History of Judges Guild 2
as told by Bill Owen
I looked through several pages and while I have slightly different recollections than Bob on some of the bits of history, nothing significant.  It was a wild ride for us.  I grew up in a background of retail toy stores (my father had a dozen until the late '60s and then got into the travel business) and so I was aware of the hobby store/wholesale expectations.  Plus we were big on immediate order turn-around.  I hated having to wait when I ordered things-which was typical until more recently.  Also my current job was to produce printed materials for group tours (still is: www.g-design.us/groups) so I was very familiar with companies like KK Stevens for web printing and Wood for sheet fed.

Some of the preceding & following may be old news because you have an amazing amount of info on your website.  Have you checked out Wikipedia lately?  I corrected and added to what was there from my perspective.  I suppose I could be as wrong as Bob was in some details but we are the first hand sources.  Here's some more background.

Bob, Marc & I had first worked on a game called MARTIAN AMERICA, THE BATTLE FOR YOUR TOWN which involved tactics like shoving refrigerators out of windows on to Martian spaceships parked several stories below.  After a pretty crappy job on the project, we realized that this was an awful idea and disbanded our mini-partnership.  I was always more comfortable with making variants to games and "improving" them (in my mind) and doing a nicer job of presenting the material.  Bob was an insatiable reader of fantasy and a canny but kindly judge of people.  I think his unique vision seemed pretty ordinary to him but he deserves some sort of Golden Pen award or something.

I don't remember thinking about the name JUDGES GUILD (no apostrophe like crept in at times to make it one Judge's or many Judges' Guild) so the name must have come from Bob.  He had a gift for naming critters, places etc.  I'd name a Norse NPC Brinna Birgit, rolling my R's and my players would immediately warp it into Brenda Beergut.  No wonder I stopped judging games!  Bad players, worse judge!  We wanted to raise the role to a higher tone of "judge" from a nearly uninvolved sounding "referee" or the rather glowering & limiting term, Dungeonmaster.

Our original goal was to produce volumes of material as inexpensively as possible (thus typewriter on ordinary or newsprint stock) because we saw the dungeon adventures and campaigns both as disposable AND needing to be accessible.  The latter point needs to be clarified.  Later on some competitors used higher production values (typesetting and higher quality stock) but would a customer be as likely to feel comfortable scrawling all over it?!  We wanted customers to edit "on the fly" and write all over our stuff!  The typewriter print was reduced in size so we did cram in more info though.

We did do our ads and the Dungeon Tac Cards with typesetting though.  Here's a little known story of how we saved money there: I would go into Wood Printing before the rest of the office staff got in and typeset as much as I could until I had to go to work and their typesetter came to work!  This way we could avoid paying for this but Wood still got our printing business.

Bob was the writer of what seemed like inexhaustible creativity.  But he was also an exceptional freehand artist and draftsman.  We spent several weeks trying to figure out how to reproduce the City State from his huge drawing he'd done in pencil and magic markers (various colors).  We couldn't afford 4-color art separations (or we felt that customers would not pay for this) so I went to numerous print shops and pre-press shops asking for ways to shoot the art and make the colors come out more uniformly gray.  The blue would drop out the yellow and red would turn black and the green grey etc.  Then one morning I found that Bob had redrawn the entire City State in one night with pen and ink!  Freehand!  Me, I would've needed 20 times as much time plus a T-square and drafting table.

TSR's desire for a royalty got Bob & I into a lot of arguments about what they meant, what they wanted and what it all meant, Alfie.  But in the end we not only got the right to trade on their copyrighted material but the endorsement of their D&D name on the products. This was probably huge in boosting our success even more.  And the way we re-arranged their material with some simple benefits like alphabetization and compiling everything into one place probably helped make D&D more playable without taking away any from their sales since you usually had to buy their supplements for fuller info.  The Judges Shield and the Ready Ref Sheets were incredibly successful little products that saved the players a lot of time.

We initially had such a good reputation for sure-seller quality that stores and wholesalers would have "auto-ships" with us that meant that very soon we could sell enough to breakeven on a new product before the printing bill was due at Stevens.  Later on, this auto-ship blessing may have gotten undercut by competitors, their too frequent or offbeat materials.  Then there was the problem of stores etc. not paying for stuff after I was gone.  I found out that they'd still be shipping to them even after they hadn't paid for items they'd specifically ordered (not just received as auto-ship).  I know they were worried that they'd stop buying from them.  At the time I told JG, don't worry about it, they've already stopped buying because they're not paying; you're not selling, you're just shipping!  JG got to be a huge operation from the original low-overhead 2.5 people and I really don't know much about the middle or the end.

