Monday, February 8, 2010

Interview: Jean Wells (Part II)

7. You're probably best known for module B3, Palace of the Silver Princess, your version of which was only made available to the general public a few years ago. What do you remember about working on this project?

I remember being asked to make a teaching module. I remember trying to use Gygax monsters for the most part as we were suppose too, but also creating a few just for the module that were really different. Ed Sollers and I worked on this. I'd ask him what he'd think of something, we’d discuss it and if we felt it needed changing I would change it. Ed was my editor. I also wanted to add a little scenery, a wagon owned by an old man and his daughter who could be used to gain information from, mountains, hills, things like that where outside monsters could lurk, all leading up to the palace. I was trying to show the players that there was more to a “dungeon” than just the building. I didn't complete the palace trying to show them this map could be a mini base map for their game. The players could discover the part of the dungeon which had been caved in wasn't any longer and the DM could expand it. I was assuming that they were trying to learn to set up their own world and I was trying to help. This is all I about remember of that, however the Decapus I will never forget.

I created the Decapuses to draw paladins into the room quickly without thinking and to be the first in. I wanted them to rescue the maiden who’s clothes were torn and seemed to be surrounded by nine ugly men taunting her. Ed thought it was a good idea and so did our boss Harold Johnson. It went through the channels with no problems at all until it had been printed. Then all hell broke loose in upper management. The next thing Ed and I knew we were in trouble. Will Niebling was sitting in Dave Sutherland’s office mad as hell. Ed and I had no idea why. Will accused us of putting S&M into a child’s module. Neither Ed nor I even knew what that was. Will found it hard to believe, but it was true. Until this, upper management had no interest in a hands-on read before they modules to press.

I do want to talk about the Ubues, otherwise known as my hermaphrodites. Erol Otus didn’t read my description close enough when I described the one seen as being a female. If it had been two sexes I would have mentioned that. I designed them based on Siamese Twins, but as Siamese Triplets. By the time I saw the picture it was complete and Jim Roslof wouldn’t allow me to have it redone. I was not happy when I saw the picture.

Ubues were created because of a friend of mine. His fiancee was my college roommate and on Friday nights the “gang” would gather in my room during visitation and we would play D&D. When they came in for Linda to get their dinner and a change of clothes Steve would pretend to be an Ubue, a name he came up with. He would pretend he had two swords, lung at us and argue with his other two heads. I remember the one in the middle was named George and poor George didn’t have a weapon of his own, no arm. The heads would fight among each other about what they were going to do and who they were going to kill first. It became a regular thing and we looked forward to each week for his short visit as Linda tried to hurry him out of the room. Now that I read this, it is a shame I didn’t have the fighting Ubue in the module. I just wanted to set the record straight, I didn’t make the Ubues a hermaphrodite; Erol did.

8. Was Will Niebling the primary person at TSR who had a problem with the module as you'd written it or did he speak for others? Do you recall Gary Gygax's opinion of the matter?

I believe Will spoke for himself and the Blume brothers though I have no real proof of it. This all happened when he and the Blume Brothers were tight. I never received any feed back from Gary about B3. If he’d not been all right with it, I would have heard from him. He was far from shy about anything.

9. Did the experience of working on B3 sour your interest in writing adventure modules for D&D or did you just assume the way things turned out were par for the course at TSR?

At first I was soured, but I tried again and everything I suggested to someone, anyone, was shot down as not a good idea. My favorite idea was a Top Secret module called L.A.S.S which stood for a land, air, sea and space vehicle owned by a private company. I worked out my ideas playing with Corey Koebernick and he enjoyed it, but no one else really wanted to listen to me about it I think if Mike Carr had known about it he'd have championed me. Unfortunately he was no longer in Design and Development. I also worked on a space travel board game with play testers, one was Ernie Gygax, and they all had fun, but Lawrence [Schick --JDM] said no. I even had it at cost too. Harold ended up using me more as a secretary my last days at TSR. Was it par for the course? I have no idea about anyone else, but for me, I'd say yes.

