How Gary Gygax lost control over D&D and TSR

Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World, tells the gripping tale of how Gary Gygax lost control over TSR and Dungeons and Dragons, ousted by his business partners after a series of miscalculations and mistakes.

It's a rare peek into the story of how the RPG bubble inflated and burst, leaving mystified nerds in its wake (I remember being on the other side of this, trying to figure out what happened to my beloved hobby). If this kind of thing excites you, be sure to read Of Dice and Men, David Ewalt's likewise excellent history of the game.

It was of course preposterous for a majority shareholder to suggest their own resignation, but Gygax found the room coldly receptive to this course of action. The presence of the Blumes worried him. He turned to the Board Secretary, Willard Martens, to ask if his personal stake relative to the other shareholders had changed recently. At first, Martens replied only that Lorraine Williams had exercised her option for 50 shares in TSR. Williams had joined the company in April as Vice President of Administration; her options alone could not endanger Gygax’s majority.

“Have there been any other changes?” Gygax further inquired.

Martens only then volunteered, “Brian Blume exercised his option for seven hundred shares.”

Realization set in. Gary Gygax said simply, “I see.”

What did Gygax see, in that moment? He saw enough shares in play that he stood to lose control of TSR, a company he had founded and transformed into a global brand. But he surely also saw something even more dear at stake: that he might lose control of Dungeons & Dragons.

The Ambush at Sheridan Springs [Jon Peterson/Medium]