TSR Games (@TSR_Games) Twitter (25 June 2021) "Anyone having fun yet?"

The New TSR (“NuTSR”) – Transphobia, Scandals and Reactionary politics

As briefly covered in the first post, the meltdown in June was pretty dramatic and led to a split up between TSR LLC and Wonderfilled Inc. Since neither Justin LaNasa, nor Stephen Dinehart, can be classified as a reliable narrator and both parties blame each other for the matter – the TSR deep dive on this will be covering everything that was posted under the official TSR brand, since whether it was Dinehart or LaNasa at the keyboard, everything up until that point was under the brand and was consistent with later sentiments.

Everything Dinehart specific that did not bleed directly into the TSR platforms will likely be covered in the GiantLands Saga section.

A lot of the content has been deleted since, there will be heavy reliance on screenshots. After the disaster interview, there were a few attempts to simply dispel the narrative and pretend that the statements made in the interview simply didn’t exist. These went down like a wet bag of sick largely due to them being completely fabricated and having no basis in reality.1TSR Games (@TSR_games) Twitter (24 June 2021) (Archived) https://web.archive.org/web/20210624221618mp_/https://twitter.com/TSR_games/status/1408187164790345733 2TSR Games (@TSR_games) Twitter (24 June 2021) (Archived) https://web.archive.org/web/20210625050832mp_/https://twitter.com/TSR_games/status/1408178463773794306

Two tweets by TSR Games (@TSR_games) posted:
"The TTRPG is the original safe space."
"We are intolerant of hatred of any kind from all sides. All players are welcome at our table. Thanks to the role-playing game, we have a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion."

Dana McKiernan wrote out an extensive thread, outlining how the claim of TTRPG as the “original safe space” was patently absurd since, unsurprisingly, it turns out nerds are capable of being jerks too – particularly when the nerds are all straight white cis men.

It needs to be stressed, none of this was new or hard to find the information on – the history of Dungeons & Dragons is really well documented due the early fanbase having a lot of nerds who compulsively documented and collected everything. The issue, along with historical evidence was written about extensively by Jon Peterson on Medium in 2014, and if you prefer audio format I highly recommend the Slovenly Trulls podcast – where every month Shardae and Lyssa try to work out how anyone thought a lot of the shit in D&D history was ever acceptable. On top of that, it really isn’t hard to find evidence of it just casually looking through the core materials themselves.3My Twitter (25 June 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1408236440761241602

And lest it be mistaken that this was only a thing that proud feminists and historians cared about, the conversation continued to be very damning on EN World in the original thread about Ernie’s incredibly cringe interview. It doesn’t take a special interest in the material to realize that things were not okay.

TSR continued to double down on this, now claiming that “if you don’t like Gary Gygax you probably shouldn’t play D&D” and retweeting a claim that original D&D players “were absolutely marginalized” and crediting Big Bang Theory and popular media with making it “cool”.

A screenshot of Shmoopy (@JackoJonson) (24 June 2021):
"Original D&D palyers were absolutely marginalized as nerds, geeks, dorks, etc. Then stuff like Big Bang Theory, video games, comics, movies, made it cool.

We've come a long way let's not ruin it by being jerks to each other. Peace. (string of emojis)"
Big Bang Theory absolutely did not make anything cool.

And that was all in 24 hours!

The next day they opened with retweeting Dinehart expecting applause for not wanting to police depictions of sex or gender in his game that people knew very little about, stressing they will not tolerate hate of any kind (put a pin in that), retweeting a reply by Luke that he wouldn’t call D&D bigoted while glossing over Luke also agreed the interview was bad and had advised Ernie to be more thoughtful – and that it was in response to an original disclaimer by Luke clarifying he had nothing to do with them, and tried to distract by announcing “we make games” as well as some promotional material for GiantLands.

But they also, in this same period, started their most hilarious clusterfuck that would fade away in detail, but overall come to define the company as a whole.

This would continue, with a lot of weird claims such as that Gary was robbed and had nothing to leave his family (odd given there was a court case to decide which family members he left it to and TSR had already clarified they had no intention on sharing with any Gygax who didn’t support the unconditionally) and accusing Luke Gygax of “making stuff up” when he continued to stress that he was not involved and wanted no involvement based on their behaviour.

But there was one statement made on 25 June 2021 that was special.


