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How the Story Formed
Ye Olde Inn and Discord member lucapaschi, along with several members of the community have done some digging around to discover who the designer was for the original Elf Quest Pack, today known as The Mage of the Mirror Quest Pack. A mystery that has plagued HeroQuest fans for over 3 decades, for the simple fact that Milton Bradly did not credit this designer for her work.
The story of how the designer of the Elf Quest Pack was discovered is a bit of an adventure. It starts, with the same fond childhood memories of HeroQuest that many of us share.
The journey started back in 2018, when lucapaschi decided he would finally attempt to obtain a complete collection of the original Milton Bradley HeroQuest, after playing it with his brother in his childhood. This is something we should all aspire to, though a difficult task to accomplish.
Slowly over time, he achieved his goal, not only of the European edition, but the North American version as well, along with some other odd and sometimes rare bits. Collecting became a bit of a rabbit hole, and eventually lucapaschi learned of the unreleased North American Quest Packs from Toco’s HeroQuest website, as well as through this blog post by Restoration Games.
Jumping ahead to December 2021, lucapaschi stumbled across the discovery of a lifetime, auctions for draft notes of the North American Expansions. At first, dismissing these as fakes, eventually it was clear that these were likely real, based on previous information displayed on Toco’s website. A bidding war ensued for the material, until finally an agreement was reached with the seller and lucapaschi came out victorious! A few days later, the documents arrived in Italy and the real work of going through all this new content started with the help of a team of renowned members of the community. All of the documents were printed or handwritten, they needed to be scanned in order to be preserved digitally and to reconstruct the history of the expansions.
Three of the Quest Pack designers were easy enough to identify, but the last remained elusive. One of the designers; Scott Haring (Barbarian Quest Pack); used his own letterhead. The Dwarf Quest Pack designer, Tom Wham, was mentioned in a letter to the Elf Quest Pack Designer. Toco, also had already identified Richard Borg as the designer for the Wizard Quest Pack. Who designed the Elf Quest Pack!?
Eventually a clue was discovered. Looking at one of the documents, there was a note from Mike Gray to the editors. The note said “Cathy’s zigzag symbols are normal secret doors”. It was a comment to clarify what was drawn on the map by the designer. Who was Cathy? There was no mention of Cathy anywhere else. This must be the designer we’ve been missing!
We know that at the time Milton Bradley/Hasbro was hiring former TSR employees, but none could be clearly identified as Cathy. Jumping ahead again to January 2023, while continuing research in between development of the lost quests, Ye Olde Inn member, and HeroQuest specialist HispaZargon came up with a possible answer: Katharine Kerr. This could possibly be the designer we’ve been looking for! Katharine checked off a lot of boxes in favour of being a likely candidate. She was the author of a fantasy series including Elves, a former TSR employee, and worked on Dragon magazine in the late 80’s.
Katharine Kerr would be a good guess, but ultimately not the correct one. The very next day, a note was discovered on the Elf Quest Pack page of BoardGame Geek. This edit suggested “Kathryn L. Connors” to be the author. Unfortunately not much more information could be found about Kathryn Connors. Digging deeper, the truth was revealed through a Tweet by William W. Connors, who happens to be a former TSR designer and artist.
Fortunately, lucapaschi was able to contact William, who was able to confirm that his wife had indeed designed the Elf Quest Pack, and was happy to pass a message on to Kathy. lucapaschi was then able to start exchanging messages with Kathy, which ultimately lead to this interview. As a thank-you for her contributions to the fans, the HeroQuest community has gifted a copy of the Avalon Hill Mage of the Mirror Quest Pack to Kathy.
Introducing the Elf Quest Pack Designer
With great honour, we would like to introduce the Elf Quest Pack designer, Kathryn L. Connors. Kathy was overjoyed and enthusiastic to share her story on designing the Elf Quest Pack. You’ll find that Kathy is an amazing person, and just as passionate about HeroQuest as any of us could be.
Kathy is an avid gamer and enjoys attending conventions with her husband William, who is also a well known game designer and artist.
Her story really is a story of love for the game, and we are very excited to share it with everyone.
The Best Thing About HeroQuest – Designing an Expansion
When did you start designing games and how did you get into game design?
I was designing games by the time I was 10 and forcing anyone I knew to play them with me. If I loved a game and played it a lot, sooner or later I would be creating expansions or changes to it. I have always loved gaming! I had my own copy of D&D by 1980. My husband William and I were a blind date and the only reason I kept dating him was because we were just about tied at Risk and his GM at the time was enthralling.
Other than working on the Elf Quest Pack, did you have any other experience or exposure to HeroQuest before being asked to design the Elf Quest Pack?
As I said previously, I had EXTENSIVE play time with HQ, starting with the Games Workshop version!
How, and when were you contacted to work on the Elf Quest Pack? Why do you think you were selected for the project? Did you also work on other games at the time?
