Thursday, July 22, 2010

Spying on Gygax

Colin McComb, who worked at TSR in the 1990s, relates a fascinating -- and sad -- bit of gaming history over at Kobold Quarterly. He briefly tells of being sent by executives at TSR to spy on Gary Gygax at GenCon in 1992, when Gary was releasing Mythus, the first game in the unfinished Dangerous Journeys line.

I'm very grateful to Mr McComb for telling this story, as it reveals yet another example of the absurd vendetta that Lorraine Williams-era TSR pursued against its own founder and one of the founders of the very hobby that provided the company with its profits. It's of a piece with some of the slanders and rumors that were circulated about Gygax in various quarters in the wake of his departure, as others can attest.

What a shame.


  1. Make sure you see Dave Newton's comment over there.

  2. I (along with the writer of the Ardwulf's Lair blog) got to play in one of the DJ demos run by Gary at that Gen Con. Was the first, and unfortunately the only time I got to meet him. While I don't remember much about the demo, I did become a fan of the game, and walked away with a signed copy of it and fond memories of meeting one of the founders of it all.

  3. Lest anyone coninue to wonder why the TSR of the 90's was villified, this is just one of many, many stories, Gygax-related and otherwise, floating around that show TSR's utter contemtp and hostility towards the hobby during that era.

    As someone who retains a love of pretty much all of their products from the 70's and early 80's, my reaction to their going out of business in 1997 was, "What took so long?"

    I don't like WotC era D&D. But they didn't burn down the village to save it. They built a new village on top of one that had already burned down.

  4. I've read a lot about Lorraine Williams. I don't think she was nuts, or necessarily a villain. But she -- and the corporate culture she imposed on TSR -- very much did not understand gaming culture, and based on Williams' own quotes, did not think a whole lot of it... even while they were trying to profit from it.

    That being said, I think it says something that TSR was worried about some little tiny game being published by Gygax when they were in control of the 800 pound gorilla of gaming. That's just kind of sad (and ridiculous).

  5. I'm sure her grandkids love her and all, but that lady sounds like a real piece of crap to me. I can't imagine anyone having comtempt for their own business, not just unprofessional but kind of whorish to get money from doing something you hate and find distastful. But I guess it happens. Look at Hollywood.

  6. It still happens. My mother worked for National Rent a Car when Wayne Huyzinga bought the company. He was an absolute piece of crap that hated the company and basically ran it into the ground the minute he bought it...rumor was he bought it just to have easy access to rental cars for he and his staff when they traveled around the US. He was known to fire counter agents on the spot who didn't basically kiss his ass when he strolled up to rent a car and tell jokes about it later. And check out the guy who ran Home Depot into the ground a couple of years ago (before the current CEO who is doing a good job). He has gone on record saying he hated the company from the word go and did it only for the money (he had a ridiculous golden parachute when they finally bounced his worthless ass). And as you say Brun look at Hollywood. Anyway, I guess the lesson is don't be surprised at this sort of behavior....

  7. Badmike: your mom and others were good people who helplessly got caught up in the BS of real shit people. You can only have sympathy for that and I for sure do. I've worked for an a-hole or two (as have most of us) in my time but I needed to work so I always continued for a time. And man, stories about these people chap my ass so much.

    But that TSR lady, with so much power over her little "realm," having contempt for a hobby that was built so much on heart and soul...well, it makes her seem kind of souless.

  8. I knew that there was bad blood between TSR and Gygax but I didn't realize the extent. As a "kid" in the early 90's I started with 2e and have recently started looking at that system again but my God this makes me feel dirty for even having them on my book shelf.

  9. One lesson that was hard-learned in my adult life was this: When the original founder leaves/sells a company, jump ship immediately, it's over.

    I've had to apply this with entertainment companies, video game jobs, local banks, etc. The day Brin & Page leave Google I'll be looking for a new search engine.

  10. Thankfully our D&D group had a significant dip between 1E and 3E for D&D playing and especially purchasing of new stuff. 2e never never seemed "right" to us. Maybe it was a byproduct of the tainted management. Just despicable.

    Lets not let Mr. Colin McComb off the hook here either. He knowingly and purposefully did this deed. Apparently he had a change of heart (in this version of the story anyway) but he did agree to the task knowing its purpose regardless.

    Sleep well Mr. McComb.

  11. I get the idea of "spying" on Gygax. He was a founder of both the company and the industry, shouldn't he or rather his new product be seen as a threat to D&D? Of course you're going to send someone to check it out at a public demo. I don't get the whole " if his slips up and mentions D&D" bit. Was Gygax restricted from ever talking about D&D? 1992? Weren't there about a thousand Fantasy RPGs at the time?

  12. He knowingly and purposefully did this deed.

    What deed? He was sent to observe what a rival company was doing and to see if they were doing something that might infringe on TSR's properties.

    He did nothing illegal, immoral, unethical or high in saturated fats.

    I don't get the whole " if his slips up and mentions D&D" bit. Was Gygax restricted from ever talking about D&D? 1992? Weren't there about a thousand Fantasy RPGs at the time?

    Usually when a person sells a company and the rights that go with it, they are not allowed to turn around and start up a new company identical to the old one. In fact, most such buyouts involve "no competition" clauses, where they aren't allowed to compete against the old company in any way -including taking a job with a competitor.

    Something very similar happened with Famous Amos, where the creator of the company was sued by those who bought him out because he used his own name on a new brand of baked goods.

  13. Yes, but Gary was never under that sort of clause, as it never came up in the lawsuit.

    And if the man who did it himself feels guilty, I think that holds some weight.