Tuesday, October 27, 2020

A TSR Mystery

Issue #3 of Polyhedron (Winter 1981–1982) includes a very lengthy interview with James M. Ward, best known as the creator of Metamorphosis Alpha and (with Gary "Jake" Jaquet) Gamma World. Given its length, the interview is wide-ranging and covers many fascinating topics, one of which is touched upon here:

The "Education Department?" Perhaps, in my middle age, I've simply forgotten, but I cannot recall ever hearing about TSR's education department. Even more intriguing is Ward's mention of "three modules …[that] deal with reading, mathematics, and general science" whose intended audience is "the low-level grades: 4th, 5th, and 6th." 

When I first read this part of the interview, I thought he was referring to the Fantasy Forest game books that were published during 1983–1984. These books were choose-your-own-adventure books like the more well-known Endless Quest books. Ward wrote the first book in this series, called The Ring, the Sword, and the Unicorn, while subsequent volumes were written by a succession of authors, including Mike Carr and Roger E. Moore. Never having seen them, let alone read them, I can't comment much upon their contents, but, from what I've gleaned online, it doesn't seem as if these are what Ward is referring to. After all, he called the upcoming products "modules" and in fact compared them to Troubadour Press's The Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Book released in 1979, which, again, is not at all like the Fantasy Forest books. 

If anyone has any idea what Ward might be referencing, I'd love to know. I don't think it's impossible that the modules he mentions might never have seen the light of day, but it's also true that my knowledge of the minutiae of TSR products is not as great as that of others. I'm keen to solve this mystery and would appreciate any help readers can provide.


  1. This from "Designers and Dragons - the 70s", page 52:
    "Realizing that Endless Quest was ultimately a fad, TSR worked to diversify its new mainstream publishing. James M. Ward and Rose Estes formed an Education Department intended to sell classroom modules to teachers. Jean Black, an experienced industry editor, was brought on as Education Editor for the new department. However, it ultimately failed due to TSR’s decision not to hire educational sales staff; products were ready to produce, but never sold. Black would later push other educational ideas, such as books that combined the history of World War II with wargames, but TSR continued to opt out of educational opportunities."

  2. How funny if 'The Dungeon Alphabet' book would have begun in the early-to-mid '80s, by TSR Inc., as a coloring and activity book for kids. I can just see it now it would play out:

    D is for Dragon!
    Dragons are big and scary! They not just breath fire, but also lightning bolts, acid streams, poisonous clouds, or blasts of super-cold air! Here is a dragon! WHAAAR!! You must run though it's maze of scales to escape! There you will find the magic breath mint to to stop its horrible breath attack. Can you do it?


    W is for Warduke™!
    Warduke™ is an evil fighter! He is strong and he is so cool looking! Here is a picture you can color-in while you think about buying the official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Poseable Action Characters™ Warduke™ action figure! Only &2.68 at toy retailers near you!