Monday, May 25, 2015

World At War, the TSR of the Twin Cities


In some of the earliest games produced by Tactical Studies Rules, we see a mysterious credit to an entity called "WAW Productions." WAW gets a prominent nod on the cover of the TSR hit location rules Bio One (1976). More striking is the 1975 notice on the title page of Empire of the Petal Throne that it is "Presented in Association with Mr. William J. Hoyt, W.A.W. Productions." That hints at a long forgotten fact: before TSR licensed Petal Throne, WAW had already secured an option to publish it. To learn the origins of some of TSR's seminal titles, we must therefore study the history of the obscure Twin Citites imprint known as World At War.

Bill Hoyt founded World At War in 1974, inspired by TSR's initial success in selling digest-sized pamphlets of game rules. Hoyt had long played with Arneson's group in the Twin Cities; meetings of their club (the MMSA) often took place at Hoyt's home. He was furthermore a member of the Castle & Crusade Society who had holdings in Arneson's region of the Great Kingdom before Blackmoor as we know it took shape. This positioned Hoyt to become one of M.A.R. Barker's earliest players of Empire of the Petal Throne, and thus to option the game for his newly founded World At War.

Bill Hoyt

Thus, when TSR acquired the rights to publish Empire of the Petal Throne, they had to execute two agreements: one with Barker, and another with WAW, initially granting WAW a 5% royalty as a finder's fee for turning over their option to TSR. By autumn, it was necessary for TSR to reduce that to a 1.5% royalty: they cut many such reduced agreements after the original partnership transitioned into TSR Hobbies, Inc. But this deal began a collaboration that would lead to further TSR products in the next year.

Before TSR sent Empire of the Petal Throne to the printers, they began to explore the rest of WAW's portfolio. As of May 1975, Gary expressed interest in distributing one of WAW's 1974 titles: Galactic Conquest.


TSR had then already produced Star Probe, which derived from a Twin Cities campaign Arneson and his friends had played starting in 1972. Gygax scrutinized Galactic Conquest over the next year or so, with an initial intention of acting as a distributor, but soon became interested in printing the work under TSR's imprint. As of June 1976, three WAW titles were under consideration for TSR, including the second 1974 WAW release: Bio One.


Jim Muscala, author of Bio One, was a Twin Cities wargamer; his name is one of the 67 that appears on a surviving September 1972 contact list for Arneson's broader gaming circle. He originally wrote Bio One as an explicit supplement to Michael J. Korns's Modern War in Miniature (1966), a set of rules specific to tactical miniature wargaming in the contemporary setting. TSR generalized the rules so that they might apply to any "gunpowder era" setting, with hints that Boot Hill (1975) would serve well.

Ultimately, TSR declined to publish Galactic Conquest, probably because it would encroach on the market for John Snider's follow up to Star Probe, Star Empires (1977), which TSR indeed marketed as "the game of galactic conquest." But at the same time they contracted to produce their own version of Bio One, TSR acquired another WAW title: Field Regulations (1976).


John Grossman, author of Field Regulations, had as far back as 1969 participated in Napoleonic wargaming with the South St. Paul group alongside Hoyt; dispatches from these games appeared regularly in Arneson's fanzine Corner of the Table, though Grossman himself did not participate in Arneson's famous Napoleonic Simulation Campaign. Curiously, the TSR version of Field Regulations contains no notice of WAW's involvement, even though it republished the work with little modification.

Ultimately, WAW produced no further material, but its story helps us to chart the social network that supplied TSR with games at the dawn of role-playing. Neither Bio One nor Field Regulations achieved great commercial success: they targeted traditional wargamers at a time when fantasy role-playing was ascendant. Hoyt, of course, did entertain titles for WAW catering to the new wave of gamers. He himself authored a T├ękumel version of Dave Megarry's Dungeon board game, which he proposed to call Quest - Gygax favored calling it Catacombs, though after three years of development TSR opted not to publish it. Once it became known that WAW was in the market for fantasy titles, it did receive proposals for early Dungeons & Dragons variants... though that story will have to wait for another time.

8 comments:

  1. Bill's daughter, Kate was just showing a few of us a copy of Bll's Tekumel dungeon crawl game yesterday. It has an amazing cover, and looks like a fun game.

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  2. Holy carp. ** I ** didn't know this stuff, and I introduced Phil to D&D and I've known Bill almost as long.

    Also, having looked through Bio One, it boils down to "Getting hit by a bullet sucks. Roll for ten minutes to see which part of your body is hit in such a way that you're incapacitated."

    A slight exaggeration but honestly, not much.

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  3. But this article does an excellent job of showing just how "Garage Band" the wargaming "industry" was in those days.

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  4. I'd love to have a Tekumel-themed Dungeon board game. It's too bad it didn't happen.

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  5. 1976 was the bicentennial of the United States. In March the then Minneapolis Star had an big page 1 Variety section article on Revolutionary (and other) wargaming with a color picture of US and British minis plashed at the top of the page. It mentioned Minneapolis' Little Tin Soldier Shoppe as being the place to pick up the various games. It had some quotes from store manager Bruce Hanesalo, MAR Barker, and local gamer Greg Scott (of GHQ), who had some disparaging things to say regarding fantasy gaming, among others.

    My birthday was a month later in April, and for it my father and mother agreed to take me down to the Little Tin Soldier to pick up some "real wargaming figures!" We dressed up, I was in a sportscoat, headed to Minneapolis for lunch and shopping My parents purchased me one pack of U.S., and one pack of British regulars by Der Kriegspielers, (12 miniatures total) and a set of rules.

    The game they recommended to a budding and enthusiastic fourth grade wargamer was Field Regulations of the Late 18th Century which sold for $2.50. I felt very grown up playing a game that required calculations.

    I do not know where they are at this point. As small as they are, being a paper folded in half with a staple through the spine, they are probably mixed in with some other papers and not easily seen.

    The fun thing is, in looking for them I did find the original cutout of the 1976 Minneapolis Star newspaper article that started my hobby. It is much yellowed and wrinkled, but still brings back many fond memories of my first wargaming purchase excursion and the kindness of my parents, who had no idea what they were starting.

    David S.
    Minnesota, USA

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