Monday, January 31, 2011

Bill Owen on the First Fantasy Campaign

In 1977, Judges Guild published the First Fantasy Campaign. In a recent Save or Die Podcast, Judges Guild Co-Founder Bill Owen talks about Judges Guild history, including his contact with Dave Arneson. Mr Owen and the legendary Bob Bledsaw had formed the Judges Guild in 1976. When they went to meet with TSR on July 18th 1976, it was Dave Arneson who gave them the verbal approval to publish D&D related material. More on this story can be learned from mr Owen's book, Judges Guild's Bob & Bill, a Cautionary Tale, which was reviewed at Grognardia.

Bill Owen in 1976

Dave Arneson left TSR later that same year and in 1977, he submitted his manuscript for the First Fantasy Campaign to Judges Guild for publishing. Echoing former TSR employees, Bill Owen describes the material Arneson sent them in the mail as "somewhat disorganised". Where mr. Owen differs from those who worked on Supplement II, is in his attitude towards the author. "I respected Arneson greatly", Owen says. He goes on to say that he was intimidated and frustrated that this work had been delegated to him, but the reason for that was that he was worried that the changes he felt neccessary to make in order to make the product "look like the kind of thing we would make" would not be worthy of an Arneson authored product. On the other hand, he stresses that Arneson was not the kind of person who might be upset about any such changes. "He was very easy going about the whole thing", Owen says, mirroring how many others have described Arneson's generous nature.

Perhaps it was this attitude of respect for the author and his professionality that made mr Owen that allowed the First Fantasy Campaign to become the gem among gaming products that it is. While others might have been tempted to apply heavy handed edititing in order to make the product onto a preconcieved idea of what a D&D product was supposed to look like in those days, Owen allowed the First Fantasy Campaign to appear as the unique product that it is, with the author's voice being heard clearly. We are eternally thankful for this!

Bill Owen in 2008



  1. Nice review, I listened to this podcast yesterday.

  2. I don't know if I made the point in the podcast but I had judged very little of our campaign from 1974-1976. Bob did 90% of that with Marc Summerlott, Craig Fogle, Mark Holmer and I dividing the tiny remainder (to give Bob a break). My point is that Bob was already a hard act to follow... then I am to make sense of Dave's stuff?! I am glad that my minimalist approach worked well for you. My memory now (sorry there's no more) of FFC was the failed cover art. It's a rookie mistake (to use the same value colors together for the red heading and the brown background art) that could have been caught if we would paid for a proof. But by a combination of desire for speed (I was 22 years old and "at a slant") and parsimoniousness (we wanted to provide a variety of play aids inexpensively), I charged ahead.

  3. Thank you so much for taking your time to comment here Bill! :) It is really interesting to hear about how our favorite gaming material was created. I'm curious about the FFC cover. From what I understand, it is a fire elemental on a valley background. Is it supposed to represent anything specific within the Blackmoor setting or was it meant more as a generic fantasy cover?


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