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TSR, Inc

 

TSR, Inc

TSR, Inc.
Industry Role-playing game publisher
Fate Acquired and discontinued
Successor(s) Wizards of the Coast
Founded 1973
Defunct 1997
Headquarters Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, USA
Key people Gary Gygax, Brian Blume, Lorraine Williams
Products Dungeons & Dragons

TSR, Inc. was an American game publishing company and the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).

When Gary Gygax could not find an established games company willing to publish D&D, the new type of game he and Dave Arneson were co-developing, Gygax and Don Kaye formed Tactical Studies Rules in October 1973.[1] However, needing immediate financing to bring the new game to market before several similar products, Gygax and Kaye brought in Brian Blume in December as an equal partner.[1] When Kaye unexpectedly died in 1975, Blume's father, Melvin, purchased Kaye's shares, and the company was re-formed as TSR Hobbies. With the suddenly popular D&D as its main product, the company became a major force in the games industry by the late 1970s. Melvin Blume eventually sold his shares to his other son Kevin, giving the two Blume brothers a majority control of the company, now renamed TSR, Inc.

Under the Blumes, the company ran into financial difficulties in 1984, and although Gygax managed to have the Blumes removed from the board of directors, they subsequently sold their shares to company manager Lorraine Williams, who succeeded in forcing Gygax out of the company at the end of 1985. The company continued to prosper under Williams for some years, but by 1995, it had fallen behind several other companies in overall sales. A failed attempt in 1996 to tap into the collectible card game (CCG) market with a CCG-like product called Spellfire and later with Dragon Dice, coupled with an unexpectedly high return of the year's hardcover fiction novels, left the company with no cash reserves to pay its printing bills. With no way to make money and facing insolvency, the company was purchased in 1997 by Wizards of the Coast. Although the new owners made use of the TSR name for D&D products for three years, they stopped using the TSR name when a new version of the D&D rules was published in 2000.

History

Tactical Studies Rules

Tactical Studies Rules
Industry Role-playing game publisher
Fate dissolved
Successor(s) TSR Hobbies, Inc.
Founded 1973
Defunct 1975
Headquarters Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, USA
Key people Gary Gygax, Don Kaye, Brian Blume
Products Dungeons & Dragons

Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) was formed in 1973 as a partnership between Gary Gygax and Don Kaye, who scraped together $2,400 for startup costs,[2] to formally publish and sell the rules of D&D, one of the first modern role-playing games (RPG). They first published Cavaliers and Roundheads, a miniature game, to start generating income for TSR. The partnership was subsequently joined by Brian Blume and (temporarily) by Dave Arneson. Blume was admitted to the partnership to fund publishing of D&D instead of waiting for Cavaliers and Roundheads to bring in enough revenue.[3] In the original configuration of the partnership, Kaye served as President, Blume as Vice-President and Gygax as Editor.[1]

In 1974, TSR (with Kaye's basement as a base of operations) ran off 1,000 copies of D&D, selling them for $10 each and the extra dice needed for another $3.50.[2] In January 1975, TSR printed a second 1,000 copies of D&D, which took only another five or six months to sell out.[4] Also in 1974, TSR published Warriors of Mars, a miniatures rules book set in the fantasy world of Barsoom originally imagined by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his series of novels about John Carter of Mars, to which Gygax paid homage in the "Preface" of the first edition of D&D. However, Gygax and TSR published the Mars book without permission from (or payment to) the Burroughs estate, and soon after a cease and desist order was issued and Warriors was pulled from distribution.[5][6] In 1975, TSR published Blume's Panzer Warfare, a World War II based miniature wargaming set of rules for use with 1:285 scale micro armour.

