JUDGES GUILD HISTORY - Comments and Critique Needed
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Post Posted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 9:03 pm 
 

Hello:

Here is a history of Judges Guild that I have written for publication.  I have not attempted a full description of the company's publishing history because this text is intended to support a publication limited to OD&D products.  

My emphasis has not been to eulogize Judges Guild but to describe what was unique and important about the company.  Still, my own opinion about Judges Guild has leaked in...which is not necessarily a bad thing.

My deadline is a few days away.  I am sure there are factual details as well as small text errors that need correction.  I can see that my formatting from WORD has not translated to the Acaeum forum formatting in a number of instances, so there are italics missing and things like that.  These things can be fixed.

If you would take a few moments to read this over and make (helpful) comments, I would appreciate your assistance.  Time is limited, so whatever you have to say, say it now.

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   Judges Guild began in 1975 as the idea of gamers Bob Bledsaw and Bill  Owen of Decatur, Ilinois.  Both of them were wargamers who had written board games together and discovered Dungeons and Dragons at about the same time.  Another friend, Marc Summerlot, was involved in the early discussions about forming a company but he chose not to participate. Bledsaw and Owen combined their funds to open the company.  (Later, Summerlot was to appear as a writer for two classic Judges Guild publications, Citadel of Fire and Thieves Fortress of Badabaskor.).

    The key to Judges Guild's early success was a license from TSR to publish game materials bearing the Dungeons and Dragons name.  Accounts about the provisions of this license vary, but it was in place by August of 1976, when the partners brought their first product to GenCon in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  At the time, the Dungeons and Dragons game was quickly growing in popularity but there were very few published modules.  The game rules were also very rough and gamers were interested in expansions and playing aids that would show them how to play the game.

Gary Gygax, the founder of TSR, later said that he was against granting the license because, "there was no quality control."  Gygax (who was recollecting events 30 years in the past) may have been mistaken, since delays in getting TSR approval for some products later caused problems for Judges Guild.  Concerns by TSR over royalties for the Dungeons and Dragons name was the cause for continued negotiations between the two companies.

    Judges Guild debuted at GenCon  IX, August 20-22. 1976.  The first official Judges Guild product was a large map of the City State of the Invincible Overlord, which became the center of one of the most detailed game worlds ever published.  The first maps were sold out of the trunk of Bill Owen's car because the company did not rent a table in the vendor's area until the convention's second day.  The city map was printed on heavy vellum paper and cost $5.  Owen and Bledsaw sold out most of their inventory and the company was launched.
   
    Judges Guild's approach to RPG publications varied strongly from that of TSR and other companies.  The most significant variation was the idea of a gaming subscription service.  Bledsaw and Owen decided to build their company around the City State of the Invincible Overlord and the Wilderlands of High Adventure campaign setting.  Their idea was to build up details about the setting, and bring in new customers who would be attracted to the campaign.  Subscribers would receive regular installments, including game aids, modules and maps that would gradually expand into a fully-realized game world.  In effect, subscribers would become guild members and share in the growth of both the company and the Wilderlands setting.

    The subscription service was a success, at least during the company's first years.  It lasted for 15 installments, confusingly labeled I (for "initial") through W.  The concept of Judges Guild as a mail order service with a monthly publication proved too large a task for the small company.  These installments included the first appearance of several modules that were to become both classics and collector's items.  The early installments came with booklets that included rules variations and play aids.  They remain highly popular among collectors.

    The other large difference between Judges Guild and TSR was in the subject matter of their modules.  The first published module was Dave Arneson's Temple of the Frog, which appeared as part of TSR's Blackmoor supplement.  Like other early modules, Temple of the Frog focused on an indoor "dungeon" setting where fantasy archetype characters essentially explored caves.  

    Although TSR had published booklets named for the Greyhawk and Blackmoor settings, large-scale campaign settings were still years in the future.  Gygax's city of Greyhawk existed mostly in theory, with his campaign growing up around the dungeons of Castle Greyhawk.  Although much of the Greyhawk setting has since seen publication, in 1976 it was still invisible to gamers.  The classic TSR module, Tomb of Horrors, for instance,  was located somewhere in the midst of the Great Swamp.  Gamers outside of Gary Gygax's personal campaign could only guess where and what the Great Swamp might be.  It didn't really matter, since the focus of the adventure was on crawling through the tomb complex.  Blackmoor itself would not really reach the hands of gamers until it was published by Judges Guild as The First Fantasy Campaign..  When it finally appeared in print, Blackmoor would have a map connecting it to the larger Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign world.


   Built around a city map, the Wilderlands of High Adventure setting grew organically in a different direction.  Judges Guild adventures certainly included dungeons, but the early modules explored new themes such as fantasy cities, a haunted house, inside of a cloud, a wizard's tower and deep mines.  Because these early modules were placed in the Wilderlands campaign world, the dangerous lands around them were also detailed.  An extensive set of large-scale hex maps to depict the Wilderlands was supported by a series of publications detailing what adventurers would find in each hex.  Various regions of the game world became the focus of modules, rather than a single dungeon within those regions.  

    The logic of the Wilderlands setting also demanded new types of publications.  Judges Guild printed books of smaller-scale maps so judges (the word Judges Guild used to describe what TSR called a dungeon master) could fill in details in their own games.  These books were not "adventure modules" so much as the first real "game aids."  Castle Book 1, with maps of castles drawn on hex paper, was followed by books depicting more castles, villages, temples, ruins, caverns and islands.  The existence of islands and oceans demanded details about ships and sea travel.  The names of towns and regions demanded details about who lived there and why they needed killing.  Judges Guild also published collections of shorter adventures based on treasure maps, one of which includes arguably their best visualized Dungeons and Dragons scenario, The Lone Tower..

