by Bruce Heard
(Once upon a time)...I went to spend my summer vacation with my father, in the beautiful and exotic Midwestern USA. After the unavoidable family visits and the endless days of biking along the country roads and the huge cornfields so common to the region, I decided to raid the local hobby shop. I was into building plastic models at the time, but instead an elegant box with the painting of a diving Messerschmitt caught my attention. I was told that this was a complicated game, not a model airplane. I nodded politely, walked away to the next aisle and then crept on back, still intrigued. Hiding amidst the shadows of the looming boxes, I crouched in a corner of the narrow and deserted aisle. I peeked inside the mysterious box. How fascinating! Sheets of cardboard counters, mounted mapboards with cryptic symbols, dice, rules printed in tiny characters vaunting their warmongering attributes. In the dimness of the shop's inner sanctum, the light finally came to me. Forget the glue! Forget the paint! From then on, I'd be rolling six-sided dice!
Several years of feverish wargaming later, I had accumulated a nice collection of games from Avalon Hill. I later moved from Nice, France, where I was born and raised, to Paris, where I began looking for a gaming club. I ended up sitting at a table with other gamers. Well, they had dice and some neat-looking miniatures of warriors. Oddly enough, though, there was no gameboard. Just greasy sandwich wraps, bags of potato chips, and lots of books. I was informed that no one there ran armies and massacred entire nations. No, they preferred blood and guts on a more personal level. How odd, I thought. They control only one soldier each? Why not? So I tried this bizarre game. Soon, I was beheading and eviscerating orcs with glee and casting magic like wild man. From then on, I'd be rolling fistfuls of bizarre polyhedral dice!
One of the players, the DM in fact, happened to be the editor-in-chief of the French gaming magazine Cassus Belli. A year later, I met with him again, showing him a portfolio of various topics I had developed for the game. He thought this was all interesting and pointed at a few which he thought could be published in the magazine. So, I became a writer, throwing dice with one hand and typing with the other. Many moons later, the editor-in-chief called me about doing some translation work..."and oh, by the way, is your passport current?" Soon I found myself on an airplane, flying back to the USA. TSR had hired me. From then on, I'd be translating D&D into French!
I arrived in beautiful and exotic Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in February 1983. I remember the details vaguely, except that it was COLD! There wasn't really much to do there besides ice-fishing and playing D&D. A year later, it was decided that French distributors would be taking care of their own translations. The mighty company also nearly went out of business, and by 1984 it had melted from 350 employees to about 75. I was laid off, but fortunately came across a couple of contracts. While "unemployed," I wrote the Tree of Life and Into the Maelstrom back to back. At the time, the rules used for Tree of Life (the Companion Set) were being edited, while those for Into the Maelstrom were still being written (the Masters Set). I was soon rehired to take over TSR's game acquisitions. From then on, I'd be hiring the services of D&D writers!
There was one problem with handling acquisitions for TSR: none of the AD&D products at the time were written out-of-house. Most of the work farmed out to contributors consisted of Basic D&D adventures and Star Frontiers. I had been a fan of AD&D, so the topic that came closest was Basic D&D. In time, I developed a taste for D&D and all its subsequent boxed releases. It didn't take long before I had become sort of an authority on the topic, since few people left at TSR had any interest at all in the Grand Game's little brother. Then came a time when TSR needed product managers for the various product lines. I inherited D&D on top of running games acquisitions. Soon, the Gazetteer series was born and became the envy of many people. The Gazetteers were important since they effectively put Mystara "on the map." I wrote a couple: The Principalities of Glantri and The Orcs of Thar.
Running a product line like Mystara is no easy task. It's not so much working on the product itself (the fun part), but all the other pitfalls such as selling the product to the company's management, dealing with marketing issues, dodging budgeting bullets, solving production and pricing snags, competing with much bigger players on the field, tiptoeing around company politics, flattering corporate egos where flattering was required (after failing devious conspiring), arguing with the graphics folks on how to lay out the product, fighting endless battles with other managers about who gets what cover artist or illustrator, pitching in with the folks in the mapping department to fix a useless or incomplete mapsheet, monitoring authors living sometimes on the other side of the planet, and finally jumping through flaming hoops to persuade Accounting's dragons to let go of some gold and pay the bills. From then on, I'd be running wild with a Super-Soaker gun!
Eventually, TSR ran into its own dragons when much of its market shrank. Product lines started dying out. As a result, TSR had to restructure many of its product lines, and it was finally decided to shift Mystara over to the AD&D sphere. This just wasn't the same Mystara, and I decided to follow a different path. I took charge of planning production (still on top of running game acquisitions). There were plenty of fires to put out in that area which kept me and my Super-Soaker cannon very busy. I still kept in touch with (old-style) Mystara through a magazine series devoted to the Princess Ark, a flying ship travelling the world of Mystara. The series lasted three years in Dragon magazine, up until the magazine folks decided they would no longer provide full-time support for Mystara.
A few years later, it was time for me to move on. The fair kingdom had fallen before its evil dragons. Wizards stepped in and recovered what could be salvaged, enslaved many of TSR's little elves and took them away to their dim, rainy kingdom, far, far away beyond the mountains. The Wizards extended their invitation to me, but the spell was undone. With a baby on the way and my wife's own successful career here in beautiful Midwest USA, I made my saving throw and politely declined. Life goes on. For many, Mystara will never truly be dead. And I shall forever remain a gamer at heart!
Copyright 1999, Bruce Heard. All rights reserved. Used by permission.