The TSR Code of Ethics

An interesting article has popped up over at Shane Plays about how TSR had a "Code of Ethics" that might be of interest to you. Go ahead and pop on over there and give it a read, I'll wait here.

Oh! You're back!

The whole time that I was reading that, I kept getting images of all of the times that they broke those rules. Ultimately, the documents are worthless, or were they? Sure, they broke a rule here or there, but I can only think of specific examples. For the most part, they DID keep to this Code, and they did so at their own peril.

This goes back to the Satanic Panic, so they say, but what really happened was that TSR wanted to bring their product to the mainstream market. What they did had nothing to do with "Keeping Children's Minds Safe", the very idea of a normal someone suddenly losing their mind and identity to a game is insulting. This wasn't done to make the Pope happy, this was done to make INVESTORS happy. Investors who had no idea what in the world that this product was, but they weren't going to let a little thing like that get in the way of wanting to control it.

The Golden Age of Dungeons & Dragons, back when D&D was Pop Culture. Back when it was a set of tools and rough ideas which you the user used to create your own adventures and told your own stories. Those days were gone. Now TSR was into telling you what the stories were, and they were safe, sanitary, and bland . . . unless of course, that got in the way of TSR's profits.

TSR controlled the monologue, and they have always done this well. Heck, they convinced us that 2e was a new system that was even better than the OLD crummy AD&D, when it was just the same system but clamped down tighter so that they had better control of the product. I'm not even convinced that 2e could really even stand on its own; during my games, I've always got to go back to 1e because it was just more fun! How many 2e books do you need to do the work of the 1e DMG?

Yes, yes. I know that this is a 2e Blog. I enjoy the rules, but that doesn't mean that I'm drinking the Kool-ade and liking it. Whenever you spend time with these products as we do, critical thinking is crucial, and I don't always like what I see.

Like many users at the time, I was addicted to modules. TSR had me believing that it was just too hard to do this myself, and that I didn't have time, or that my work just couldn't compete with the fine Professionals at TSR. I was a sucker. TSR didn't want you to see how easy it was to do it yourself, so instead of spending hours writing my own material, I'd spend days fixing their modules and tailoring them to fit my group. Some of the things on this list I changed, but looking back, it wasn't much. Somehow they managed to get me following this code as well.

That said, if one thinks about it, this code defies the very nature of Role Playing Games. It defies what it is that we do. We are talking about a medium where anything can happen, and the possiblities are endless. What if we just don't care that the hamlet has problems with trolls, they don't have to live there, and if trolls are making things dangerous, why risk my character on protecting these fools who want to live out in the middle of troll country? Why would I want to kill all of those goblins when I can enslave them all and have my own army? This NPC who invited me into his house and is described in detail is no doubt the villain, why not just kill him now while he isn't expecting it? Then you've got the DM that says, That isn't the way that the story goes! But isn't that the whole point behind the game?

Further Reading:

Trollsmyth: Abandoned Territory


Martin Aaby said...

Free thinking and imagination is a scary thing! It seems like some stockholders/investors or owners needed to be pleased, in a fast and hard manner to cover their legal asses and stop any fear of the unknown product they owned.

I think you've covered this point when reviewing old modules on how rail-roady they were and the players were just along for the pre-determined PG13 spectacle.

Those guidelines seem so opposite to how I ever played DnD.

Shane Stacks said...

This is Shane of Shane Plays :) Thanks for the signal boost and I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

I've shared this post on Twitter and in the comments on my TSR Code of Ethics post.

Scott Anderson said...

Everything that is new and good and awesome lives a life of its own for a short while, and then becomes commoditized. Then everyone says, "oh this used to be good. What happened?"

Thankfully we have a snapshot of what things looked like in the larval stages of 0e, Holmes, BX, and 1e and even access to CHAINMAIL. We can still play in that period where everything was awesome and even build an alternative history based on those games.

It's good to have both the real 80s-90s-00s and the OSR mirror-universe.

Ripper X said...

I know that I repeat myself a lot, but it is because I think that it is a very important issue. D&D is entertainment, but it is much more than that.

They held the patent for a new kind of ink, and all they used it for was to make coloring books. Thankfully the code is still there, but I can't help but think that we should be further ahead with this idea than we are.

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