TSR Games (@TSR_games) tweeted:
"In today's hyperpolarized culture, we have a firm commitment to #KeepGamingFantasy. We invite you to escape with us." (25 June 2021)
#KeepGamingFantasy (except when it’s inconvenient to do so)4TSR Games (@TSR_Games) Twitter (25 June 2021) (Archived) https://web.archive.org/web/20210625232355/https://twitter.com/TSR_games/status/1408566618628710406

Broadly this would encapsulate the narcissism at play here – that they are entitled to claim they are making whatever political stance they want, but that anyone else is out of line to do so. Most explicitly shown in later action where TSR would claim it’s not political for them to claim that people outside the orthodox gender binary (be they trans, non-binary, drag queens, etc) are groomers, but it is too political for Wizards of the Coast employees to expect Hasbro to take a stand protecting reproductive rights after the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.5Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum (@HobbyMuseum) Twitter (28 June 2022) (Currently Private) https://twitter.com/HobbyMuseum/status/1541665570319384576

A screenshot of Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum (@HobbyMuseum) replying to the Wizards for Justice tweet about the need for Hasbro to reply to the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs Wade with: "Keep politics out of gaming!!!!" with the graphic of the Anti-Woke UN-Claimer that goes on about they are not bigots but they will not "bend the knee" and so will put bigoted content in games to upset people if people tell them not to.
Fortunately the privacy lock means Wizards for Justice never had to see this pop up in their notifications.

They spammed this relentlessly in ads for the museum that compared it to the original Dungeon Hobby Shop, sharing that picture of young Justin LaNasa, claiming it was their simple message (the day before it’d been “we make games”), a weird claim that the controversy was about the origin point of D&D (implying, due to being posted after the next bit – that everyone in the mid-west had identical politics to Gary), and also the inevitable claim that Gary Gygax wasn’t a bigot – he was just “a product of his time” and so “his statements from the past & his products are not ours” but they won’t allow any discussion of them anyway because it’d hurt the brand due his pilfered legacy being their sole marketing point… sorry “we love him dearly”.

They also eventually rolled onto yet another post, this one credit to Justin, where they tried to explain all of this nonsense was “passionate about gamers & gaming” (hilarious with the history to date) and blamed the critics citing their own statements with “When confronted with disinformation, we have defended ourselves.” – retweeted by the Ernie account with a sort of “I didn’t mean it” half arsed apology.6My Twitter (28 June 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1409233749137522688

Ernie Gary Gygax Jr. (@Gygax_Jr):
"Justin is right about this. i do apologize to any and all communities, and persons, I offended, I had no such intent & wish we could stop it because it's hurting people. My life has been colorful. I love to laugh and more so, I love to play #TTRPG. Happy Sunday!" retweeting TSR Games (@TSR_games): "We here at TSR are very passionate about gamers & gaming. we don't mean to offend or attack anyone, & appreciate all the feedback we've been getting from fans near & far. When we confronted with disinformation, we have defended ourselves. Our message is very clear & always has been."
Sorry we undermined your humanity, but hey, it’s Sunday!

Prior to this, they’d made their funniest claim: That the wave of criticism and the expectation of accountability was, in fact, the second coming of Satanic Panic.7TSR Games (@TSR_Games) Twitter (27 June 2021) https://web.archive.org/web/20210627132417/https://twitter.com/TSR_games/status/1409114704023334913

The tweet by TSR Games: "What we've been experiencing in recent days is very reminiscent of another moment in TSR history. Who recalls the Satanic Panic? Ends up some people, even today, still believe the #TTRPG & #DnD are in fact evil."
This is a thing they actually claimed.

This was incredibly ironic, because the kinds of people who were supporting them were in fact, the exact kinds of people who were supportive of the Satanic Panic.8Why Satanic Panic never really ended, by Aja Romano, Vox (31 May 2021) https://www.vox.com/culture/22358153/satanic-panic-ritual-abuse-history-conspiracy-theories-explained 9America’s Satanic Panic Returns – This Time Through QANON, by Noah Caldwell, Air Shapiro, Patrick Jarenwattananon and Mia Venkat, NPC https://www.npr.org/2021/05/18/997559036/americas-satanic-panic-returns-this-time-through-qanon And of yes, they had supporters…

The supporters they were grateful for…

They’d already expressed great gratitude to ClownfishTV (who have since distanced themselves and, eventually, stopped reporting on TSR) for their videos, which is hilarious given the nature of the channel – low effort clickbait spam portraying all progressive critique as “Twitter” and heavily criticizing anything they don’t like because… it’s progressive. This was their idea of fair, unbiased, and non-political:

