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TSR and the Role-Playing Game.

The Story of a Succes.

The story of TSR is the story of a success. It is a major example of "the American dream come true". You walk around, get a great idea, make a couple of scratch notes about it, and then make a very quick ruleset. Go to the publishers, get turned down and then start for yourself and, within five years, be able to buy out the companies that didnít believe in you in the first place. But what is TSR then and what did they do to become so popular?

The man who started it all was a guy named Gary Gygax. He could spend ages sitting with a friend and "make war" through miniature simulation games. Over a series of years this didnít develop very much. One day, playing with some of his friends again, he got bored and suddenly brought a dragon into the game. The game had been medieval so far anyway, but now it evolved from historical medieval into a medieval fantasy game. It opened a lot of other possibilities in the game, but also made it take up a lot of more space. So eventually someone came up with the idea of getting the entire game inside the house, and play the battles with paper and pencils. Gary sat down and thought of it, and then he made a ruleset for a game to be played with paper, pencil and dice. The game he called "Chainmail".

He made a mistake though: The ruleset was released as an accessory to an already existing game. Therefore there were no exact way of knowing what to do if you got stuck in the rules somewhere. So people started calling Gary at his home address saying "we would like to know what to do when we do this and that and the other", and therefore Gary decided to do three things:

1. Change his phone-number,
2. Make sure the new number was not listed in the phone-books and
3. Write down the rules from scratch.

So in 1972 he made a 50-page set of rules. And it by 1973 became 150 pages. It expanded a little further and then he took it to the publisher. But the publisher, Avalon Hill, didnít think much of the game. "How can one determine who has won the game when the players are supposed to cooperate? You cannot make a game where no-one wins!"

Then, in 1974, Gary Gygax and a friend of his, Don Kaye, got into a little money so they started their own publishing firm: Tactical Studies Rules. Gygax refreshed the layout of his ruleset, and then they published it themselves. The ruleset was labeled "Dungeons & Dragons".

In the first year the game sold 1000 copies, making $50000 for Tactical Studies Rules. Gary Gygax estimated the sales for the next three years to be $300,000, $600,000 and $1,200,000. He was wrong with a margin of 10%. 10% in the company's favor that is. On the fourth year the income did not double. It quadrupled!

Eventually Gygax realized that the name Tactical Studies Rules was too clumsy for frequent reference, so the firm was renamed a couple of times, eventually resulting in the name it carries today: TSR, Inc.

Dungeons & Dragons had every aspect that characterizes a good role-playing game, but it left some unanswered questions behind. How much can the character carry? What happens if he looses his long sword and has to use a short sword instead? Can he use that one without suffering penalties? In which cases does a spell simply not work, and when does it backfire? All these were minor things, but there were a lot of them. So the staff at TSR rewrote the ruleset, moved some things to different categories, added some (a lot actually) new things, deleted some old stuff, and thus created the 1st edition of the so far most popular role-playing game in the world: "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons".

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was not the best name they could have chosen for the game though. The fact that the name of the original game appeared in the new name, made many think that you had to play the original Dungeons & Dragons game (from now on referred to as D&D) in order to be able to play the "advanced" version, which is not the case. As a matter of fact they are not even the same game. D&D and AD&D share many characteristics, but topics that mean one thing in D&D could have a completely different meaning in AD&D. TSR themselves offer the advice in the AD&D 2nd Edition Player's Handbook that former D&D-players should approach AD&D as a completely new game and then just be happy when some things were actually the same.

But what was actually the difference between D&D and AD&D? First of all D&D was tuned up around a world called Mystara and the land Karameikos in particular. That game was very loyal to it's name, in that it was mostly about going out on an adventure, finding a ruin, a labyrinth or some other kind of dungeon, and then going in and killing whatever was in there, collect the treasure at the end, rescue the princess or do whatever was the excuse for going this time. AD&D was created with no particular world in mind, even though many different worlds have been created for it. Each different world is called a campaign setting and today quite a few of these exist for the AD&D game. Within the last 2 years the original D&D game have been removed from the stores and is no longer in production. Even so the world in which it took place lives on. It does so because it has been converted into a AD&D 2nd Edition campaign setting. This campaign is called Mystara. During the 1st Edition game only 2 major campaign settings existed, but from 1987 to 1989 every single rule in AD&D was re-organized. Then things went fast. One of the developers of the 2nd Edition wrote this in 1995:

"Since the 2nd Edition was released, the AD&D game has grown in ways we never anticipated. Weíve traveled to a multitude of fabulous worlds, from the misty horror of Ravenloft, to the exotic bazaars of Al-Qadim, and across the burning face of Dark Sun. Now the endless horizons of Planescape beckon to us, and beyond even that we see spear points and banners waving above the gathering armies of Birthright. And, of course, presiding over it all is the grand and legendary Forgotten Realms. Products change, but our goal stay the same: to publish things that make fantasy gamers exclaim, "thatís just what I was looking for!" And we do it for the same reason that you play: because itís fun!"

Along with manufacturing games TSR is also known to publish a lot of novels that take place in some of the campaign settings. Some of the most popular are the novels by the author Robert A. Salvatore. These are mainly books set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. Most of these are about one of the most legendary heroes in the realms, namely the dark elf Drizzt DoíUrden. Drizzt is a royal prince in the capital of the dark elves, Menzoberranzan, but he forsakes his people and their evil ways and emerged on the surface of the world. There he eventually found friends, and since fought for justice in the northern realms.

