Part 3


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C1: What is the history of the D&D game?

E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were tabletop wargamers; that is, they used lead miniatures to reconstruct historical battles or construct their own battles. Their favorite era to set their battles in was the medieval period.

Gygax, along with Jeff Perren, codified a set of rules for conducting both individual and group combat. Then, along with Brian Blume, they published these rules through Guidon Games (which consisted of Gygax, et al. and was run out of Gygax's basement) in 1969 under the name Chainmail.

At some point, their battles received an injection of fantasy. Originally, the fantasy elements in Chainmail were limited to special military units for "wizards" and "heroes". Eventually, however, the basic concept behind the existing idea of the play-by-mail military campaign, where each player took the part of a ruler who sent out armies as well as engaged in diplomacy & intrigue, was soon combined with the game. Soon, the "wizard" and "hero" were removed from the battlefield and sent upon individual quests of mythic proportions, as Gygax and Arneson discovered that playing a single character was just as fun, if not more so, than playing an entire military unit or army.

One of the first times this occurred was in 1970, when Dave Arneson (apparently before he knew about Gygax's fantasy supplement for Chainmail) created a scenario in which a group of adventurers had to sneak into a castle and open the gates from the inside, only to discover that many of the castle defenders were inhuman, fantastic monsters. He brought his scenario to GenCon 4 (1971), and Gygax--who already had some individual adventuring guidelines of his own--was one of the people who played it. Gygax and Arneson then pooled their efforts to create a game specifically intended for fantasy adventuring.

From there, the concept of character advancement was added, via "experience points and levels of proficiency" in combat and spell use, as well as a few other refinements. Thus individuals could grow in character and power, instead of just being anonymous members of battle units.

This game was now far beyond wargaming, or even Chainmail. The group called it The Fantasy Game, and proceeded to take it around to all the game manufacturers, including Avalon Hill. Every single company turned the game down, usually because it seemed too open-ended, without a way to "win".

Not about to let mass rejection stop them, in 1973, Gygax and Don Kaye, later joined by Blume and Arneson, formed their own company, named Tactical Studies Rules (named after a local wargaming club, the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association) to market their "fantasy wargame to be played with paper and pencil", which they renamed Dungeons & Dragons after a suggestion by Gary's wife, Mary. The game first appeared at the 1973 EasterCon, had a limited availability throughout 1973, and the first print run of 1,000 copies was officially released in January of 1974. It sold out within the year.

The game consisted of three booklets: Men and Magic, Monsters and Treasure, and Wilderness & Dungeon Adventures. It was also recommended that owners get a copy of Chainmail as well as the Avalon Hill game Outdoor Survival. There were three classes: Fighting Man, Magic User, and Cleric. The terms were intentionally vague--much research was done to prevent putting anything into the game which actually resembled real-world "magic" systems. They eventually decided to base the game's magic system on the fantasy writings of Jack Vance; thus magic users must memorize spells daily and once cast, the spells are erased from the magic user's mind and must be rememorized. There were also four different races: human, dwarf, hobbit, and elf. Subsequent complaints and legal threats from the Tolkein estate caused "hobbit" to be changed to "halfling" later on. Humans could be any class, and could attain any level of proficiency. Dwarves and hobbits were limited to being Fighting Men, and were restricted in the levels they could reach. Elves could alternate between Fighting Man and Magic User, but could only switch classes at the beginning of an adventure. Finally, there were three alignments, based on the fantasy writings of Michael Moorcock and Poul Anderson: Law, Neutrality, and Chaos. The original intentions of the game equated "law" with "good" and "chaos" with "evil".

At this point, both Gygax and Arneson were running their own campaigns using the game. When the game started getting somewhat popular after the first year or so, they decided to publish some of the details of their campaigns, along with some expansion rules for the game. This product was the original Greyhawk. It introduced the Thief character class, and had notes on magic, monsters, and more. Then they published Blackmoor, which introduced the Monk and Assassin classes, and included the very first module: Temple of the Frog. Then came Eldritch Wizardry, which introduced the Druid class, as well as Psionics. The last book of this series was Gods, Demigods, and Heroes, which listed several pantheons for use with the game. During this period, TSR also began publishing two magazines; The Strategic Review (note the creative acronym) in spring of 1975, and The Dragon (soon renamed to Dragon) in summer of 1976.

