, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David Noonan, Rich Redman, Bruce R. Cordell, John D. Rateliff, Thomas Reid, James Wyatt, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson."

This seems more a promotion of Gygax and Arneson as game designers and not as people in charge of TSR. Similarly Jonathan Tweet and Monte Cook were game designers in WotC and not executives like Peter Adkinson or Ryan Dancey whose names are not in the SRD credits.

Gygax was asked to write columns in Dragon/Dungeon and from what I remember they were about game stuff, not CEO stuff.

I think the promotion was on Gygax and Arneson as creative designers of D&D as a game and did not bring up stuff like their lawsuits or corporate decisions of TSR.

There is a line of CEOs going Gygax, Williams, Adkinson but that does not seem to be part of the narrative here, more that 3e was linking itself to D&D and the co-creators of D&D. You have to intentionally take other steps to bring CEO Williams into the narrative.



So Gygax and Williams were in charge of TSR in different times, but Gygax got primarily remembered fondly for his creative contributions to D&D as opposed to being primarily linked to TSR actions during his CEO tenure. Williams was only CEO of TSR so the only associations are to TSR actions while she was in charge. She has no goodwill and primary association from being a creator of D&D the way Gygax does.
Have you heard of Ron Perelman? He owned Marvel in the early nineties and was responsible for it getting bankrupt. He lined his pockets with frontloaded movie rights sales after nickel and diming comic customers, paying peanuts to the creators and pursuing bad business idea after bad business idea. (Yes, he is responsible for the Marvel movie right mess that still lasts to this day) But after he was sacked in the Marvel bankruptcy, he was essentially forgotten. Why? because ToyBiz -the new Marvel owners- let sleeping dogs lie and didn't make a show of getting Marvel. They also didn't make very public events honoring Lee and Ditko while introducing the world to the people on their board. It was all under wraps. Then why is Perelman -who engaged in borderline illegal stuff- forgotten but Lorraine Williams remembered in a vilified way?
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
She could have refused WotC out of spite. She didn’t have to sell to them.

To me, the issue, in a nutshell, is how we talk about these things.

So, I am sorry, but you're providing me with a case study. I'm going to pick it apart, to show a bit about unconscious biases. You are not a bad person - just human. Humans do this stuff all the time.

My foremost point is that this doesn't match what you wrote above, that she would sell off rights piecemeal out of spite. Indeed, if we take Dancy at face value, and the rights were already put up as collateral, she couldn't do that. And the correct information was here on this site.

My secondary point is that... well, "cutting it up and selling it piecemeal" is evocatively phrased enough to seem emotionally loaded.

Which adds up to - we're using emotionally loaded phrases against her, when we don't know really have our facts straight... we could, but we don't...

...and SHE is the one who might be spiteful?

The fact that Ryan Dancy kept who the buyer was a secret for so long is proof they were afraid she would do just that.

Have you considered that, "they were afraid she might," is less a statement about her, than it is a statement about their fears? What if their fears were irrational, or poorly founded? Have you thought about that? I mean, with all these various stories, does TSR of the day sound like it was a place with a lot of clean, clear, and honest communication going on? Or does it sound like a place of fear, confusion, blame-throwing and responsibility-dodging? We should question if any of these people had a healthy working relationship with her - if they didn't, their claims about why she was doing it are suspect, as they probably wouldn't know her well enough to say.

Why don't we stop and consider the nuanced possibility that the situation and feelings at WotC were complicated, and not all due to a single problematic person (Williams). Why don't we consider the possibility that there were many failures there, by many people, both in the executive and creative sides, and that the entire blame for how it all turned out likely doesn't lay on one person?

That we lean toward accepting one narrative, and don't accept much questioning of that narrative, is a demonstration of biases existing in our thoughts on the matter.
 

Then why is Perelman -who engaged in borderline illegal stuff- forgotten but Lorraine Williams remembered in a vilified way?

