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

Mercurius

Legend
This is a case where we should honor Gary Gygax for who he was and what he created, but not over idolize him. I mean, we can compare what TSR put out after he left, vs what he created. The "Golden Age of Settings"--and thus one of the most fruitfully creative periods in D&D's history--began in 1987 with the publication of the FR gray box, and then Spelljammer a couple years later. Gygax, on the other hand, created Dangerous Journeys, which wasn't exactly lauded or influential, or breaking any new ground.

Meaning, it is possible that a hypothetical TSR under Gygax would have remained closer to the fold and eventually stagnated, or at least remained more "Gygaxian." Nothing wrong with that, but then we might not have had the later waves of creative output.

This also relates to the nature of change. Change isn't always inherently evolutionary, despite what some say about the nature of recent changes - as if any changes, anything new or from younger generations is inherently a move forward. Sometimes change is regressive. But it is always good for someone and, in general, it brings new things to the table. I think the key is whether or not that change includes the old; meaning, if it transcends the limits of the old but adds to it, it is evolutionary. If it negates the old too much and goes in a specific direction that limits possibilities too much, it can become regressive.

So my point is, that under Williams--at least creatively--the change was evolutionary. D&D broadened substantially, and by 1995 you had a much richer range of play possibilities. The glut and eventual demise of TSR is related, but I don't think it would be correct to say that TSR's demise was due to the creative wealth; it had more to do with over-saturating the market (meaning, it was the breadth and quantity of product, not the depth or quality).
 

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Sacrosanct

Legend
For reference:



Yep. When I first saw this thread, I immediately looked for these others (one started by me a couple years ago). It will be interesting to see how opinions have shifted over time.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
This is a case where we should honor Gary Gygax for who he was and what he created, but not over idolize him. I mean, we can compare what TSR put out after he left, vs what he created. The "Golden Age of Settings"--and thus one of the most fruitfully creative periods in D&D's history--began in 1987 with the publication of the FR gray box, and then Spelljammer a couple years later. Gygax, on the other hand, created Dangerous Journeys, which wasn't exactly lauded or influential, or breaking any new ground.

Meaning, it is possible that a hypothetical TSR under Gygax would have remained closer to the fold and eventually stagnated, or at least remained more "Gygaxian." Nothing wrong with that, but then we might not have had the later waves of creative output.

This also relates to the nature of change. Change isn't always inherently evolutionary, despite what some say about the nature of recent changes - as if any changes, anything new or from younger generations is inherently a move forward. Sometimes change is regressive. But it is always good for someone and, in general, it brings new things to the table. I think the key is whether or not that change includes the old; meaning, if it transcends the limits of the old but adds to it, it is evolutionary. If it negates the old too much and goes in a specific direction that limits possibilities too much, it can become regressive.

So my point is, that under Williams--at least creatively--the change was evolutionary. D&D broadened substantially, and by 1995 you had a much richer range of play possibilities. The glut and eventual demise of TSR is related, but I don't think it would be correct to say that TSR's demise was due to the creative wealth; it had more to do with over-saturating the market (meaning, it was the breadth and quantity of product, not the depth or quality).
This is what I was getting at in my rant. Folks can take things out of perspective when it comes to people they venerate, and particularly when they despise them.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
This is a case where we should honor Gary Gygax for who he was and what he created, but not over idolize him. I mean, we can compare what TSR put out after he left, vs what he created. The "Golden Age of Settings"--and thus one of the most fruitfully creative periods in D&D's history--began in 1987 with the publication of the FR gray box, and then Spelljammer a couple years later. Gygax, on the other hand, created Dangerous Journeys, which wasn't exactly lauded or influential, or breaking any new ground.

Meaning, it is possible that a hypothetical TSR under Gygax would have remained closer to the fold and eventually stagnated, or at least remained more "Gygaxian." Nothing wrong with that, but then we might not have had the later waves of creative output.
Yup. DJ was dire.
 

Dausuul

Legend
@Snarf Zagyg, I pretty much agree with your take (with the caveat that I haven't yet read the book, so going off what I've seen on the subject previously).

Viewed purely in their respective capacities as chief executive officer of TSR, Williams was better than Gygax. She wasn't a great CEO by any means, I can make a long list of things she did wrong, but she did manage to pull the company out of a tailspin, and she was able to perform the basic responsibilities of the job. Gygax was incapable of either. He was, as you say, a disaster.

That said, Gygax can claim credit for having brought the game to market in the first place. He has his success as an entrepreneur and game developer to set against his abysmal record as executive. Williams has no such fallback: She stands or falls purely on her accomplishments as CEO.

It seems like Williams's main failures as CEO stemmed from her well-known distaste for gaming. She was competent to handle the corporate-management part of the job, but she did not really understand her company's audience or its product--basically the mirror image of Gygax. As a result, she succeeded in putting TSR on a sound financial footing, which it desperately needed; but she then pursued strategies that saturated the market* and split the company's product lines, alienated fans with heavy-handed legal tactics, and failed to recognize where the company needed to go, leading to the final collapse in the '90s.

Bearing in mind, again, I haven't yet read the book: From what I've read, every leader TSR ever had was kind of terrible. Williams was, too, but no worse than the rest and better than some. But various factors (misogyny, gamer tribalism, and the fact that she pushed out the Heroic Creator Figure) led to her receiving far more than her share of condemnation.

*Which, ironically, led to an explosion of creativity, as TSR cranked out massive volumes of material in a hopeless Red Queen's race. The wild abundance of 2E settings is a legacy from which D&D continues to draw, decades later, even as it was a fiscal disaster for the company that created it.
 
