Jim Ward, one of the principal creative forces in the first generation of roleplaying design, has passed away. The number of memorials appearing for him from many of the best-known and most noteworthy names in the industry clearly underlines his importance to the roleplaying community.

That’s in part because his work in the industry spans nearly its entirely history.

Jim stumbled into Gary Gygax one day at a book store where they were both buying volumes of fantasy and science-fiction. That led to his invitation to Gary’s gaming table and his introduction to the Castle Greyhawk campaign. More importantly, even as Jim began his professional work as a teacher, it ensured that he lay within the creative orbit of TSR, so that he could contribute his designs, the first of which was Metamorphosis Alpha (1976), the industry’s foundational science-fantasy game, set on a generation ship. That in turn led to the industry’s first post-apocalyptic design, Gamma World (1978). Despite his interest in science-fiction, Ward also coauthored one of the sacred five OD&D texts, Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes (1976), which he later expanded as AD&D’s third-and-a-halfth core book, Deities & Demigods (1980).

Fortunately for everyone involved, Gary was able to bring Jim to TSR full-time in 1980. Jim worked with the company for four years, variously in the Sales department, as a founder of the short-lived Education department, and in the Books department before he was laid off in 1984 (alongside about 80% of the company at the time). Afterward he returned to freelancing design for TSR, mostly for their gamebooks, and 18 months later TSR decided it was cheaper to bring him back on staff, this time as a designer.

Jim continued to do creative work during his second stint at TSR, expanding into novels and even support of computer designs. But from 1985-1996, Jim also moved up through the ranks, quickly becoming the director of Design & Development and later the Vice President of Design. Thoughout the majority of the AD&D 2e era, Jim was making many of the most crucial decisions for the advancement of the game. If Gary Gygax was the architect for D&D during its earliest days at TSR, Jim Ward was that architect for the end. By then, he was also one of the people with the most extensive histories at the company, and thus the most institutional knowledge. It was here that he had perhaps his greatest impact on Dungeons & Dragons, and on the roleplaying field as a whole.

But that ended in 1996 when Jim was required to lay off a considerable amount of his staff as TSR headed toward its own demise. Jim refused, quitting instead.

In the years after TSR, Jim continued to produce game designs for a variety of publishers. He was one of the ex-TSR staff who joined Imperium Games and then Fast Forward Entertainment. He contributed extensively to the d20 boom. As the ’00s passed into the ’10s, he was regularly featured at Troll Lord Games. More recently, he worked with Goodman Games on Metamorphosis Alpha reborn. His last game was Giantlands (2022); he continued designing right up until his sudden passing.

It would be possible to write much more about James Ward and his effect on the industry, but more meaningful still might be some of the words from those who knew him.

Tim Kask wrote about Jim’s career, but also discussed his role as a gamemaster, saying:

His game tables are the stuff of legend, mostly undeserved. He has a wildly exaggerated reputation of being a “TPK master”. He always maintained that he did not kill players; he let the players kill themselves. I didn’t buy it until I sat in on a few of his games-in-progress. Granted, Jim knew every bit of cheese to hide the trap. He would put large panels of pretty flashing lights and buttons, knowing that cheese was irresistible; someone always pushed the wrong buttons and got themselves ejected into deep space; someone always managed to place the party in to a “cosmic trash disposer” and got them vaporized, and then air-locked the mist into deep space. All with the most frustratingly-bland look on his face. I sat in one where the party died of radiation when they could have just walked away. He looked at me and said “See? I didn’t kill them, they killed themselves.” He was right.

Mike Selinker told the story of how he met Jim:

He looks at the new copy of Gamma World on my desk and says, “Whatcha writing?”

I say, “The Gen Con tournament you promised you’d write.”

He blinks and says, “I’m never gonna live this down, right?”

Skip Williams remembered Jim’s work:

Jim’s most lasting contributions came as a manager, however. He made it his business to make sure that TSR’s creative staff had the space (physically and mentally) to create.

And create they did.

If you enjoyed any of these product lines, you owe Jim at least a small debt:

D&D/AD&D Core


Forgotten Realms



Dark Sun

And that’s an abbreviated list.

Luke Gygax remembered an adopted uncle and friend as well as a creator (and talked about Jim’s infamous Killer GMing as well).

Jim was possessed of a cheerful disposition and nearly unflappable positivity. He loved to talk and crack jokes when I spoke to him. He was kind enough to partner with me on three modules back in 2013-2015 when I decided to write scenarios for the Gary Con Open tournament. Despite a jovial demeanor he was serious about his craft. He cracked the whip on me when I was procrastinating and offered his advice when I had some questions on direction for the adventure. I thank him for what he taught me.

Some of Jim’s writing on his history at TSR can be found at EN World.

Thanks to Jim, thanks to his friends for their memories, and condolences to all.

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