When TSR Passed On Tolkien

Benjamin Riggs recently revealed this tidbit of TSR history -- Lorraine Williams passing on the rights to Tolkien's works in 1992!

middle-earth-map.jpg

"So, in 1992, TSR almost acquired the rights to JRR Tolkien's work. John Rateliff was sent to London to negotiate the deal, missing Gen Con. (Apparently, no TSR employees were allowed to miss Gen Con, but he was for this...) He met Christopher Tolkien at the Harper-Collins offices, where he asked for the rights to make RPGs, merch, and new books set in Middle-Earth. Chris Tolkien said yes to the RPGs, and some merch, but no to the fiction line.

Back in Lake Geneva, Rateliff communicated this to TSR CEO Lorraine Williams. Rateliff said, "Her immortal words were, ‘Not worth our while.’”

She then passed on the whole deal."

Rateliff wrote the book The History of the Hobbit: The Hobbit / Mr. Baggins / Return to Bag-end.

 
Last edited:
Russ Morrissey

Comments

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
It looks like a boneheaded move for sure, but without knowing the details of the deal, it's hard to say. The Tolkien Estate might have wanted way more than what the IP was worth.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
In hindsight, this looks like a really bad idea. Like the (in)famous passing on the Beatles. Or Queen.

But in 1992, it wasn't nearly as huge as we think of now. If you wanted to get your LoTR fix on outside of reading the books, you had to watch the late 70s/early 80s animated films (which were great, IMO) or the Iron Crown RPG. We can thank Peter Jackson for the huge popularity now
 

Parmandur

Legend
In hindsight, this looks like a really bad idea. Like the (in)famous passing on the Beatles. Or Queen.

But in 1992, it wasn't nearly as huge as we think of now. We can thank Peter Jackson for that.
LotR was already a huge deal in 1992, particularly among TSR's target audience. If they had gotten fiction rights, that could have been transformational: like, no bankruptcy alternate history.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
Same. Imagine R.A. Salvatore writing an Aragorn novel that is mostly intricate descriptions of swordplay and battle.

That being said, imagining going into my FLGS back then and picking up a TSR boxed set for Middle-Earth, a Dwarves of Erebor splatbook, could have been mind-blowing. MERP didn't set the world on fire, but with an easier rules system, who knows what could've been.

The idea of 90's TSR novels set in Middle Earth hurts my brain. But that was the real cash cow at that point, so Williams reaction makes sense.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
LotR was already a huge deal in 1992, particularly among TSR's target audience. If they had gotten fiction rights, that could have been transformational: like, no bankruptcy alternate history.
I disagree. MERP was already out there, and hardly anyone played it. Compared to D&D anyway. So it's not like gamers didn't have an RPG option to play in Middle Earth, they just didn't in numbers that came close to D&D
 

Parmandur

Legend
I disagree. MERP was already out there, and hardly anyone played it. Compared to D&D anyway. So it's not like gamers didn't have an RPG option to play in Middle Earth, they just didn't in numbers that came close to D&D
The RPG side, not so much: I mean if Williams had gotten the rights to do novels in Middle Earth: that's where the real money would have been at. That's why she passed, she couldn't get the important part.
 

Jer

Adventurer
I disagree. MERP was already out there, and hardly anyone played it. Compared to D&D anyway. So it's not like gamers didn't have an RPG option to play in Middle Earth, they just didn't in numbers that came close to D&D
I don't know that this is 100% true because of TSR's better placement in bookstores compared to other game companies and the fact that D&D was the 800lb. gorilla of the RPG market. MERP books didn't show up on the shelves of my local Waldenbooks or B Dalton's in 1992 - but everything TSR produced did. That wider reach means they had a shot of being more successful.

Plus by that date - 1992 - TSR had kind of worked the kinks out of the 2e game engine and had used it to make the XXVC Buck Rogers game and the newest edition of Gamma World, and had released the Dark Sun setting for 2e - if they took the same approach that they attempted with XXVC and made a standalone Middle Earth RPG built on the AD&D 2e rules, I think it had a chance to be far more of a success than MERP ever had a shot at just due to the sheer difference in numbers of people playing AD&D vs. people willing to learn a new system.

That said - the money probably was in the fiction rights from what I understand of 90s-era TSR financial shenanigans, so Williams's reaction isn't crazy. Just that the comparison to MERP may not reveal how well TSR could have done with it had they had the rights instead.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I don't know that this is 100% true because of TSR's better placement in bookstores compared to other game companies and the fact that D&D was the 800lb. gorilla of the RPG market. MERP books didn't show up on the shelves of my local Waldenbooks or B Dalton's in 1992 - but everything TSR produced did. That wider reach means they had a shot of being more successful.

Plus by that date - 1992 - TSR had kind of worked the kinks out of the 2e game engine and had used it to make the XXVC Buck Rogers game and the newest edition of Gamma World, and had released the Dark Sun setting for 2e - if they took the same approach that they attempted with XXVC and made a standalone Middle Earth RPG built on the AD&D 2e rules, I think it had a chance to be far more of a success than MERP ever had a shot at just due to the sheer difference in numbers of people playing AD&D vs. people willing to learn a new system.

That said - the money probably was in the fiction rights from what I understand of 90s-era TSR financial shenanigans, so Williams's reaction isn't crazy. Just that the comparison to MERP may not reveal how well TSR could have done with it had they had the rights instead.
See also, how Adventure s in Middle Earth has sold better than the One Ring, from the same guys.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I doubt the novel rights were up for sale, though. I mean, they're not available now, so I don't see why they would have been in 1992.
Well, no, Christopher Tolkien would not have said yes to that, pretty much full stop. However, just because he wasn't selling apparently doesn't mean TSR couldn't try. If he had been the type to say yes, that would have been very different.
 

Hurin88

Explorer
MERP was quite popular, and all the MERP books also gave stats for Rolemaster, which was also quite popular. I don't have any sales figures, but having lived through and played lots of games during that time, I would say that ICE was one of the bigger companies at the time.

The LOTR wiki states that it was the second biggest selling game at the time. Due to various factors, I think it actually arrived in some parts of Europe before DnD did.

Do you remember those days? MERP was huge. Just take a look at the sheer number of books released and re-released for it.
 
Last edited:

Zardnaar

Hero
It's not that stupid really.

Probably not much money in a Tolkein RPG, the movies came later and they weren't on offer in any event.

Additionally you are really competing with yourself.

So yeah Lorraine wasn't stupid here IMHO.

Didn't they do another RPG after the movies?
 

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
LofR is one of the masterworks of fantasy literature, but it isn't the best franchise for a RPG where later there are new races, monsters and classes.

And would you like a sequel of LotR in the same hands of the creators of the fifth age of Dragonlance?

There were a Conan - D&D, but it isn't one of the most remembered titles by TSR.

* Mmmmm, it would fun, a crossover between Gandalf and Conan.

* Edit: I have thinking, and maybe there is a smart way to allow a official crossover with LotR. Let's imagine the dark powers from the demiplane of dread abduct lots of people from the multiverse... also from the Middle-Earth, Hirborea or Westeros. Then our characters are in a "ersatz/clone" Middle-Earth. Then something like a second grand conjunction, Ilúvatar's miracle or the darklord made the effort to get the redemption and save the day, then that dark-domain don't disappear really, but they are sent to a crystal sphere.

* Hasbro could get the rights to sell toys of Tolkien's characters, or maybe even to buy Cubicle 7.
 
Last edited:

In Our Store!

Advertisement

Advertisement

Top