Friday, April 26, 2013

Lorraine Williams killed the DA line?

Still hoping that Wizards of the Coast will get around to releasing more TSR era Blackmoor modules beyond the DA2 PDF I wrote about back in February, I was reading through product descriptons of modules from the dndclassics.com PDF store:
"Following the 1985 departure of Gary Gygax, Lorraine Williams is said to have purposefully cut out Gygax's friends and supporters. Thus Dave Arneson's Blackmoor adventures came to an end, and the third Lendore Isle adventure was never published by TSR."
I generally try to stay away from the feuds and disagreements happening decades ago in TSR, especially since I wasn't there at the time, but this statement struck me as quite odd with regards to the Blackmoor modules.



Now assuming that the description is true and that Lorraine Williams, CEO of TSR since 1985, did let such personal feelings affect business decisions, why would the Blackmoor modules become a target? It is well known that after Dave Arneson took TSR to court in the late 1970s, Arneson and Gygax never again were fully reconciled. On the other hand, Gygax did reach out to Arneson about getting the Blackmoor modules published. Gary would have recognized the historical value of the Blackmoor Campaign within the RPG hobby and probably also saw the business potential in having the modules published.

This seems to have been one of the last things Gary did for TSR, as the DA modules were published the year after Gary had been forced to leave the company. So, while it seems unlikely that Williams saw Dave as one of Gary's "friends and supporters", perhaps she still considered this to be one of Gary's projects? In any case  the last modules in the series; DA5 City of Blackmoor was never published, even though it had reputedly been completed by Arneson's co-author on the series, David Ritchie.






Image source: Masters of Fantasy Documentary, by Sci Fi channel.

-Havard


14 comments:

  1. "So, while it seems unlikely that Williams saw Dave as one of Gary's "friends and supporters", perhaps she still considered this to be one of Gary's projects?"

    Or perhaps, even though Arneson was hardly one of Gary's 'friends and supporters' by that time, she still saw him as a threat, a figure from the start of D&D, with a moral claim over what D&D ought look like, who needed to be pushed as far away from TSR editors and staff writers as possible?

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  2. Interview with David Arneson by Ciro Allessandro Sacco:

    Sacco: "In 1986 TSR published the first module of the DA (David Arneson) series, Adventures in Blackmoor. This module introduced D&D fans to the past of the Known World (then Mystara)..... How was born this unusual idea?"

    Arneson: ".... In 1986 Gary Gygax had taken over the leadership of TSR and approached me to do the series. The modules that were published were the first ones submitted. Yet, even these were heavily edited. Since within a few months Gary lost control of TSR, the series was terminated. Up until that time, the modules sold as well as any other TSR modules. But the new president (Lorraine Dille Williams, the infamous "Dragon Lady" N.d.R.) did not want Gary or me involved with TSR in any way anymore. So, no more Blackmoor modules. By then I was out in California.... I must state again that the sales figures were not a factor in terminating the original series...."

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  3. If I may offer a bit of personal history from those far off days, Lorraine hated and loathed gamers in general; she felt that they were low-life scum, and didn't want to have any of them working for TSR Hobbies. She's the one who branched out into TSR woodburning kits, TSR needlepoint, and other 'interesting' parts of the TSR ctalog from those days.

    She made a point of purging anyone who came to her attention at the company who was tagged as a 'gamer', and worked very hard to remake TSR into 'her company' as what she wanted to have was a 'mainstream' company like Milton-Bradley or Hasbro - and not some sleazy haven for social misfits that pandered to their bizarre habits.

    In my personal experience, Lorraine was quite the bit of work; arrogant, conceited, and a complete snob. The sales numbers and other metrics from TSR under her reign are the best indicator of just how badly she ran the company; in any case, she increased the debt load of the company from roughly $3 million in total to a good $15 million (mostly in unsold merchandise sitting in the warehouse in Lake Geneva) in the space of about five years.

    That's what killed the company. Sheer arrogance.

    (Source: TSR stockholder meetings I attended.)

    yours, Chirine

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  4. [She made a point of purging anyone who came to her attention at the company who was tagged as a 'gamer',]

    I've no particular sympathy for Lorraine, but your statement is untrue.

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    1. Bruce, thank you for weighing in here - I'm very happy that you had a different (and hopefully better!!!) experience with Lorraine then I did.

      As I said, my experience with her was different, and I have a strong feeling that it was because I was so closely associated with Dave Arneson and Phil Barker. I don't have any particular sympathy or animosity for her either; my feelings are based on what directions she took TSR in. My statement was from a comment she made at a meeting I attended; it caused a ruckus at the time.

      At this point, it's all water over the dam anyway.

      yours, Chirine

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    2. I worked at TSR 15 years, which encompassed all of Lorraine's time there. I worked with her on a daily basis. She wasn't easy to work with, by any stretch of the imagination, and demonstrated many character flaws. yet, spreading untruths isn't needed here.

