It was a dream of Peter Adkison's (and many of the Walla Walla D&D players) to some day work for TSR and contribute to the game we loved. Wasn't that every young but serious gamer's dream? The Walla Walla gamers were young and serious, but we thought we were just dreaming.
When Peter's dreams shifted to starting his own game company, his motivation was, as he once told me, that he had a filing cabinet full of great gaming material, and he had a circle of friends with filing cabinets of their own, so together there simply had to be some way to make a living doing what we loved. Taking our hobby professional just seemed like the right next step in growing up.
In the early poor-but-not-desperate days (before the teetering-on-the-edge-of-bankruptcy days to follow), when we fantasized about where we wanted Wizards of the Coast to go, what we wanted it to become, we started out with the short-term goal of breaking even - maybe even becoming barely profitable! - but when we really stretched our imagination we imagined doing work that would make our heroes at TSR proud. We wanted to be like them - maybe even as good as them someday.
In those days, when the office was the basement of Cathy and Peter's house, we were tiny and spending more than we brought in (which for a long time until we got our first product to market was nothing). The idea of actually becoming bigger than TSR and buying them was sheer fantasy back then - but even then we dreamed of it. Most D&D fans who go into the gaming business must have at least imagined it from time to time, but when you're wondering if you're ever going to finish your first book and whether anyone will like it, it's hard to take your own dreams seriously.
We would say "Maybe someday we'll even become big enough to buy TSR," and we would laugh it off to show we weren't serious. But we were. We did take our dreams seriously. We were embarrassed and ashamed and afraid to admit even to ourselves that we were seriously dreaming that big about something we couldn't do when we were having trouble doing even the little things, but it didn't matter. We worked like crazy and kept on dreaming.
Meanwhile, hardly anyone liked the direction TSR's business owners were going with the company. Peter certainly did not. When Gary Gygax left TSR it was unthinkably shocking to those of us who grew up with D&D, but then things got worse. We were afraid the management would run it into the ground, which they then did. When TSR got itself stuck - unable to pay bills to get products printed that would have earned the money to pay those bills - many of us were frustrated and outraged. Peter wanted to rescue D&D and ensure it could never be imprisoned again.
Another time I'll tell the story of how the TSR purchase actually came about, but for now let's cut to the chase about why it happened.
This is the part in today's post where I must switch pronouns. Although I remained close to Wizards until shortly after the Hasbro purchase, about the time they shifted from the basement to their first office building I became a bit more outsider than insider, so Wizards must become a them rather than an us in my little narrative. You'll see this shift a lot over the posts ahead, I'm sure.
When Magic: The Gathering became such an unexpected hit, it made Wizards of the Coast successful enough to save D&D. Of course Peter bought TSR and rescued D&D - any D&D fan in a position to do so would have done so. There were plenty of tactical and strategic details that made it a good move for this company at this time to buy that company, but those are merely the things that allowed Peter to do what he wanted to do anyway, what most role-players want to do - to be the hero and do the right thing, to save the object of his affections from clear and present danger.
So there was half of Peter's dream for D&D accomplished, to rescue it. The other half - to make it immune to future danger - required figuring out a way to keep it rescued, and that took more thought and work. The Open Gaming License (OGL) was the direct result of that search.
The OGL was not designed to screw the gaming industry nor to lead to the domination of Wizards of the Coast and the d20 system. Wizards hoped it would be good for the company and that edition of the rules, but that's not why they did those things - that's only why as a business they were allowed to do those things. The core motivation predated even the existence of Wizards of the Coast, let alone d20 - the love of a gamer for his game and the desire to protect it forever.
And that's one of the reasons why I'll always think of the first (pre-Hasbro) Wizards of the Coast as a success, because it let us fulfill one of our most cherished dreams for our industry. If you ever bought Magic cards, you too helped save Dungeons and Dragons forever.
At work I am the executive director of the VISTA Expertise Network, a Paideia instructor, and a VISTA hardhat.
At home I am a student of philosophy and morality, a role-playing gamer, an avid hiker, a Rock Band enthusiast, a husband, and an uncle.