In 1975, Arneson and Gygax split ways, and Don Kaye had a heart attack; Kaye's wife decided, along Gygax and Blume, to break up the company. Gygax & Blume went on to create TSR Hobbies, Inc. later that year.

At this point, there were a lot of rules, spread throughout books, supplements, and magazines. In addition, Gygax had amassed a pile of campaign notes and new rules which he wished to add to the game. So it was decided to create a new edition of the game. However, instead of calling it a second edition and discontinuing the first, TSR produced the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1977 as a simplified revision of the original rules (also called Basic Dungeons & Dragons or "the blue book"), and launched Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 1977 with the release of the Monster Manual, followed in 1978 by the Player's Handbook and in 1979 by the Dungeon Master's Guide.

The original rules and Basic D&D left many rules up to the Dungeon Master, which meant gamers from different groups might use completely different rules for the same situation. AD&D was originally intended to be a standardized system which included all of the new and updated rules in one location, and whenever feasible, included a rule for every possible situation, thus making it what they hoped would be the version of choice for tournaments, as everyone would then always follow the same set of rules.

The "Advanced/Basic" idea was apparently done the way it was because of money. When Arneson and Gygax had split ways in 1975, Arneson, under the terms of the original partnership, still held some royalty rights to the D&D game, and Gygax went ahead with the new edition without paying Arneson the additional royalties which possibly would be due him. Arneson took TSR to court in 1979, and the matter was settled in 1981 when both parties signed a mutual agreement.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons skyrocketed in popularity. So much so that TSR came out with sourcebook after sourcebook, and published most of the now-classic modules, set in the World of Greyhawk. The first issue of Polyhedron was published in 1981. Then, in 1984, TSR released the Dragonlance Saga. This was followed in 1986 by the first issue of Dungeon. The very next year, Ed Greenwood's campaigns first saw light as the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.

By the end of the 1980's, the game was enormous, with rules and campaign information spread out further than it had been when AD&D was first created. TSR (by this time, the word "Hobbies" had been dropped from the name) decided to once again create a new edition and roll a lot of the new rules into the core books, as well as revamp many of the existing core rules. In this way, gamers would have all of the necessary rules in one place, and tournaments once again would not have to worry as much about gamers coming in with various backgrounds of house rules. Thus was AD&D, 2nd edition born in February 1989.

However, just as it had previously, the game ballooned out with the release of various additional sourcebooks and several new campaign settings. Rather than create a third edition or try to reference rules spread throughout some twenty books, TSR revamped the look of the 2nd edition books in 1995 and came out with three sourcebooks designed to be "optional" changes to the system. With these books full of optional rules, DMs could use rules written, playtested, and somewhat offically supported to more easily fix many perceived problems with the "core" system as found in the PH and DMG. In so doing, TSR put off the need for a third edition of the game for several years.

In 1997, TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast, best-known for the collectible card game Magic: the Gathering. Shortly thereafter, the design of a third edition, bits of which had been rumbling around TSR's offices since before the second edition had reached store shelves, was transformed from an informal project worked on by a handful of designers into an offical design project of premier importance, which was released in August of 2000. Since "Basic" D&D hasn't been actively supported in almost a decade, the word "Advanced" has little meaning and was dropped from the game's name at that time.

In late 1999, Wizards of the Coast was bought by Hasbro, the second- largest game & toy manufacturer in the United States (after Mattel). Hasbro is possibly best known for owning both Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, and thus Monopoly, Risk, and Scrabble are all Hasbro properties. Hasbro also bought Avalon Hill in the mid-1990s, which makes the purchase of Wizards of the Coast--and thus TSR and Dungeons & Dragons--mildly ironic, given that Avalon Hill turned down Gary Gygax when he was originally looking for a publisher for his little "Fantasy Game." Under the buyout agreement, Hasbro supposedly would take a hands-off position for the first year, and after that, maintenance of that position would depend on how well Wizards of the Coast is doing. How separate from Hasbro's management Wizards of the Coast will be allowed to stay remains to be seen.

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C2: What did "TSR" stand for?

No, it doesn't stand for "They Sue Regularly." As outlined above, it originally stood for "Tactical Studies Rules." When the company incorporated, it changed its official name to "TSR Hobbies, Inc.," and later to "TSR, Inc.," which isn't short for anything--especially now that it has been completely absorbed into Wizards of the Coast and Wizards of the Coast, in turn, has been bought by Hasbro. As of August 2000, the "TSR" logo and company name is longer used on *D&D products. (More than twenty-five years of habits die hard, however; with all the buyouts in the last few years, some people have taken to using "TSR" to refer to "whatever company is currently publishing *D&D or has ever published *D&D.")