At its inception, TSR sold its products directly to customers, shipped to game shops and hobby stores, and wholesaled only to three distributors that were manufacturers of miniatures figurines.[7] In 1975, TSR picked up one or two regular distributors.[7] The next year, TSR joined the Hobby Industry Association of America and began exhibiting at their annual trade show, and began to establish a regular network of distributors.[7]

When Don Kaye died of a heart attack on January 31, 1975, his role was taken over by his wife Donna Kaye, who remained responsible for accounting, shipping and the records of the parternship through the summer.[8] By the summer of 1975, those duties became complex enough that Gygax himself became a full-time employee of the partnership in order to take them over from Donna Kaye.[8] Arneson also entered the partnership in order to coordinate research and design with his circle in the Twin Cities.[8]

TSR Hobbies, Inc.

TSR Hobbies, Inc.
Industry Role-playing game publisher
Fate split up
Successor(s) TSR, Inc., TSR Ventures, TSR International and TSR Entertainment Corporation
Founded 1975
Defunct 1983
Headquarters Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, USA
Key people Gary Gygax, Brian Blume, Kevin Blume
Products Dungeons & Dragons
Subsidiaries Greenfield Needlewomen

Blume and Gygax, the remaining owners, incorporated a new company called TSR Hobbies, Inc.,[9] with Blume and his father, Melvin Blume, owning the larger share. From the start, Brian officially headed the company. Originally, TSR Hobbies was created as a separate division to market miniatures and games from several companies, an enterprise which was also connected to the opening of the Dungeon hobby shop in Lake Geneva.[8] The Dungeon became the effective headquarters of the company, including the offices of Blume and Gygax. On September 26, 1975, the former assets of the partnership were transferred to TSR Hobbies, Inc.[10] TSR Hobbies subcontracted the printing and assembly work in October 1975, and the third printing of 2,000 copies of D&D sold out in five months.[4] Tim Kask was hired in the autumn of 1975 as Periodicals Editor, and the company's first full-time employee.[11]

Empire of the Petal Throne became the first game product published by TSR Hobbies, followed by two supplements to D&D, Greyhawk and Blackmoor.[9] Also released in 1975 were the board game Dungeon! and the Wild West RPG Boot Hill.[9] The company had $300,000 in revenues for the fiscal year of 1976.[12] TSR began hosting the Gen Con Game Fair in 1976, and featured the first-ever D&D open tournament that year.[9][13] D&D supplements Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes were released in 1976, and the original D&D Basic Set was released in 1977.[9] Also in 1977, TSR Hobbies published the original Monster Manual, the first hardbound book ever published by a game company. The following year, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) game was released, with its first product being the Player's Handbook, followed by a series of six adventure modules that had previously only been used in tournaments.[9] Also in 1978, TSR Hobbies moved out of Gygax's home and into downtown Lake Geneva, above the Dungeon Hobby Shop.[9] In 1979, the Dungeon Master's Guide was published, and radio ads featuring "Morley the Wizard" were broadcast.[9]

During this era, there were a number of unofficial supplements to D&D published, arguably in violation of TSR's copyright, which many D&D players used alongside the TSR books. The most popular of these were the Arduin series. For the most part, TSR ignored these unofficial supplements, although a few of the innovations from the Arduin series eventually made their way into mainstream D&D play, including critical hits, and the two-axis alignment system (pre-Arduin D&D had only a law/chaos axis, not a good/evil axis).

Gygax granted exclusive rights to Games Workshop to distribute TSR products in the United Kingdom, after meeting with Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson.[7] Games Workshop printed some original material and also printed their own versions of various D&D and AD&D titles in order to avoid high import costs.[7] When TSR could not reach an agreement with Games Workshop regarding a possible merger, TSR created a subsidiary operation in the UK.[7] To meet growing international demand, TSR, Ltd. was formed in England in 1980.[9] Gygax hired Don Turnbull to head up the operation, which would expand into continental Europe during the 1980s.[7] The British branch of the operation, TSR, UK produced and the U and UK series of AD&D modules and B/X1 and X8 for the basic D&D,[7] as well as the original Fiend Folio. TSR, UK also produced Imagine magazine for 31 issues.[7]

