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The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Index of Posts

An index of posts describing the Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, an adventure for Holmes Basic characters levels 2-4.                    ...

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Jim Ward on the Why of Chits

The Chit Sheets, Front and Back.
Source: The Dice Collector

Later printings of the Holmes Basic D&D set came with an infamous sheet of chits, pictured above, in place of dice. I myself was one of those kids that received such a set, which only added to my confusion in understanding how the game was placed, despite the instruction sheet included for using the chits. It's long been rumored that the change was due to a dice shortage in face of D&D's popularity, and thus increased need for dice, but former TSR employee Jim Ward recently related (here on FB), how it was actually the result of management decisions by TSR during a time they were developing their own dice:

Young Jim Ward and the Dice Monster

© all rights reserved by James M. Ward 

“Young Jim Ward” was a history teacher in a small rural school when the call came in. I had just finished writing Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes, Deities & Demigods for AD&D, and Metamorphosis Alpha the first science fiction role-playing game. I told Gary Gygax that as soon as he could pay my teacher’s salary of 13,400 dollars I would move back to Elkhorn and join his company. In 1980 he was able to do that and I moved. 

“Young Jim Ward” started out in the sales department as the inventory controller. It was my job to order the boxes and parts for the games and especially the D&D box set. It was selling 100,000 units a month, steady as clock work. One of “young Jim Ward’s” jobs was to make sure the Hong Kong dice came in on time to fill the next batch of 100,000 boxes. It was a responsibility I took very seriously. 

It took exactly six months for 100,000 sets of poly dice to be made, ship from Hong Kong over the water, and be delivered to the boxer in Madison; Patch Press at the time. Naturally, being a careful person “young Jim Ward” ordered the dice two months early so that 100,000 boxes in December had their dice ordered 8 months out. So in May “young Jim Ward” was ordering dice for the December publication and everyone was fine with that. 

I’m proud to say there were some problems with getting things in on time before me. After “young Jim Ward” started, we were never late on getting product out. This included the day Patch Press printed 16 pages of the monster manual pages in the player handbook [sic*] and shipped the 100,000 to our warehouse. 

So one day “young Jim Ward” is doing his job and the vice presidents of the company have a meeting and decide it would be much more cost effective to make our own dice. I had no problem with the concept. I told them my dice schedule and young Jim Ward went back to work. Two months later, the Vice President in charge of getting the dice molds made comes into my office and says I can stop ordering Hong Kong dice. I became very alarmed and asked the question, do we have finished dice molds? His reply was no but he was sure we would have finished molds in a few short weeks. That was why I could stop ordering dice. “Young and diligent Jim Ward” didn’t want to stop ordering dice since there wasn’t a finished dice mold yet. He went to his Vice President and got permission to order the next month’s 100,000 dice. 

Weeks later the other Vice President comes storming into the sales office. “I thought I told you not to order dice,” he shouted. “Do we have a working dice mold?” I asked very meekly even though I wasn’t feeling meek. I had a job to do. “No we don’t, but that doesn’t matter, we will when we need the dice.” He stormed out of the office and I heard the lecture. I was told if a vice president of the company gave me an order I had to do it. I didn’t order the next month’s dice and it almost killed “young Jim Ward” with worry. 

For two months “young Jim Ward” got real sneaky and tracked the progress of the dice mold. On the day we were going to be late if we didn’t have Hong Kong dice “young Jim Ward” sent out a memo detailing the schedule and our need for 100,000 sets of dice. “Young Jim Ward” gave it to all of the vice presidents. An hour later the mold VP brought the memo back to my office and threw it in my face. “We will have dice when we need them. You are not to worry about this matter any more.”

Naturally, “young Jim Ward” started to worry even more. I asked my Vice President if I would send out memos every week (I wanted every day, but held myself in check) on the dice issue. He made me send out one a month. On the day when it would be too late to order dice to get them in December I sent out a memo detailing that fact. All the vice presidents got together and were assured we would have dice. “Young Jim Ward” was ordered not to send out any more memos on the dice. Raw blades of inventory agony transfixed “young Jim Ward’s” body as the weeks went by. Still sneaky, I knew exactly what condition the dice were in that were being made by the mold. I begged my VP to talk to Gary about the matter. He did and Gary went to the dice mold VP and asked to see what type of dice were being made by the new molds. That VP opened his desk to pull out several pieces of what looked like popcorn with numbers on them. Clearly they would not be used for the D&D box set. Gary went to me and told me to order dice and get them as soon as possible. He also told me never to listen to anyone who said not to order dice again. That dice VP got a written reprimand and I got a huge smile on my face. 

For three ugly months we used cardboard counters and a coupon for dice in our box sets. The only people happy about that were the prisoners in jail as they couldn’t get games with dice in them. From then on the dice VP didn’t like me at all and every time I was promoted into another position he would tell my supervisor what a trouble maker I was.

* It was the Dungeon Masters Guide that was misprinted with the pages of the Monster Manual, in what is designated the "Second Alpha" printing here on the Acaeum.


  1. Why wasn't the dice VP fired?

    I assume he did other things right?

    Or did he? The molds sound like an epicfail.

    1. I think the dice VP was one of the Blumes...not 100% sure which one, though.

      That's why it's such an emblematic anecdote.

  2. It would be interesting the know the name of the anonymous VP (or VPs) here. It seems very likely they were related by blood or marriage to the Blume family...

  3. The mention of a print run of Players Handbooks with 16 pages of Monster Manual in them caught my eye. I wonder if any of those ever made it into the wild. That would be an interesting curiosity!

    1. It was the DMG, and yes, they are occasionally found in the wild. See the entry for the Second Alpha printing of the DMG on this page on the Acaeum.

  4. Very interesting! Nice to know the true story behind the "chits."

  5. Great story.

    I feel like Jim is telling us he wants to be referred to as "Old Jim Ward" from now on, though.