    The originality of the Judges Guild approach can also be seen in its central character, the City State of the Invincible Overlord.  This city began as a map drawn by Bledsaw for his home-brew Dungeons and Dragons campaign, set in Tolkien's Middle Earth.  (The first known copy of the map even has notes in the margin describing it as an unidentified city in Middle Earth.)  The map required a description, which became a booklet.  The overlord had to have domains to rule and money to spend.  The unfortunately named Glory Hole Dwarven Mine was located just outside the city.  The tunnels and sewers beneath the city were described in Wraith Overlord.   Modron, a town at the mouth of the Roglaroon Estuary, was the overlord's main port.  A sea monster, under the overlord's control, guarded the entrance to the estuary, which was detailed in an underwater adventure as part of the Modron publication. The overlord also had to have enemies to fight, which spawned further publications detailing rival city states, pirates, amazons and other cultures.

    Although these subjects became common fodder for most game companies of the next four decades, they were incredibly innovative in 1976.  All of this creative burst grew from the basic idea of a city map as the starting point for a game world.   The result was a series of gaming publications that continue to see re-prints and new editions into the current decade, crossing all of the editions and incarnations of Dungeons and Dragons.

   Judges Guild also differed from other companies in their view of how a game publication should be used.  From the start, the central concept was that modules, maps and other materials were meant to be used up and worn out by gamers.   For instance, map sets for the Wilderlands setting came in two versions.  There was a judges map which showed all the landscape of a region or buildings of a city.  With this came a players' map which was largely blank, with only coastlines or other known landmarks detailed.  The assumption was that players would finish these maps for themselves by drawing in the landscape or noting city sites as they discovered them.

    This concept was carried over into modules, where space was provided for judges to write in their own ideas below the printed text.  While descriptive text could be colorful and interesting, it was often kept to a minimum.   So, for instance, a shop in the city of Verbosh is described as a bakery run by a hobbit with flaming red hair.  The hobbit is so bad at baking that his cookies can be used as +1 sling stones.  But he's not actually a hobbit.  He's a red dragon who is pursuing his passionate baking hobby with little success.  The game master is not told what the dragon will do next, or what will happen if his identity is discovered.  These details are left to the judge to decide.

    This approach has caused many to criticize Judges Guild for lack of quality.  In many cases this is true.  There is a fine line between leaving room for creativity and hurrying a product into print without real effort and solid writing.  For instance, one infamous Judges Guild publication notes that a secret door leads to a dungeon dominated by a lich.  The author writes that he has not included the dungeon in the module because he has not had time to play-test it!  This gradual reduction in quality, including recycled art or even public domain clip art, became a larger problem as time passed.  

    Some production quality issues crept into Judges Guild products as time passed.  Some of these were sins of omission, such as missing text and poor quality art.  Some were production gaffes, including a run of Book of Treasure Maps which had its front cover sliced off at the top at a crazy angle…but was shipped to distributors anyway.  Some of these problems were the result of a loss of printing expertise when co-founder Bill Owen left the company in late 1977.  Others were cost-saving measures that seem less forgivable to gamers from later eras.

    Critics of Judges Guild quality should keep in mind the game industry standards of the 1970's.  Spare descriptions were the norm for many classic publications.  Fans produced game supplements of widely varying quality, most of it incredibly bad by later standards.  Some of those "monster hotels" are highly valued by collectors but were almost useless as game products.  Only TSR really kept and grew a professional publishing ethic that came to be the industry norm.  Some of the later TSR modules even included text meant to be read aloud by dungeon masters.  Whether you consider this text a great innovation or tedious and moronic has more to say about the era of gaming when you first entered the hobby than it does about the products themselves.

   Finally, Judges Guild products stand out from other game companies in their overall feel.  They are light-hearted and often overtly humorous.  Two entrepreneurs run a store selling buckets of "greater demon destroying dirt."  They are actually thieves digging into a nearby bank vault from their basement.  Hulking amazons can't help posing in partially unbuttoned fur bikinis.  A beautiful elven florist is the secret girlfriend of the highly jealous town wizard.  Visitors to the City State of the Invincible Overlord can pay to take a boat ride through the Park of Obscene Statues.  Player characters might meet NPC's like the dwarf, Gutboy Barrelhouse, the merchant Talc Umpowder, or the "Halfling heroes" Rudi and Bosco.  Saintly ghosts manifest to give the players advice or help them with artifacts.  An ancient elven kingdom hides its treasure in a secret and highly guarded vault, and then leaves clues to help adventurers find it.  Even the most evil bad guys are slightly funny or off-kilter in ways that make them worth killing.

    Judges Guild had a way of dealing with grim subjects in an inoffensive manner.  Demons and devils appeared as flawed character actors.  Gods like Dorak, God of Peace allied themselves with gods like Dacron, God of Craftsmen against Mungo, God of Nightmares and Phread the Sightless, God of Unseeing.  For sure, Judges Guild products also dealt with topics like human sacrifice, torture and rape, but the villains were the ones perpetrating these crimes, depicted in simple, cartoon illustrations that tended to defuse the subjects.  There were really no great moral questions that could not be solved with fireball spells.

