Rashomon and Palace of the Silver Princess

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
One of the things I enjoy is hearing from the people that are around when our hobby was first started; there is nothing more enthralling than a first-hand account. It's the same impetus that drives the casual desire to read, inter alia, oral histories of anything that we enjoy; the thrill of hearing, first-hand, what really happened from the people that were there.

And yet. To borrow a quote, "Everyone lies. The innocent lie because they don't want to be blamed for something they didn't do, and the guilty lie because they don't have any other choice." So one issue that often comes up is, well, outright fabrication. Sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly. Stories get recounted in the first person that could never have been witnessed. Old agendas get re-hashed.

Another issue, of course, if the fallibility of memory. I often tell this story about myself; specifically, that for the longest time I had a completely false memory of playing B4 at a certain time. It was only years later when I checked the publication date on B4 that I realized that it could not have been that module, since it came out after the date in question.

Which all means that when it comes to "received wisdom" about certain topics, we should be careful. I was thinking about this because of the whole, "Everyone knows what happened with B3 and Palace of the Silver Princess" story, and, more importantly, because people kept pointing at an article from Wired, purporting to be an Oral History of the module here:


Now, one thing immediately stands out; this famous story from TSR's past involves Jean Wells, the first (and only, for a long time) female designer with TSR who also penned some excellent rules columns for Dragon Magazine (among other things). But this is an oral history from a bunch of men- none of who were the primary artists on the module, executives, or editor involved. You go with who you find, right? But this quote, in particular, stood out:

"I was first to read the damn thing, and I was just shocked at how ridiculous it was. It was clearly the private fantasies of the author [Jean Wells, who died in 2012]. The Silver Princess character was also her persona in the Society of Creative Anachronism—a hauntingly lovely woman who destroyed hearts. I called it to the art director's attention, and we went upstairs to editorial and Lawrence Schick. And at some point Lawrence, being the head of creative, called over to the business side and said, "Are you sure we want to do this?" And someone from the business side essentially said, 'Hey, my wife plays mahjong with her, and she’ll give me shit if we don’t let her do her module. Just publish it. Don’t give us any more crap about this.'"

-Bill Willingham

So, how do you know something doesn't ring true? Well, start with the basics. Why would Bill Willingham be the first to read it? Jean worked with an editor (Ed Sollers) throughout the process of writing B3, so we know that Bill was making stuff up. And Bill has a ... reputation .. that was already known by the time of the publication of the Wired's oral history. And he makes several claims that are ... unfounded, and that are, quite frankly, bizarre and make no sense (that someone's wife plays mahjong with her.. because reasons, I guess).

But more importantly, you can easily contrast these stories with this:


That's one of the few interviews with Jean Wells, recorded shortly before she died.

So let's see if we can imagine this, now. You have a young woman, hired to be a designed at TSR. She works doing well-received columns in Dragon Magazine and doing touchups on other work. But when she is finally handed her own work, and works closely with an editor and turns it in, she is sandbagged by the artists (who either refuse to do art for her or put in the art that got the module in trouble, and too late for her to get it removed when she asked). After that, she is demoted to secretarial tasks while people talk about her "S&M Fantasies" when she wasn't even aware of what "S&M" meant according to her.

Is there definitive proof here? No. Even Ms. Wells doesn't make any explicit claims (other than noting that Kevin Blume seemed to be out to get her).

But it's interesting, isn't it? That somehow, we have this narrative that took hold that the real problem with the module was Jean Wells and her "S&M fantasies" when it's generally acknowledged that the issue with the module was, in fact, the art over which she had no control. And that the next credited female game designers for TSR were Laura Hickman (with her husband, Tracy, for the purchased property Pharoah in 1984 and DL8 in 1985).

So now, when people look back, they don't remember Wells for her very witty Dragon columns explicating the rules. They don't remember that she was an uncredited (of course!) contributor on the seminal 1e DMG (h/t Jon Peterson). They don't remember her work on the classic modules that we remember so fondly today. Instead, we ignore her own words and ignore the history of the module (and who actually drew the offensive art that she objected to) and ascribe to her some pretty unpleasant things based on the words of people that moved her to secretarial duties.

We can do better. :)
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Wow, listening to that interview with Wells is so sad. What a dumpster fire the TSR office environment was...
I know. It's even more sad knowing that she passes shortly after it.

And it's even more more sad when you realize what people keep saying about her. I mean ... she was a vibrant young woman who was preparing to be an elementary school teacher, and not only was she treated like that, but she was the first female game designer at TSR and you still have people (FALSELY) talking about her like she was some torrid S&M queen.*

It makes the blood boil. :(


*Not that there would have been anything wrong with that. It's just so ... sadly ... typical.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I know. It's even more sad knowing that she passes shortly after it.

And it's even more more sad when you realize what people keep saying about her. I mean ... she was a vibrant young woman who was preparing to be an elementary school teacher, and not only was she treated like that, but she was the first female game designer at TSR and you still have people (FALSELY) talking about her like she was some torrid S&M queen.*

It makes the blood boil. :(


*Not that there would have been anything wrong with that. It's just so ... sadly ... typical.
It sounds like there was some anti-Hippie bias, too: neighbors accusing the TSR staff of having orgies, which she seems seriously bemused by...
 

