A History of Dungeons & Dragons
Part 24: 1997
Dragon and Dungeon magazine subscribers found no magazines in their mailboxes. Game stores found no D&D products in their shipments from distributors. Visitors to the D&D website were told the company was having “printer problems.”
1997 was the year TSR would have gone bankrupt if not for Ryan Dancey and Wizards of the Coast. Dancey met with Lorraine Williams, who agreed to sell the company. Dancey, in turn, went to Wizards of the Coast and Peter Adkison for the money to save D&D.
A number of factors contributed to TSR’s demise. Overprinting of products, poor reception of Dragon Dice, losing money on boxed sets containing audio CDs, lack of customer communication, and primarily, from a financial standpoint, the return of millions of dollars worth of product from book distributors.
On April 10th, 1997, Wizards of the Coast announced that they were purchasing TSR, along with Five Rings Publishing Group and GenCon. A large number of TSR’s staff made the move from Wisconsin to Washington. Lisa Stevens was moved over to the D&D staff, becoming Brand Manager of the RPGA. Ryan Dancey was put in charge of business and marketing, a move that would allow him to pioneer one of the biggest changes in the RPG industry, as we will see in a later installment.
Wizards of the Coast initially simply put through the pipeline the products TSR had already been working on. However, Peter Adkison assembled a team of designers to start work on a 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Jonathan Tweet was put in charge of the project, with two TSR alumni working with him: Skip Williams, a veteran of TSR going back to 1976, and Monte Cook, a relatively recent addition to the TSR team, whose primary credits were in the Planescape line. Adkison also reached out to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, hoping to bring D&D’s creators, if not back into the fold, at least back into D&D’s sphere of influence.
Despite the upheaval going on in the world of D&D, video games still continued to be produced. Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft was a fighting game very loosely based on Ravenloft. Descent to Undermountain was the first D&D based game to utilize a 3D engine. Both games were poorly received, presenting a bleak outlook for D&D video gaming in 1997. The next year, however, would see the video gaming world visit a little city in the Forgotten Realms called Baldur’s Gate.
1997 D&D Products
January – Undermountain: Stardock. Player characters venture into Undermountain to rescue the insane wizard, Halaster Blackcloak.
January – The Warriors, Volume 6: Lord Soth. A Dragonlance novel telling the story of Lord Soth’s fall to evil as the Cataclysm strikes.
May – Player’s Secrets of Muden. A Birthright player supplement released as a PDF on the TSR website, detailing a merchant domain.
July – Domains of Dread. A revised, expanded, and updated Ravenloft Campaign Setting product, this time in a hardcover volume instead of a boxed set.
July – Monstrous Arcana: The Sea Devils. A non-setting specific supplement taking a detailed look at Sahuagin, their culture, religion, mutations, and tips for using them as villains.
July – Tale of the Comet. A boxed set adventure in the Odyssey line of products that mixes genres by posing the question “what if sci-fi style aliens invaded a D&D world?”
July – Tale of the Comet. A novel tie-in to the adventure,
July – The Harpers, Volume 15: Finder’s Bane. A Forgotten Realms novel that was also part of the Lost Gods series of crossover novels, carrying events and characters from the Realms into Planescape and Dragonlance.
August – SAGA Fate Deck. A deck of cards for use with the Dragonlance SAGA game rules.
August – King of the Giantdowns. A Birthright adventure set in a land ruled by giants.
August – Lands of Intrigue. A Forgotten Realms boxed set detailing the lands of Amn, Tethyr, and the previously unexplored nation of Erlkazar.
August – Evil Tide. First in a trilogy of adventures that tie in to The Sea Devils supplement and feature Sahuagin as the villains.
August – Powers & Pantheons. A Forgotten Realms supplement with the same general format as Faiths & Avatars, detailing deities, their churches, holy days, specialty priests, etc. Power & Powers specifically focuses on demigods and other minor deities.