   This sort of humor would go out of style in Dungeons and Dragons, but it catches the feeling of the early game as it was first played.  The soap opera romance and grim dread of the Dragonlance modules was unknown in the 1970's.  Puns and literary jokes would have been lost on later gamers, who tended to be younger and younger as the golden era progressed.  (Those were the gamers who tended to like blocks of text to read aloud.)  There are fashions in gaming just like any other activity.  After a decade or three, Judges Guild came back into style just like any other consumer product.

   The first incarnation of Judges Guild came to a slow, painful end in 1982, when the RPG market hit an economic wall.  The first generation of gamers went off to college and stopped buying books.  Judges Guild no longer enjoyed a license from TSR to use the Dungeons and Dragons name and had to resort to the fiction of a "universal" game system.  When distributors and game stores went out of business still owing money to Judges Guild, the company was forced to move out of its offices and stop publishing.  Literally tons of Judges Guild products were stranded in boxes stored in warehouses, container cars and garages.  Judges Guild was not alone.  It was a decade that would see many game companies go under.  Even Gary Gygax was forced out of TSR.  The golden era was over.

    Many of the names associated with Judges Guild went on in the gaming industry.  Judges Guild's best writer, Paul Jaquays, continued to work in the print and electronic game fields as an artist and designer.  Artist Kevin Siembieda, whose early style became the distinctive look of Judges Guild products, founded Palladium Games, which was active in the industry for another two decades.  Writers like Rudy Kraft, Dave Arneson and Dave Petrowsky went on to work with other companies and projects.  Other writers, such as Marc Summerlot, Scott Fulton, Geoff O'Dale and Paul Elkhorne were active in recreating the Judges Guild magic with new editions of Judges Guild products in the D20 Open Gaming Licencse boom of 2001 to 2008.

    Judges Guild has reappeared in various forms since 1982.  In 1999 the company surfaced online with Bob Bledsaw announcing the rebirth of the company through the internet.  Very little actually got done, but classic Judges Guild products have appeared for new iterations of Dungeons and Dragons.  These publications have been popular with gamers who remember the golden age.  Some of them, including Necromancer Games versions of City State of the Invincible Overlord and Wilderlands of High Fantasy, have become new classics.  Companies that have produced or re-produced materials based on Judges Guild products include Necromancer Games, Eostros Games, Goodman Games, Gamescience, RPG Realms and Adventure Games Publishing.

   Bob Bledsaw died in 2008, during a short span of time that also saw the passing of fellow game legends Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and J. Eric Holmes.  Bledsaw was mourned by the entire RPG community and eulogized by Bill Owen in a published history of Judges Guild which includes many personal recollections and anecdotes about his friend.  As of this writing, Judges Guild remains active under the direction of Bledsaw's son, Bob Jr.   Although new print projects for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition have been proposed and announced, none of them have actually gone to press.  Judges Guild products remain available through electronic gaming books industry and as sought-after collector's items.  As long as there are RPG gamers and publishers, it seems likely that Judges Guild products will continue to appear.


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Post Posted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 9:12 pm 
 

>    Judges Guild began in 1975

(1976)

Will have a look through tomorrow time-permitting, thank you. Bad timing, unfortunately.

At a casual glance there are probably some additional products that are also noteworthy; for one obvious example the Judges Shield which started as Bill Owen's private project pre-JG, and after JG publication led pretty much to adoption of the (formalised) concept by all RPGs via TSR.


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Post Posted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 9:36 pm 
 

Great work!

Perhaps mention the titles Caverns of Thracia and Dark Tower? As they are perennial JG favorites. You mention PJ as being the best JG writer, but not what he wrote.

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Post Posted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 9:40 pm 
 

Zenopus wrote:Great work!

Perhaps mention the titles Caverns of Thracia and Dark Tower? As they are perennial JG favorites. You mention PJ as being the best JG writer, but not what he wrote.


This will be covered in the individual product description.  I don't actually know if Dark Tower or Caverns of Thracia will be described, although The Book of Treasure Maps appears to make the grade, and that is one of the best examples of Jaquays' work.

The descriptions are limited to OD&D publications....with AD&D excluded.


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Post Posted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 9:45 pm 
 

aside: 1975 date quote for JG from http://necromancergames.yuku.com/topic/8212 is incorrect, of course, if that was the source...

>     The originality of the Judges Guild approach can also be seen in its central character, the City State of the Invincible Overlord.  This city began as a map drawn by Bledsaw for his home-brew Dungeons and Dragons campaign, set in Tolkien's Middle Earth.  (The first known copy of the map even has notes in the margin describing it as an unidentified city in Middle Earth.)

I'm unsure how to word this best, but that's potentially confusing given the not-entirely-clear history?

Bob's home campaign started in Middle Earth but CSIO (or at least the big map version of that, if there's a few months still to account for?) was not actually positioned "in" Middle Earth for their gameplay (before the big map was drawn?) but through the "gate", as far as is known. Marc Summerlott's input would've been useful on that...
According to Bill, he never played a single game in the City State because he was too busy with the business of Judges Guild which makes that December 1975- early 1976 timeframe a bit confusing, sorry, vs. http://www.acaeum.com/jg/HistoryJudgesGuild.html which appears to state that he did and Marc didn't.


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Post Posted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 9:51 pm 
 

FormCritic wrote:The descriptions are limited to OD&D publications....with AD&D excluded.

