|About Bruce Heard|
RW: According to your blog (About Bruce Heard) You were originally hired by Gary Gygax as a translator. After two years, your position changed to Acquisition Coordinator and you also did game design. In 1985, the adventure M1 Into the Maelstrom was released. Into the Maelstrom is a very unique adventure that introduces the concept of using floating wooden "ships of sail" in space. This predates Spelljammer by four years and is the first instance of such a concept in a Dungeons and Dragons product that I am aware of. What inspired you to come up with the concept? Did Jeff Grubb utilize your idea when making Spelljammer? What was the development process like?
BH: This was my first attempt at a high level adventuring, something with which I had little experience. The idea of running an army and, why not, flying around, seemed like something exciting, innovative, and appropriate to the level of play. There were weak spots in the design, and I probably would structure it differently if I had to do something like this now. I do not know for a fact whether Jeff used any of it as a source for Spelljammer. He’s a very talented writer and designer more than capable of developing Spelljammer without my odd little module!
RW: The cover of M1 Into the Maelstrom gives dual credit to you and your wife. Did your wife ever consider becoming a full time game designer?
BH: No, she didn’t. She had fun participating in the design, but it wasn’t her thing.
RW: As the Acquisition Coordinator, you were in charge of hiring freelance designers and writers to make modules, rules, and supplements. Did this represent a change in the method of development at TSR? Were most things produced in house by staff employees before you coordinated things?
BH: To your first question—most definitely. To the second—yes, to a point. This was in part because our legal department demanded clear descriptions of works-for-hire, which required in house staff doing a lot of concept work ahead of time. As an insufferably persistent character, I never let a contract go out unless I was satisfied that the product’s most important points had been clearly and fully spelled out. Especially in the early years, concept work usually remained the purview of the assigned designer on staff. I also insisted that someone in-house be accountable for timely reviews of freelance deliveries, while I remained available to arbitrate abuses on either sides. Again, in the 80’s almost everything was designed in house, so these processes were all new. As Basic/Expert came through and its lead creative, Frank, left TSR, that entire product line effectively became an orphan. No one in house wanted to have anything to do with it and, therefore, I had to suddenly farm everything out. As a result, I became the de-facto lead designer/product manager for BECMI. My own design direction affected especially BECMI and Mystara products. Once the general direction was provided to a freelance writer, I tended to remain “hands-off” unless I knew there was a problem. In a way, it was a novel approach, since TSR wasn’t then in the habit of relying on freelance talent. An effort was made to ensure out-of-house authors quickly became used to TSR’s way of working. TSR’s sales depended almost entirely on being able to ship exactly on expected release dates picked as much as 16 months in advance. Because of this, there was little or no margin for error when freelancers were required to deliver their work. That part was unforgiving.
RW: You are, perhaps, best known for putting together the Gazetteers detailing the known world of Mystara. And the voyages of the Princess Ark from Dragon Magazine (another flying wooden ship!). The roll call of writers for the Gazetteers reads like a whos who of rpg writers; Aaron Allston, Ken Rolston, Steve Perrin, Ed Greenwood, yourself, and many more. What was the process like to find a writer to work on a Gazetteer? Did you have to micro manage the production? Are there any particular interesting moments during the 1987-1991 run of the Gazetteers that stand out in your mind that you would like to share?
BH: Early on, getting well-established authors and artists for the Gazetteers was a blast. Since most things were done in house, I had a free hand at selecting who I wanted for the Gazetteers. As TSR's product lineup outgrew in-house resources, things got a bit tighter of course. Depending on the author, I got involved with production, usually with mappers because of the relative complexity of Mystara maps. Gazetteers early on adopted the 96-pg format + mapsheet which at the time was seen as a heavy-weight format. It wasn’t long before everyone else got on that bandwagon though.
RW: I (Random Wizard) went to GenCon sometime between 1986 and 1989. I attended a panel of TSR employees that talked about Gazetteers (briefly) and then went into the plans for 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I remember that there was a group of young guys (from a Nordic country) who were upset that a Gazetteer had made up a name, and that name seemed to be interpreted as a slight against some people (in Sweden, Norway, Finland, or somewhere around there). Did such a topic ever reach your desk? You might have even been present on the panel I was at!
