22 June–6 July 2021: The TSR Controversy

Classic Call of Cthulhu | Art by Gene Day

The past two weeks have been dominated by one subject: the new TSR and all the controversies surrounding it. In this issue, we’ll try to summarise everything that’s been going on. We also get a few glimpses at upcoming film & TV projects and some classic gaming Kickstarters.

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TSR

In our last issue, we spoke about the “revival” of TSR — a misnomer that turned out to be bigger news than we expected. The new company, founded by Justin LaNasa, Ernie Gygax, & Stephen E. Dinehart, has quickly become the centre of controversy.

The three TSRs

Firstly, since there are too many TSRs in this story, we need some naming conventions (borrowed from EN World).

The first company called TSR (we’ll call TSR1), was founded by D&D co-creator Gary Gygax and Don Kaye in 1973 and was the original publisher of Dungeons & Dragons.

The second TSR (TSR2/Solarian Games), was formed by Jayson Elliot, with Gary Gygax’s sons, Luke & Ernie Gygax. Both junior Gygaxes would leave TSR2 a few years later in the middle of a legal battle between TSR2 and Gail Gygax, Gary’s widow, their step-mother. (One of oh-so-many legal battles involving one of the TSRs: the history of Dungeons & Dragons is a courtroom drama.)

And now we have the third TSR (TSR3), formed by Ernie Gygax, LaNasa and Dinehart, when TSR2 let their trademark lapse. The company announced Giantlands, a new fantasy game and (apparently) theme park, and a reboot of the Star Frontiers game (though TSR3 apparently does not own the copyright to the original game — only the trademark).

Controversy & Outrage

Then Ernie Gygax appeared in an interview in which he made several problematic statements, including racist comments about Native Americans, mocking concepts of gender identity, and generally disparaging “modern trends” in roleplaying.

Outrage was quick to follow, and TSR3 doubled down on a number of statements. One particularly grotesque tweet from their Giantlands account called a transgender woman “disgusting” when she called for them to affirm transgender identities. There were also stories of some very fishy business practices involved.

Numerous companies & individuals began to distance themselves from TSR3. TSR2 made the decision to change its name to Solarian Games, having originally planned to license the TSR name from TSR3. Luke Gygax condemned TSR3’s statements and confirmed that he has no involvement with the company.

Gaming convention, Gen Con confirmed that they did not support TSR3’s statements and that the company would have no involvement with the convention. TSR3 claimed they were being “banned from a con [they] started”. As Shannon Appelcline points out, they didn’t start it. Even TSR1 did not start Gen Con, they only owned it for a time.

Naturally, the outrage brought a wave of support from the GamerGater community, and a number of articles and vlogs claiming that TSR3 is being cancelled by a woke mob because……… well, those thinkpieces tend not to specify precisely why the outrage happened. At one point, Ernie Gygax even blamed the outrage on a coordinated attack by Wizards of the Coast. (The notion that Wizards of the Coast, which is so many orders of magnitude larger than TSR3, would bother, is, of course, laughable.)

So, here we are at the end of two weeks of controversy. Whether that was the intention or not, bigoted comments from TSR3 have skyrocketed it to prominence. It has made some attempts to walk back some of its nastiness (including supposedly hiring a new Public Relations Officer whose surname was not specified in a tweet now deleted). But it certainly seems to have built itself a base of support from people who had no problem with that nastiness.

Near the beginning of this controversy, James & I had a disagreement.

It is important, I said, to shout down bigotry, because you have to make sure that bigots know they aren’t welcome, and that the people they target know that you will make space for them. But when you do that, James said, to people who, by and large, won’t be taken seriously, you make their views seem more prominent, more significant, more important than they actually are. You amplify their voice.

At the end of all of these two weeks, I honestly think we were both right. If anything ever materialises from TSR3’s new products (and I have my doubts that we’ll see much), there will be a sizeable audience for it, and the outrage will be partly responsible for building it. And hell, there’s a deeper danger in the way that this kind of response can be used to radicalise people.

But the TSR comments weren’t in isolation — they fit into a wider culture that is often unwelcoming for marginalised players. The TSR comments, fundamentally, hurt.

I think it’s important that we state, and state again, and again, and again, that bigotry will not be welcome at our table. Even if that means more people go over to sit at theirs. — Amy

Also, did we mention that one of the founders of TSR3 is a Republican candidate who ended up in a scandal because he once advertised his tattoo shop by making two female employees compete for a promotion by wrestling each other in grits? This whole story is exhausting, I’m tired, just let me sleep. — Amy

Industry News

Flying Buffalo, publishers of Tunnels & Trolls, and the oldest existing RPG publisher, is being sold.