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C3: What does "T$R" stand for?

For some, the dollar sign is a pretty good ASCII representation of TSR's dragon logo. For others, it is a way of referring to TSR without using any of their trademarks. However, "T$R" is more commonly used by disgruntled gamers to refer to the Great Undescribable Bloodsucking Lawful Evil Force which has possessed the *D&D game market and created oppressive policies, ever-more-expensive and ever-lower-quality products, has no care for the common gamer, and any other Truly Evil acts one can imagine which have the end result of alienating customers and making money. TSR, on the other hand, is a company made up of a bunch of hard-working people who genuinely care about the game and what happens to it, in it, and to how people feel about it. They may occasionally make mistakes, but generally do what they think is the best job they can. Please note that the employees working on the D&D product lines generally don't take kindly to being referred to as employees of "T$R." At best they will ignore any post that features this epithet, which means that it is not an effective way to get the attention of the company being railed against; at worst, they will be very offended by it and tell you so in no uncertain terms before ignoring whatever point you were trying to make.

In most cases, it is an outlet for people who are otherwise fed up with what they feel to be lack of respect for customers and the game itself and need a way to thumb their nose at "T$R, the unfeeling, uncaring megacorporation". Those people who feel the need to resort to what is essentially petty namecalling rather than try to conduct rational discourse about their grievances should find the newsgroup alt.flame.tsr interesting reading; request that your newsadmin add it if your site doesn't already get it.

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C4: What is WotC's e-mail address?

WotC, and TSR before it, have been active on the Internet for some time now. Several WotC staffers and ex-staffers lurk on the 'net. A couple are even regular or semi-regular posters in rgfd, and on the various RPG-related mailing lists.

Here is a list of some addresses with which one may reach WotC: [Select for Preformatted table]

Corporate Accounts: WotC's Customer Services Dept. Games rules division of WotC's Customer Services Dept.; any questions about game rules for TSR's games Direct line to Dragon Magazine Direct line to Dungeon Magazine Letters to Dragon's editor Letters to Dragon's Forum column Sage Advice submissions; there are no personal replies, though Main RPGA address WotC's webmaster

If you plan to send e-mail to WotC or WotC employees and would like to receive some sort of response, it's a good idea to refer to the company name long-associated with the D&D game as TSR, not T$R. You may be disgruntled with the company, but that's not a reason to rub it in the employees' noses--especially since the company that publishes D&D no longer uses the name "TSR".

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C5: What is WotC's snail-mail address?

To send regular mail to someone at WotC, address it to:

Or, for those in Europe:

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C6: What is WotC really working on in the way of TV shows and movies?

Current Productions:
WotC has licensed Fireworks Television, a subsidiary of CanWest Entertainment, to develop a live-action television series based on the Forgotten Realms game setting and novels. No target start date has been announced. Fireworks has been involved in developing and/or distributing such TV shows as Mutant X (for Fox & Marvel Comics) and Gene Rodenberry's Andromeda, as well as feature films such as Rat Race.

Dead or Undead Productions:
MCA/Universal, TSR, and Ground Zero Productions were at one point working on a live action + computer animation TV show basically set in the Spelljammer campaign setting and entitled "Wildspace." This project is dead. Some of the footage from the pilot may have been included in the Sci-Fi Channel's "Masters of Fantasy" episode about TSR; if so, it was approximately the same production quality as TSR's videotape-based Dungeons & Dragons board game.

The Dragonlance movie, which was being animated by Nelvana, is no more. The deal between TSR and Nelvana fell through, and all work on the movie ceased. For further information, read, or check out the Dragonlance Movie Web page.

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C7: What's the deal with WotC's copyright policy?

The deal is that when TSR started to develop a real presence on the Internet, some of the things they found were scans of their books and artwork, many trademark violations, a number of additional copyright violations, and other such infringements of their intellectual property.

In August 1994, TSR announced a very restrictive policy regarding the use of TSR-copyrighted information, as well as the use of TSR's trademarks. This was followed by several years of fairly regular flamewars and general hard feelings all around on the subject.

