Published on February 4, 2013 by Amy
Lorraine Dille Williams is an American businesswoman who was in charge of the gaming company TSR, Inc. from 1986 to 1997. Williams was hired as TSR’s manager by company co-founder Gary Gygax in 1984. She gained control of TSR the following year when the Blume brothers sold her their controlling shares of the company. For several years after that, TSR was a gaming industry leader. In 1996, an unexpectedly high cost of returned (unsold) fiction books and an unsuccessful and expensive foray into the collectible card game market caused a cash flow squeeze, and Williams was forced to sell TSR to Wizards of the Coast in 1997.
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Williams inherited the rights to Buck Rogers and a large collection of Buck Rogers memorabilia. She later sold the memorabilia at auction.
Lorraine Williams was the granddaughter of John F. Dille who, while president of the National Newspaper Service syndicate in the 1920s, arranged for Buck Rogers to be turned into a syndicated comic strip. After Dille’s death in 1957, ownership of Buck Rogers and other works passed into Lorraine’s hands through the Dille family trust, making Lorraine the inheritor of the Buck Rogers franchise. When the trust was sold, the Dille family retained the licensing of Buck Rogers, as well as a collection of Buck Rogers memorabilia that John F. Dille had accumulated over thirty years. Williams helped her father to catalog and pack away all of the items.
She attended the University of California at Berkeley, where she earned a B.A. in history. After graduating she worked at the National Newspaper Syndicate, then became an assistant administrator at the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center. Later, she joined the National Easter Seal Society, where she worked as an administrator.
Gary Gygax, co-inventor of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and partner in the company TSR, had been sent to Hollywood in 1982 to work on licensing the Dungeons & Dragons brand, leaving the day-to-day operations of TSR to his fellow board members, Kevin and Brian Blume. While in Hollywood, he was involved in the making of the Dungeons & Dragons animated television show and exploring the possibility of a film adaptation of the game. In the course of his work, Gygax met Flint Dille, with whom he collaborated on a series of choose-your-own-adventure-type novels and a script for an unmade Dungeons & Dragons film. In 1984, Gygax was alerted to the fact that TSR was $1.5 million in debt and the Blumes were looking for a buyer. In an attempt to bring new investment money into the company, Gygax asked Flint Dille to arrange a meeting with his sister, Lorraine Williams. Although she turned down Gygax’s invitation to invest in TSR, Gygax did hire her, on the basis of her management experience, to manage TSR. Gygax subsequently engineered the removal of Kevin Blume as CEO and the removal of three of Blume’s friends from the board as well but, in an act many saw as retaliation, the Blumes soon sold their stock to Williams, making her the majority shareholder. Gygax tried to fire Williams and replace her with his future wife, Gail Carpenter, but was advised not to. Gygax tried to have the sale of stock declared illegal; after that failed, Gygax sold his remaining stock to Williams and left TSR at the end of 1985.
Williams was a financial planner who saw the potential for transforming the debt-plagued company into a highly profitable one. However, she supposedly disdained gaming, viewing herself as superior to gamers. Williams is rumored to have implemented an internal policy under which playing games was forbidden at the company. However former TSR employee Mike Breault has stated that there was no such policy.
She also continued to try to thwart Gary Gygax’s attempts to stay in the gaming industry. Upon leaving TSR, Gygax had founded New Infinities Productions, Inc., and subsequently developed a new fantasy role-playing game, spanning multiple genres, called Dangerous Journeys. When the product was released by Game Designers’ Workshop, Williams immediately sued, believing that it infringed on TSR’s intellectual property. The suit was eventually settled out of court, with TSR buying the complete rights to the Dangerous Journeys system from New Infinities and then permanently shelving the entire project. With no product to sell, Gygax’s new company was driven out of business.
Under Williams’ direction, TSR initially maintained its leadership position in role-playing games, and solidified its expansion into other fields, such as magazines, paperback fiction, and comic books. Through her family, Williams personally held the rights to the Buck Rogers license and encouraged TSR to produce Buck Rogers games and novels. In 1988 she edited Buck Rogers: The First 60 Years in the 25th Century. TSR would also publish a Buck Rogers board game, a Buck Rogers XXVC role-playing game based on the AD&D 2nd Edition rules, several dozen expansion modules for the role-playing game, a line of novels and graphic novels, and a computer version of the role-playing game produced by SSI using their Gold Box game engine.
During the 1980s, TSR was the top games company in North America. However, in the early 1990s, TSR fell behind both Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast in terms of sales volume. Seeing the profits being generated by Wizards of the Coast with their collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, TSR attempted to enter this market in 1996 in a novel way with Dragon Dice, a game that used packs of collectible dice instead of cards. In addition, despite a history of publishing only one or two hardcover novels each year, TSR also decided to publish twelve novels in 1996.
Sales of Dragon Dice through the games trade started strongly, so TSR quickly produced several expansion packs. In addition, TSR tried to aggressively market Dragon Dice in mass-market book stores through Random House. However, Dragon Dice did not catch on through the book trade, and sales of the expansion sets through traditional games stores sold poorly. In addition, the twelve hardcover novels did not sell as well as expected either. Despite total sales of $40 million, TSR ended 1996 with few cash reserves. When Random House returned an unexpectedly high percentage of the year’s inventory of unsold novels and Dragon Dice for a fee of several million dollars, TSR found itself in a cash crunch.
With no cash available, TSR was unable to pay their printing and shipping bills, and the logistics company that handled TSR’s pre-press, printing, warehousing and shipping refused to do any more work. Since the logistics company had the production plates for key products such as core D&D books, there was no means of printing or shipping core products in order to generate income or secure short-term financing.
With no viable financial plan for TSR’s survival, Williams sold the company to Wizards of the Coast in 1997.
In August 2010, Williams announced that she was selling what she described as the world’s largest collection of Buck Rogers original comic art, prototypes, toys, books, and collectibles—the material she had helped her father to catalog and pack up many years before. She said at the time of the announcement that her instinct had been to hold on to everything, but she had come to realize that it was more important to get the collection out into the public. The pieces of the collection were subsequently sold at auction on August 28, 2010.