Cubicle 7 announces that it will cease to publish the Lone Wolf RPG, and is running an end of line sale

Teen Vogue (?!) looks at the D&D renaissance, while the BBC looks at gaming in lockdown.

Paizo hires Mike Webb as VP of Sales & eCommerce.

RPG History

Age of Ravens continues its history of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs.

New & Upcoming

Critical Role gives us the first look at the character art for Legend of Vox Machina.

An upcoming Vampire: The Masquerade—Werewolf: The Apocalypse crossover comic will feature a playable campaign.

Onyx Path releases Trails of Ash & Bone for Vampire: The Masquerade.

Wizards of the Coast released the Magic: The Gathering Forgotten Realms set. In conjunction, the company is releasing a 5-part adventure series set in the Forgotten Realms.

Modiphius releases Anomalies for Star Trek Adventures.

WizKids announces D&D drawing game, Dungeon Scrawlers.

Modiphius releases Dune: Adventures in the Imperium.

Benedict Cumberbatch is rumoured to have joined the Dungeons & Dragons film, and we get a few new pictures from the Dungeons & Dragons film.

Roll20 adds a free deck of safety tool cards to the platform.

I’ve seen a lot of praise for this saying that Roll20 has added safety tools to the platform, and I expected something native to the UI. Really, it’s added a free deck of cards to the marketplace, which can be used as safety tools in games. It’s nice, but honestly, I was disappointed after the hype. — Amy

Modiphius announces Waves Stained Crimson and Conan The Exiles for the Conan RPG.

Bundles & Deals

Humble Bundle is offering a bundle of Kobold Press books, a bundle of Yellow King RPG books, and two bundles of Flying Buffalo books.

Crowdfunding

Noteworthy New Projects

Dungeons of Drakkenheim: A 5e campaign based on the Dungeon Dudes livestream, by Dungeon Dudes. So far this project has raised $648,000 from 6,000 backers. Ends July 31st

Another kitchen sink project complete with plushies. This project’s success is almost certainly due to the popularity of the Dungeon Dudes’ YouTube channel. The setting sounds very similar to Games Workshop’s Mordheim to me, right down to the name, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. — James

Call of Cthulhu Classic: A boxed set of classic Call of Cthulhu products, by Chaosium, Inc (Horror on the Orient Express: Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium, Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection Board Game). So far this project has raised $293,000 from 2,600 backers. Ends July 25th

Not bad for a bunch of old reprints! To be fair on Chaosium, these a remastered versions rather than simply scans of the original — the quality of their RuneQuest Classic reprints a few years ago was quite high. I have to say I’m a bit of a sucker for the simple design of Chaosium in the early 80s, although I already own a lot of this so I can’t see myself backing the project.

The project itself looks set to enjoy as many backers as the 7th edition did back in 2013. Compared to, say, D&D, Call of Cthulhu has barely changed in 40 years and the materials in this campaign require very little adaptation to bring them in line with the new edition. — James

DCC Dying Earth: A box set of the Dying Earth setting for Dungeon Crawl Classics, by Goodman Games (Crypt of the Devil Lich for DCC RPG and 5th Edition, DCC Lankhmar, Mutant Crawl Classics RPG). So far this project has raised $210,000 from 2,100 backers. Ends July 22nd

This is the second licensed Dying Earth RPG since Pelgrane’s critically acclaimed version in 2001. Jack Vance’s books are of course credited as having had a major influence on D&D in its earliest incarnation and are listed in the Appendix N of “inspirational and educational reading” found at the back of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide. It was pretty inevitable that Goodman would scoop up this license to add to its growing range including Lankhmar, another license that has been picked up by multiple publishers over the years. — James

Rifts® for Savage Worlds: Atlantis Rising: A sourcebook for the Rifts for Savage Worlds system, by Shane Hensley/Pinnacle Entertainment (Pathfinder for Savage Worlds, Deadlands: the Weird West, Savage Worlds Adventure Edition). So far this project has raised $123,000 from 1,600 backers. Ends July 7th

Dungeon Craft Series Three: A collection of jungle-themed terrain tiles, by 1985 Games (Dungeon Craft: Build your own battle maps!, Dungeon Notes). So far this project has raised $133,000 from 1,000 backers. Ends July 24th

Hyperborea 3E: The third edition of the sword-and-sorcery RPG, by Jeffrey Talanian/North Wind Adventures (Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Hyperborea: Beasts and Cannibals, Hyperborea: Players’ Manual, Referee’s Screen, and more!). So far this project has raised $113,000 from 1,000 backers. Ends August 1st

Hyperborea is one of those retro games which hasn’t made huge ripples but which, from a retail perspective, we can rely on to quickly sell out whenever we restock it. The way its successive editions have increased in popularity certainly suggest a game with a growing fanbase.

