In 1981, D&D publisher TSR printed B3 The Palace of the Silver Princess, but when the new copies reached key TSR management, they ordered the entire print run sent to a landfill rather than to distributors.
The debacle started when, after a year working mostly administrative tasks, the module’s author, Jean Wells, had finally landed a creative assignment writing an adventure that would introduce D&D to new players. Perhaps the company’s management expected a woman to deliver a gentle module that would nurture D&D’s burgeoning young audience. Instead, she wrote a sandbox with the same grown-up sensibilities as prior TSR products.
When TSR co-owner Brian Blume saw the newly printed adventure for the first time, one illustration titled “The Illusion of the Decapus” led him to have the printing trashed. In the picture a woman dangles from a ceiling beam, bound by her own hair. Men taunt and poke her, “pulling at what few clothes she has on.” Just a year earlier, such an illustration might have passed unnoticed. After all, in the October 1980 issue number 42 of Dragon, TSR printed a picture of a bound, naked woman on her knees before the corpulent, goat-headed figure of Orcus.
In 1981 though, D&D enjoyed rocketing sales that reached beyond the older wargamers and sci-fi fans who first found the game. Now the public worried that the game blurred reality and fantasy, potentially leading players to real trauma or to act out the violence in the game in real and dangerous ways. Fundamentalist parents feared the spells, demons, and devils in D&D would lead their kids to actual witchcraft, satanism, or ritual sacrifice. TSR strategy focused on building sales to younger gamers while comforting the parents who might worry about a game full of evil creatures and supernatural make believe. The original Palace of the Silver Princess failed to fit that approach.
Tomorrow: Number 9.