10. Did you continue to work in game industry after leaving TSR?

No, I was courting Corey Koebernick which lead to marriage and 6 months later a pregnancy. I did continue to play in Frank Mentzer's game for a while where upon he declared me his best NPC because I hated it when they would count exactly how many 10 foot squares we'd march. Not a good idea to leave a bored Jean all alone. I looked at Frank, he grinned, and I said what do I see? Then I touched it. Myself and Corey were the only ones to live through that encounter. The monster left me alive to pass a warning to leave him alone. Corey got away. I was a mischief maker when bored.

Then Corey was let go while we were on vacation. So we moved to Beloit and had two sons 14 months apart. I still played a little until a severe illness hit me, since then I have been concentrating on combating it. If you don't mind, since there are several illnesses now I would like to not speak on them any further.

I spent several days with Gary at his home and had a blast. He was so bright, clever, and easy to speak with. He had a house full of cats who loved to chase his crumpled up cigarette packs which was fun to watch and sometime join in. I taught his wife how to make Southern Fried Chicken and she made a lot of it in the beginning. Mary didn't do too bad either. I tried to give Mary an example of a dungeon, and used the howling wind blowing down the hall from my first exposure to be hers. Her imagination was so good she wouldn't go down it. She could just see it in her mind and was scared. (laughs remembering) When Gary was in the building his door was usually opened which meant you could just go in. Then they moved to Sheridan Springs Road and I didn't get to see him as much. Gary was always nice to me, and I think he enjoyed my naiveties more than anyone else.

Since I was the one with the Southern Accent, Allen Hammock was from the south too, but didn't really sound like it too much, I got teased a lot. I remember the guys, in the days before Lawrence, would get me to talk about something just to listen to me. They'd stand there grinning like goof balls until I caught on once again as to what they were doing.

11. Do you still play role playing games?

No, I am not really interested in sitting in a room listening to a bunch of players argue about anything from what the monster is to how they want to attack it, to how many little ten foot squares they've marched.


  1. Another great interview, thanks to both you and Jean Wells for sharing a little piece of the early days!

    I went back to my old Monster Manual, but I couldn't find any images of Giant Sumatran rats, am I missing something, or is this an in-joke i'm not aware of?

  2. "Then all hell broke loose in upper management. The next thing Ed and I knew we were in trouble. Will Niebling was sitting in Dave Sutherland’s office mad as hell. Ed and I had no idea why. Will accused us of putting S&M into a child’s module."

    Good grief. What idiocy.

  3. Paladin, look under "RAT, GIANT". The drawing is in two parts: one part shows the hind quarters of a rat entering a hole, and the other part shows the forequarters of a rat exiting a hole.

  4. They refer to sumatran rats in the text of my monster manual, but there is no illustration. I wonder if I have a different version of the MM, I think mine is third printing.

    Is it possible some art was added later, and or/was excised?

  5. So that explains what happened with B3. Argh. I've in enough bureaucracies that I can picture every excruciating "WTF?" moment you went through, Jean. My sympathies.

    (I had one of those "S&M" versions when it was new. Lost it in a move, drat it.)

  6. Here's Gygax's take on the B3 controversy:

    You ask the man who decided on the 'Amazon' and 'Temptress' illos in original D&D, the 'Eldritch Wizardry' supplement cover about something in the artwork in Jean Well's module being 'objectionable'? I am quite at a loss as to how to respond.

    Actually, it was Kevin Blume who literally pitched a fit about the product, demanded it be recalled. I had no input into the matter and I would have quashed his objection had I been able to do so. The fact is, though, that there were three persons on the Board of Directors of the company - Brian Blume, Kevin Blume and me. Similarly, while I was the President and CEO, Brian placed himself in charge of creative affairs, as President of that activity, while Kevin was President of all other operations. This effectively boxed me off into a powerless role. If a 'President' under me did something I didn't like, my only recourse would be to take the matter to the Board of Directors where I would be outvoted two to one.

    From here:

  7. If you follow the links from The Arcanum's discussion of B3 you see that there's still some sour grapes floating around. I think that the people who squashed the module have realized that what they did was petty, idiotic or both, but they aren't willing to admit it, so they just throw venom around.