Parmandur

Legend
Interesting tidbit at the end of the Wells interview: apparently the infamous FBI raid of the TSR offices during the development of Top Secret was occasioned by TSR staff running around Lake Geneva pretending to shoot passers-by with toy guns...
 

Parmandur

Legend
Darlene being interviewed by Shelly Mazzanoble and Greg Tito at Gary Con XI 2019 on Dragon Talk

You know, it's interesting, but as much as this further highlights how messed up TSR was an organization, it also goes to show why people generally do remember Gygax fondly, warts and all. He was genuinely supportive of talented people, insofar as he was able.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
I was curious, so I looked up this module. Seems pretty tame today. On a quick skim, I couldn't see anything that qualified as "navel-gazing pseudo-porn," as the "Racy Module" article describes it.
 

ninjayeti

Explorer
Its also noteworthy that the re-issue of "D3 - Vault of the Drow" which came out about the same time had TWO pictures of a fully nude succubus - including one on the back cover. Hard to believe that this was fine as back cover art but "The Illusion of the Decapus" was so crazy they had to pull the module because it might give ammo to the "Satanic Panic" folks.

Vault of the Drow also contains this description of the sex dungeon the Drow High Priestess keeps behind a secret door in her bedchamber:
Behind the secret door is a cell wherein is chained an insane human of great strength (9th level fighter; H.P.: 73; 18/81 strength, 11 intelligence, 9 wisdom, 16 dexterity, 18 constitution; 17 charisma) kept here by Charinida for whatever purposes please her at the time. There are several whips and torture instruments on one wall, and near them is a gag and a ring of invisibility. Note that the prisoner is bound to the east wall where the secret entrance to room 4) is.

I don't know if Wells was a talented author who was unfairly maligned because of sexism - but if anyone wrote S&M fantasies disguised as a module it was totally Gygax with Vault of the Drow.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I was going to point something else out...
...but you got there yourself, right away.
To be clear, there is absolutely, positively, 100% nothing wrong with sex positivity!

But the whole, "We don't want women to do more than secretarial work so we we will make up stuff about a woman in the office being a total slut because of our small .... sense of self" is such a trite, hoary, obnoxious cliche example of the 70s/early 80s workplace sexism* that it was used in Anchorman because it's easy to parody now.

Just reading some of these accounts makes your skin crawl. Mine, at least.

*Yeah, I know it's still around.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
The account in Art & Arcana is more complex than that presented in the Wired article, too: it's a pretty shabby article, really.
I agree. For a better take on the situation, I recommend this article:


Also, since it's good to look for information from a wide variety of sources, consider the module's Wikipedia page, its Acaeum page, and Shannon Appelcline's history of it.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
It's understandable why the art was cut, and if she ignored a directive in order to do it it's not sexist.

1981 Satanic panic in a product aimed at kids I think it's understandable why the art was cut.

This doesn't excuse any other sexism that existed at the time but it was also 1981 it would be sexist by modern standards pretty much anywhere.

News report 1981 is sexist. Well duh.

In this case I don't think it is. If she wasn't given any direction if what they wanted yeah severe overreaction.
But if they were told to clean it up and she handed in that recalling the product is understandable. That would have cost money and would likely get you fired at a lot of places.
 

dave2008

Hero
It's understandable why the art was cut, and if she ignored a directive in order to do it it's not sexist.

1981 Satanic panic in a product aimed at kids I think it's understandable why the art was cut.

This doesn't excuse any other sexism that existed at the time but it was also 1981 it would be sexist by modern standards pretty much anywhere.

News report 1981 is sexist. Well duh.

In this case I don't think it is. If she wasn't given any direction if what they wanted yeah severe overreaction.
But if they were told to clean it up and she handed in that recalling the product is understandable. That would have cost money and would likely get you fired at a lot of places.
According to all the reports she asked for the art to be changed and was told no. So I think you have misunderstood something. That being said, the module was substantially rewritten too, so I think the whole story is a bit more complex.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
According to all the reports she asked for the art to be changed and was told no. So I think you have misunderstood something. That being said, the module was substantially rewritten too, so I think the whole story is a bit more complex.
I downloaded way back when WotC put it up for free.

It's not that good compared to the green cover the filkbin the blanks thing never caught on.

I may have wires crossed, others were saying she did it defying the directive from high.
 

dave2008

Hero
I downloaded way back when WotC put it up for free.

It's not that good compared to the green cover the filkbin the blanks thing never caught on.

I may have wires crossed, others were saying she did it defying the directive from high.
No worries. I just read the Alexandrian article (linked in another post above) about this module that was quite interesting. He makes a good argument that no one really knows exactly why it was recalled. However, the more interesting part he discusses is the non-art changes to the module and how the change it from a more sand-box adventure to train DMs to a linear one-shot adventure. I suggest taking a look.
 

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