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4. Misogyny. Not to put too fine a point on it, but female executives were not common in the 80s and 90s. And the gaming community could be rough. I'm not going to spell this out for you, I'm just going to say this- Lorraine was probably treated a lot worse than a comparable male executive would have been.
She could have been a total train wreck of a CEO and manager and this would still be an issue. She could have also been a die hard gamer, and misogyny would still be an issue, and a reason for people to dislike her, both within and outside of the company.



Her one personal encounter with Gary Gygax revealed a similar bias. Early on, Lee sent copies of A&E to TSR. After a couple of months, she received a phone call, which she recounts.

“This is Gary Gygax,” said the voice, “and I’d like to speak to Lee Gold.”

“I’m Lee Gold,” I said. “I gather you got the copies of A&E I sent you.”

“You’re a woman!” he said.

“That’s right,” I said, and I told him how much we all loved playing D&D and how grateful we were to him for writing it.

“You’re a woman,” he said. “I wrote some bad things about women wargamers once.”

“You don’t need to feel embarrassed,” I said. “I haven’t read them.”

“You’re a woman,” he said.

We didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, so I told him goodbye and hung up.
 

I remember her throwing a fit at GenCon (92 or 93, can't remember) because some girls were in a bikini chain mail suit, and she was on a roll and badmouthed and cursed gamers (loudly!) for at least ten minutes.
Reading this today I'm... wondering something. I mean not know what her "rant" actually was; the word, tone, or actions; is this actually something we would consider "bad" today?

In today's eyes, male gamers fawning over chainmail bikini girls at a con today, at least for myself, I would expect not only from woman but other men as well to rant against the sexism displayed by such male gamers. With little detail, I would actually think of such a "rant" by a senior RPG executive in the early 90's railing against such blatant sexism as not only a good thing, but 'bold', 'forward looking', 'liberating' and just down right the 'right thing to do'.

Sounds to me she had better social morals than most of the gamers of her time.
 

jolt

Adventurer
No, it is not time for a reevaluation - she was terrible.

A lot of cool stuff came out during her tenure, but she didn't create any of that. She didn't create anything. Almost none of the upper management at TSR under her were people who created anything or, in fact, even gamed at all. Het attempts to use the use the properties of the defunct SPI ended up as a financial disaster. Her decision to sue GDW and Gygax was a monstrous failure (despite that both Gygax and GDW were willing to settle out of court). Not only did she lose the case, she ended up having to settle out of court anyway.

When important art projects came up, Brom would be told by upper management to only use "expensive" paints. No one in upper management seemed to understand that supplements sell less than core materials and so almost every product was over printed. She didn't save TSR at all. Despite th high quality of the 2E products, she was still utterly incompetent at managing it and drove it into the ground. She treated the artists and writers like crap.

You don't have to take my word for it either. Most of those people are still around. Go to the artists websites and see what they have to say. Got to dragonsfoot and look at the forum archives from the early 2000's when many of the old TSR grognards were posting and see what they have to say. Look at the court filings from when TSR tried to sue Gygax and GDW and look at what they're arguing.

We'll likely never know the specifics of who said what to whom in exact terms, but the generalities have never been in any doubt. Trying to cast it in doubt because maybe Gary (who is Satan incarnate....apparently) maybe kind of said something that was maybe kind of untrue is 100% BS (and would change nothing even if true).
 

I would also add a fifth reason: we've never really heard her side of anything. I'm not really aware of any interviews with her at all. I could be misremembering, but I think Ben Riggs tried to schedule an interview, but was rebuffed. There's a Masters of Fantasy video interview from the 90s floating about, but it feels more like someone doing corporate PR.

In the absence of one side's story, it becomes very easy to create a convenient narrative. As with Gary's legacy, the truth is more complicated.

C. So ... why the Hate?

I have a few theories I'd like to throw out-

1. Lorraine ousted Gygax. This is the most simple. Gygax was, for many people, D&D. So she was always going to be the villain in any morality play.

2. Lorraine wasn't a gamer. This is a little more nuanced, especially consider that, for example, Kevin Blume wasn't really a gamer either. But Lorraine never cared much about the "community" in the sense of gamers. She wanted to run TSR as a company, with products. This tends to be a reciprocal thing- you don't care about us, we don't care about you.

3. Surprise. I'm not sure I agree with this, given there was a lot of hate even before the collapse, but ... I think a lot of people were genuinely shocked that TSR collapsed suddenly, and, moreover, it was sold to a "mere" card company. It's more difficult to understand now, but there was a sizeable number of people that thought that D&D was it, and M:TG was just some kids playing a silly game. Kind of like how, way back when, wargamers thought what they were doing was it, and D&D was just kids playing a silly game. Anyway, the collapse and sale of TSR was shocking to a lot of people, and Lorraine was a convenient target to blame.

4. Misogyny. Not to put too fine a point on it, but female executives were not common in the 80s and 90s. And the gaming community could be rough. I'm not going to spell this out for you, I'm just going to say this- Lorraine was probably treated a lot worse than a comparable male executive would have been.

Having read Peterson's The Elusive Shift, it really makes it clear how important Gold's Alarums & Excursions was to the gamer discourse of the time. And that the magazine is still coming out is an unparalleled feat.

 
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Dausuul

Legend
Incidentally, Lee Gold is still alive, and still to this day publishing "Alarums and Excursions."

Sounds to me she had better social morals than most of the gamers of her time.
I think that was Snarf's point: The subject of this "rant," which was held up at the time as an example of Williams's hatred for gamers and general unreasonableness, comes across rather differently today.
 

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