  8. It really sounds like the incident with "Princess" tainted her career, which is unfortunate. I wonder if her time at TSR had been different what sort of modules we might have seen--or if her opinion of gamers today would have been more positive.

  9. I just downloaded B3 from the WotC site, where they've made the original available as a PDF. It had been so long since I'd seen the original module, I'd forgotten what it looked like. My reaction?

    "That's it??"

    They had a fit over something that qualified as only PG even back then? Wow. If I were Jean, I'd be bitter about being treated like that, too.

  10. Thanks for that link Fitzerman. It is sad to see people screwing things up out of greed and pride.

    That the Blumes are forgotten except where they're reviled, and the paucity of their loot, seem appropriate footnotes for them.

  11. Thanks for the great interview. I can't help but say her answer to #11 made me a bit sad.
    : (

  12. It's a shame that bureaucracies stifle creativity, but it sounds like you recovered from it - Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed. :)

  13. JB: Me too. I read the interview to my girlfriend, who also games, and she said, "But you don't have to play them like that!"

  14. I liked the odd monsters from B3, as they are vary unique! The Ubue is really fun to roleplay, and the Decapuses is a nice trap to play on rash PCs. I usually mock the dungeon for being a bit flowery (the feminine touch really shows thrughout the book), but I did like the attention to backgroud details that gets overlooked with other modules.

    To me, the recall of B3 was the turning point from the early, care-free years, that really shows in the products - the point where TSR started to slave themselves to misguided political correctness!

  15. Paladin:

    The art for the Giant Rat was added to the 4th print Monster Manual.
    This info is on the Acaeum, but it's hard to find as it's not on the main Monster Manual page detailing the printings. It's buried in the "errata link"

    "some monster pictures were left out of early prints, and gradually inserted in later prints (up to the "final" Fourth print). The list of missing pictures per print is as follows ...

    First: Ape (Gorilla), Centaur, Doppleganger, Dryad, Eye of the Deep, Fungi, Gar, Ghost, Hobgoblin, Intellect Devourer, Kobold, Men (Berserker), Merman, Mummy, Otyugh, Pegasus, Pixie, Purple Worm, Rat (Giant, Sumatran), Skeleton, Slug, Sprite

    Second: Ape (Gorilla), Eye of the Deep, Fungi, Otyugh, Rat (Giant, Sumatran)

    Third: Eye of the Deep, Fungi, Otyugh, Rat (Giant, Sumatran)

    Fourth: All pictures present. Note that some monsters still do not have an accompanying illustration, but the Fourth print is as good as it gets."

    Jean's name is signed to the Eye and the Rat, and the Otyugh is signed "Jean & Dave". The Fungi, Violet is unsigned (or has an unreadable signature), but is possibly hers as well. So, she at least worked on some (or all) of the pictures added between the 3rd and 4th print.

  16. Catching up belatedly...

    > 11. Do you still play role playing games?
    > No, I am not really interested in sitting in a room listening to a bunch of players argue about anything from what the monster is to how they want to attack it, to how many little ten foot squares they've marched.

    That's sad to read, IMHO.
    (And as if 3e/4e was the only game in town, too... :? )

    Thanks for fielding the interview, James.

  17. As a TSR employee from this time, I can add that a BIG reason the illos in the original B3 caused the Blume brothers to explode was because Erol cheekily inserted images of himself and his fellow ex-TSR buddies in some of them. Check the background pictures on one, there are Erol and Paul Reiche and Evan Robinson and the San Francisco Bay bridge (these chappies all hailed from and returned to No. Calif.) Being flipped off like this just months (weeks?) after the famous TSR staff purges had begun was more than upper management could tolerate. The "bad taste" issues of other illos were another matter that just fed the flames. The Blumes and Neibling *were* extremely paranoid about bad PR for the D&D image at this time.

  18. I don't understand Ms. Wells's point about ubues. In the interview, she says, "Erol Otus didn’t read my description close enough when I described the one seen as being a female. If it had been two sexes I would have mentioned that." The description of the ubue in the new monster section of the orange-cover module says, "One of the three heads will always be of a different sex from the other two and it will always be in the middle" (p. 29). This is what Otus drew (p. 19), so what's her complaint?