I suspect a big part of this is noting where you are on the internet. A quick google shows a ton of articles and discussions vilifying Perelman on comic book focused sites. Likewise, I highly doubt anyone outside of D&D (or Buck Rogers) fandom knows who Lorraine Williams is. Even in the D&D world, it's mostly older people and OSR fans; I suspect newer players have never heard of her.

If anything, I would say that Perelman is vilified more these days, as his name is popping up in a few MCU discussions. And apparently he recently reneged on a large donation to Princeton University.
 

darjr

I crit!
@Umbran I think you misunderstood me. I don’t think she would have done any of those things. Not for a second. She was by what little of Bens account I have heard, upfront and business like through the whole sale negotiations. Even polite and friendly after she knew she was dealing with WotC.

Ryan Dancy thought she would do something drastic or just plain refuse, so he kept WotC involvement under wraps. I’m just pointing out she could have acted badly and did quite the opposite.

However I’m glad to be if service.
 
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Dausuul

Legend
One story from Corey Soloman was this:

"... TSR. And the woman that owned it was like a trust fund baby and she got this company for like, I believe you know, a couple hundred grand from Gary Gygax because he spent it on some coke binge or something – as the story goes. I can’t validate if that would be true or not. But that’s how the story goes. So she picked it up, and when I went in to her and I came up with this whole thing, when we did the script for example, she was like, ‘I want to make toys.’ I’m like, ‘Lady, your audience doesn’t want to buy toys. That’s not who the D&D audience is. You gotta make a different film.’ She didn’t care.

And what happened was, you know, long story short, you know. I got, you know, Jim Cameron to agree to do it at one point in 93. She sits at the Bel Air Hotel Restaurant [with Cameron], she folds her arms, she looks at him and says – its 93 – she says, ‘What are your qualifications to direct this film?’ I was like, ‘OK, Jim, please don’t kill me right now. I know about your temper, please don’t do it. Ok.’

Look, at twenty-three as a producer, I originally only intended to produce Dungeons and Dragons. That was the thing, I could get the rights, go to Hollywood, get a big director like Jim Cameron, hey I brought her Francis Coppola, I brought her Renny Harlin in the early 90’s. At that point these people were hot, and she turned them all down, she had the approval. "

And another comment Soloman makes about Williams:

"How did you manage to get a project like D&D as a first time director?

It was no easy task. It was an idea that I had when I was twenty. I used to play the game and I loved it. I grew up in the film business and I was ready to make my journey to Hollywood and start my career, from Toronto. I made some cold calls and nobody had the rights at that point. They had talked to a lot of different people in studios and big film makers and that sort of stuff, but they were never really comfortable making a deal with those people. I guess mainly because they didn't feel they'd have enough control. The lady that owned the company at that point was a real "control freak" if you will. It's owned by Hasbro now."
I mean - granted, it's a firsthand account and we don't have many of those.

But jeez, reading the interview, I wouldn't trust that guy with bus fare. He talks like every resentful, self-aggrandizing blowhard I've ever heard. He craps on everyone else and minimizes his own failings - he does admit that the D&D movie wasn't a good movie, but he quickly segues into the unforgivingness of Hollywood and how nobody would cut him a break afterward. And oh, he had James Cameron lined up to direct! He had Francis Ford Coppola lined up! It was Lorraine's fault he couldn't get those guys on board... yeah, right. Sure it was.
 
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Willie the Duck

Adventurer
I mean - granted, it's a firsthand account and we don't have many of those.

But jeez, reading the interview, I wouldn't trust that guy with bus fare. He talks like every resentful, self-aggrandizing blowhard I've ever heard. He craps on everyone else and minimizes his own failings - he does admit that the D&D movie wasn't a good movie, but he quickly segues into the unforgivingness of Hollywood and how nobody would cut him a break afterward. And oh, he had James Cameron lined up to direct! He had Francis Ford Coppola lined up! It was Lorraine's fault he couldn't get those guys on board... yeah, right. Sure it was.
I do not disagree. However, we're back at dueling credibilities, which is the problem we had in the first place. Gary and a bunch of people who invented/worked directly on the game we love had more effective credibility with a lot of us that trust-fund heiress; but now 80s female CEO has more effective credibility than self-promoting Hollywood guy.
 