BH: I have no idea which name it would be. Recently a good number of Swedes stumbled on my references to the City of Sundsvall, Alphatia’s imperial capital. Of course there was no direct connection with the real Sundsvall in Sweden (or for that matter Trollhättan). Back in the 80’s when I happened to use these two names (because they sounded great) the idea was that folk from the Northern Reaches (Mystara’s Vikings) settled parts of Alphatia in an earlier age. There was also the name of the King of Ar, Qissling, who in the real world was a WWII Danish statesman. That one didn’t come from me and was a bit too close for comfort since the Mystaran homonym wasn’t a great guy. I can’t think of anything else.
RW: In 1988, GAZ 10 The Orcs of Thar was released. This Gazetteer was unique in that it was presented from the humanoid monsters perspective. It provided rules for playing Orcs, Kobolds, Trolls, etc... Did you do much playtesting of the rules? The rules seem to encourage a fun and carefree style (and are quite imaginative). Were there any sources of inspiration for putting together this Gazetteer? Was there a reason you tackled this Gazetteer instead of handing it off to someone else?
BH: There was a lot of playtest for the boardgame insert. Unfortunately, no time was left at all to try out RPG optional developments. I had to shoot from the hip for much of this. GAZ10 indeed had a lot of crunch to it. There was no specific source of inspiration other than my decision to show the “monster’s” point of view with some humor. It had been a while since I’d designed GAZ3, and the Known World’s real estate was going away fast! That was the motivation for fishing GAZ10 out of the mix and having some fun with it.
RW: You are listed as the Project Coordinator on the 1991 Rules Cyclopedia by Aaron Allston. The Rules Cyclopedia is held up as the holy grail of D&D by some, as it is a complete game covering a wide range of levels, topics, and types of play-- all in one rule book. When did the idea of putting the complete basic line into one hardbound book come about? How long was the development process? What was it like working with Aaron Allston on the project? Did you have a lot of input into what was included in the Cyclopedia?
BH: The idea came about the moment I got frustrated digging around the pile of players’ handbooks and DM’s guides from four separate boxed sets. And I was often frustrated with this. . . I don’t recall how long it took for Aaron and Steven to get all that stuff in there, but you can count this in terms of many months of hard work. Initially, yes, I had a lot of input in what was to be included. Once the project was underway, we all knew what the target was, and as the beast grew, the type size shrank. For a TSR product of the 90s, the RC is written in really small type with little or no room to spare. This also was one of my decisions—and of course part of my job was justifying the RC’s format and page count to a very worried upper management. I once had a visit from the VP of Finance concerned about the RC’s usefulness and sales potential. Obviously I won that bit of fun. Amusing perhaps, but only in retrospect.
RW: You currently run About Bruce Heard, and post new detailed maps and descriptions of various parts of Mystara. Is there anything you are working on currently (or have worked on) that you would like the readers to know about?
BH: I’'ll repeat what I said elsewhere. I’m fleshing out the Empire of Alphatia because its original treatment was just too light to make it justice. I’ve almost completely remapped the island-continent at an 8 mile per hex scale. Meanwhile, I’m writing a lot of background information to paint a very colorful picture of a world run by 1,000 archmages. I’m presently going through the various provinces of Floating Ar which may ultimately be the most amusing of the Alphatian realms. I’m about halfway through Ar now. Next stop: Ambur, a realm of wizardly astronomers.
RW: Bonus goofy question! Why did so many TSR employees, writers have beards?
BH: It’s a Wisconsin thing, I think. You know: beer, brats, and beards. . . and cheese. When I first came from France, I only sported a mustache, didn’t drink much beer, but was OK with cheese. Two out of four: that made me average, I guess. A beard is useful for snowmobiling. Condensation from one’s breath usually freezes underneath a helmet, forming icicles clinging to one’s beard. Facial hair makes for a great winter insulation! I haven’t snowmobiled for a long time and, for my taste, snow has become far too rare in southern Wisconsin during this past decade, but I still enjoy beer and brats, and by gosh, I kept my beard.