August – The Blood Wars, Volume 3: Planar Powers. Conclusion of a Planescape trilogy about the eternal war between Baatezu (devils) and Tanar’ri (demons).
September – Faces of Evil: The Fiends. A Planescape supplement that focuses on baatezu and tanar’ri, specifically their physiology, culture, habits, and other roleplaying focused material.
September – Of Ships and the Sea. A “blue book” Dungeon Master supplement providing rules and details on oceangoing and undersea adventuring.
September – Castle Spulzeer. A Forgotten Realms adventure that takes characters into Ravenloft.
September – The Forgotten Terror. Ravenloft adventure and sequel to Castle Spulzeer in which player characters must explore the dreams of a madman to escape his domain.
September – The Nobles, Volume 5: Council of Blades. A Forgotten Realms novel in which a trio of odd characters find themselves in the middle of an odd war utilizing a strange new weapon.
October – Night of the Shark. Second in a trilogy of adventures supporting The Sea Devils supplement.
October – The Great Modron March. A Planescape anthology of adventures featuring the polyhedral creatures known as Modrons, as they march across the planes, off schedule from their normal highly regimented routine.
October – The Last Tower: The Legacy of Raistlin. A Dragonlance SAGA boxed set exploring the last of the Towers of High Sorcery.
October – The Nobles, Volume 6: The Simbul’s Gift. A Forgotten Realms novel in which the Simbul, Chosen of Mystra, one of the Seven Sisters, and ruler of Aglarond, attempts to lure Elminster into siring an heir to her throne.
October – The Warriors, Volume 7: The Wayward Knights. A Dragonlance novel detailing the final adventures of Sir Pirvan, unlikely Knight of Solamnia.
November – Children of the Night: Ghosts. A Ravenloft supplement featuring a collection of ghostly NPC villains.
November – Dragons of a New Age, Volume 2: Day of the Tempest. A Dragonlance novel set during the Fifth Age, in which new heroes try to find a way to defeat the powerful dragon overlords.
November – Elminster in Myth Drannor. A Forgotten Realms novel featuring the iconic character of Elminster as he studies magic in the elven land of Cormanthor and witnesses its transformation into Myth Drannor.
November – Four from Cormyr. An anthology of four adventures set in the forest kingdom of Cormyr.
November – Heroes of Defiance. A Dragonlance SAGA boxed set covering rogue type characters. It also contains an adventure, Storm Over Krynn, in which player characters discover the origin of the dragonspawn.
November – Lord of the Necropolis. A Ravenloft novel in which the lich, Azalin, attempts to escape the mists.
November – Lost Legends, Volume 1: Vinas Solamnus. A Dragonlance novel telling the story of the founder of the Knights of Solamnia.
November – Lost Legends, Volume 2: Fistandantilus Reborn. A Dragonlance novel about the legendary wizard Fistandantilus and his attempts to return to life through manipulating a young kender. Also ties in to the Lost Gods series of crossover novels.
November – Tales of Uncle Trapspringer. A Dragonlance novel about the legendary kender, “Uncle” Trapspringer.
November – The Book of Priestcraft. A Birthright supplement covering priests, their connections to the gods, and their connections to domain rulers.
December – Heroes of Sorcery. A Dragonlance boxed set detailing mage type characters and including an adventure, A Killing Frost.
December – Sea of Blood. Conclusion of a trilogy of adventures supporting The Sea Devils.
December – Prayers from the Faithful. A Forgotten Realms supplement covering the magic and spells of priest characters.
December – Realms of the Arcane. A Forgotten Realms anthology of short stories focusing on wizards and magic.
December – The Lost Gods, Volume 3: Tymora’s Luck. A Forgotten Realms novel in which characters from Finder’s Bane and Fistandantilus Reborn unite to prevent another reunification, that of the goddesses Tymora and Beshaba.
December – Tribes of the Heartless Wastes. A Birthright supplement detailing the lands of Vosgaard, the frozen north.
Unknown Month – The Star of Kolhapur. A RPGA adventure featuring Hindu mythology.