But jeez, reading the interview, I wouldn't trust that guy with bus fare. He talks like every resentful, self-aggrandizing blowhard I've ever heard. He craps on everyone else and minimizes his own failings - he does admit that the D&D movie wasn't a good movie, but he quickly segues into the unforgivingness of Hollywood and how nobody would cut him a break afterward. And oh, he had James Cameron lined up to direct! He had Francis Ford Coppola lined up! It was Lorraine's fault he couldn't get those guys on board... yeah, right. Sure it was.

Another article posits 'It should be noted that Cameron never said he’d direct; he was willing to take a hands-on producing role." But Dan Jolin doesn't give his source for that.

I think it's particularly interesting to note that (according to Soloman) all Williams cared about was the merchandising. I find this very believable. It's also a place where I think Soloman was dead wrong. From a business/finance perspective, merchandising makes a lot of sense. As the brand owner, that's where TSR actually stood to make the most money. Unfortunately, it seems like Williams didn't know how to actually capitalize on it (i.e., push a movie through, insist on characters/designs that make good toys, etc). It shows an area where her brand management skills were lacking.
 

Dausuul

Legend
I do not disagree. However, we're back at dueling credibilities, which is the problem we had in the first place. Gary and a bunch of people who invented/worked directly on the game we love had more effective credibility with a lot of us that trust-fund heiress; but now 80s female CEO has more effective credibility than self-promoting Hollywood guy.
Lorraine's credibility doesn't really come into it, because she hasn't said anything. There have been reams of commentary about her, but I am not aware that she has ever commented in public on her time at TSR.

As far as the D&D movie goes, I have zero faith in Solomon's account, but I certainly would not be surprised if TSR was making a mess of things as well. As a number of folks have observed, TSR had an unbroken run of bad leadership from first to last. Lorraine was not a villain, but she was hardly a great CEO.

And it's not like we need any special explanations for why a bad movie was made. There is a kind of unspoken assumption that the default state of a typical movie is good--so if it's bad, somebody must have messed it up, and we go looking for the person to blame. But in fact, the default state of a typical movie (or book, or TV show, or pretty much anything) is lousy, which is why the vast majority of movies that get released sink without a trace. It's the good ones that call for explanation.
 

Willie the Duck

Adventurer
Lorraine's credibility doesn't really come into it, because she hasn't said anything. There have been reams of commentary about her, but I am not aware that she has ever commented in public on her time at TSR.

As far as the D&D movie goes, I have zero faith in Solomon's account...
What I am saying is that I am now not taking as credible, nor have much faith in, any retroactive personal account of how things went down, particularly if we're relying on our own instincts about the credibility of the person telling us the account. We've spent far too long believing the side that fits with our preconceived notions and biases.

Williams has not made public comments, but she has contributed to the firsthand documentation, which is the (relatively) trustworthy sources, in my book, at the moment.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I understand that you're trying to discredit Soloman's statements.

Nope.

Not it at all, again.

Here's something from a prior comment I made-
I keep circling back to the same point- these stories seem different now. Again, I wasn't there. I don't know what really happened. But I am very skeptical of these stories, especially given that a lot of these self-serving stories don't seem to hold up in the light of day, and in light of what we now know about gender dynamics in the workplace.

Before that-
Look, if you don't read some of those accounts with fresh eyes, I don't know what to tell you.

Before that-
I'm just no longer comfortable parroting the opinions I have heard about Lorraine Williams. When I look back at a lot of the stories about her, I find that many of them are either completely untrue on closer examination, are contested by other people, or are hearsay. More importantly, looking back at some of the "ha ha she's an evil witch and fat too" stories makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Follow?

I will make this explicit- if the issue I have been having is people trotting out the same, tired stories that almost always have the same, tired sexist comments that make me cringe reading them, why do you think that digging up another cringe-y comment is going to be better?