I was lucky and honored to get chosen to create the Elf pack. Sure I had extensive gaming experience, years of playing numerous games and fantastic creative contacts and experiences with people in the field, but, I was simply in the right place at the right time. Just so you understand how I ended up creating an HeroQuest expansion, my husband William W. Connors worked at TSR when HeroQuest came out and many at TSR played it. I was raising a one and a two year old at the time and for me it was fantastic because I could design an adventure, get the kids fed and in bed, and still have enough energy left over to run Bill through it when he got home. Simple mechanics meant my energy could be spent on creativity of plot, puzzles, etc. Jim Ward knew Bill played a lot of HeroQuest at home (we had two American sets as well as the Games Workshop version, Kellar’s Keep and Witch Lord expansions), so he asked Bill if he wanted to write the Elf Pack, but Bill didn’t want to risk it because he had an exclusivity contract with TSR and never wanted to put his job in jeopardy. Bill suggested I could write it as I was the one running it all the time at home. As it was told to me, Jim gave Bill a wink and a nod and said something like: “Sure, K-A-T-H-Y can design it”. Bill seriously replied: “Yeah Jim, she can.” And so, I had the honor of designing one of the two expansions that would be released!
What was your relationship with Mike Gray and the rest of the quest pack designers? (There’s a reference in the designer letter from Mike G. that you might have known Tom Wham, who was working on the Dwarf Pack at the same time)
I knew and talked to Mike Gray several times during development. He was very kind and professional. I knew and know Tom Wham. Tom and I have gamed together at conventions in the area over the years, but we never discussed HeroQuest. I adore Tom Wham, his unique creative genius charms me. He always has a current game he is working on to which he introduces me and I LOVE playing them with him. What more could a girl ask for?
We know designers were required to submit the content for the quest book (backstory and quests), the tile sheet, the 30 card deck (card and illustrations) and a description of the monsters. What kind of material were you given to work on the Pack? (We know you had some Xerox copies of the questbooks for the previous expansions, you probably had a plastic runner with half the monsters for the new packs and we can suppose you were given a Game System box?)
They never gave me anything as I had all the stuff already. I remember being told that I didn’t have to draw the art but that I had to include detailed descriptions and get them in quickly. I am a semi-professional artist and found it easier to sketch out all my ideas for the figures and the die cut sheet and add notes rather than write out long descriptions. Ironically, THIS is my favorite memory of this endeavor! I sent out my sketches and notes and the artists at MB created beautiful, professional game pieces of what I had imagined and sketched. It was magic! I remember one artist (Donald L. Kueker) saying “Great working with you, I know exactly what you want!” and he did. Getting the wolves in a leaping position was difficult at the time but the sculptor nailed it in the end. Maps and the first draft went in next, and I was done. I never rewrote anything. I never playtested the final pack, except comparing it to things I had created for Bill when we played at home.
Were there ideas you had for the quest pack that didn’t get used? (We have seen concept art for a centaur in Kueker’s drawings – was it part of your pack?)
I don’t remember a Centaur. I was ready to have my story and writing changed in editing because I had watched Bill deal with having his creative ideas changed as they moved through development. One thing I did create that didn’t get into the quest book, was a second shop for the quest book. I had two poetic advertisements included. One shop sold the potions and another was a cart vendor who sold the same potions but, maybe they were cheaper and might not work. I thought that was funny!
What inspired you to create the story? How long did it take for you to complete the first draft? What challenges did you encounter designing the Pack?
I loved creating the Elf Pack! To be frank, it was a thrill to use my brain after two years of sleepless nights, baby toys, sesame street and kids books. When Bill got home at night, I handed him two kids and locked myself in his office to write. It was invigorating! I included a female villain because these sets were bringing in female heroes (which I applauded). That was way ahead of the times! It all came together in under two weeks or so.
After you submitted the first draft, what was your ongoing role in the design process? Were you required to step down after the first draft, or were you able to continue giving direction for further work on the Quest Pack (Coordinating with artists and editors, etc)? Did you know what was happening behind the scenes after your draft submission?
I never submitted any more written content but, as I said, I talked to the artists a bit. They were fun and treated me as an equal which meant a lot. They stuck to my visions and made them reality.
How was the overall experience during the design process? Did you have contact with Mike Gray and other Milton Bradley employees regarding progress on the project? How much freedom were you given in coming up with your own ideas for the Quest Pack?
My overall experience with MB was more than positive. Honestly, I remember being allowed to design what I wanted. I contacted MB now and then, but I do not remember them being overly controlling. From childhood I dreamed of “really” making a game and I got that opportunity and was presented with an expansion that came directly from my mind. And a beautiful one it is! When I go to conventions, I run a version of the 9 and 10 levels that fits the time in my gaming slot. I am often rewarded with the knowledge that there were many children who grew up loving my story and my creation. WOW! I still make changes and additions to games and Bill often creates expansions for games we have played to death (Battle for Hogwarts!). But the thrill of a professional game I created, will never subside.
We know it was not common at the time to include credits for the designers in some games, and this was definitely the case as it took 30 years to find out more about the original designers of these quest packs! Was there any other extra compensation for the designers, like a free “designer copy” of the game?
I got a free copy of the Elf Pack and made more money per word than my husband ever had. I’ve never let him live that down!
