TSR The Naming of Names: Metamorphosis Alpha, Boot Hill, & Gangbusters

First, let me correct a mistake I made when I wrote that Zeb Cook thought up the 'Baatezu' & 'Tanar'ri' demon and devil new names. My friend Jim LaFountain quite rightly pointed out that he was the creator of those terms. Sorry Jim.


My blunder transitions perfectly into this article. When I was at TSR the process of naming products was very important. I spent many an hour with sales people, marketing people, legal people, and the editors and designers at TSR putting names on things. In the early years of TSR Gary and Brian thought up most of the names for products. As time went on they because busier and busier and the naming of things worked down a few management levels.

I distinctly remember sitting in Gary's office one day in 1975 working on the name for the new science fiction role-playing game that I wrote. We tried lots of different approaches. We looked at the creatures and equipment of the game and nothing struck us there. We looked at the type of characters created, there was no interest there. We talked over the mutations and thought we might want to use some type of alliteration since D&D was getting more and more popular. Then I came up with FIRST CHANGE as a name that evoked the spirit of the game. Gary liked it, but changed it to METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA with metamorphosis meaning change and alpha being first. The name was great and it's been selling for over forty years.

It was around 1975 and I had the extreme pleasure of play testing the Western rpg that TSR put out. While the games were going on we had lots of fun names for the product: Gunfighter, High Noon, Cowboys & Indians (that was a silly favorite of mine), Draw, Bullets on the Pecos. Nothing was ringing anyone's bell. We had some great play tests and after one especially deadly game where lots of characters were blasted away; several of us came up with a title at the same time. I think it was Brian Blume who said where do all the characters of the game end up. At the same time several of us said, BOOT HILL and the game was named.


It was around 1978 or so and I was back in Gary's office one day in another naming effort, but this office was much nicer. It was time to name my apocalyptic role-playing game. I came in really wanting to name it Omega Force. The MA name had been a popular one and I thought we should continue the process. Gary liked it, but he thought the title wasn't big enough for the experience we were setting up. We talked about what Metamorphosis was. We defined it as a Dungeon Maze in a can. Then we looked at the play tests of the second game. Radiation damage had caused a lot of problems. We thought Gamma rays were some of the most powerful radiations that characters could be exposed to. I think it was Gary who came up with Gamma World and we both instantly liked it. The concept was perfectly positioned in the title. It was a world wide game with lots of radiation.

It was around 1981 or so and the legal department and sales were trying to come up with a name for the great roaring twenties game that TSR was producing. I made the mistake of walking by their offices and I was dragged into the meeting. Me being dragged into things happened a lot at TSR. I was asked there to break the tie. They had come up with MACHINE GUNS & MOBSTERS or THE GANGS OF CHICAGO. The sales group liked the machine gun one and the legal department really liked the gangs one. I didn't like either one of them. I explained to them what happened in the play tests of the game. I was lucky enough to be in on a few of the Mark Acres games. I could tell they were tired and all of them were frustrated. Then in my best old time radio voice, I cupped my hands and said, “Tonight, the old time radio show, GANGBUSTERS, has another exciting episode.” I went on to explain that as a young boy I would listen to that show on the radio. I thought it was a perfect name for a 20s role-playing game and everyone agreed to legally check if the name was available.


This next naming scenario drove us to distraction for many hours. I have written about TSR making their own collectible dice game in a previous article. It was about 1994 and I was at Gen Con when I was asked to go right over to the meeting room. I came in on the legal department arguing over the name of the dice game. Lots of names were being proposed on several large sheets of paper hanging on the walls. They just couldn't figure out what they wanted. I looked over the choices; Deadly Dice appealed to me. I had to tell them Dungeon Dice was already a Milton Bradley game; they didn't like hearing that. I don't remember if I or Lester Smith threw out DRAGON DICE for consideration. The legal department was very skeptical as they were positive someone had already taken that name. We sat there adding and subtracting names for several hours and no one was happy. We realized we were spinning our wheels and not coming up with anything. I started crossing out names that two or more people in the room didn't like for any reason at all. Finally, all the names were crossed out except for DRAGON DICE and no one objected to the name. They just thought it was already taken. I brought up the point that the company could always try and buy the use of the name from whomever held the trademark. That idea was well received. The legal group went to the internet and discovered TSR owned the DRAGON DICE name. We had trademarked it when we put out our own dice packages. We all had a good laugh at that and the game was named.

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Jim Ward

Jim Ward

Drawmij the Wizard

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The Dragon Dice bit is just so typical of mid-90's TSR.

Did they just use that name back in the early 80s or were they still using it for dice sets later on? I know I bought a second set of dice sometime around 1995 that was packaged by TSR, but I don't remember if it was branded Dragon Dice. If it was, it would make things even more hilarious.

METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA, introduced me to the idea of a generation ship. Star Wars and Star Trek was all FTL. So, thank you for that. It was a blast to play.

Boot Hill was fun, and deadly. I hardly remember how to play.

I love Gamma World. I played quite a bit of 2nd and 3rd edition Gamma World.

There was in the United States, a TV movie called The Day After, about the aftermath of a Nuclear War. My friends and I couldn’t wait to play Gamma World after that.


There was in the United States, a TV movie called The Day After, about the aftermath of a Nuclear War. My friends and I couldn’t wait to play Gamma World after that.

I remember watching that movie when I was probably 8, made me want to build a bomb shelter after that.


There was in the United States, a TV movie called The Day After, about the aftermath of a Nuclear War. My friends and I couldn’t wait to play Gamma World after that.

That was filmed where I went to college (University of Kansas, in and around Lawrence). I had a couple friends who were extras in that film.

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