A bit of a pain that Dark Tower is the only non-TSR "top 30" (:?) module on the "list", in that case. Caverns of Thracia was originally an AD&D project, too.


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Post Posted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 10:08 pm 
 

faro wrote:aside: 1975 date quote for JG from http://necromancergames.yuku.com/topic/8212 is incorrect, of course, if that was the source...

>     The originality of the Judges Guild approach can also be seen in its central character, the City State of the Invincible Overlord.  This city began as a map drawn by Bledsaw for his home-brew Dungeons and Dragons campaign, set in Tolkien's Middle Earth.  (The first known copy of the map even has notes in the margin describing it as an unidentified city in Middle Earth.)

I'm unsure how to word this best, but that's potentially confusing given the not-entirely-clear history?

Bob's home campaign started in Middle Earth but CSIO (or at least the big map version of that, if there's a few months still to account for?) was not actually positioned "in" Middle Earth for their gameplay (before the big map was drawn?) but through the "gate", as far as is known. Marc Summerlott's input would've been useful on that...
According to Bill, he never played a single game in the City State because he was too busy with the business of Judges Guild which makes that December 1975- early 1976 timeframe a bit confusing, sorry, vs. http://www.acaeum.com/jg/HistoryJudgesGuild.html which appears to state that he did and Marc didn't.


The notes in the original map margin tend to indicate that Bob created it for his Middle Earth campaign and then changed it into the City State of the Invicible Overlord.

The 1975 date assumes that the start of the company was a discussion among friends in December of that year, as cited by the Acaeum Judges Guild History.


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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 12:44 am 
 

FormCritic wrote:
The notes in the original map margin tend to indicate that Bob created it for his Middle Earth campaign and then changed it into the City State of the Invicible Overlord.

The 1975 date assumes that the start of the company was a discussion among friends in December of that year, as cited by the Acaeum Judges Guild History.


I will read over the whole text shortly but suffice to say that 7/4/1976 was the official start of our partnership... Bob & I shook on it then. No written partnership agreement. I cannot remember why Marc did not participate in the partnership but if pressed think it was about family commitments. The idea of game publishing partnership first started and quickly ended prior to 1976 with the failure of Martian America.

It's possible that Bob & I puzzled about starting a (D&D) play aids publishing company earlier than 1976 but I doubt it. After all, we were playing D&D since the late summer (after Gen Con) 1974. So we had about 15 months of constant playing plus tinkering with rule variants.

I do remember that we had to see what we might indeed publish. Re-arranged charts, tac cards, maps and denizens' descriptions had to be put on paper. I think that it was mostly done in the first half of 1976.

Bob presented the CSIO map in late spring and that was the first I saw of it. I never knew it as being part of his campaign. All of first several issues was new. Only later did it occur to us to use pre-existing material!

Once JG started I never played fantasy role playing again and had an 80-hour-week job as the publisher (doing various jobs) and Bob strained mightily as the primary author.


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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 1:43 am 
 

Thank you for responding, Bill.

One area that I think lacks detail is the licensing agreement between Judges Guild and TSR:

1)  What/when did Judges Guild pay TSR?

2)  What were the provisions and restrictions?

3)  Did you have to go through certain procedures with TSR?  (Prior comments and stray information seems to indicate there was an approval procedure you had to go through with TSR.)

4)  Do you know anything about the end of the license?  Other than financial, what reasons might TSR have had for ending the license?

This write-up is limited in scope.  What I am trying to do is not so much tell the entire story as summarize Judges Guild's place in RPG publishing history.  The license was a big part of that.


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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 2:02 am 
 

Hi FC,

You're welcome... check your email for an attachment re addition recollections & a few corrections.

The verbal license agreement obtained in the spring of 1976 (I think) from a visit to TSR meeting with Arneson and involved no payment, no approval and no mention of D&D name or approval.

The use of the D&D name & saying it was "approved for use with D&D" (their idea!) was inked after several months of negotiations from September to November (approximately) that arose with a call from Dave Megarry saying they needed to be paid a royalty. I think it was paid on monthly sales and I really cannot remember the amount but I think it was between 5-10%. One might be able to infer this from my own post-ownership royalty process (because I think I was paid net of the TSR royalty which I'd guess was the 10%) so I will look at that file when I take the dogs down to go night-night.

I do not remember any provisions. We sent a copy of the product to them and I cannot remember that we had hardly any feedback or changes required! Since they were an 800-pound gorilla and we were sort of unruly pixies by comparison, you'd think I'd have memories of whenever they stomped on our tails (like the call from Megarry where I remember even now what exactly what I said back to him). But I was only there for about 15 months of that contract. Perhaps Bob started getting hassled over the approval after I was gone.

I don't remember Bob saying anything specific about why TSR stopped it. I cannot really say as to "why" but perhaps at some point they ramped up competitive products and felt that we were "splitting the herd".

You did a nice job on the article. It was interesting to see what you thought was remarkable ...because we just did what seemed natural to us!

FormCritic wrote:Thank you for responding, Bill.

One area that I think lacks detail is the licensing agreement between Judges Guild and TSR:

1)  What/when did Judges Guild pay TSR?

2)  What were the provisions and restrictions?

3)  Did you have to go through certain procedures with TSR?  (Prior comments and stray information seems to indicate there was an approval procedure you had to go through with TSR.)

4)  Do you know anything about the end of the license?  Other than financial, what reasons might TSR have had for ending the license?

