Thursday, January 10, 2013

D&D Players Abandoned!

What is wrong with this picture?

So, while looking for items in Dragon Magazine about the rise of Magic: The Gathering, I stumbled upon this picture in an advertisement in issue #200.

As a Greyhawk fan, I find this almost heretical. What were the folks at TSR thinking, taking the artwork of the 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set and slapping Mystara over it? Mystara fans weren't too happy either. In fact, about this time TSR decided to make Mystara into an AD&D setting.

I'd forgotten about this, since I'd never really played "basic" D&D. I bought the D&D Rule Cyclopedia in the late 1990s. I've got a lot of the old school modules (B1, B2, etc.) and a few modules for the Thunder Rift mini-campaign setting. So at the time this flew over my head.

I mean, I had my Greyhawk Campaign setting to run. The Greyhawk: From the Ashes boxed set gave me plenty of material to use, along with The Marklands and Iuz the Evil. I couldn't wait for the day I could run my players through The City of Skulls. Also, looking back, Dragon published an article about Greyhawk: From the Ashes in issue #195. Furthermore, Rick Swan gave the boxed set four stars in issue #198.

So why should I have been concerned about what was happening to Mystara?

Oh yeah... because TSR just axed Greyhawk!

And, in a certain sense, Mystara kind of replacing it... Sort of. Maybe?

Believe it or not, TSR had some logic behind these changes.
Kim Mohan, chief editor of Dragon at the time,  whom I believe responded to the letter on the left, went into far more detail than what I could feasibly post here.

As you see, Greyhawk sales had sagged. Spelljammer's too.

Furthermore, TSR had "revamped" its product lines to cater to novice gamers. The D&D line had been dropped. Mystara boosted into AD&D, and the Introduction to AD&D boxed set was supposed to be the gateway for new players. Dragonstrike!, believe or not, was also a part of this strategy.

"When players become familiar with the fundamentals of the AD&D game," Mohan wrote, "they can move on to the FORGOTTEN REALMS(R) and PLANESCAPE(tm) or other settings."

I'm not going to try to rationalize TSR's business model and strategies. Suffice to say it astounds me how quick they were to invest in these campaign settings and then drop them. The D&D Rules Cyclopedia had just been published in 1991. TSR publish lots of background material and modules for Mystara and the Hollow World inside it. Mystara lasted only a year as an AD&D world.

Back to my original research about the rise of Magic: The Gathering and Wizards of the Coast. Save for Spellfire, I've yet to find evidence of TSR's reaction to Magic: The Gathering in Dragon Magazine. But somewhere a long the way I remember reading an article about being a good Dungeon Master. Basically, the author warned that if you aren't a good DM, you will drive your players to play that "new card game everybody is taking about." But I've yet to find it.

It makes me wonder if Wizard of the Coast's rise had some influence on these decisions, or was TSR just too busy cannibalizing itself to notice? I don't know. I haven't even found any advertisements for M:tG in the several issues before and after #200.

Next time, I'll share my experiences with Magic: The Gathering in high school and early college.

Until then, feel free to share your insights (or criticisms) into the inner workings of TSR....


  1. See this as sort of an odd thing for me.

    When Mystara moved to AD&D, I had already moved my long running "Known World" D&D game to AD&D and Greyhawk. By 1986 I had merged the two worlds into one.

    By the time TSR started canceling worlds was the time I was looking to other games.

  2. So you were already years ahead of the curve.

    How did the merger work?

    Could you travel from say, Karmeikos to the City of Greyhawk? Or was it more of just a kitchen sink of ideas?

  3. We simply took the planar approach. Using Forgotten Realms (Faerun) as the staging world, we ran adventures or supernatural encounters that 'gated' players into other worlds (Greyhawk, Krynn, Ravenloft, Judges Guild's world). I started playing in 1980. TSR was basically inventing the market as they went. Thus, they had no niche to slip in to and work from. They were explorers. And, dumb decisions aside, they did a fair job in uncharted seas.

    1. With all things considered, I believe you're right. TSR did do a fair job. If they hadn't they would have probably gone bankrupt much sooner.

      Hindsight being 20/20 and all that.


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