What? If you find a person who say, "Oh, she was evil, and REALLY fat" am I going to feel better about this? I don't think so.

Point being that there are precious few receipts; so googling additional sexist and uncorroborated comments isn't helpful. I


If you are comfortable digging up these comments and producing them as evidence ... hey, good for you. I can't.
 

MGibster

Legend
By putting names and a faces on early D&D -Gygax and Arneson- and to a lesser extent on "modern" D&D -Dancey and Adkinson- they opened the door for the public to put a name on the recently gone 2e era. More so, by putting up a hero, they left a void open for a villain to be cast.
Okay. I can't really blame WotC for this as recognizing Gygax, Arneson, and others wasn't not a malicious act designed to thrust Williams into the forefront as the villain. Assuming for a moment it did create an open void, Williams' own actions is what allowed her to so easily fill that void.

And well, why the double standard? either Lorraine was a driving force in TSR or she wasn't. You can't say she had nothing to do with the good and everything to do with the bad then say that because her actions she was indeed a villain. Yes, the boat sunk with her at the helm. Yes, under her TSR took many questionable actions, but do we know to what extent the bad actions where decided by her? Why blame her for failing to save a sinking ship when it was sinking before she was brought in instead of praising her for keeping it gong for longer than it would have otherwise?
What double standard? I've already acknowledged that Williams saved the company in the 1980s. I've even argued for a re-evaluation of her legacy on the grounds that she's been cast as a villain while her role in saving TSR has largely been ignored. And I hold Williams responsible because she was the one in charge. She set up the financial structure of the company that made it impossible for TSR to make changes based on external market forces, it was her decision to over produce Dragon Dice, it was her decision to antagonize both DC Comics and Random House, it was her decision to alienate authors include RA Salvatore and the Hickmans. She saved the ship, ran it well for a few years, and then sailed right into the rocks. I'm blaming her because she was the CEO and the buck stops with her.
 

it was her decision to alienate authors include RA Salvatore and the Hickmans.

To be fair, Salvatore only got to write D&D fiction at all while she was running TSR. Gygax was pushed out in 1985, Salvatore only published his first Drizzt novel in 1988.

I never had a dog in this fight at the time, I only really got into D&D in the mid 90s and all this was ancient history even then. But that sums her tenure up in a nutshell really, to me. A few competent organisational decisions early to stem the bleeding from late-Gygaxian chaos, then an era of extraordinary creative output (the degree to which she is responsible for that is of course debateable, but she is as responsible for TSRs successes in that era as she is for its failures) followed by a long slow crunch into insolvency as whole lot of poor strategic decisions came home to roost.
 

I will make this explicit- if the issue I have been having is people trotting out the same, tired stories that almost always have the same, tired sexist comments that make me cringe reading them, why do you think that digging up another cringe-y comment is going to be better?

What? If you find a person who say, "Oh, she was evil, and REALLY fat" am I going to feel better about this? I don't think so.

I'm posting the quotes and links here to add information, not to make anyone feel better. AFAIK, these quotes from Corey Soloman have not been brought up in any of the previous threads about Williams, so they're not the same old tired stories. And even if you want to write off Soloman as nothing but a bigoted hack, the story of how Williams handled the movie license for D&D is a decades long, multi-million dollar saga that was felt in the company from the finance level down to the Drangonlance rules set. If you want to honestly re-evaluate Williams, it's an important chapter to consider that hadn't been addressed yet in this thread.
 

Bolares

Hero
I'm posting the quotes and links here to add information, not to make anyone feel better. AFAIK, these quotes from Corey Soloman have not been brought up in any of the previous threads about Williams, so they're not the same old tired stories. And even if you want to write off Soloman as nothing but a bigoted hack, the story of how Williams handled the movie license for D&D is a decades long, multi-million dollar saga that was felt in the company from the finance level down to the Drangonlance rules set. If you want to honestly re-evaluate Williams, it's an important chapter to consider that hadn't been addressed yet in this thread.
but this makes her at worst a bad business executive. The villification goes waaaay beyind that.
 

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