The first campaign setting for AD&D, the World of Greyhawk, was introduced in 1980. The espionage role-playing game Top Secret came out in 1980; reportedly, a note written on TSR stationery about a fictitious assassination plot, part of the playtesting of the new game, brought the FBI to TSR's offices.[14] That same year, the Role Playing Game Association was formed to promote quality roleplaying and unite gamers around the country.[9] In 1981, Inc. magazine listed TSR Hobbies as one of the hundred fastest-growing privately held companies in the US.[12] That same year, TSR Hobbies moved its offices again, this time to a former medical supply building with an attached warehouse. In 1982, TSR Hobbies broke the 20 million mark in sales.[9]

In 1982, TSR Hobbies decided to terminate Grenadier Miniatures's license and started producing its own AD&D miniatures line, followed by a line of toys, while licensing part of the AD&D toy line to LJN.[7] Also that year, TSR introduced two new roleplaying games, Gangbusters and Star Frontiers. Exclusive distribution of the D&D game was established in 22 countries, with the game being translated first into French, followed by many other languages, including Danish, Finnish, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, and Swedish. In 1982, an educational department was established to develop curriculum programs for reading, math, history, and problem solving, with the most successful program being the Endless Quest book series.[9]

Melvin Blume's shares were later transferred to Kevin Blume. With the board of directors consisting of Kevin and Brian Blume plus Gygax, Gygax was primarily a figurehead president and CEO of the corporation, with Brian Blume as president of creative affairs and Kevin Blume as president of operations, as of 1981.[7] [12] In that year, TSR Hobbies had revenues of $12.9 million and a payroll of 130.[12]

TSR Hobbies sought diversification, acquiring or starting several new business ventures; these include a needle craft business, miniatures manufacturing, toy and gift ventures, and an entertainment division to pursue motion picture and television opportunities.[9] The company also acquired the trademarks and copyrights of SPI and Amazing Stories magazine.[9] In 1983, the company was split into four companies, TSR, Inc. (the primary successor), TSR International, TSR Ventures and TSR Entertainment, Inc.[3]

Gygax left for Hollywood to found TSR Entertainment, Inc. (later Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment Corp.), which attempted to license D&D products to movie and television executives. His work would eventually lead to only a single license for what later became the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon.[15] However, the series spawned more than 100 different licenses, and led its time slot for two years.[9]

TSR, Inc. released the Dragonlance saga in 1984 after two years of development, making TSR the number one publisher of fantasy and science fiction novels in the USA.[9] Dragonlance consisted of an entirely new game world promoted both by a series of game supplements and a trilogy of novels written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first novel in the series, reached the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, encouraging TSR to a launch a long series of paperback novels based on the various official settings for D&D.

In 1984, TSR signed a license to publish the Marvel Super Heroes, the Adventures of Indiana Jones game, and Conan games. In 1985, the Gen Con game fair moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, due to a need for additional space. The Oriental Adventures hardback for AD&D was released that same year, becoming the biggest seller for 1985. TSR introduced the All My Children game, based on the ABC daytime drama, with more than 150,000 copies sold. In 1986, TSR introduced the Dungeon Adventures magazine, a bi-monthly magazine featuring only adventure scenarios for D&D.[9]

Williams ownership

Hearing rumors that the Blumes were trying to sell TSR, Gygax returned from Hollywood and discovered the company was in bad financial shape despite healthy sales.[16] Gygax, who at that time owned only about 30% of the stock, requested that the board of directors remove the Blumes as a way of restoring financial health to the company. The Blumes were forced to leave the company after being accused of misusing corporate funds and accumulating large debts in the pursuit of acquisitions such as latchhook rug kits that were thought to be too broadly targeted.[17]:4 Within a year of the departure of the Blumes, the company was forced to post a net loss of USD $1.5 million, resulting in layoffs of approximately 75% of the staff. Some of these staff members went on to form other prominent game companies, such as Pacesetter Ltd and Mayfair Games, or to work with Coleco's video game division.

