Jeff Grubb released an article yesterday on his reasons for leaving TSR. As you of course know, Jeff Grubb has worked extensively on the Marvel Super Heroes RPG, Spelljammer campaign setting for D&D, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and a slew of other projects from Warcraft novels to Heroclix sets.
The article really grabbed my interest though, partly because anything about the history of the hobby appeals to me, but more because of the mention of Mystara. Mystara, the Known World of the D&D game boxed sets, was the my home away from home as a child. I would spend hours reading about that world, and cross checking information about it. Then many more hours writing adventures there and running them for my friends. In fact I still do every Tuesday night on Roll20.net
You can read the article Mr. Grubb posted on Grubb Street, here;
It wasn’t surprising to see that the transition of Mystara from Frank Mentzer’s classic boxed sets and the gazzeteers under the supervision of Bruce Heard over to a new format for AD&D 2nd edition was a disaster. I have ranted many times about how the 2nd edition products were the death throes for the world of Mystara. They took possibly the most in depth and complex world in their product line and reduced it to audio disc adventure learning tools for First Quest players. It was a disgrace.
And before you go on saying “Forgotten Realms is more detailed and complex than Mystara” as many do… Consider this quote from Jeff Grubbs article
“Unlike the Realms, which had empty space where Ed hadn’t any stories/games in (Sembia, for example), there [Mystara] was a very complete world to start with here [and] I wanted to embrace the complexity.”
There is a joke about Boxed Sets – “How much does it cost to produce Boxed Sets? More than what you make on them.” (I didn’t say it was a funny joke). But I believe the financial crisis that the company faced shortly afterwards was not only the result of too many boxed sets, but a growing tendency to make bad decisions about what was good for the hobby and what was good for the fans of the product lines. Every time I read an article like this by one of the great game designers and their past with that company, I am more convinced that they drove the company into the ground with complete foresight of what was happening. The products became cheaper, the art was being re-used over and over, and the product lines and teams working on them became smaller and smaller.
I am glad the hobby survived through the 90’s and the rise of video game systems that were becoming ever more advanced. Today we see a thriving community of Retro-gamers bringing back the old school feel, as well as many companies taking new concepts and turning them into amazing new game systems. And we have even seen the phoenix-like rebirth of Dungeons & Dragons, first through the Open Game License of 3rd edition, then on to the massive multiplayer
onli appeal of 4th edition. And now with the 5th edition of the game they have learned from the community that less is more, and a return to the roots of the game was in order.
The hobby has certainly had it’s ups and downs, but with so many games out there now, digital products, diceroller apps for phones, virtual online game tables, youtube, twitch, podcasts, and even professional quality television shows like Titansgrave, Critical Role, and Harmon’s Quest… It truly is a GREAT TIME TO BE A GAMER!