The new edition doesn’t seem like a massive departure from its predecessor, the biggest difference appearing to be splitting the (absolutely huge) book in two. — James

Alkander’s Almanac of All Things: A modular set of 5e rules for combat, exploration, and social encounters, by The Dungeon Coach. So far this project has raised $77,000 from 1,000 backers. Ends August 1st.

Closing Soon

Worlds of Web DM: Weird Wastelands is a 5e supplement for playing in places affected by magical forces. So far this project has raised $276,000 from 3,700 backers. Ends July 12th

Den of Assassins 5e is a supplement for assassin sub-classes and NPCs. So far this project has raised $22,000 from 1,100 backers. Ends July 7th

5e

SideQuests 5: A collection of short adventures for 5e, by Dominic M. (SideQuests, SideQuests: Tip-Top Taverns for DND, Pathfinder, and RPGs, SideQuests: Queen Of The Evernight — An Adventure For 5E DnD) — July 11th

Architects of the Deep: Kingdom of Death: A dungeon crawl campaign that takes place after the player characters are dead, by Dren Productions Games (Architects of the Deep: Book of Notices) — July 13th

Spells of the Ages: Archmagic For D&D 5th Edition: A collection of spells, magic-focused rules, and a new wizard school, for 5e, and a new wizard school, by Morrus / EN Publishing — July 13th

Assassin Adventures: Quests for D&D 5E: A collection of 10 assassin-themed adventures, by Laura MCL (Treasure Hunts: Quests for 5E) — July 18th

The Wondrous Tome of Wands (5E): A collection of magical wands for 5E, by T.A. Gray — July 22nd

S5E: Superheroic Roleplaying for 5th Edition: A superhero RPG based on 5e, by Sigil Entertainment Group (Mausolea Playing Cards, The Savage Sign, Dungeon Delve) — July 24th

Capes & Crooks: A superhero RPG based on 5e, by Justin Handlin (Memorable Monsters: A 5th Edition Guide to Monsters and NPCs) — July 30th

We haven’t seen any 5e superhero games for a while, and suddenly two show up at once! — James

Cursed Captains of Cthulhu: A pirates-meets-Cthulhu setting for 5e, by Black Cats Gaming (The Spy Game: 5th Edition Action/Espionage Roleplaying Game) — July 30th

Incantations: A collection of story-focused spells, by Metal Weave Games — July 31st

Heroes of Tara Player’s Guide: A 5e adaptation based on Irish mythology, by Jacob Duerksen — August 2nd

OSR & Retro

Back to BasiX Fanzine Hardcover Compilation — Issues 1-10: A compilation of issues from the B/X Fanzine, by Thom Wilson (Merchants and Markets, an RPG Supplement, Gamma Zine, The Lost Depths of the Ageless) — July 9th

Book of Lost Lore & Book of Lost Beasts: Two books with optional rules for old-school RPGs, by BRW Games, LLC (Adventures Dark and Deep™ A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore, Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary) — August 1st

Other & Generic Fantasy

Floria: The Verdant Way: An English translation of a Japanese indie RPG, set in a magical forest, by Silver Vine Publishing (Summon Skate — an Indie Japanese RPG Translation Project) — July 6th

Not The End Roleplaying Game: An English translation of the Italian RPG of heroes risking everything, by Fumble GDR — July 8th

ZOE Presents: Ultimate Dungeon Showdown: A card and roleplaying game about competitive dungeoneering, by Zombie Orpheus (The Gamers, JourneyQuest, Strowlers: Three New Stories) — July 10th

Sci-Fi/Cyberpunk

Lawman: A bounty-hunting, sci-fi Western RPG, by Joe Martin — July 15th

Pulp & Adventure

Tide Breaker RPG: A cinematic RPG featuring collaborative worldbuilding, by Nick Butler — July 22nd

Accessories

Realm Fables: Diaries of Dungeon Design: A tool for generating fantasy dungeons, by Jay Merritt (Realm Fables: TTRPG World Generator & Preformed Settings) — July 29th

This update was made possible by Keenan Collett, and the rest of our Patreon supporters.

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