Monday, August 3, 2009

Setting the Record Straight

In my recent retrospective on Quag Keep, I repeated a rumor I'd heard from several people, some of them from friend-of-a-friend sources connected to TSR, that Lorraine Williams at one point considered selling off or outright killing TSR's RPG division and focusing the company on its line of RPG-derived novels. Although the rumor always struck me as nonsensical, and indeed the people who told it to me felt so as well, Williams had a not wholly undeserved reputation of being hostile to RPGs, so I simply took it at face value.

Recently, though, Mike Breault, an editor at TSR from 1985 to 1989, appeared at the Knights & Knaves Alehouse to clear up what he says are a lot of misconceptions about TSR during his tenure there. He's also discussed his recollections of Lorraine Williams, which gave me the opportunity to ask him directly about the rumor I'd heard from multiple sources. Mr Breault said that, to his knowledge, the rumor "sounds pretty illogical on the face of it," adding that "AD&D was about the only things making decent money for TSR" at the time, since "Book publishing is a really low-margin business."

So, while Mr Breault doesn't outright deny the possibility that there was some truth in the rumor, the fact remains that it's just a rumor and an implausible one at that. Consequently, I'll refrain from repeating it in the future until I should come across corroborating evidence of its truth. I'm no fan of Mrs Williams nor of the direction TSR took under her, but I think it's important that the woman be judged fairly according to facts rather than on mere rumor. For what it's worth, I feel the same way about Gary Gygax and Brian Blume, so I hope no one will begrudge me for retracting my earlier statement. In the end, truth is far more important than scoring rhetorical points.


  1. Responsible reporting is uncommon these days, James.
    --Good for you. :)

  2. That portrayal of Lorraine Williams makes sense - she was a producer. Those peope who use their own money and money of their rich frinds to make TV and other productions possible.

    From the way the guy is writing there was some negative attitude on part of the game designers towards her from the beginning. I can undertsand that part - she was independently wealthy and the others were merely eeeking out a living (never mind a living wage). Some years ago (less than five) a Silicon valley type with beard and birkenstocks said that 8 Million was the F-U money figure. 8 Million meant you will never have to work in your life again. Anything less (after you sell your company) meant that you'd have to go back to work sometime in your life. I guess 7 Mil in 1970s was more than 8 mil in 2004-2005.

    That meddling with the BR stuff by Flint Dille is nothing unusual. He is investing and making money. It's his nose for what will catch the public eye.

    As far as a BR TV show is concerned, I thi km that it was more stylish and less heavy handed than Battlestar Galactica. I lent inyself very nicely to an RPG, would have been better (and less grotesque) than Star Frontiers. Like I said, I get the vibe that gamers hated her and she hated gamers and she was brought on board by Gygax.

  3. Glad you posted this. Thanks James.

  4. Dear James,

    The capacity and willingness to publicly correct one's earlier positions in light of new evidence is one of the cornerstones of integrity, which is all too rare these days. Kudos to you.

    Yours truly,

  5. God I love the dirt. Informed, first person account dirt.

    I first heard about some woman who owned Buck Rogers in the early 90s talking to the woman behind the counter at The Worldhouse. Or about Gary's ouster and what this new stuff was from him with his name on it.

    Trent, dude, you gotta lay off the coke. It's dusting all your threads. Maybe you should record this traumatizing experience you had at GenCon talking to former employees in the late 80s.

    R. Kuntz, LordOfTheGreenDragons, is apparently coming out with a book called The Rise And Fall Of TSR. Count. Me. In. Oh, yea. More than the Original Campaign stuff. Mmm-Hmm.

    If I had to explain why I love this stuff to my sister, it would be pretty awkward. I love this blog. I haven't felt I've found a trove since I buttonholed Ed Greenwood for two hours at AdAstra 2006, after reading every editorial from the first 250 issues of Dragon on the CD-ROM I got off Ebay.

    Jesus... did I just say that out loud?

  6. Thanks for the heads up, James!

    I have to admit though I kinda lost interest in TSR products and D&D generally after Gamma World 3e and everything became ultra glitzy and ACTish around that time. It's interesting to know now why this was all happening... (I went onto W40k and lost interest there for similar reasons and music).

    Yeah there seems to be a lot of misdirected anger in the previous thread surrounding the demise of TSR etc:

    1. people should reacquaint themselves with the 2nd law of thermodynamics and the fact that all good things must come to an end someday; and

    2. I can really sympathize with Gary Gygax's troubles: it's impossible to run a successful business unless you are a trust-fund baby, and once you get the trustafarians on board they are going to want, however reasonably or otherwise, to have a greater say in the direction of the company.

    Don't blame the poor grunts like Cook etc!

    Having dealt with extremely talented and egotistical, however reasonably or otherwise, individuals before, I can also easily imagine Gary not helping things and being a bit of a dick too at times.

  7. Yeah, spreading unsubstantiated rumors does not seem like a very worthwhile undertaking.

    I don't know about the difference in margins, although I have seen folks who should know what they're talking about point out that some TSR products (e.g., the Planescape boxed set, IIRC) were not even breaking even.

    An awful lot of the game material -- especially in the AD&D line -- was books! In that sense, TSR had from the start been primarily a book publisher.

    I saw at first hand significant interest in the novel lines from people who did not play the games. I guess it might have been worthwhile to look at the situation, and find out whether the combo with the games was really more profitable than the fiction alone was likely to be.

    That would take some kind of research into who was buying what, and why.

  8. Imagine my surprise when I learned that PLANESCAPE: Torment was not a popular title! Then I found out that PLANESCAPE setting was not selling.

    Maybe the world DESERVES WoTC and the D&DNth ommercialized edition. Hell, thay are all baby ass munchkins anyways!!!

  9. "In the end, truth is far more important than scoring rhetorical points. "
    What country do you live in?!?!?
    Oh yeah... Canada.. carry on then.

  10. Good grief! I just read some of the mess that guy stirred up over at K&K. I'm so glad I don't hang out there.

  11. It is important to realize that some people saw books, like the Buck Rogers books, as a gateway to movies and television and "real" money and the RPGs as a drain that needed to be converted into a cash source as soon as possible before they started sucking up cash rather than generating it.