But while R. A. Salvatore wrote his stories to fit the Forgotten Realms campaign, two other people wrote a series of novels, and thereby created a new campaign setting. It is, alongside Forgotten Realms (FR), among the most loved of the campaign settings for AD&D. But in an altogether different manner. While Forgotten Realms is a setting where you play and then see what happens, this other setting has a very strict storyline up until the time when the campaigns begins. Therefore in FR you need not specify exactly when in the storyline you place your campaign, but in this other you have no choices. All campaigns take place right after the story of the novels. The authors of the best-selling novels are Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and their novels, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night and Dragons of Spring Dawning, created the Dragonlance SAGA.

But what is all this role-playing talk about anyway? What exactly is it and what makes it so appealing to hordes of players all over the world? Here comes a brief explenation of role-playing: The Real Basics!

What comes here is actually the exactly same thing as in the 2nd Edition Player's Handbook's first chapter! The Real Basics!

Games come in a wide assortment of types: board games, card games, word games, picture games, miniature games. Even within these categories are subcategories. Board games, for example, can be divided into path games, real estate games, military simulation games, abstract strategy games, mystery games, and a host of others.
Still, in all this mass of games, role-playing games are unique. They form a category all their own that doesnít overlap any other category.
For that reason, role-playing games are hard to describe. Comparisons donít work because there isnít anything similar to compare them to. At least, not without stretching you imagination well beyond its normal, everyday extension.
But then, stretching your imagination is what role-playing is all about. So letís try an analogy.
Imagine that you are playing a simple board game, called Snakes and Ladders. Your goal is to get from the bottom to the top of the board before all the other players. Along the way are traps that can send you sliding back toward your starting position. There are also ladders that can let you jump ahead, closer to the finish space. So far, itís pretty simple and pretty standard.
Now letís change a few things. Instead of a flat, featureless board with a path winding from side to side, letís have a maze. You are standing at the entrance, and you know that thereís an exit somewhere, but you donít know where. You have to find it.
Instead of snakes and ladders, weíll put in hidden doors and secret passages. Donít roll a die to see how far you move; you can move as far as you want. Move down the corridor to the intersection. You can turn right, or left, or go straight ahead, or go back the way you came. Or, as long as youíre here, you can look for a hidden door. If you find one, it will open into another stretch of corridor. That corridor might take you straight to the exit or lead you into a blind alley. The only way to find out is to step in and start walking.
Of course, given enough time, eventually youíll find the exit. To keep the game interesting, letís put some other things in the maze with you. Nasty things. Things like vampire bats and hobgoblins and zombies and ogres. Of course, weíll give you a sword and a shield, so if you meet one of these things you can defend yourself. You do know how to use a sword, donít you?
And there are other players in the maze as well. They have swords and shields, too. How do you suppose another player would react if you chance to meet? He might attack, but he might also offer to team up. After all, even an ogre might think twice about attacking two people carrying sharp swords and stout shields.
Finally, letís put the board somewhere you can't see it. Letís give it to one of the players and make that player the referee. Instead of looking at the board, you listen to the referee as he describes what you can see from your position on the board. You tell the referee what you want to do and he moves your piece accordingly. As the referee describes your surroundings, try to picture them mentally. Close your eyes and construct the walls of the maze around yourself. Imagine the hobgoblin as the referee describes it whooping and gamboling down the corridor toward you. Now imagine how you would react in that situation and tell the referee what you are going to do.
We have just constructed a simple role-playing game. It is not a sophisticated game, but it has the essential element that makes a role-playing game: The player is placed in the midst of an unknown or dangerous situation created by a referee and must work his way through it.
This is the heart of role-playing. The player adopts the role of a character and then guides that character through an adventure. The player makes decisions, interacts with other characters and players, and, essentially, "pretends" to be his character during the course of the game. That doesnít mean that the player must jump up and down, dash around, and act like his character. It means that whenever the character is called on to do something or make a decision, the player pretends that he is in that situation and chooses an appropriate course of action. Physically, the players and referee should be seated comfortably around a table with the referee at the head. Players need plenty of room for papers, pencil, dice, rule books, drinks, and snacks. The referee needs extra space for his maps, dice, rule books, and assorted notes.


To help anyone with hints and the like, TSR publishes a monthly magazine called Dragon Magazine. Dragon contains information about role-playing in general and AD&D in particular. It covers both official and unofficial expansions to the game as well as new spells, new races and they review books that seem appropriate to the staff. Books that are appropriate are either of one of the regular authors or it is a fantasy novel. Dragon also reviews all the novels published by TSR. Even though this may seem suspicious it work rather well, and, though no TSR novel ever gets an extremely low character, the Dragon staff is pretty objective in their reviews. For anyone into AD&D a Dragon Magazine subscription is a must. The Dragon Magazine is for players, dungeon masters and fantasy interested people in general. But TSR also publishes a magazine especially for Dungeon Masters. This one is called Dungeon Adventures and contains a lot of new stuff for the DM, and a lot of adventure modules created by both the TSR staff, the Dungeon staff and subscribers who have contributed a module. This magazine is absolutely recommended for Dungeon Masters, but DMs should not allow their players to read them. There is too much inside information in them.