However, in an act many saw as retaliation, the Blumes sold their stock to Lorraine Williams.[17]:5 Gygax tried to have the sale declared illegal; after that failed, Gygax sold his remaining stock to Williams and used the capital to form New Infinity Productions.

Williams was a financial planner who saw potential for rebuilding the debt-plagued company into a highly profitable one. However, she was disdainful of the gaming field, viewing herself as superior to gamers.[18][19] She implemented an internal policy forbidding game playing at the company. This resulted in many products being released without being playtested (some were tested "on the sly"), and a large number of products that were incompatible with the existing game system.

TSR released the Forgotten Realms campaign setting in 1987. That year, a small team of designers began work on the second edition of the AD&D game. In 1988, TSR released a Bullwinkle & Rocky RPG, complete with a spinner and hand puppets. That same year, TSR released a wargame based on Tom Clancy's novel The Hunt for Red October, which became one of the biggest selling wargames of all time. In 1989, the AD&D 2nd edition was released, with a new Dungeon Master's Guide, Player's Handbook, the first three volumes of the new Monstrous Compendium, The Complete Fighter's Handbook, The Complete Thief's Handbook, and a new campaign setting, Spelljammer, all released in the same year.

Under Williams' direction, TSR solidified its expansion into other fields, such as magazines, paperback fiction, and comic books. Through her family, she personally held the rights to the Buck Rogers license and encouraged TSR to produce Buck Rogers games and novels. TSR would end up publishing a board game and a role-playing game, the latter based on the AD&D 2nd Edition rules.[17]

In 1990, the Ravenloft setting was released, and Count Strahd von Zarovich soon became one of the most popular and enduring villains. The West Coast division of TSR was opened to develop various entertainment projects, including a series of science fiction, horror, and action/adventure comic books. In 1991, TSR released the Dark Sun campaign setting, as well as an introductory D&D game aimed at beginners. TSR also released the first of three annual sets of collector cards in 1991. In 1992, TSR released the Al-Qadim setting. TSR's first hardcover novel, Legacy by R. A. Salvatore, was published that year, and climbed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list within weeks. In 1992, the Gen Con Game Fair broke all previous attendance records for any U.S. gaming convention with more than 18,000 people. In 1993, the DragonStrike Entertainment product was released as a new approach to recruiting new players, including a 30-minute video which explained the concepts of role-playing. 1994 saw the release of the Planescape campaign setting.[9]

By 1995, TSR had fallen behind both Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast in sales volume.[20] Seeing the profits being generated by Wizards of the Coast with their collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, TSR attempted to enter this market in 1996 in a novel way with Dragon Dice. Similar to collectible card games, each player started with a random assortment of basic dice, and could improve their assortment by purchasing booster packs of more powerful dice. In addition to this initiative, TSR also decided to publish twelve hardcover novels in 1996, despite a previous history of publishing only one or two hardcover novels each year.[20]

Sales of Dragon Dice through the games trade started strongly, so TSR quickly produced several expansion packs. In addition, TSR tried to aggressively market Dragon Dice in mass-market book stores through Random House. However, the game did not catch on through the book trade, and sales of the expansion sets through traditional games stores were poor. In addition, the twelve hardcover novels did not sell as well as expected.

Despite total sales of $40 million, TSR ended 1996 with few cash reserves. When Random House returned an unexpectedly high percentage the year's inventory of unsold novels and sets of Dragon Dice for a fee of several million dollars, TSR found itself in a cash crunch. With no cash, TSR was unable to pay their printing and shipping bills, and the logistics company that handled TSR's pre-press, printing, warehousing and shipping refused to do any more work. Since the logistics company had the production plates for key products such as core D&D books, there was no means of printing or shipping core products to generate income or secure short-term financing.[20] With no viable financial plan for TSR's survival, Lorraine Williams sold the company to Wizards of the Coast in 1997.[18][21] Before the corporate offices in Lake Geneva were closed, some TSR employees accepted the offer of transferring to Wizards of the Coast's offices in Washington.

