TSR 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.

 
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Zardnaar

Legend
That's kind of an unreasonable comparison - that's equivalent to saying that your online first person shooter is not succeeding and can never be successful because it's not doing as well as Fortnite.

Nope I said it's worth something.

It's probably not worth enough to produce that and D&D. And the timing was probably wrong in 1992.
 

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Sacrosanct

Legend
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.

That’s hard for me to imagine because by then, Salvatore was full on Drizzt mode, with novels coming out with regularity. And they were super popular. So it would have had to be someone else.

I’m preferring to imagine Elaine Williams instead 😉
 


DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
Speaking as someone who is playing Adventures in Middle Earth (AIME) right now, I don't see it competing with more open ended systems/worlds.

The great part of AIME is taking a deep dive into Tolkien atmosphere which requires a lot of buy in from the DM and players. Not particularly easy (or even possible?) to do at conventions, one-offs, etc... it takes a decent amount of setup and is pretty harsh compared to more "gamey" worlds like FR.

I'd have expected it, even if Williams had picked it up, to be a direct competitor to all their other product lines, thus cannibalizing the profit margins without increasing total sales much. They'd have paid to produce more books (and you know LOTR would have needed top-notch illustration, editing, and printing...) but would the company have sold that many more books?
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
That’s hard for me to imagine because by then, Salvatore was full on Drizzt mode, with novels coming out with regularity. And they were super popular. So it would have had to be someone else.

I’m preferring to imagine Elaine Williams instead 😉

On the contrary, I think he would have jumped at the chance: indeed, they would have had to fend off freelancers with a 20 foot pole...
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
On the contrary, I think he would have jumped at the chance: indeed, they would have had to fend off freelancers with a 20 foot pole...
They already were. And unable to pay them to boot and they still keep writing 😉

But no way would TSR take Salvatore off Drizzt books. One of the only profitable books they had, and it was a cash cow in that regard
 

Lord Rasputin

Explorer
I mean exactly what I said. Hardly anyone played it, especially compared to D&D.
I concur. It was Rolemaster, one of the most complex rules sets of all-time, slightly stripped-down, which didn't help matters. It had no real network of players. One of my friends bought it with his mom's money; we all regarded it as something as a quirky novelty, and never played it.
 



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