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Daystar West: Tracy Hickman Question - Answer Correspondence

The Scribe: I thought I would strike up a question about your early days of fantasy creation on that sacred land. What is your fondest memory of the early days at TSR?

Tracy Hickman: Those early days at TSR were, now that I look back on it, the best of times and the worst of times, to paraphrase Dickens... There are a lot of old warrior stories from those days but it might be better if I left you with general impressions rather than history.

My wife and I had just driven across the country with our then two small children in the back of our Volkswagen Rabbit. I had been out of work for months and was anxious to have ANY job — let alone one in a creative field. I was so excited, in fact, that I arrived at work half an hour before anyone else. I can still remember waiting outside in the cold...

TSR occupied several buildings in Lake Geneva in those days. The corporate offices were across town in a relatively new building. Dragon Magazine was located on Main Street in the various rooms of a large house while the game design department and artists occupied the second and third floors of what had been the old hotel right in the center of town. The building had been structurally unsound at one end (the load bearing steel having rusted through) but they had fixed that problem. The result, however, was that the offices on the third floor slanted slightly to the north. I still remember sitting in my swivel office chair with one foot hooked behind its wheeled leg, the toe of my shoe dug into the old wooden floor to prevent my chair from swiveling away from the keyboard and rolling across the floor.

I shared an office in those early days (actually what was thought of as conference room) with Tim Kilpin and Michael Williams — perhaps known to you as the poet of Dragonlance as well as an author in his own right. There was so much creativity in the room that it often overflowed. We wrote an entire musical between our adventure design up in that office between the three of us. It was called 'Trademark Jail' — and we fancied it the best Elvis Presley musical created since he died. The songs included "Don't Copy-wrong, copy-right", "the Habeas Hop", and my personal favorite, a sad ballad called "Pledger-Eyes."

Our two floors were right above the old Dungeon Hobbyshop — the original RPG game store. I remember seeing Gary Gygax there for the first time and being introduced to him. I was absolutely tongue tied.

We eventually would all be moved into a new facility adjacent to the corporate offices with nice new office cubicles and our terminals would be wired directly to the company main frame (remember those?) rather than via a 300 baud modem. Yet I think my fondest memories are of those wonderful, desperate days on that slanting third floor.

The Scribe: This (question) will be very specifically directed to your earliest enterprise ... Daystar West. I once read a quote of Harold Johnson on his interview of you for a staff position at TSR. He mentions seeing Eye of the Dragon along with Pharaoh as some of the Daystar West items he looked at. This immediately made me think of Dragonlance as well. I read somewhere else that you planted the original creative seed for the need of TSR to develop an adventure based specifically around a dragon. This was essentially how creative development headed toward Dragonlance.

Another interesting item from Daystar West is Vampyr. How far into development did this make it?

Tracy Hickman: Wow, there is so much to tell... and I want to preface all of with my acknowledgment that what I say may or may not be true. It is true the way I remember it but all memory is a matter of perception. Other people may remember these events differently than I do; that does not make them wrong — it only means that they remember it from their own perspective. What you'll get from me is my perspective and I'll represent that as honestly as I can.

Daystar West was the DBA that Laura and I used to self publish adventures in the late 70's and early 80's. As newlyweds, we had a lot of dreams back then and I had perhaps more than a healthy share of ambition. Laura had introduced me to D&D (another story for another time) but our money was tight as I was in college at the time. Laura said that if we were going to spend money on the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide — the original, first edition that had just come out — then we needed to find a way to make money at it.

The result was our first two published adventures; Rahasia (which, in Indonesian, means 'secret') which was followed by Pharaoh. I did the cover art and maps by hand with a technical pen and plastic templates, drawing on my Junior High School drafting skills. I also used that same pen to do the interior artwork on Rahasia although the artwork for Pharaoh we actually commissioned from a high school student named, as I recall, Josh Pagel. The text itself was typed on an IBM Selectric typewriter my father had loaned to us and was 'hand-justified.' Today, of course, you simply hit the 'justify' setting on your word processor to get the left and right columns even. But remember, this was 1978 and home computers were a very new and expensive idea. So to get the columns even, I would type out the text with certain narrow margins then count the spaces at the end of each line, insert slash marks between the words equal to the number of spaces at the end, then retype the text while putting in the additional spaces manually to make the margins even. The text was then laid out, again by hand, by cutting these pieces of text into strips and gluing them to layout pages with rubber cement. (Again, techniques from my Junior High Journalism class.) Headline 'typesetting' was accomplished using rub on lettering -- or my own hand when necessary.

Two additional adventures had been in the works back then; Vampyr and Eye of the Dragon. Vampyr was played and tested for over five years before it was sold to TSR and became Ravenloft. Eye of the Dragon in part, became the seeds of what would become Dragonlance. (Incidentally, the 'eye of the dragon' can be found in Bronze Canticles!) As for Rahasia: it was eventually published by the RPGA as a module with a companion adventure called Black Opal Eye — this second design coming straight out of the first level of my first campaign game design. Pharaoh became the first part of the famous I series which included all of the 'Desert of Desolation' modules and, of course Ravenloft. Interestingly, with the Lyceum now being set for release as part of the new Dragonlance War of the Lance 20th anniversary game book, I can't think of a single adventure game design of mine or my wife that hasn't sold and been published somewhere.

The Scribe: Your Daystar West items have a sense of architecture about them. Everything about them is very detailed and structured. This quality even comes out within the Dragonlance series. I remember being floored by how good the cartography was for DL which was far and away better than previous TSR mapping systems. Did you actually study Architecture by chance in those days before TSR?

Was Vampyr and Eye of the Dragon published to the extent that Pharaoh and Rahasia were (covers, art, etc.)? I know covers were certainly made for EotD.

Please excuse my ignorance, but I do not know of the origins of Lyceum nor what it is. Could someone explain this to me further?

Tracy Hickman: Neither Vampyr nor Eye of the Dragon were ever self-published. The designs for Vampyr were sold to TSR as Ravenloft. It was the covers for Eye of the Dragon that got me in enough trouble to make us produced games for sale — but those covers were the only part of that adventure ever produced. I believe I still have some of those covers around here somewhere...

As for the Lyceum; it was an adventure that I wrote and put on my website at one point. It was set in the Dragonlance world.

And thank you for kind comments on my sense of architecture! I've always been fascinated by the subject although I've never had any formal training in the art.

The Scribe: What parts of Eye of the Dragon would you say rolled into what became the Dragonlance saga? Characters, villians, plot lines, settings?

Tracy Hickman: Eye of the Dragon, as an actual text, never got much past the preliminary stages. I had some sketches of the floor plan maps and some notes (not to mention those covers) but that was about all. There really wasn't enough there to claim any direct relationship to such specifics as characters or setting ... so much as it was about general concepts of dragons being used as beasts of war. We borrowed from Eye of the Dragon ideas and the ideas of my campaign world for the foundations of Dragonlance.

-- Conducted in March of 2004 on Tracy and Laura Hickman's forums boards for their newest world called The Bronze Canticles.

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