Stephen R. Marsh is an American game designer known for his contributions to early editions of TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Stephen has been a brilliant designer “in the shadows” since the beginnings.
Stephen borrowed a copy of the published D&D rules from classmate Sandy Petersen and after reading the rules of this new game, he began to correspond with D&D co-creator Gary Gygax. He sent his own vision of an elemental plane of water to Gygax, who changed it into a system for underwater combat encounters, and subsequently incorporated it into the Blackmoor supplement published in 1975. Stephen’s material introduced new aquatic creatures, including the Sahuagin, Ixitchitchitl and Catoblepas. He also suggested the Mystic, a new character class who could teleport to various planes of existence via mental powers. The character class concept was not published although mental abilities of the mystic were altered and then published in the Eldritch Wizardry supplement the following year as the first psionic powers for D&D. Some of the creatures he created for the supplements to D&D in 1975 and The Strategic Review have been included in every subsequent edition of the game.
Stephen R. Marsh was credited in essays by E. Gary Gygax, The Strategic Review and in The Dragon as well as credited with “Special Thanks” on the credits page “for Suggestions and Contributions”.
He convinced Gygax to add a Good and Evil axis to D&D’s character alignment system when he was developing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Originally, characters could only be Lawful, Chaotic or Neutral so adding a second axis, the number of possible alignments based on combinations of Law, Chaos, Good, Evil and Neutral.
The aquatic creature creations were converted to the new AD&D game system by Gary Gygax for use in the Monster Manual in 1977, where Gygax credited Marsh “for devising the creatures for undersea encounters which originally appeared in BLACKMOOR, as I have radically altered them herein.” All of these creatures have been incorporated into each new edition of D&D. Later, he convinced Gygax that a rule book about travel to different planes would be worthwhile. They started to develop a new AD&D rulebook, The Planes of Existence, but just as the manuscript was being readied for a 1986 publication date, Gygax was forced out of TSR, all Gygax-related projects were immediately shelved, and the book was never published. The rules for Starstrands, an interplane that connected various prime material planes, with many monsters, mini-dungeons, and other material, were among the papers from Gary’s office that were burned.
He worked during a summer at TSR, where he was the writer on the Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set. He also reviewed and approved licensed Judges Guild products, and helped create the minigame Saga.
Several previously unpublished Lovecraft-inspired monsters created by Stephen for his home campaign were published in Monsters of Myth, in 2008.
He goes NTRPG Con every year and has been showing examples of plane related play each year.
Stephen is one of the biggest authors in roleplaying games.
Stephen R. Marsh
Born in: Los Angeles County, California.
Date of birth: December 19, 1955
Favorite roleplaying club: With friends, not so much a club as a long running social engagement that has lasted, on and off, from 1974 to know.
Favorite book: That changes. Currently Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon. My favorite game supplements/adventures (which are very much like books) are the Dreamlands ones by Sandy Petersen.
Favorite role-playing game: That constantly changes, generally to whatever I’m playing at the moment.
Favorite boardgame: Chess.
Favorite wargame: Chaosium’s God War.
Juegos y Dados – Welcome Stephen, thank you so much for your collaboration. It is an enormous pleasure that you are here with us.
Stephen – Some of us had really strange luck. One guy died at least once a week. Others never seemed to.
Juegos y Dados – We interviewed Sandy Peteresen months ago. It’s a nice person. You are studying with him a lot of years ago. Could you explain something about him?
Stephen – Sandy is incredibly creative and gracious.
Juegos y Dados – How did you begin in the world of role-playing games and what was the first role-playing game that you played?
Stephen – I sat down next to some strangers in a class and one had an interesting looking book so I asked if I could borrow it.
Next thing you know, I was playing original brown box D&D with Sandy Petersen.
Juegos y Dados – How was the first role-playing game that you created?
Stephen – In 1969 I tried to create a game but I was using a board and pieces instead of miniatures and I had not figured out magic as artillery.
Since then I’ve had the chance to be involved with Chaosium, TSR and Hero Games.
Juegos y Dados – How did you get involved in the world of D&D with Gary Gygax?
Stephen – I just started writing him and he wrote back.
Juegos y Dados – Sahuagin, Ixitchitchitl and Catoblepas are some of your creations. Could you explain us how you thought about this?
Stephen – The first was Aztec sharks, the second was an Eldritch octopus race, and the last was from a bestiary.
Juegos y Dados – Mystic, a new character class who could teleport to various planes of existence via mental powers. How did you think this idea?
Stephen – I was taking a class on the philosophy of India in college and decided to map the classing yogic power descriptions and lore to a character class. Since I was also working on planes of existence, the two came together.
Juegos y Dados – You convinced Gygax to add a Good and Evil axis to D&D’s character alignment system when he was developing AD&D. Do you think that players role-playing correctly their alignment? DM must be stronger?
Stephen – I like letting players have their heads and for the game to meet the needs of those playing it. DMs should run things in a way that they enjoy.
Juegos y Dados –You contributed to Monsters of Myth. Would you consider yourself influenced by to be fan of Lovecraft?
Stephen – Some. I did author a precursor to Call of Cthulhu and play tested Call of Cthulhu (which is brilliant, original work by Sandy Peterson). My contribution to Monsters of Myth is also affected by Starstrands.
Juegos y Dados – You was author or contributor, in the shadows, of the most famous RPG of the history. What do you think about so people with a copy in their homes?
Stephen – I hope they enjoy the games.
Juegos y Dados – How did you work, for short time, in TSR?
Stephen – Gary wanted me to come to Lake Geneva so we could meet in person.
Juegos y Dados – I suppose that you met some of famous designers of that age. Could you explain any funny story?
Stephen – It was an inside joke to blame things on Tim Kask. Of course you could only blame things on him that he had absolutely no responsibility for (which is what made it a joke).
Juegos y Dados – Have you ever been Master? I would like knowing funny moments in the role-playing stories.
Stephen – I’ve had players come up with innovations that surprised me and made me laugh – and changed the way I designed too many time.
Juegos y Dados – What do you think the RPG industry nowadays?
Stephen – I am very hopeful.
Juegos y Dados – How often do you play games? Which ones?
Stephen – I play at NTRPG Con and sometimes with my daughter. I wish I got over to Rockwall more often – they have what may be the best game group in the world.
Juegos y Dados – What is your favorite edition of D&D?
Stephen – The one I am playing. I love the various OSRIC/OSR games, pre-AD&D systems, and 5th edition.
Juegos y Dados – Do you think writing any new role-playing game in the future?
Stephen – I’m not sure. I’m currently working on some projects for AD&D/D&D and 5th Edition with New Big Dragon. If they are successful, I’ll probably do more.
Juegos y Dados – Is there anything else you would like to tell fans?
Stephen – I wish them all the best.
Juegos y Dados – Thank you so much for your time. We are very happy for your collaboration in this interview with Juegos y Dados.
Stephen – My pleasure.