Early on we were in the right place at the right time or put it more accurately, we worked within God's plan.  I can't say that we deserved the incredible success that we found only by our efforts.  Two outcomes of this for me was that I needed a new hobby because I was burned out of fantasy games... And I thought that I had the Midas touch.  My next venture to design specialized games (the first one was for travel) was met with a blah reception; I sold a few thousand but not enough to do it again.  I got back into travel which boomed from about 1978 to 2000 so I was kept busy with that.  And I could occasionally play some historical games.  I still dabble in big projects like the 6x15' D-Day map in full color!  But print on demand keeps this from being a risk of any more than my time.  I never had any training in graphic design but have learned by OJT quite a bit so I have fun with this being more of a jack-of-all-trades.  With a new manual die-cutter I can make my own counters and who knows what little project I may take on next.

Thanks for writing and I hope I didn't get too boring! I am after all, an old guy (52) that's reliving his age 22 adventure like Bilbo Baggins that ole Hobbit...  But I have faith that I have a few more adventures in His service.

Further musings:

I realized that I didn't mention some of my biggest goofs (which you are welcome to reprint).  There were probably lots more.  Bob never made any mistakes because his realm was fantasy not practical printing foul-ups.  I'll not mention the lack of copyright symbol on the first edition because I've blanked that out completely.  As my niece said when she slipped under the dining room table (from under the table, a small voice) "That didn't happen."

1. Made the hex size on the Wilderlands maps .49" wide in a world of .625" hex grids and .5" counters.  Boy, did I get beat up bad for that.  You know, we were so close to our own assumptions that it never occurred to me that people would want to move counters en masse on these maps!  Another assumption was that people would want to have more world to explore so we effectively got about double the number of hexes to explore by making the hexes smaller.  It never occurred to me that Bob would keep drawing more of the world and so really no one would have minded having X number of hexes @.625" in size when it wouldn't have occurred to any one else (but me) to make the hexes so dang small.

2. Maybe were a little too thrifty about some of our start-up.  The process of Bob writing/drawing (at home where his wife assembled starter packs & collated d-tac cards), Debbie (his sister) coming into process some orders at our 4-room suite in my dad's converted warehouse (where I was the lone occupant otherwise) with answering the phone for orders, calling wholesalers etc., preparing for printers and finishing laying out stuff on a crappy light table I made myself (I didn't even splurge on buying a real waxer--boy, was I impressed by that at the newspaper).  Of course, our priority?  The biggest room in the suite was for the 4x8' wargame table!

My biggest mistake was not buying the equipment and software I now currently possess: Mac G5 and Adobe Creative Suite and investing about 15 years learning to use it.  It would have made the production chores easier but maybe "too nice" to scrawl on.  Oh, and it would have meant going into the future by about 30 years and bring it back to 1976.

3. Didn't just make the Judges Shields on one big piece and scored them for folding.  Of course, I'd never seen this product before.  So I'd hope someone would improve on my pedestrian job.  But I saw an S&S screen and I was totally puzzled that the player's side of the screen just had some pretty pictures on it!  I mean, as a player do you want useful reference material (I did) or a picture that wouldn't match your own imagination (I didn't) no matter how pretty it is?  Even Bob didn't have a screen because he would sit up at kitchen counter on a high barstool/chair and us guys down at the dining room table so we couldn't see what he was doing.  It was then also easier for him to reach over and put more tea on and light cigarettes on the gas burners--all of which he'd use to make ancient treasure maps and magic scrolls with (toasted the edges with cigarettes, tea bag stains for olde look).

4. Making the Dungeon Tac Cards which really were kind of marginal in my own opinion.  It was my product concept and Bob (masterfully) illustrated them.  But I couldn't figure out why anyone bought them and how to get Bob to stop reprinting them.  I did some sort Economic Study after I left to show him that they didn't DESERVE to be reprinted because the likely sales wouldn't cover the cost of money (which remember this was in the late '70's when interest rate was like 20%).  But Bob felt nostalgic about one of his first products.

5. I suppose it's occurred to everyone else by now but it took me several years at the time.  Everyone's imagination generally was referencing totally different images even though we were all playing the same game!  Amazingly it worked despite the lack of any agreement about the imagery that we each presumed.  Not a goof, I guess but shows how little I thought about some of this stuff while I was amidst it.

