Saturday, February 23, 2013

TSR documentary

So, I'm back.

Which is ironic, since I'm about to go away (on a trip, to a Tolkien conference), though at least I shd be on line for the duration.

The recent lack of posts has been due to my being on deadline, drafting my plenary paper for the upcoming Valparaiso conference. And no sooner had I gotten the draft done (me, early for a deadline; there was much rejoicing at the early Dance of Doneness) than I had a review due (or a little past due). That now being off as well, barring any requested revisions, it's high time I started dealing with the backlog of blog topics I've been wanting to get to.

First and foremost there's this documentary of TSR, filmed back in 1997, which has been making the rounds online lately. It's great fun seeing familiar faces from my co-workers--in some cases with more hair and less grey--back in the Lake Geneva days, this having been filmed in the final days of TSR as an independent company (just before the buyout by Wizards of the Coast and the move from Wisconsin to Renton).

Here's the link:

Particularly impressive are the bits from Gygax: this is the best interview I've seen, heard, or read of his, esp. where he's straightforwardly discussing his and Arneson's respective contributions to the game. Gygax had a tendency from the mid-80s onward to engage in revisionist history,* but not here. Good for him, and good for them for getting it down and preserving it. It captures him at his most outgoing, good-humored, and appealing self.

Since they don't identify who most of the TSR employees shown in the film are, thought I'd name-check a few. Those who were identified include Lorraine Williams (owner and boss), plus group leaders Steve Winter, Harold Johnson, and Thomas Reid.  We see Bill Slavicsek running an ALTERNITY game for Rich Baker (who co-created that game with Bill), Dale Donovan, Michele Carter, Dave Eckleberry, and Sean Reynolds. We also see the DUNGEON boardgame being run with great gusto by Jeff Grubb for a trio which includes Dori Watry, Dawn Murin, and I think Bruce Nesmith. We don't actually see anyone playing D&D, oddly enough, aside from Bill Conners running a demo at GenCon.

We see artists (Diesel, Todd, I think Rob, and esp. Jeff Easley), who they keep coming back to (it being more visually appealing to show artists painting than to show writers writing or, God knows, editors editing). I suspect this is why the piece is short on editors: I didn't see Anne or Andrea or Sue or Julia or Keith or Miranda or Stan. Some of those I'd love to see are absent for another reason: like me, they'd been let go in the Great Christmas Layoff of December 1996, just before this was filmed. Some of us were hired back as soon as WotC bought the company that summer; others who'd survived the lay-off decided not to make the move out to Seattle. So for both its virtues (it handles the Egbert flap with even-handed dispatch) and vices (they keep showing video from that horrible DRAGONSTRIKE game, and its even worse never-released sequel WILDSPACE), it serves as a neat little time capsule of a lost world.*

I guess nostalgia is all about remembering the good parts version of events and not the other side (which wd make a great story all on its own). If there's time, I'll have to swing by the old 221 Sheridan Springs Road when I'm in the area week after next.

--John R.
current reading: FROST by Donald Wandrei, and THE COMPLETE CALVIN AND HOBBES TREASURY by Bill Watterson, Vol. III

*e.g., when he claimed Tolkien had no influence on DandD

**including the little bit of footage from GenCon, and the (since discarded) TSR Castle dominating the Dealer's Room/Exhibit Hall in MECCA (since destroyed by Milwaukee and replaced by a newer conference center with less room, a prime factor in GenCon's leaving Milwaukee altogether)

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