      "Lorraine hated and loathed gamers in general; she felt that they were low-life scum, and didn't want to have any of them working for TSR" -- Untrue. Mostly she was a terrible snob. There were many gamers at TSR including myself. She respected those who showed talent and pulled their share, even though her manner lacked elegance to say the least. She never actually fired anyone I recall among creative and editorial circles.

      "She's the one who branched out into TSR woodburning kits, TSR needlepoint, and other 'interesting' parts of the TSR ctalog from those days." These were total failures, to which Lorraine admitted on several occasions during staff meetings. This remains a short-lived chapter in TSR's track record.

      "worked very hard to remake TSR into 'her company' as what she wanted to have was a 'mainstream' company like Milton-Bradley or Hasbro" -- Technically TSR *was* her company since she was the majority share holder! It's unavoidable she'd want to have her way with it, regardless of anyone else's wishes. She wanted to make TSR and D&D bigger than what they were at the time. It was a sound business goal, but with a poor execution which alienated TSR's traditional hobby gaming market. You can't fault Lorraine for actually wanting to try.

      "In my personal experience, Lorraine was quite the bit of work; arrogant, conceited, and a complete snob." -- Sure she was. And I can think of a number of primadonna creatives and business owners who'd fit this description as well.

      "The sales numbers and other metrics from TSR under her reign are the best indicator of just how badly she ran the company;" -- Let us not ignore the facts surrounding TSR's environment. Lorraine bears a great responsibility in TSR's failure, BUT, crucial factors should not be ignored, such as the advent of computer gaming, CCGs, and vastly increased competition from RPG publishers. None of these factors came into play until after Lorraine showed up at TSR. They are just as much a reason for TSR's failure than Lorraine's management.

      Let us not forget either that TSR in the early 80s was headed straight for bankruptcy. It shrank from 375 employees to less than 100. This predates Lorraine's intervention. The level of mismanagement and incompetence at TSR back then was mind-blowing. Lorraine acquired TSR and initially made sound business decisions. Her hubris later on ruined her initial accomplishments (for example, promoting her own IPs, her brother's west coast operation, and other schemes to suck cash out of the company).

      "in any case, she increased the debt load of the company from roughly $3 million in total to a good $15 million (mostly in unsold merchandise sitting in the warehouse in Lake Geneva) in the space of about five years." -- That's not really true either. There wasn't $15M. worth of merchandise in the warehouse. Mostly the debt came in the form of borrowed money from Random House, cash loaned against future sales. Bad idea. It was even worse when one realizes that Random House was the sole distributor for TSR. This part was catastrophic.

      (. . .)

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    3. Continued from above.

      Other factors involved in mounting debts -- sagging sales due to increasing competition on the marketplace, as I said earlier. This with skyrocketing price of paper and printing (along with mounting financial debts) eventually did kill TSR. The company did not own its own printing outfit. Everything had to be sent out to outside vendors, at a premium cost. I doubt that TSR ever had the means to buy a printing company, except perhaps during Gary's time. Even then, I'm not convinced TSR ever commanded enough financial leverage to acquire a printer outright.

      Conclusion: As owner and CEO, Lorraine bears the responsibility and legacy of TSR's failure. But the situation was not entirely her personal fault, as unpleasant as she was on a personal level. A little honesty here doesn't hurt.

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    4. I know this is years late, but lets not forget Lorraine's milking of the company for licensing fees for the XXVC game (aka Buck Rogers RPG). Nice little bit of skim for herself, since she was a Dille heir. She killed the repair of the Star Frontiers game to put out XXVC, which alienated the SF fans without substantially improving anything, as XXVC was a pretty bad system as well.

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    5. A very unfortunate decision, though entirely predictable. I much preferred Star Frontiers, personally. Definitely propping up her properties at the expense of TSR. There was nothing us staffers could do about it.

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    6. Some very interesting information in these comments. Some of it I have heard before, but I really enjoy hearing these new perspectives.

      The thing about XXVc being in conflict with Star Frontiers doesn't make sense to me though. AFAIK Star Froniters came out in the 1982-83, while XXVc was launched in 1991 so almost a decade had passed without anything happening to SF. Were there plans for an SF relaunch that never happened because of XXVc?

      For the record I rather liked XXVc. The behind the scenes stories taint its reputation, but I think the designers who worked on the game did a pretty fine job.

      I only managed to get hold of Star Frontiers many years later as I missed it the first time around.

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    7. IIRC Star Frontiers was pulled because of lagging sales to begin with, I think before LW came. There was a fear that SF would split D&D sales even more than they already were. Debatable... XXVc was later on rammed into the release schedule by LW. Steve Winter should have more detail about this.

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    8. Star Frontiers came out in 82 and lasted until shortly after Zebulon's Guide was published sometime in 85. XXCV launched in 88 and got carried along until 95.

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  5. Fascinating -- as someone who only worked for TSR in 1980-81, long before the cataclysms of the later years. LW sounds like a LOT of managers and bosses I worked for in both private and public sectors -- people who typically make life miserable for those under them yet usually sail through the debacles of their own making with golden parachutes. I'm sure she personally lost no money despite all the TSR staff needing to find other jobs.

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