Almost exactly three years later, in September 1997, TSR radically changed this policy, giving a lot more free reign to the creation and distribution by gamers of AD&D material. Now, as long as you don't make any money off of it, don't use TSR's graphics, don't misuse TSR's trademarks, don't quote a lot from TSR's books, and don't mislead anyone as to the "officialness" of a file or web page, you're basically in the clear.

If you are interested in creating D&D adventures, sourcebooks, and the like, WotC has released much of the 3rd edition ruleset under an "open gaming license" (OGL) similar in concept to the GNU software license, so that you can create (and even sell) such products as long as you adhere to the terms of the license. More information on how "open" the OGL is as well as what parts of D&D are covered by the OGL can be found at the Open Gaming Foundation website.

For more information on the history of this touchy subject, see Jim Vassilikos' web site, which has some information on the topic. Note that this resource has not been updated recently, but it does give a good background of the early days of the situation, as well as why some people still hold grudges against TSR.

You may also want to check out the actual statutes in question, in which case a trip to the Library of Congress' Copyright information page is in order. For on-line texts of the U.S. copyright code and the Berne Convention, see the various pages at Cornell University or the links at the Nebraska Library Commision. You may also find that the (unofficial) opinions of practicing IP lawyers in the newsgroup are a good resource, as well.

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C8: Did TSR really try to trademark the word "Nazi"?

No, though that is a popular rumor, especially among people who are looking for any excuse to hate TSR. This incident comes out of the Indiana Jones RPG. The statement in question actually says "NAZI(TM)*; (TM) & (C) LFL 1984; *trademarks of Lucasfilm, Ltd. used under authorization." In other words, TSR has never made any claim to a trademark on the word "Nazi," but Lucasfilm, Ltd. has made such a claim.

However, before anyone decides to start railing on Lucasfilm, realize that the trademark in question is of the word and the associated artwork. That is, there is no claim that the word "Nazi" by itself is a trademark, but there is apparently a trademark on the word when accompanyied by the specific artwork that was seen with it in that module.

In any case, if you must flame someone over this issue, please take it to, where discussion of the Indiana Jones RPG goes, or to rec.arts.movies.starwars.*, where most discussion of Lusasfilm goes.

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C9: Didn't TSR just "borrow" everything from J.R.R. Tolkien's works?

No. See the section on books below for a long list of books which influenced the creators of the game. Medieval fantasy was a popular genre during the time when the creators of D&D were growing up. Tolkien's books are simply the most widely known of the core of fantasy books which directly influenced Gary Gygax and friends. Indeed, the magic system was based on the fantasy works of Jack Vance, and the green, rubbery, regenerating trolls were taken from Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. Before the third edition of D&D, halflings were based on Tolkien's Hobbits (they were actually called "Hobbits" until the Tolkien estate demanded that the practice stop), and while the elf varieties are similar to Tolkien's various elf races, the general description of elves is a jumble of several different influences. These are but a few of the influences on D&D and the ideas from which D&D elements are derived; a perusal of the books listed as "the basis for D&D" in Section 7 will turn up many more. So no, *D&D is not a direct outgrowth solely--or even primarily--of Tolkien's Middle Earth (which has its own roleplaying game).

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C10: How can I submit my latest work of literary genius to WotC?

Specific guidelines for submission (writers' guidelines for Dragon and Dungeon, more details on the submission process, and other stuff) are available via WotC's web page, FTP to MPGN, or by sending an e-mail request to

  1. Do not, I repeat, do not e-mail a complete product either to any TSR staffers, or to a TSR "official" account. They cannot look at it at all, as they might end up in hot water if TSR happened to be already working on a similar product.
  2. Do not e-mail a "complete proposal", for the same reasons as #1.
  3. Do send a "query letter"; ethically and legally, any TSR staffers reading your message can then actually follow up on and look into your query. This makes life that much easier for all involved, and makes you seem that much more professional.

A query letter spells out an idea for a project in very vague terms, whereas a complete proposal gets into the nitty-gritty to some extent, and a complete product is the finished work.

Here is an example of a query letter (Thanks to Bryan Maloney for the letter):

The appropriate response would be, if Avalon Hill has any brains, to send out a release form and a response letter saying that they'd be interested in taking a look. However, it is also likely that the company decides that that is not a direction they wish to go at this time and send you a refusal letter, at which point you take your material to another company.

