What happend to TSR?


I'll admit it: I'm new to gaming. I've been a table top roleplayer for a little over 2 years, and a GM for a little over 1 year. What this means is that I've only played 3e D&D, and I've only know TSR as it is now: Owned by WoTC, owned by Hasbro. Older gamers here (I bow, I grovel) have dropped tantalizing hints about a series of somethings that went terribly wrong in the gaming world. I've heard it called the "mismanagement of TSR". It came up in discussions about the D&D movie. It comes up in discussions about how WoTC is destroying the game. What I want to know is, exactly what the heck happened? What did TSR do?

Now, I know a little about the history of D&D. I've heard from one of the guys at my local gaming store about the history behind the Forgotten Realms world, about how they bought it from this guy who'd spent years making it because he loved the game so they could make AD&D without the original game world and thus cut the guy who made the said game world out of the loop. (That's the short, badly mangled version of the story.) I'm fascinated by this stuff.

So I beseech you, fellow gamers. Please, please, please oh please explain this chapter of gaming history.

Here's some of the highlights, I sure I'm missing bits.

Much of the trouble started early on when one of Gygax's partners died. His stock fell to his wife who had no interest and sold it. After several people coming and going, Gygax and the original creators were gone and the owner was (blanking on name ______ Williams). She had no respect for games and just wanted to milk it for money.

Under her, you had some decent designers but who generally suffered from the hubris that they would tell the fans what they wanted to buy. They cranked out tons of products without much feedback of what was wanted and didn't adjust things by sales much. At the rate of several items a month that amounted to the same old adventures, the products were competing with each other more that anything; unless you expand the pool of players; there is a semisolid limit to the amount of gaming money that can be spent.

Many of the designers at the time were wannabe writers hoping to work for TSR for the chance to work on the fiction lines. Because of this, many of the products felt like they were designed to be read more than played - they didn't have lots of options off of the main plot and had way too much background material the players would never hear.

Another big design issue is something common in rpgs - power drift. 2e was fairly sound mechanically (though thematically generally lame). Then TSR put out the various handbooks with kits. Characters with kits were generally a step above ones without kits (at least with the overpowered kits which were the most popular). So people had to either keep buying every handbook or just disallow them altogether. There was also lack of uniformity across handbooks - some were a much bigger boost compared to others. Then came the poorly edited Skills & Powers books. A few good ideas but they allowed a total min/maxing of character design. Characters made with this could take one normal character twice their level. Many people I knew got fed up at this point. It also meant that adventures balanced for standard characters were a joke with skills and powers characters.

TSR also generally did not reach out to their market. They didn't attempt to expand the player base much. They also seemed to fear the internet. They tried ineffectually to get rid of fan-based material that was online.

By the time WOTC bought TSR, it was on the verge of bankruptcy.

It sounds like you might be interested in A Brief History of Roleplaying Games.

It's a good read and just about everyone who plays RPGs today could probably learn something from it.

Ah, excellent. Thank you. This is fascinating stuff.

Sounds like a decent premise for a campaign, actually.

"A good king is replaced by an innefficient and greedy ruler, who proceeds to destroy the kingdom for her own gain, thus making it an easy conquest for a nearby growing empire."

This is why history is important: to get ideas for gaming. :-D