At 82 and with her days of fantasy writing far behind her, Rose Estes, owner of The Hauser Gallery in Seal Rock, was surprised to learn she was being honored for her first series, a Choice-Your-Own Set. -own- 1980 adventure books that launched his 38-book career.
On March 16, Estes was contacted by Michael Elliot, the curator of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Hall of Fame. Estes had never heard of the academy, and for a brief moment thought the email might be part of some kind of elaborate scam. But with a little research online, she was able to verify that the group was a division of the Game Manufacturer’s Association, a non-profit organization that organizes one of the oldest annual gaming trade shows in the United States.
In his email, Elliot explained that the academy had recently spoken with its members and an RPG historian about the early history of tabletop gaming and found Estes’ work to be an important contribution to the early popularity of tabletop role-playing games. Elliot credited Estes’ work with attracting countless people to the hobby and helping to make the $12 billion industry what it is today.
This came as a surprise to Estes, who has never been a gamer herself, although decades ago she worked at one of the most well-known tabletop game companies in the history of industry: TSR Hobbies, the company responsible for the first edition of the iconic Dungeons & Dragons. .
Estes was hired as TSR’s 13th employee and wore many hats during her time there, but her most notable achievement was writing the first episodes of the “Endless Quest” series of adventure books. to choose from, which has sold millions of copies and continues to this day under various authors, with the latest installments released in 2019.
Although she has yet to be officially added to the academy’s online hall of fame wall, Estes was inducted on June 11. , Gary Gigax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons.
The News-Times was unable to reach Elliot or anyone affiliated with the academy for additional comment, but information about the academy and its hall of fame can be found at https://www.originsawards.net/hall-of-fame.
Estes was born in Chicago, but moved to Houston at a young age when a doctor told her Russian immigrant parents she couldn’t stand the cold Illinois winters, though she later returned . She gained a formal education at the University of Chicago and later worked at various newspapers including the Chicago Tribune and the Houston Chronicle.
Estes’ life took a major turn in the late 1970s when her marriage ended and she had to find a way to care for her three children on her own.
“When my first husband and I got married, he failed to tell me that he was in line to become a fifth-generation chocolatier, which would take us to Wisconsin,” Estes said. “Later he decided he didn’t want to get married anymore, and I found myself with a newborn, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old to take care of.”
Living in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Estes had to make a tough choice. She could either go back to work at the Tribune and make the four-hour round trip to Chicago each day, or sign with a local company that didn’t pay very well but didn’t have a commute.
“TSR had just bought this old hotel downtown, and I responded to an ad they had in the paper,” Estes said. “I didn’t really have a specific job when I arrived. I was told it was a new business and everyone just needed to wear the necessary hats.
Estes said the first thing to do is speak to people who call with questions about the game, many of whom exhibit less than friendly demeanors.
“I was talking to ministers, teachers and parents who apparently thought we were leading their children into demon worship,” Estes said. “It was a difficult task, especially since I didn’t play the match myself. The rest of the business was so new and oblivious to how the rest of the world worked that they thought if you didn’t answer the phone or talk to any reporters, it would all go away. Instead, it got worse and worse.
In the early 1980s, much of the United States was caught up in The Satanic Panic, an event in which over 12,000 mostly unsubstantiated stories of satanic ritual abuse – a catch-all phrase for various activities alleged demonic cults – have swept the nation and inspired a wave of cultural hysteria.
Dungeons & Dragons, a game where players typically take on the role of heroes battling monsters, demons, and villains, was a prime target for those accusations. Estes said that at one point the TSR building was so surrounded by a crowd of reporters, protesters and onlookers that it was difficult to get inside.
While this controversy was ongoing, Estes took her kids to a traveling circus on her day off and met someone she knew, the owner, Manuel King, whom she had known growing up in Houston. Estes said King had invited her to accompany the circus for a while and, thinking it would be an interesting experience that she could write a few articles about, Estes asked for a month’s leave from TSR, which was granted. .
“It was wonderful and quite an experience,” Estes said. “I have to ride on the head of an elephant in the big parade and everything.”
But that trip proved pivotal in Estes’ career for a different reason. While visiting a laundromat, Estes was browsing through a set of books and came across a choose-your-own book, “The Stone of Time,” by RA Montgomery. As she flipped through, she was struck with inspiration.
Estes thought a book like this, where readers would make choices and jump to a corresponding page to continue down different story paths, would be perfect for describing to people what Dungeon & Dragons was all about, playing the role of a fictional hero and making choices that affected a story.
Estes bought the book and returned to Lake Geneva soon after, where she pitched the idea to her bosses at TSR. She said their initial reaction was dismissive and that most of the company’s top brass, young men who spent their days designing tabletop games and their nights playing them, were more preoccupied with writing and publication of game modules.
“I said, ‘We really should do this, it would help people understand the game easily,'” Estes said. “But they weren’t interested at all.”
But Estes persisted with the idea until one of her bosses got “fed up” and told her that if she thought it was such a good idea, she should write it herself, which she did, and threw it on her desk one morning.
“They basically said to me, ‘Shut up or get down,’ and that drove me crazy, so I went home and did it,” Estes said.
After writing the book, bringing it, and tossing it on his supervisor’s desk, Estes said he sat there for three months until the company met with its publisher, Penguin Random House, who asked him if they had any new products other than new game mods. . His supervisor mentioned the book Estes wrote and it immediately caught Random House’s attention.
“Bantam (another publisher) had published their own pick and choose book series, and Random House certainly knew how successful they had been,” Estes said. “They said they wanted it, but they didn’t just want one. If it worked well, then the author could raise the price, so they still wanted four.
This meeting was on January 1, and Estes’ supervisor came up to her, dropped the manuscript on her desk, and told her to write three more by March 1, which she did. .
The books, most of which were written on legal notepads, were published and proved to be huge hits.
“In 1988, the first six books sold 16 million copies, and some are still being reprinted today,” Estes said. “That’s after they made the big mistake of taking me to the American Booksellers Convention.”
Estes said she was beset by publishers interested in her writing books for them and eventually, despite her attachment to TSR, she decided it was time to move on.
“The business meant something, and since I started you could feel there was something big going on somewhere there,” Estes said. “I liked the people, maybe not all the game designers so much, but I made a lot of good friends there.”
But things were getting chaotic at TSR as the founding members began to argue over control and the future of the company. Before leaving, Estes read the first draft of Gigax’s Greyhawk series of novels, which she herself completed when she was ousted from the company.
Estes then accepted an offer from Ballantine Publishing to write more adventure books to choose from, including an Indiana Jones series and The Lord of the Rings, although she said the latter was not approved by the field. by Tolkien and therefore never saw the light of day. of the day.
Estes continued to write fantasy novels until 1994, when a head injury from a car accident damaged the part of his brain responsible for vocabulary. Estes said she had several ongoing novel contracts at the time, but quickly lost them without the ability to write, although she eventually finished two of the three books in her final series, ” Troll Taken” and “Troll Quest”, which she considers her best work.
Estes then married Gary Hauser, of Seal Rock, in early 2001 after initially approaching him to commission an artwork she saw on his website. The two started talking daily online and eventually got married, much to the surprise of Estes’ children, who were unaware but ended up approving of Hauser after meeting him.
Hauser died in 2006, but Estes said their time together inspired her to write two more books, non-fiction works about the history of the Chow and Terrier dog breeds.
These days, she continues to run the Hauser Gallery at Seal Rock, where one can find artwork from around the world, gemstones and copies of the many books Estes wrote, many of which are highly regarded. demanded with the recent surge in popularity. of Dungeons & Dragons.