6. And the final giant screw-up.  Product coding the Initial package with the letter "I".  How many plaintive letters (about wanting issues A-H) did I have to respond to by hand or electric typewriter (because we had no electric computers with battery of secretaries as one inquirer asked) explaining that it was the first letter of Initial.  And then of course, dang it, what do you do when you got to letter "Z"?!

Oh, the only thing I could've done weirder was start the first issue with the number 46 and work our way DOWN to 'one' then go into negative numbers.  Why not?!

More history on Early Judges Guild:


We both wrote articles and did not initially perceive a need to have an official editor.  As time went on I became more involved in the graphics & publishing issues (selling to shops and distributors).  So Bob wrote an even higher proportion of the materials than he did at first.  He was the author a majority of the time and I was more the publisher.  I had background from my father's toy & hobby business and so knew the industry.

Bob was well-read-probably 10 times as much as me.  The only area of wargames that I might have edged him out a bit was in the historical miniatures/board gaming arena.  He really had the vision of the fantasy world that we were creating.  It was loosely imagined and I only glimpsed bits of that vision.  I was not worried about consistency or structure.  In 1976, we had little concept of how deep and broad the market might be for detailed fantasy worlds.  Our then best effort was far beyond what others had produced but there was more that could be done.

Later on, Bob would accept guild member submissions (like Modron, Thieves of Badabaskor etc.) but I cannot remember whether he made modest changes or accepted them as is.

Page numbering

The issue/page number issue can be traced back to 3 little facts:

1. We started numbering at "I" because it was the initial letter of the word Initial.  Of course, like many inspired amateurs we didn't really think about what happened after "Z"!  I suppose we could have gone to AA, BB etc.! But I think by then I was gone and they'd started numbering the issues instead.

2. The odd page numbering comes from how we counted the maps as 4 (8.5x11") pages if 17x22", so a 22x34" map = 8 pages etc.  This comes from how we had promised X number of pages of material so we were showing that we were giving them what we promised.  I really don't remember much on this score.

3. We underestimated how our quirky systems could confuse the heck out customers!

I was gone (after 1978) when the products were being numbered properly so I cannot say whether Bob did this or had delegated it to someone in the burgeoning organization.  Most of the 1.6 years I was involved, there was just Bob & I plus 2 part-time people: his wife & sister.  Later on there was a cast what appeared to be dozens but it may have topped out at 15 or 20.

Initial Package

As I remember it, Tac Cards were not part of the Initial issue "I".  However they were combined with "I" in what was called Special Starter Package.  The order things were done was the big judges map of city state, then the players version with many items whited out, then the Ready Ref sheets, the guidelines booklet and the Dungeon Levels.  They were probably page-numbered right before going to print & that order (ed-refers to product numbering in the product lists) doesn't reflect the order of production.

Perhaps I just don't remember the details of this any more.  I'm sorry about that.  But I have a few extra memories that may be new to you.

Extra Memories

"Across our desk(s)" actually initially was Bob's dining room table and my makeshift light table in the upstairs travel agency.  We didn't have desks per se! I didn't even have a desk there.  I was in constant movement, replacing people whenever they were at lunch or whatever.  It wasn't til later in 1976 that I quit full time employment (and still filled in a bit at the travel agency) to work mostly in JG.  Our suite of offices was upstairs in the same small Mall building.  There were 4 little offices: my light table room with giant table for laying out finished items, an orders room for Bob's sister, a central room with folding table that Bob worked at occasionally (mostly at home plus getting his engineering degree) and the largest room (of course) was a giant table for wargames.

Tac Cards

I typeset the Tac Cards through the winter and spring of early 1976 and they may have been pasted up during the summer.  I think that the bit that slowed them down was the drawings that Bob made of the various weapons.  He indeed may have done those after the city state map was in print.  But I know that the typesetting was down (ed-done) early because I remember talking the printers into letting me come in at 7AM to typeset (free of charge) for 45 minutes before they needed it and I needed to get to work at the travel agency at 8AM.  It seems weird now with anyone with a computer able to approximate typesetting but it was a big deal to have your game project typeset to make it look professional.  And too expensive for many new game companies.  The typesetters were gatekeepers and used their monopoly position to reasonable effect.

Yes, I think that they were finished last because each deck was manually collated by Bob's wife, Norma.  I was spared that duty and really grateful.