|History of Judges Guild
got laid off when General Electric closed its factory in Decatur, Ill.
in December 1975... but... "Prior to the closing, I had a long
discussion with Bill Owen and Marc Summerlot in which I proposed... a
venture in the War Gaming field." That went nowhere, though, for the
decided to try again on a "less ambitious scale". One of the many
campaigns Bob was running included the huge City State (note that, at
the time, Bob ran his D&D games in Middle Earth, and the City state was
in a land "through a gate found in the Misty Mountains"). Marc didn't
want in at the time (though he joined in later, obviously), but Bill
(who's games were based on
decided to jump in on it.
and Bill went to visit TSR. The two of them needed a Guild to belong to
so they started it on the 4th (One year before this Judges Guild fan was
Guild was thus incorporated.
goal was to sell stuff that they found helpful in their own campaigns. TSR then seemed to look down on play aids for D&D and thought no one
would buy this sort of stuff. Bill said "I think that they thought we'd
gone overboard with detail and ambitiousness. I did several breakeven
studies and with $200 investment we bought 4 print runs of the giant
(34"x44" total size, we couldn't afford printing the map that size and so
it was actually 4 17"x22") City State of the Invincible Overlord map." They barely got it in time for GenCon. Bill drove up with another friend
(Bob was too exhausted to go) and they didn't even have a booth
purchased at the con. Bill talked them into letting him put the giant
map with beautiful toasted Judges Guild banner "Bob was always
'toasting' treasure maps with cigarettes and electric burners on his
stove over it." People picked up the little flier offering a
subscription to the bimonthly play aids service... or if they wanted the
maps unfolded, Bill offered to give them to them rolled. "As I'd take
them out to my Mustang in the alley (the maps were in the trunk) more
than one guy asked 'Is this legal?' I'd say 'No, don't tell
I figured that that would get them to tell everyone."
got there on Saturday, got a table, and they started selling even more.
People were wondering about the details of the places on the map.
Because so many people were asking about the City State, Bob figured
they could make more money by selling the details as well, so he came up
with the idea of the subscription service. He started selling subs to
the City State at the show on Saturday. The cash flow from those initial
maps and the first orders that flew home to their mail boxes allowed them
to break even the first week of business.
after the show, Bob went home and started writing it... he did most of
the writing, while Bill handled the printing. The first printing was the
White True First, and it was when they got it back that they realized
They had forgotten to put the copyright notice on the booklet. Bob
didn't want to send them out, but he realized that he needed to get that
first sub set out, so they were to be shipped to those who bought
subscriptions at Gen Con, until they got the Brown Cover with
copyright notice later in 1976 (Bob could not recall at the time the
exact month of that).
Between Bob completing his layout of the set and Bill getting it
printed, Bill added "Initial Guidelines Booklet I" to the top of the
booklet, "I" for "Initial Issue," as he felt that it would help spur
sales. Bob thought it was a silly idea, but had to go with it from then
on, and that's why they went on later with "J'," "K," and so forth!
said they sold about 40 to 50 subs at that first Gen Con, and continued
to sell subs like gangbusters through mail order thereafter.
They had their momentary flush of success when Bill got the call from TSR saying we are withdrawing your right to publish our copyrighted material... unless you pay a royalty. "Push us hard enough and we'll fall over, and who will more effectively make your mishmash of game playable and organized?" They negotiated with TSR for and eventually got the license.
From Gary Gygax: "The
license arrangement with JG was made by Brian Blume, not me. He
gave them permission to use the TSR copyrighted works you note (Ed -
Chainmail, Greyhawk, Dungeons & Dragons).
I disapproved of the
arrangement, as there was no TSR quality control."
writing Booklet "I", Bob and Bill come up with the Dungeon Tac Cards and
publish those first (product #2).
(product #3) is printed. Of
course, Bob didn't want to send out the white copies, so he sent it out
only to those who had subscribed at GenCon and were thus already
waiting on their subscription. (Note: One mailer included the
original 4-section map, and Gen Con IX dungeon tourney module by Bob
some point Bob also did the 17"x22" Player's Map of the City State
called the printer to get more copies of the original 4-section map, but
the printer screwed up and printed them on 17"x22" paper, giving birth
to product #9.
destroyed the remainder of the White cover "I"s when the Brown cover "I"
The Initial Installment was then sent out, which consisted of:
dungeon levels (I-1 to I-5), three
chart sheets (I-6 to I-8),
City State Player Map (I-9 to I-12), a Brown cover "I" (I-13 to I-28),
Journal issue #0, I-29 and I-30 -- all in
#9 (City State Judges Map) is released.
first employee was Norma Bledsaw (Bob's wife), who was the first to get
paid. Bob was working furiously on expanding the City State, and by this
time was ready to release the 40-page (grown to 56-page) Guide to the
City State of the Invincible Overlord (product #10).
Thunderhold, Bob releases that with a series of general guidelines as
the 16-page Thunderhold "Installment J," along with 4 dungeon levels, an
RR, and the JG Journal "J" (issue #1).
went full-time with Judges Guild.
went full-time with Judges Guild.
sister Debbie went part time.
77 was at the Playboy Club at Lake Geneva. Bill says, "We hadn't thought
to bring shopping bags as we had a real booth this time. I got a pile of
free laundry bags from the resort and I'm convinced that some of the D&D
fans were buying our stuff so they could have a souvenir bag with the
Playboy bunny on it!"
Finally Bill wore himself out working two jobs and for Judges Guild full
time (80-90 hours week) then got sick. He sold his half of the business
to Bob... "and I have marveled to this day that Bob can be so prolific
of a designer, writer AND game player... all at the same time. I admit
that once I'd made my hobby my business, I needed (a different) hobby!"
Guild moves to 1165 N. University Ave.
|On the 10th
they celebrate the move.
Guild moves to R.R. 8, Box 9, 1221 N. Sunnyside Rd.
|TSR pulls the
economic conditions Judges Guild is forced to close its doors.
Bledsaw, Jean McGuire and Greg
formerly reopened Judges Guild with the opening of the
(the site has since changed hands to Necromancer Games).
|The Revised City State of the Invincible Overlord and Pegasus 14 are released.
Dark Tower and The Treasury of Archaic names are re-released through
Games acquires the license to print Judges Guild products.
Games releases its first Judges Guild product for the d20 license: The
Players' Guide to the Wilderlands.