This write-up is limited in scope.  What I am trying to do is not so much tell the entire story as summarize Judges Guild's place in RPG publishing history.  The license was a big part of that.


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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 2:46 am 
 

I found the folder and have not noted any % amount for the TSR royalty.

I have found details of misc. items:

I found tiny notebook pages where I billed JG for the travel agency phone calls to TSR about the royalty discussions (I was working during the day as travel agent still until the end of 1976) for 7 phones calls between 9/4/76 to 11/6/76... and finally an entry that says Milwaukee Lawyer Phone $4.81 and that must be when we achieved agreement because the notebook pages show no more calls to anyone and I reimbursed the agency for a month of other charges through 12/20/76.

Bob never talked to TSR then. However Bob & I would heatedly discuss what the latest demand (including mailed letters) of the TSR lawyer "meant". Bob was loathe to hire our own lawyer (which I wanted to do) so sort chewed on this project with all the satisfaction that sweetened styrofoam would provide! :)

FYI, at first Gen Con '76 I spent $22 on hotel stay with my buddy Mark Whitehead who came along because I was so exhausted I was afraid of driving off the road (probably at travel agent discount!) $16 on gas, $14 meals, $32.50 on TSR Supplements (!), $4 on something called FB Levels (?) and $2.50 on Zocchi presstype.

There is nothing in my partnership folder about the 19 of the 20.5 months of our partnership! So jump ahead 19 months later...

I sent out notice of dissolution of our partnership April 7 stating that March 31 was the last date of partnership. However Royalty, Dissolution & Employment Contracts were not signed until May 1.

My Employment Contract was mainly so Bob could avoid having to pay so much for my share of the stock and value of the partnership. But I took it seriously enough and produced studies of product sales rates and when to kill off "dogs". I don't remember them acting on this so I sort of lost my ardor to continue.

I felt my input was valuable because I knew a LOT about the business worked but now stood outside of the craziness and thus able to be more objective than before. I just wanted Bob to thrive. But I got the feeling he did not want to kill off the dogs and may have continued to put money into printing items that were selling too slowly. (And this at a time of high interest rates.)

Perhaps some of the minutia of sales rates for various products and my recommendations might be of interest to collectors now.

I also found the royalty contract for Treasury of Archaic Names (my last product) signed by Bob 7/30/81 which was later than I remembered.


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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 3:00 am 
 

Bill Owen wrote:Perhaps some of the minutia of sales rates for various products and my recommendations might be of interest to collectors now.

I also found the royalty contract for Treasury of Archaic Names (my last product) signed by Bob 7/30/81 which was later than I remembered.


Indeed they would be of interest.

And people would pay money for the documents themselves!  8O


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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 7:14 pm 
 

FormCritic wrote:Writers like Rudy Kraft, Dave Arneson and Dave Petrowsky went on to work with other companies and projects.  Other writers, such as Marc Summerlot, Scott Fulton, Geoff O'Dale and Paul Elkhorne were active in recreating the Judges Guild magic with new editions of Judges Guild products in the D20 Open Gaming Licencse boom of 2001 to 2008.


Geoffrey O. Dale is the pseudonym of Paul Elkmann (note spelling).

  

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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 7:19 pm 
 

FormCritic wrote:As of this writing, Judges Guild remains active under the direction of Bledsaw's son, Bob Jr.   Although new print projects for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition have been proposed and announced, none of them have actually gone to press.


To the contrary, Bob Jr. stated that he would not subject his IP to the licensing requirements for 4th edition.  New product which has been proposed and where bits and pieces, such as covers have been previewed are slated for the JG Universal System.

  

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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 8:10 pm 
 

Tegel Manor was proposed as a 4th Edition project...not by Bob Jr.  That was before the 4th Edition license was even announced.


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Last edited by FormCritic on Sun Aug 29, 2010 8:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  

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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 8:12 pm 
 

leadjunkie wrote:
Geoffrey O. Dale is the pseudonym of Paul Elkmann (note spelling).


I knew Elkhorne had to be wrong, but that does solve the mystery of who Geoffrey O'Dale is.

I have seen both versions of the name in use:  O. Dale and O'Dale.  The first is the version that appears on old Judges Guild projects.


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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 10:12 pm 
 

FormCritic wrote:
I knew Elkhorne had to be wrong, but that does solve the mystery of who Geoffrey O'Dale is.

I have seen both versions of the name in use:  O. Dale and O'Dale.  The first is the version that appears on old Judges Guild projects.


Surely either O. Dale or O'Dale are versions (typographical differences) of Paul Elkmann's pen name.

See here (4th heading):

http://www.spellbookgames.com/about.html

  

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Post Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 10:18 pm 
 

FormCritic wrote:Tegel Manor was proposed as a 4th Edition project...not by Bob Jr.  That was before the 4th Edition license was even announced.


Tegel Manor was nearly completed by Gabor Lux (Melan), save maps for 3.5.  There was some talk by Clark Peterson (Orcus) of Necromancer Games of putting it in a box set with 1" battle grid maps.  The license agreement with JG expired while all Necromancer games products went on hold in expectation of 4e.  Clark had an inside track to this knowledge with WotC executives.  As a regular on the Necromancer Forums, I have no recollection of Tegel being proposed as a 4e product other than idol speculation.

  

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Post Posted: Tue Aug 31, 2010 1:37 am 
 

The official version is Geoffrey O. Dale, not O'Dale.  My graphics partner, Art Devil, keeps putting that O'Dale onto things because that's the way it sounds to him, and I have to keep lashing him over it.  You'd think by age 22 he'd be trainable that way, but nooooo.

