1994: TSR v. GDW

My pre-Austin vacation was nearing its halfway point by this idiotic court appearance I had to make. I still have no idea why I was dragged in as a witness for the lawsuit. I was a rather insignificant person who didn’t contribute anything to either side’s case. Maybe Lester or Steve can come forward and tell me more about their experience. I don’t recall either of them being called up by TSR to testify.

Let me rewind the historical tape to put my post into its proper context.

In 1991, GDW pissed away its newfound reserves of cash to publish Gary Gygax’s so-called comeback game. Yet another Fantasy roleplaying game the world didn’t really need when there was (or is) D&D, RoleMaster, Fantasy GURPS, Fantasy HERO, Runequest and Tunnels & Trolls (those would be the heavy hitters). GDW’s president, Frank Chadwick, mistakenly thought Gary’s name still carried legitimacy in gaming after being irrelevant since 1985.

The game was called Mythus and it would be the beginning of multi-genre system covering Sci-Fi, Horror, so on. Not sure how Frank reconciled this in his head since Gary was bringing aboard material to compete with GDW’s Traveller and Dark Conspiracy. My personal guess remains Frank just seeing the dollar signs. Much like Gary, he hadn’t really played games anymore, Frank was too busy being a inept publisher who was taking advice from a drunkard.

Mythus was off to a terrible start from day one. For a game that Gary claimed had five years of development behind it, Mythus was clunky, very complicated and filled with inconsistencies. Gary’s word choices were awful too. Easy examples involved what everybody else would call in their games…wizards or mages. Not in Mythus, they were dweomercræfters, complete with the pretentious æ character. I imagine all the obvious jokes were going around, “Hey, my dweomer broke and thankfully, there was a Dweomercræfters in the mall. They fixed me up with a new one at a reasonable price. All within an hour!” In short, Gary only had a GED and he wrote like a high-school dropout trying to overcompensate with an arcane vocabulary. Lester would defend raw Gary writing by saying (until he left for TSR), “that’s his style.” My rebuttal was, “ignorance is not style!”

Eventually TSR hit GDW with a cease and desist in the Spring of 1992 as Mythus‘ release neared. Their argument? Gary’s work was derived from stuff he left behind when he was ousted in the Eighties, ergo, GDW was publishing work Gary had not right to. It’s a stretch because nobody has a copyright on Fantasy or the historical references Gary’s campaign world used. Frank whipped up a frenzy of “us v. them” and how this game may have TSR scared. In the Nineties, TSR had a bad reputation amongst the gamer community too. A common joke said TSR stood for They Sue Regularly, a reference to TSR’s ongoing lawsuit against Mayfair’s D&D supplements.

Fast forward a year and then some. Mythus flopped at Gen Con 1992. TSR didn’t have to do anything. White Wolf did the dirty work through their hatchet-job review to distribute at the Con. Plus GDW didn’t do itself any favors with how cheap the books looked. All the partners providing minis, video games, etc. bailed shortly after the convention.

Advance to 1993. GDW continued to bleed money. Someone got laid off every quarter to keep the lights on. Then I got pulled back into this mess for a deposition sometime in the Fall. DG had to give me the day off to be questioned by the lawyers for both sides. Frank was there to intimidate me. The only regret I have from the day was not really speaking my mind, good ol’ esprit d’escalier, the story of my life! Twenty years ago, I just wanted it to all go away. Have nothing to do with this aspect of gaming ever again.

No dice. TSR and GDW couldn’t come to an agreement, Frank’s intransigence mostly, so it went to court in Peoria. I got hit with a subpoena to show up. By then I didn’t care. I would be in Austin within a week. If TSR wanted to drag me into this crap any more, it was going to be expensive. I was exhausted from packing what I was shipping to Austin the week before and too stoked about my drive to Chicago the next day.

I saw Gary in the lobby. He was civil and his usual two-faced self; when I was his editor he tried to have someone else installed into the gig. I actually got to meet the alleged villainess of the saga, Lorraine Williams, the owner of TSR and the person who threw Gary out. She was pretty friendly given the circumstances of our encounter. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned how people are filled with gray shades, they’re not necessarily solid black or white.

When I got called to the stand, it was a blur. All I remember was the judge being snotty to me, demanding I answering clearly “yes” or “no” to the lawyers’ questions. No idea what I was asked. The whole experience lasted about 10 minutes and I was free to go.

Obviously, my participation made no difference. Steve Bryant called me during the Summer of 1994 to say the parties reached a settlement. TSR bought all the junk outright, alleviating GDW from any further losses. A complete waste of money and energy in my opinion.

There are different theories which may continue to float around yet it doesn’t matter anymore. GDW shut down in 1996, TSR was acquired by WOTC in 1997, Gary died in 2008 and nobody reminisces fondly about Mythus.

I was too excited about having my last blowout in Chicago with friends before resettling in Austin.

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