In 1999, Wizards of the Coast was itself purchased by Hasbro, Inc.

In 2000, the D&D and AD&D brands unified; up to that point, all of the "versions" of original D&D had been referred to as editions, with the Rules Cyclopedia representing the fifth (and final) edition of "original" D&D. Wizards of the Coast continued to use the TSR name for D&D products for three years, until the third edition of D&D was released in 2000 under the Wizards of the Coast logo only.

In 2002, Gen Con was sold to Peter Adkison's Gen Con, LLC.[22]

Products

TSR's main products were role-playing games, the most successful of which was D&D. However, they also produced other games, such as card, board and dice games, and published both magazines and books.

Role-playing games

Wargames

Other games

Magazines

Comics

From 1987–1991 (and one title in 1996), TSR published a number of comic book series, some of them based on their role playing games. See also Dungeons & Dragons (comics).

  • 13:Assassin
  • Agent 13: The Midnight Avenger
  • Birthright: The Serpents Eye
  • Buck Rogers Comic Module
  • Dragonlance Fifth Age
  • Dragonlance Saga
  • Fineous Fingers Collection
  • Forgotten Realms
  • Intruder Comics Module
  • Labyrinth of Madness
  • R.I.P. Comics Module
  • Snarfquest Collection
  • Spelljammer
  • Warhawks Comics Module

Fiction

In 1984, TSR started publishing novels based on their games. Most D&D campaign settings had their own novel line, the most successful of which were the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms lines, with dozens of novels each.

TSR also published the 1995 novel Buck Rogers: A Life in the Future by Martin Caidin, a standalone reimagining of the Buck Rogers universe and unrelated to TSR's Buck Rogers XXVC game.

TSR published quite a number of fantasy and science fiction novels unconnected with their gaming products, such as L. Dean James' "Red Kings of Wynnamyr" novels, Sorcerer's Stone (1991) and Kingslayer (1992); Mary H. Herbert's five "Gabria" novels (Valorian, Dark Horse, Lightning's Daughter, City of the Sorcerers and Winged Magic); and humorous fantasy fiction, including Roy V. Young's "Count Yor" novels Captains Outrageous (1994) and Yor's Revenge(1995). However, such projects never represented more than a fraction of the company's fiction output, which retained a strong emphasis on game-derived works.

Criticism

After its initial success faded, the company turned to legal defenses of what it regarded as its intellectual property. In addition, there were several legal cases brought regarding who had invented what within the company and the division of royalties, including several lawsuits against Gygax.[21] These actions reached their nadir when the company threatened to sue individuals supplying game material on Internet sites. In the mid-1990s, this led to frequent use of the nickname "T$R" in discussions on RPG-related Internet mailing lists and Usenet, as the company was widely perceived as attacking its customers. Increasing product proliferation did not help matters; many of the product lines overlapped and were separated by what seemed like minor points (even the classic troika of Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance suffered in this regard).

The company was the subject of an urban myth stating that it tried to trademark the term "Nazi". This was based on a supplement for the Indiana Jones RPG, in which some figures were marked with "NaziTM". This notation was in compliance with the list of trademarked character names supplied by Lucasfilm's legal department.[24] Later references to the error would forget its origin and slowly morph into the urban myth.

New "TSR Games" company announced

In November 2012 it was announced that a new company called TSR Games had been formed with majority ownership by Jayson Elliot and with participation by Luke Gygax, E. Gary Gygax Jr., Jim Wampler, and James Carpio.[25] The first announced publication of the new TSR will be a general interest tabletop gaming magazine called Gygax Magazine to be published quarterly beginning in January 2013.[26] Although the new TSR is unconnected in any way with prior incarnations of the company, it does include several former employees and contributors of TSR Hobbies, notably Tim Kask and Phil Foglio.[26][27]

See also

Notes

External links

  • TSR history to 1999
  • Gamespy interview with Gary Gygax on the history of TSR (among other things)
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