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Post Posted: Sat Sep 18, 2010 1:37 pm 
 

Here is a mostly-finalized version of the Judges Guild history.  I am completing my work on the larger portion of this product over this weekend.  Some changes suggested by Bill Owen, and others, have been incorporated.  Your comments are still welcome:

_____________________________________________________________

    Judges Guild began in 1976 as the idea of gamers Bob Bledsaw and Bill Owen of Decatur, Illinois.  Both of them were wargamers who enjoyed writing variants of published board game.  They even briefly considered publishing their own game, Martian America.  They discovered Dungeons and Dragons together at GenCon in 1974.  Another friend, Marc Summerlot, was involved in the early discussions about forming a company but he chose not to participate. Bledsaw and Owen combined their funds to open the company.  (Later, Summerlot was to appear as a writer for two classic Judges Guild publications, Citadel of Fire and Thieves Fortress of Badabaskor.).

    The key to Judges Guild's early success was a license from TSR to publish game materials bearing the Dungeons and Dragons name.  The license was in place by August of 1976, when the partners brought their first product to GenCon in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  In its earliest form, the license was a verbal agreement with TSR allowing Judges Guild to rework charts and use terminology and statistics from the Dungeons and Dragons system.  The first Judges Guild products did not bear the Dungeons and Dragons logo.  According to Owen, it was TSR's own idea to add the logo.  This occurred sometime in late 1976 or early 1977.  Judges Guild printed red labels with the logo and attached them to items already in print.  Products with the red labels are now specially prized collector's items.

    Accounts about the provisions the license between TSR and Judges Guild vary.  All products had to be approved by TSR before they could be published.  This was the basis of the standard language on Judges Guild products of "APPROVED FOR USE WITH DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS."  Concerns by TSR over royalties for the Dungeons and Dragons name was the cause for continued negotiations between the two companies.  According to Owen, the two companies eventually settled upon TSR receiving 5-10% of Judges Guild's profits on all Dungeons and Dragons products.  The exact percentage is unknown.

    Gary Gygax, the founder of TSR, later said that he was against granting the license because, "there was no quality control.  Gygax, who was recollecting events 30 years in the past and he was not directly involved in working with the Judges Guild license.  Owen does not recall any direct conversations with Gygax about the license.  According to Owen, TSR seldom required changes and often returned products for publication without comment.  Delays in getting TSR approval for some products later caused problems for Judges Guild.

    The informal nature of Judges Guild's license with TSR was typical of the early years of the role-playing hobby.  At the time, the Dungeons and Dragons game was quickly growing in popularity but there were very few published modules.  The game rules were also very rough and gamers were interested in expansions and playing aids that would show them how to play the game.  A number of companies published for game systems, or used intellectual properties owned by other companies based on verbal agreements.  Judges Guild was no real threat to TSR and their products filled a useful market niche.  "Judges Guild was the underdog to TSR," wrote Owen, looking back four decades later, "with the attitude of a bad-tempered hobby ogre."

    Judges Guild debuted at GenCon IX, August 20-22. 1976.  The first official Judges Guild product was a large map of the City State of the Invincible Overlord, which became the center of one of the most detailed game worlds ever published.  The city map was printed on heavy vellum paper and cost $5.  The map was sold as a first installment in an annual subscription service.  The first maps were sold out of the trunk of Bill Owen's car because Judges Guild did not rent a space in the convention's vendor area.  On the second day, Owen and Bledsaw set up a card table and posted the giant City State map behind them on the wall in the vendor's area.  ("The convention staff never asked for anything," said Owen.)  The two entrepreneurs sold out most of their inventory, breaking even in one afternoon of sales.  Judges Guild was launched.
   
    Judges Guild's approach to RPG publications varied strongly from that of TSR and other companies.  The most significant variation was the idea of a gaming subscription service.  Bledsaw and Owen decided to build their company around the City State of the Invincible Overlord and the Wilderlands of High Adventure  campaign setting.  Their idea was to build up details about the setting, and bring in new customers who would be attracted to the campaign.  Subscribers would receive regular installments, including game aids, modules and maps that would gradually expand into a fully-realized game world.  In effect, subscribers would become guild members and share in the growth of both the company and the Wilderlands setting.  Subscribers would also have the opportunity to send in game settings and rule ideas and see them published.

    The subscription service was a success.  It lasted for 26 installments, confusingly labeled I (for "initial") through W and then numbered 15 through 25.  The first installment in the Judges Guild subscription service was the map to the City State of the Invincible Overlord, sold at GenCon IX in 1976.  The last installment was Castle Book II, published in 1980.  These installments included the first appearance of several modules that were to become both classics and collector's items.  The early installments came with booklets that included rules variations and play aids.  They remain highly popular among collectors.

    Another large difference between Judges Guild and TSR was in the subject matter of their modules.  The first published module was Dave Arneson's Temple of the Frog, which appeared as part of TSR's Blackmoor supplement.  Like other early modules, Temple of the Frog focused on an indoor "dungeon" setting where fantasy archetype characters essentially explored caves.  Judges Guild would take a more ambitious route.