A screenshot of 4 x 6 thumbnails from ClownfishTV - all of them seem to be about "Culture Wars" nonsense with topics like "Black Widow Puts MEN in their place", "Disney drops Gender from Theme Park Annoucnements" "My Little Pony: Racism is Tragic" "My ship will forever be Slave 1"
I cannot imagine wanting support from someone like this…

On of the first responses to the post about Gary being “not a bigot” but “a product of his time” was a supportive statement that this also applied to known mega-racist H. P. Lovecraft (along with a follow up of the myth Lovecraft repented in his final years. Spoiler: He did not, he just mellow a bit on some specific areas of his bigotry.)10Has H P Lovecraft ever regretted his racist thoughts? The Red Book (Steven), Quora: https://www.quora.com/Has-H-P-Lovecraft-ever-regretted-his-racist-thoughts/answer/The-Red-Book-Steven 11I have heard that H. P. Lovecraft came to regret his racist views later in his life. Is this true? AncientHistory, AskHistorians, Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/6sq2c5/comment/dlf83h5/?context=3

They also received support from unrepentant GamerGate-stan Lunar Archivist12Lunar Archvist (@LunarArchivist) Twitter (21 May 2022) https://twitter.com/lunararchivist/status/1527857319727579136 in the form of a thread so convoluted it initially got them blocked (they were one of the few people to be unblocked after other reactionaries assured TSR they were a supporter).13Lunar Archivist (@LunarArchivist) Twitter (30 June 2021) https://twitter.com/LunarArchivist/status/1409883978732089349 14My Twitter (2 July 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1410699626844282881 Similarly people identifying with the spinoff hate campaign, ComicsGate, started coming out of the woodwork to support them.15My Twitter (29 June 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1409750032861986818

GamerGate grifter Mark Kern, famous for wasting a ton of investor money on an ugly bus, also tried to get involved indirectly – but failed to really get the attention of TSR LLC.16My Twitter (26 June 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1408648863032909828 Other infamous far right grifter, Ian “Ant Man” Miles Cheong also weighed in for some low effort bullying.17My Twitter (27 June 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1409095649736364033

But the real juicy stuff was when they started receiving,18Steve Kenson (@SKenson) Twitter (28 June 2021) https://twitter.com/SKenson/status/1409239492951695361 and liking,19My Twitter (28 June 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1409326049121357827 supportive tweets from actual convicted Neo-Nazi Varg Vikernes.

A screenshot of TSR Games (@TSR_games) likes:
God-King Gio:
"Don't let the journo rags try to gaslight you into apologizing for something you have no reason for."
Thulean Perspective (MYFAROG):
"That's really cool. I can add that Native American Paganism (yeah, I think that term is just fine... it means "rural") is close to identical to our own Native European Paganism - and just like us, they inherited it from the Neanderthals."
And yes he’s saying all pagan spiritual beliefs are basically the same because they came from ancient humans… guess which religion he thinks is special!

As a general rule – when your supporters are proud to be parts of hate mobs, and your detractors are people who are just want you not to destroy the reputation of something you claim to love – this can be a sign to stop and reconsider your actions. Not so for TSR!

However it didn’t take a genius to work out that this was not sustainable – and so a new strategy was enacted on the smouldering ruins of the old (they weren’t cool enough to know about the “This is fine” cartoon and for that I am grateful).

Ernie’s childhood story (ie non-apology)

Ernie’s complete childhood story was posted as an attempt to mitigate the situation was pretty disastrous largely due to his (true to character) focus on his own problems and insisting that 1. these problems proved he couldn’t be the bad guy and 2. all that really matters is that theoretically he will allow any of these people to play at his table.