When submitting anything to TSR, the following rules apply:

The description of the rest of the submission process is taken, in a slightly edited form, from a very informative post by Bryan Maloney (

Okay, so you get the release form. Look it over--the first thing you should note is that it claims what you do is "work for hire". That is, even if you originated the idea and wrote it all yourself, TSR will get the copyright upon paying you. Don't wail and moan, you aren't important enough to demand copyright. However, if TSR tries to claim any further legal rights upon your work in addition to that single product, this is excessive. Cross out any such lines and initial them. No corporation has the right to demand that you sign away rights to works you have not yet presented to them unless you are a regular employee and have signed an intellectual property agreement.

TSR does have the right to insist that the specific product you are proposing is "work for hire". Wait until you've written an Origins Award-winning game and/or gotten the Hugo or Nebula in SF/Fantasy before you start to demand copyright.

Now, don't worry about how much they'll pay you, it won't be crap, believe me. You're not important enough to pay well, and the game industry is the worst possible market of any fiction market. You're taking a shot at publicity, the money is just gravy.

Okay, so you've got the release forms. You'll notice that they ask for a "brief description" and give you a little space. Type "see enclosed proposal" on that space. Write a real "complete proposal". What is that? A complete outline (with estimated page counts) and two chapters. If you can't do an outline and two chapters, you're not ready to write. Also, include a proposed schedule for you to be able to complete the product upon TSR's acceptance of your proposal. Be realistic, not "impressive". Deadlines that are made are better than early deadlines that are missed. If you're feeling daring, try some sample ad copy or back-cover copy for the proposed product. This is a great way to show that you understand the target audience.

Mail the forms, typed, signed and dated, with your proposal. Check the proposal for spelling errors and grammatical errors. TSR gets so many proposals that they can afford to chuck most of them. Have the proposal typed or laser-printed. Don't use a daisy wheel. Rule of thumb: It should be able to go through a fifth-generation Xerox copy and still be legible.

Now, why send a proposal and not the whole shebang? Two reasons:

  1. If you can do a credible proposal, you have shown that you have a little organizational skill.
  2. A proposal is less work than a complete product, and TSR can then evaluate your work with less effort from you. If they think it's crap, it won't matter if it's from a proposal or the whole thing, likewise if they like it.

If TSR turns you down, don't cry about it--they're allowed to turn you down. Every great author's dream house was built upon a foundation of rejection slips.

If TSR turns you down and you see "your idea" three months later, they didn't steal it. There is no way that anything can go from proposal to publication in only three months. Believe me, I have encountered so many ideas that I had, jotted down, told nobody about, and found on the shelves a few months later. You are not a genius, nothing you think of is unique--somebody else will think of it, too. If you were a genius, you wouldn't need to read this.

If TSR accepts your proposal, get it to them under deadline. With this "draft final", include a letter letting them know that you would be happy to help with any editorial or revisions they would like to do. Don't expect them to go for it. The majority of amateur game designers are prima donnas who get all huffy if their sacred words are meddled with. TSR knows this, and is leery of giving amateurs too much authority. Also, like most game companies, TSR has a production schedule that would make any other publishing company fire its production managers and hire somebody with a grip on reality. Editorial is not the evil part of TSR, the guys who set the production schedule are the evil ones.

So, get your final draft in under deadline, and don't complain when TSR changes it without consulting you. I'd wager that they don't even have their production/editing apparatus completely networked, yet. Once that happens, designers might get more input, but I doubt it.

So, when do you get paid? You don't for a while. You'll probably get paid after TSR gets into the black on your product, so you'd better make it very good.

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C11: Where's Gary Gygax these days?

Mr. Gygax and TSR parted ways in 1986. Gary went on to create the Cyborg Commando game for New Infinities, which never really caught on, and the Dangerous Journeys game for GDW, which started to catch on, then ended up in court; as a result of an out-of-court agreement, Dangerous Journeys is now owned by TSR. He also wrote two books on how to role-play, titled Role-Playing Mastery and Master of the Game. He is now rumored to be living in the Oregon back country with the Sasquatch and Elvis. Actually, he still lives, works, games, and works on his web page in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; he's even been known to pop up in various places on the internet. In 1999, Gary came back to work for TSR, so who knows what the future may hold?

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Continue on to Part 4

Copyright © 2001 by Joel A. Hahn