TSR TSR and the 1996 layoffs. Ben Riggs shares from his book.


I crit!
I debated posting this one, but it seems to have become a minor bit of catharsis for some of the folks that were there in the comments. It’s also interesting from a history standpoint.

So I post this with that spirit. I also hope the current management reads this and reflect on their actions and how history will remember them.

It was the Friday before Christmas in 1996 when layoffs ripped through the D&D staff at TSR in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and I think of that day today.

The first person to be laid off was to my knowledge was David Wise. He was actually the employee tasked by CEO Lorraine Williams with creating a list of people to be fired, a list that was not actually used that day. It was bizarre and Kafkaesque. Why have Wise make the list if she wasn’t going to use it? Wise left TSR to go hiking with his dog.

Weather reports tell me it was a cold dry day, but overcast with slate-gray clouds.

Most employees were asked to remain in their cubicles and await a phone call. Cindi Rice huddled there with a friend. Others gathered in the cubicle of Sue Weinlein. She and her husband Monte had planned a Christmas party that night. Should they still have it? Every time a phone rang, everyone wondered whose phone it was. One time it was editor and Tolkien scholar John Rateliff. After getting canned, his wife bought him a hieroglyphic ring at the mall to cheer him up.

Others were gathered in a board room. These lucky employees were told that their jobs were safe, and by staying in the board room, they’d avoid the ugliness to come. But the board room overlooked the parking lot. They got to watch the fired walk to their cars and drive out of the parking lot.

Ed Stark’s day was one of whiplash. He was fired in the morning and rehired in the afternoon after Harold Johnson went to bat for him with CEO Lorraine Williams. He was told his firing was all a clerical error, and Williams herself came to welcome him back to the building.

Sue Weinlein and Monte Cook did hold their party that night. There, one ex-employee, Steve Miller, backed into a candle and started on fire. For John Rateliff, who saw it happen, the moment was one of philosophical reflection. Yes, he’d been fired that day. But at least he wasn’t on fire.

Many of the fired returned to the company when it was purchased by Wizards of the Coast, who in many ways plays the hero in this tale of mass firings before Christmas.

David Wise came back. He even saw Lorraine Williams again. She waved at him from across a hall in TSR, and Wise found himself laughing. Someone who once held so much power over him now couldn’t touch him.

I apologize for any mistakes above. I wrote from memory on this one, not from interviews. If I got something wrong, please correct me in the comments. But it felt like this is a story that had to be told again today.
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad


I crit!
The Facebook post

Remove ads