A screenshot of the TSR Facebook post resharing Ernie's statement: "I wish to state in the strongest terms that I never meant to hurt anyone of any race, creed or color. My video From the Bunker caused some to feel that they would not be welcome or would be looked down upon. That was never the intent, I was reacting to focus of modern role play into a more background and Role Play rather than the wargame that so made so many lives happy over 40 years ago.
As a gamer it meant that most of us were not worthy of any attention from others of our own age. We were Nerds. We were brainy-acks and others would snicker. Older classmen would ask to "borrow" something of ours to then pass back and forth a game of keep away. I used to receive some special attention from about 4 Juniors in my Freshman year. I played the Violin and often I began to wish that I had Super Powers, perhaps become a Giant.. I was far to shy and then embarrassed as attractive ladies would just lower the eyes while the jocks or other socially vibrant fellows had some fun at another geeky nerds expense. Thank goodness I grew 4 inches my junior year.
The only real comfort zone we all could share was a table in the lunch room. At least the fledgling TSR found fertile minds in those who had only those like us - gamers. Rather than have to risk embarrassing myself, since Phy Ed was going to force us to dance with those wonderful and yet scary girls.  Well to get my Diploma I had to slave for a month to Mr. Gerber the head of the Phy Ed department. Fortunately I knew all about janitorial work as before D&D and TSR dad only made $5,000 as a Cobbler (five children) and we had food stamps and even free school lunches. Yes you had to go to the councilors office every week to collect your free lunch passes. Obviously you could feel all the eyes on you and the talk about....
Everyone has been welcome at my gaming table and multitudes of new friends have been created by the time spent playing the games we Love. Look at pictures of gaming on my site or anywhere I run games. Everyone is welcome, just like a Boot Hill game leave your guns at the bar until you leave town. If you come to the Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum Jeff R. Leason will show you courtesy and a smile and you will see that gaming with elder gamers is a safe and entertaining environment."
Still available on the personal Facebook of Ernie Gygax, but available in tweet thread format.20Ernie Gary Gygax Jr (@Gygax_Jr) Twitter (29 June 2021) (archived) https://archive.ph/c2OcL

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ernie’s admissions to having fantasies of being a school shooter, in a year with a staggering number of school shootings,21School shootings in the US reached a 20-year high in 2021, federal law data shows, By Virginia Langmaid, Rebekah Riess and Holly Yan, CNN https://edition.cnn.com/2022/06/29/us/texas-iowa-school-safety-funding/index.html did not play well since Ernie also didn’t really show any awareness of the kinds of issues and dangers that marginalized people face – only a fixation with his own difficulties in childhood.

They did however do a strategic backstep of deleting pretty much all the tweets from this period while liking people who supported their narrative that this had all been good for them actually – it’d boosted sales.22My Twitter (1 July 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1410364905878736901 They then followed up with a new strategy:

TSR Games (@TSR_games) tweeted:
"The RPG is an empathy machine." 
Below it Ed Fortune (@ed_fortune) replies introducing himself a reporter and asking for a clear statement on LGBT rights.
Yup, “safe space” didn’t work so we’re going to go with “empathy machine” and try to ignore that we have actual journalists asking us for actual quotes now. TSR’s master plan. In case you’re wondering how it went for Ed, the answer is “not great“.

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear that it didn’t work – people were not reassured that the idea that a game which, strips to the studs of the original mechanics, was about going around and killing things that were “evil”, or simply inconvenient, to amass wealth and power, was about “empathy”. The week long display of a distinct lack of it from the voices at TSR LLC certainly hadn’t helped either.

Enter Michael

TSR’s solution was a truly, truly magical announcement:23My Twitter (2 July 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1410840127211917315

Hi everyone,
I am the new Public Relations Officer for TSR.Games.
The individual that was handling this account is no longer with TSR.
Please direct all future TSR communications to me.
In the coming week, there will be a video featuring Ernie Gygax in which he will address:
Scifi4Me Tv’s “Live from the Bunker 277” Interview
The personal childhood story he posted on his personal Twitter Account
Please stand by…

Public Relations Officer

TSR Games (@TSR_games) Twitter (2 July 2021)

That’s right! After everything else in the week before they were actually going to try accountability and asking Ernie Gygax to act like a grown up! Exciting times. (We are, in fact, still waiting eagerly for that video from Ernie!) But there were some issues:

  1. Due to the frequent overlaps in content between his personal twitter and the TSR Games account, it was pretty obvious that the “individual that was handling this account” was Stephen Dinehart, who was also the owner of GiantLands… that would surely make Michael being the PR guy for GiantLands… awkward in the extreme
  2. Nobody had any clue who this Michael guy was, if he was a real person or if he was just a new imaginary identity invented by the less than honest “individual that was handling this account”

Later we would learn that Michael was Michael K Hovermale, a volunteer moderator at the TSR Discord who’d stepped forward to offer to help repair the PR damage – operating under the assumption that the increasingly unstable and overall undesirable nature of the tweets was the result of someone from outside tinkering with the Twitter and not at all suspecting that it the call was coming from inside the house, and that if anything, TSR’s key staff were way, way more petty, vile and hateful than indicated.24Interview with a TSR Insider, Tabletop Taproom (24 July 2022) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S66PbNj5sxY 25Gygaxgate Origins with Ed Greenwood, Tim Kask, and TSR Official (9 October 2021) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXfloHKx0ag