    Although TSR had published booklets named for the Greyhawk and Blackmoor settings, large-scale campaign settings were still years in the future.  Gygax's city of Greyhawk existed mostly in theory, with his campaign growing up around the dungeons of Castle Greyhawk.  While much of the Greyhawk setting has since seen publication, in 1976 it was still invisible to gamers.  The classic TSR module, Tomb of Horrors, for instance, was located somewhere in the midst of the Great Swamp.  Gamers outside of Gary Gygax's personal campaign could only guess where and what the Great Swamp might be.  It didn't really matter, since the focus of the adventure was on crawling through the tomb complex.  Blackmoor itself would not really reach the hands of gamers until it was published by Judges Guild as The First Fantasy Campaign.  When it finally appeared in print, Blackmoor would have a map connecting it to the larger Wilderlands of High Adventure campaign world.

   Built around a city map, the Wilderlands of High Adventure setting grew organically in a different direction.  Judges Guild adventures certainly included dungeons, but the early modules explored new themes such as fantasy cities, a haunted house, inside of a cloud, a wizard's tower and deep mines.  Because these early modules were placed in the Wilderlands campaign world, the dangerous lands around them were also detailed.  An extensive set of large-scale hex maps to depict the Wilderlands was supported by a series of publications detailing what adventurers would find in each hex.  Various regions of the game world became the focus of modules, rather than a single dungeon within those regions.  

    The logic of the Wilderlands setting also demanded new types of publications.  Judges Guild printed books of smaller-scale maps so judges (the word Judges Guild used to describe what TSR called a dungeon master) could fill in details in their own games.  These books were not "adventure modules" so much as the first real "game aids."  Castle Book 1, with maps of castles drawn on hex paper, was followed by books depicting more castles, villages, temples, ruins, caverns and islands.  The existence of islands and oceans demanded details about ships and sea travel.  The names of towns and regions demanded details about who lived there and why they needed killing.  Judges Guild also published collections of shorter adventures based on treasure maps, one of which includes arguably their best visualized Dungeons and Dragons scenario, The Lone Tower.

    The originality of the Judges Guild approach can also be seen in its central character, the City State of the Invincible Overlord.  This city began as a map envisioned by Bledsaw for his home-brew Dungeons and Dragons campaign, set in Tolkien's Middle Earth.  (The first known copy of the map even has notes in the margin describing it as an unidentified city in Middle Earth.  The Middle Earth description was dropped when Bledsaw and Owen realized that the chance of getting approval from the Tolkien estate was slim.)  The map required a description, which became a booklet, written by Bledsaw in August and September of 1976.  The overlord had to have domains to rule and money to spend.  The unfortunately named Glory Hole Dwarven Mine was located just outside the city.  The tunnels and sewers beneath the city were described in Wraith Overlord.   Modron, a town at the mouth of the Roglaroon Estuary, was the overlord's main port.  A sea monster, under the overlord's control, guarded the entrance to the estuary, which was detailed in an underwater adventure as part of the Modron publication. The overlord also had to have enemies to fight, which spawned further publications detailing rival city states, pirates, amazons and other cultures.

    Although these subjects became common fodder for most game companies of the next four decades, they were incredibly innovative in 1976.  The scale and quality of the City State of the Invincible Overlord map, which gamers now expect in all city products, was unprecedented at the time.  All of this creative burst grew from the basic idea of a city map as the starting point for a game world.  The result was a series of gaming publications that continue to see re-prints and new editions into the current decade, crossing all of the editions and incarnations of Dungeons and Dragons.

   Judges Guild also differed from other companies in their view of how a game publication should be utilized.  From the start, the central concept was that modules, maps and other materials were meant to be used up and worn out by gamers.   Map sets for the Wilderlands setting came in two versions.  There was a judge's map which showed all the landscape of a region or buildings of a city.  With this came a players' map which was largely blank, with only coastlines or other known landmarks detailed.  The assumption was that players would finish these maps for themselves by drawing in the landscape or noting city sites as they discovered them.  This reflected the most popular activity in Bledsaw's home campaign, which was overland exploration.

    This concept was carried over into modules, where space was provided for judges to write in their own ideas below the printed text.  Players who bought their own copies of Judges Guild publications could never be 100% sure what they would encounter in a setting customized by their game master.  While descriptive text could be colorful and interesting, it was often kept to a minimum.   So, a shop in the city of Verbosh is described as a bakery run by a hobbit with flaming red hair.  The hobbit is so bad at baking that his cookies can be used as +1 sling stones.  But he's not actually a hobbit.  He's a red dragon who is pursuing his passionate baking hobby with little success.  The game master is not told what the dragon will do next, or what will happen if his identity is discovered.  These details are left to the judge to decide.  

    This approach has caused many to criticize Judges Guild for lack of quality.  In many cases this is true.  There is a fine line between leaving room for creativity and hurrying a product into print without real effort and solid writing.  For instance, one infamous Judges Guild publication notes that a secret door leads to a dungeon dominated by a lich.  The author writes that he has not included the dungeon in the module because he has not had time to play-test it!  This gradual reduction in quality, including recycled art or even public domain clip art, became a larger problem as time passed.  

    Some production quality issues crept into Judges Guild products as time passed.  Some of these were sins of omission, such as missing text and poor quality art.  Some were production gaffes, including a run of Book of Treasure Maps which had its front cover sliced off at the top at a crazy angle…but was shipped to distributors anyway.  Some of these problems were the result of a loss of printing expertise when Owen sold his half of the company to Bledsaw in March 1978 and was no longer involved in production.  Others were cost-saving measures that seem less forgivable to gamers from later eras.

