How Gary Gygax lost control over D&D and TSR


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Was it intrigue like this that killed the hobby? It seems to me it was video games. Why roll dice when you can first-person shoot?

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“Killed the hobby”…? Bullpuckey. Pencil-and-paper role=playing games are still quite popular, albeit often in wildly different forms these days (google “White Wolf” “GURPS”, “Rifts”, and “D20”, just for starters). Hell, there’s a LARGE community of people who will play nothing else but 1st Edition AD&D, Gygax’s baby.

I’m glad, however, that the idiots who got rid of Gygax didn’t succeed in killing the genre; I have to agree that they came close.


Video games were, even at D&D’s height, a bigger deal than pencil and paper games. They are even bigger now of course, more diverse and popular than ever.

The boom that Cory eludes to was a genuine boom in RPGs and boardgames. For a while there, you could find RPGs (TSR, GDW, even Judge’s Guild) and boardgames (more sophisticated than Parker Bros. crap, but less polished and family-appealing than “German” boardgames) in traditional hobby shops and many toy stores.

When the boom busted, I recall the KB Toys’ in the Roosevelt Field mall being full of ludicrously cheap game stuff. I picked up Traveller books, the Dallas SPI game, and many others. Much of this stuff would be collectable these days, but I sold it all before grad school.


Maybe so. I haven’t run across a group since mine disbanded back in the 90s. My son tells me he knows one gamer, who tried to get him involved - but Portal. Anecdotal evidence, maybe it’s raging away out there behind my back.

I wouldn’t say raging, but they are still enough players around to get a game together most places. I’ve always been able to get a new group together within a year of moving. And there are more games to play than ever b/c of internet distribution. People are making less money, but still writing tons of new games.

Right now I’m playing with some friends back in the states and one in korea over skype but I’ve run into people here in the netherlands that would be interested if they had a bit more free time. If I spoke dutch and was willing to play with undergrads, finding a group here would be no problem.

The missus and I decided to try and start playing D&D/GURPS etc. a few years back. We never played as kids, we just spontaneously decided that we wanted to give it a try in our late 20s.

We assumed that finding people to play with would be the hard part. So we sent an email out to a huge bunch of our friends, mostly just expecting gentle abuse in reply. This was a broad range of people, men and women, died-in-the-wool geeks and straight-laced professionals with baffling job titles like “Human leverage consultant”. We certainly weren’t sure we’d get a single positive response, yet alone a full quorum.

In the end, we had to beat them off with a shitty stick. I don’t think a single person said no. Everyone wanted to at least try it. We’ve been playing basically non-stop (there was a brief break for maternity leave) ever since.

Oh, and before we feel too sorry for ol’ Gary, it’s worth noting that more than half our group are women, which would baffle the hell out of him as he had some pretty horrible views in regards to women and gaming.

//edit: Actually, this isn’t quite what I wanted to say regarding Gygax. It must have been a horrible situation, and I do think it’s possible to feel sorry for people even when they’re a bit of an arsehole. I more meant: maybe don’t overly mourn his passing as the custodian of the D&D brand.


It is the classic “Dungeon Master Gambit”

The Dungeon Master gets sick of one of his/her player being a rules lawyer or too picky about editions and he/she ends asking “Ok, DO YOU WANT TO BE THE DUNGEON MASTER? I would gladly be a player character in your Dragonlance campaign.” . Then, obviously confronted with the duty of burying in a ton of rulebooks, maps and monster compendiums, refuses politely and reduces his level of criticism for 1d4 evenings. “All right, now shut up and enjoy my Forgotten Realms campaign!”

Gygax tried it on the direction board and failed miserably. “Do you want to be the president?! YES?! Oh, fuck…”

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That’s an awesome story! (I assume the stick was figurative.)

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A quick perusal of the internet is all it takes, Boundegar.

Furthermore, while I don’t particularly care for editions past 2nd, the 4th edition of AD&D is already on the way (if not in stores; I haven’t checked). The game IS still alive.

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Actually, it is the 5th edition (D&D Next) that is the newest version.

I never cared for 4th edition (which focused too much on miniatures), or even the 3/3.5 version (terribly unbalanced).

Mostly, imho, the progression of D&D mimics movie franchises altogether too well. Namely, the original was the best and everything since has gotten progressively worse. The idea behind the original games was to have fun, first and foremost. Everything since then has increasingly involved more and more rules and ever more min-maxing by the players.


If you find this story interesting, I strongly encourage you to check out Evil Hat’s Kickstarter for Designers and Dragons, an impeccably-researched four-volume history of RPG publishers and the industry. (I submitted it as a story, but apparently BB didn’t deem it worth posting.) $1 gets you an e-book of the first (1970s) volume, which you can read right now; $15 will get you all four (the first two are currently available), and you can pledge more for dead-tree copies.

Yeah, I actually knew that, but got mixed up. Derp.

The core difference, after 2nd edition, is that role playing itself has been deprecated. My current DM, who uses a mix of 1st- and 2nd-edition rulesets, quite often forgoes consulting a single rulebook for most, or even all of a gaming session. That’s nearly impossible with later editions =/ . And don’t even get me started on the insanely overpowered characters from 3-3.5…

I’ll note, that we have a collective history of breaking chairs, simply from laughing too hard; THAT’S how role-playing is supposed to work!

I recently had an interesting talk with the manager of the local giant hobby shop, the sort of place that used to carry all manner of RPGs and board games; now they carry almost nothing in terms of gaming stuff and their inventory in general is a tiny sub-selection of what they used to have. I was told this was because of the internet. They used to have to carry everything to be a proper hobby shop, but now they only carry the stuff that sells the most frequently/at the highest profit and let internet shops carry the rest. But since you can’t discover RPGs by browsing them on Amazon, etc. the way you can at your local hobby shop, I suspect that limits how popular these things will become again in the future.

I encourage you to check out the 5e rules, they are a hard turn back to previous editions and are pretty impressive. They (of course) “borrowed” a lot of concepts from other systems but the system has gone back to role play focused and not miniature focused without the crazy multiclassing 3.5 had.

Try going to a local gaming store, a local con, or using one of the numerous sites that link up gamers. My group has been going for about six years now. We meet twice a month for an ongoing campaign and do pickup games on Tuesday nights when we have quorum and the desire to play. Many of us were friends or friends of friends but at least one member found us through online listings. He’s a member of several other groups that meet at least monthly as well.

Or you could just play a modern game like Dungeon World or Burning Wheel or something. The problem with the games of decades ago is overcomplexity.

Hell, go play any of the games using FATE.

More detail than I’d read before. Mentioned briefly in this but more in a wikipedia article regarding the SPI buyout, TSR really screwed the pooch there. Unclear how much Gygax had to do with this but TSR most definitely upset a large part of the wargaming market at that time.

I was at a game convention when that was announced. It was positively surreal news.

It was really TSR refusing to honor the lifetime subscriptions of S&T that pissed lots of people off to the point where they wanted nothing to do with TSR any more. S&T was a great bargain with a war game in every issue, only Steve Jackson pocket games were cheaper really.