One hilarious side effect of the announcement is how poorly it went over with the reactionary fanbase who had been going all out to support them, and immediately threatened to turn on them if they “bent the knee” to nobody specific, but just like… did something okay.26Jess Jewell (@doctorbees) Twitter (2 July 2021) https://twitter.com/doctorbees/status/1410929336182521858 27My Twitter (2 July 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1410853815469838337

So, we all waited… kind of. Things were quiet and peaceful for a time, then a few days later the post announcing Michael was deleted, and there was the double whammy of a Happy Independence Day along with an announcement that GiantLands would be featuring a “landshark” which looked suspiciously like the original D&D monster the Bulette28My Twitter (6 July 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1412162274177929221 (which has a pretty entertaining history in its own right).

A screenshot of the TSR Games (@TSR_games) with a post: "Have you met Landshark? Catch your own in the 5th Age Index booklet in @GiantLands 1e boxed set. Available for preorder exclusively at TSR.games #TTRPG #TSR #GiantLands #roleplaying #KeepGamingFantasy"
Below a tweet: "A belated Happy Independence Day from the team at TSR, LLC!"
The previous tweet before that is from 2 July 2021.
Pretty sure Wizards of the Coast own the copyright on that… also not sure what #KeepGamingFantasy means in this context… don’t breed a real one?

All attempts to reach out and find out what had happened to Michael resulted in blocks.29My Twitter (6 July 2021) https://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=28336 And a new, hilariously parody (leave it alone Elon!) account rose up – TSRMichael (now @TSRLegalTeam) which started with a tweet that was, in hindsight, perhaps too real.

Then we were subjected to the ultimate plot twist:

A screenshot of @TSR_games showing "This account doesn't exist"
For a brief moment, it seemed the evil had been defeated.

The TSR Games (TSR_games) twitter account went down, but later arose as the Wonderfilled Games (@WFDgames) account – similarly the TSR.games site when down and then declared itself to be “Wonderfiled Games” (later corrected to “Wonderfilled”).

A mobile screenshot of tsr.games with the WFD logo and "Wonderfiled Inc." as the company name.
You have no idea how stressful it is when stuff like this happens while you only have your phone handy.

Theories were voiced, and there was some confusion in the gaming press as Jayson Elliot’s Solarian had also rebranded at the time – leading to the misunderstanding that TSR was now Wonderfilled. The truth was much more simple – LaNasa and Dinehart had reached critical mass with their differences, Justin had cancelled the agreement to publish GiantLands and keep employing Stephen, Stephen had taken the the socials, the website urls and everything he’d had due to him being the workhorse of the TSR revival at that point and decided to self-publish.

The confusion was not helped by the fact that Dinehart was incredibly sloppy with the changeover – justifying typos as “a good thing actually” and often leaving outdated information on pages. Also since neither part was reliable for information, it’s still unclear what circumstances truly provoked the matter. TSR for it’s part, did not communicate well on media it still controlled, opting to update their profile picture on Facebook but not make any sort of statement.

Having lost pretty much all control over their Twitter presence, TSR resorted to issuing press releases where finally the identity of Michael was revealed and all statements by the social media were disavowed, along with the social media for Ernie and Justin. It included the very minimal apology from Ernie. A later press release cemented their complete separation from Wonderfilled Inc, and that they did not conduct the sales or have the financial records (which was a bit odd given so many sales happened through the TSR Games site…)

TSR LLC was now in an odd position of having sold themselves up as being the a company that made games, with their only game to sell being a pamphlet by Justin (Tales & Tots) intended for parents and their small children – and a vague “Star Frontiers” game that was in “pre-production”.

It appears the initial intention was that Michael would find someone to help write the material, such as Tom of Tabletop Taproom. But then the plan was that Michael’s son Logan would write the game with information from unlicensed electronic copies and advice from his father. This, unsurprisingly, turned into a nightmare task as Justin had no respect for the actual creative process and would randomly announce that he had promised content so it needed to be added.30Interview with a TSR Insider, Tabletop Taproom (24 July 2022) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S66PbNj5sxY Ultimately, the project would be taken over by Dave Johnson (more on that later).

Photo of the Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum at night with all the lights out except for the TSR neon in the window.
Dark times for TSR31Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum (TSRHobbiesMuseum) Facebook (27 January 2021) https://www.facebook.com/TSRHobbiesMuseum/photos/pb.100059880621625.-2207520000./283091653208413/?type=3

How did TSR handle these dark times? Well, as you can guess, not well – but there’s a whole lot more to go into on just how not well.

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