    Critics of Judges Guild quality should keep in mind the game industry standards of the 1970's.  Spare descriptions were the norm for many classic publications.  Fans produced game supplements of widely varying quality, most of it incredibly bad by later standards.  Some of those "monster hotels" are highly valued by collectors but were almost useless as game products.  Only TSR really kept and grew a professional publishing ethic that came to be the industry norm.  Some of the later TSR modules even included text meant to be read aloud by dungeon masters.  Whether you consider this text a great innovation or tedious and moronic has more to say about the era of gaming when you first entered the hobby than it does about the products themselves.

   Finally, Judges Guild products stand out from other game companies in their overall feel.  They are light-hearted and often overtly humorous.  Two entrepreneurs run a store selling buckets of "greater demon destroying dirt."  They are actually thieves digging into a nearby bank vault from their basement.  A weekly percentage chance roll determines whether the thieves hit the bank vault or the town moat.  Hulking amazons can't resist posing in partially unbuttoned fur bikinis.  A beautiful elven florist is the secret girlfriend of the highly jealous town wizard.  Visitors to the City State of the Invincible Overlord can pay to take a boat ride through the Park of Obscene Statues.  Player characters might meet NPC's like the dwarf, Gutboy Barrelhouse, the merchant Talc Umpowder, or the "Halfling heroes" Rudi and Bosco.  Saintly ghosts manifest to give the players advice or help them with artifacts.  An ancient elven kingdom hides its treasure in a secret and highly guarded vault, and then leaves clues to help adventurers find it.  Even the most evil bad guys are slightly funny or off-kilter in ways that make them worth killing.

    Judges Guild had a way of dealing with grim subjects in an inoffensive manner.  Demons and devils appeared as flawed character actors.  Gods like Dorak, God of Peace allied themselves with gods like Dacron, God of Craftsmen against Mungo, God of Nightmares and Phread the Sightless, God of Unseeing.  For sure, Judges Guild products also dealt with topics like human sacrifice, torture and rape, but the villains were the ones perpetrating these crimes, depicted in simple, cartoon-like illustrations that tended to defuse the subjects.  There were really no great moral questions that could not be solved with fireball spells.

   This sort of humor would go out of style in Dungeons and Dragons, but it catches the feeling of the early game as it was first played.  The soap opera romance and grim dread of the Dragonlance modules was unknown in the 1970's.  Puns and literary jokes would have been lost on later gamers, who tended to be younger and younger as the golden era progressed.  (Those were probably the gamers who tended to like blocks of text to read aloud.)  There are fashions in gaming just like any other activity.  After a decade or three, Judges Guild came back into style just like any other consumer product.

   The first incarnation of Judges Guild came to a slow, painful end in 1982, when the RPG market hit an economic wall.  The first generation of gamers went off to college and stopped buying books.  Judges Guild no longer enjoyed a license from TSR to use the Dungeons and Dragons name and had to resort to the fiction of a "universal" game system.  (There were plans to expand this system into a full role-playing game, but the project was never fully developed.  The system appeared in later Judges Guild publications as a collection of statistics and terms in which standard Dungeons and Dragons terminology was hidden.  "A Judges Guild UNIVERSAL Fantasy Supplement" logo appeared on later products.  These were essentially Advanced Dungeons and Dragons supplements without the name.)

    When distributors and game stores went out of business still owing money to Judges Guild, the company was forced to move out of its offices and stop publishing.  Literally tons of Judges Guild products were stranded in boxes stored in warehouses, container cars and garages.  Judges Guild was not alone.  It was a decade that would see many game companies go under.  Even Gary Gygax was forced out of TSR.  The golden era was over.

    Many of the names associated with Judges Guild went on working in the gaming industry.  Judges Guild's best writer, Paul Jaquays, continued to work in the print and electronic game fields as an artist and designer, including a stint on staff at TSR.  Artist Kevin Siembieda, whose early style became the distinctive look of Judges Guild products, founded Palladium Games, which was active in the industry for another two decades.  Writers like Rudy Kraft, Dave Arneson and Dave Petrowsky went on to work with other companies and projects.  Other writers, such as Marc Summerlot, Scott Fulton and Geoff O. Dale were active in recreating the Judges Guild magic with new editions of Judges Guild products in the D20 Open Gaming License boom of 2001 to 2008.

    Judges Guild has reappeared in various forms since 1982.  In 1999 the company surfaced online with Bob Bledsaw announcing the rebirth of the company through the internet.  Very little actually got done, but classic Judges Guild products have appeared for new iterations of Dungeons and Dragons.  These publications have been popular with gamers who remember the golden age.  Some of them, including Necromancer Games versions of City State of the Invincible Overlord and Wilderlands of High Adventure, have become new classics.  Companies that have produced or re-produced materials based on Judges Guild products include Necromancer Games, Eostros Games, Goodman Games, Gamescience, RPG Realms and Adventure Games Publishing.

   Bob Bledsaw died in 2008 during a short span of time that also saw the passing of fellow game legends Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and J. Eric Holmes.  Bledsaw was mourned by the entire RPG community and eulogized by Bill Owen in a published history of Judges Guild which includes many personal recollections and anecdotes about his friend.  As of this writing, Judges Guild remains active under the direction of Bledsaw's son, Bob Jr.  The publication of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition in 2008 put several proposed Judges Guild revival projects on hold.  Judges Guild products remain available through the electronic gaming books industry and as sought-after collector's items.  As long as there are RPG gamers and publishers, it seems likely that Judges Guild products will continue to appear.


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