TSR – New Doesn’t Mean Better, or Good

Hell Inc Staff Picture - Brent JansBy now you have likely heard about Ernie Gygax and others raising TSR from the dead. I have some thoughts on this, and if you think you know what they are based on my white skin and long beard, well, brace for disappointment.

When all I had were the bare details, that TSR was coming back to publish TTRPGs, I was moderately interested. I didn’t know who was involved yet so I had some vague ideas that a newly resurrected TSR could bring back some older games that were strong in concept but hampered by the early hobby’s mechanics and execution. They could find new life with updated mechanics and inclusive writing, finding a new audience for these classic games. This was a beautiful ten minutes of dreams and speculation.

Then I dug just a smidge deeper into who was involved and…hoo boy. Never mind, that will teach me to hope and dream.

The link I used above takes you to EN World’s selections from a full video in which Ernie Gygax is interviewed about a number of topics, including the new TSR. If you don’t want to watch the entire video (and while I did there is no reason you have to suffer) the excerpts, along with links to related articles, give you enough sense of what’s going on in Ernie’s head. And it ain’t good.

Most indie TTRPG publishers I know make games because they love them. They are inspired to put in the work in order to bring something they love into the world. When asked “Why a new TSR?” Ernie had this to say:

TSR has been gone. There’s a ton of artists and game designers and people that play….. and recently they were dissed for being old-fashioned, possibly anti modern trends, and enforcing, or even having the concepts of gender identity (laughs).”

Nothing about loving games or any talk of underlying design ideas or a direction for the company overall. Nope, it appears the new TSR will be a safe haven for all of Ernie’s (well, his father’s, really) old pals, folks who couldn’t adapt to an increasingly inclusive TTRPG space. I mean, thank goodness there will finally be a safe space for all those white grognards in the hobby! [/sarcasm]

Sadly, none of this surprises me. This isn’t the first time Ernie has tried to raise something from TSR’s past. Some folks may remember the extremely short lived (six issue) Gygax magazine, an attempt to cash in on the nostalgia around the old TSR Dragon Magazine. I have the first five issues of it tucked away in the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games collection; I’ll get the final issue when collector’s have stopped inflating the price. But a quick comparison between the contributor list for those Gygax issues and the folks Ernie is bringing on for this new venture is almost a perfect overlap. And Gygax featured a whole lot of “yikes!” as far as bad actors in our hobby go. It seems Ernie has learned nothing since Gygax crashed like a space ship in the Barrier Peaks.

Add to this the fact that Ernie has talked about Kickstarting initial projects despite having a…let’s call it “poor” reputation on that platform (a game that is five years late will do that for you). Also add the fact that he is being cagey about how exactly a new TSR is going to work, since there is an existing TSR in play, which he and his brother Luke supposedly burned bridges with over a Top Secret release. Frankly, I don’t see this new project lasting much longer than Gygax did, especially since Ernie himself envisions it being supported by a large cadre of volunteers to get the work done. Which is an amazingly ignorant attitude given the ongoing conversation around equitable pay in the TTRPG space.

All in all, this looks like the business version of a “fantasy heartbreaker” which will be noted only for whatever damage it does in its death throes. I hope that damage is minimal. So far the only folks I see truly excited by this are the gatekeepers and grognards I and many others have curated out of our spaces, so hopefully there won’t be too much splashover.

And I think that is a bit of a shame. That with so much Ernie could have chosen to do, he settled for this. This could have been a great opportunity, with the right people on board, to use the notable TSR name to revive excellent older games. Instead we’re going to get a bunch of the same-old, same-old from designers who manage to shamble along on outdated personal operating systems.

What bugs me the most is the attention something like this will take away from Indie TTRPG creators who could actually benefit from that attention. So here is my call to action. When you see a Tweet about this new TSR, or Ernie Gygax, or anyone involved, take a moment to do one or more of the following:

  • Tweet about an Indie TTRPG designer, writer, artist you love
  • Retweet some tweets of the above, especially if they are about new projects or link to their work
  • Go to their Itch or DriveThruRPG page and rate their games (five stars only, else the algorithm punishes them)
  • write a tweet thread or a blog post (if you’re a dinosaur like me) about your favourite Indie TTRPG person or projects.
  • If you can, and the person has one, through a few bucks into a creator’s Ko-fi

Not a complete list, but you get the idea. Consider this the social media version of, “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.” Let’s make this the TTRPG Way.


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