Looking over draft notes, we see rules and ideas that have not been implemented. For one, the original Mage of the Mirror storyline may have had a much darker tone (for one, the Queen’s attendants were found dead by the hero). What do you think were the reasons these ideas were excluded from the final product? Can you speak on any other lost threads to the story of HeroQuest?
I assume it was age appropriateness.
The original Elf Quest Pack has a legacy of being the most sought after expansion, it’s the most valuable HeroQuest expansion sold aftermarket (fetching prices of $700-$1000 for a brand new copy). Partly this is due to the brief time it was available for sale. What are your feelings about this? Did you remember seeing it on the shelves back then?
Oh yes! I bought a second copy at the time to keep unpunched. I had no idea it was going to disappear so fast or become so sought after. My eldest son let me know about its rarity after he reached his teens and was trying to get a copy for his HQ set.
HeroQuest was remade by Avalon Hill/Hasbro in 2021. Have you seen the remake, and what are your thoughts on it? This January a remake for Mage of the Mirror was released. There were some small changes made, but it is mostly faithful to the original 1992 version. What are your thoughts on this?
I love the remake of HQ and bought it for my second son’s family this Christmas. His son is 6 and because this is a co-op game he can play with the family. What a joy! A third generation is enjoying this game… I still love the old cardboard furniture but I used some of the new plastic furniture at a few Cons last year and all participants loved them. The new Elf pack is done well and the elven-esque furniture in the new elf pack is different enough to be worth the cost of the expansion. The heart of my story and the puzzles remain, so I’m good! Sinestra in the new version is different and quite “pretty” in the instruction book… I loved that the artist did not try to make her lovely in the old version. They took my vision and brought it to life.
HeroQuest still has a very active following and fan community. Even before the game was revived by Avalon Hill/Hasbro, it was kept alive by dedicated fans from all over the world. For most of them, HeroQuest is part of cherished childhood memories and was the gateway into more complex role playing games. We would like to personally thank you for your contribution to the game! What are your thoughts on the legacy of HeroQuest and the fan community? Did you expect fans to get in touch with you after 30 years?
I have been overwhelmed at conventions by the response when I list that I am running my Elf Pack! So many young adults have echoed your comments about sweet childhood memories… I am more than honored to have been involved in that. Many come to watch and see the Elf Pack for the first time. One of my ogres was painted by my husband and Bill put him in a Hawaiian shirt. He now honors Gary Gygax who loved those shirts and many Cons in this area have Hawaiian shirt day in Gary’s honor. When he comes lumbering out with his big dumb affect, I always get a huge laugh! I think this is a powerful gateway game and deserves a robust fan base, I also believe the new release does it justice.
If there’s one thing you want HeroQuest players to remember about your work, what would it be?
I love fighting, gathering gold and all manner of booty. But never, ever abandon engrossing story-telling, colorful character portrayal, puzzle solving and cooperation.
Do you still play HeroQuest, or other fantasy games? If so, what is your favourite type of character to play as?
Yes! I am usually a male dwarf. I am stubborn, reactionary, a fighter and loud. Yeah, I’m a dwarf!
After designing the Elf Quest Pack, did you continue on designing any other games? What career path did you choose? What are you up to currently?
No… I went back to college to get an early childhood degree. Fell in love with people with social emotional disabilities, and ended up as a behavioral specialist and lecturer as well as working with troubled and incarcerated youth. Who, by the way, learned a lot by playing games in my classroom!
A Closer Look at the Draft Notes
Here are some additional images from the Elf Quest Pack draft notes that have been graciously provided by lucapaschi. Click the thumbnails to view them in full size!
There are a few differences between the drafts (above) and what was actually published (below). It’s interesting that the title was changed. Originally named “The Struggle For The Elven Kingdom”, changing it to The Mage of the Mirror may imply that this is only a part of the overall conflict going on in Elethorn. Maybe this conflict will be expanded in Rise of the Dread Moon.
Some other small differences include the absence of the “Scroll” tile in the finished product. Perhaps this is a part of the story that never made it into the final production. It’s also possible this could have been cut, sort of like a deleted scene in a movie.
Burning Questions Unanswered for the Last 30 Years
There are some additional questions about the expansion that we haven’t been able to answer in 30+ years, these might be difficult to answer, but we can’t pass up the opportunity!
Why did you decide to give Ogres 10 Body Points? (they’re very powerful monsters, and their body points were reduced in the 2022 edition)
Ogres were meant to be bad asses. Period.
Is the prospector an elf, human or a dwarf?
He was meant to be a human who stumbled into a story he didn’t quite understand.
Do you remember where the Elven Bracers were intended to be found by the heroes? (there is an artifact card for them, but they’re never included in any quest)
I believe I was supposed to make some treasures to find. In any case, that is how I usually incorporate them now!
Was the Elven Chain Mail Set intended to be an Elf-exclusive artifact? (it’s one of the treasures found in Quest 1)
Elven chain mail was supposed to be elf only, however I don’t think it was written that way!
Thank-you to Community Contributors
This article is not at all my own. I can only take credit for providing a few questions and a medium for the interview to be delivered on.
All the hard work was undertaken by several dedicated members of the amazing HeroQuest Community. The biggest thank-you needs to go out to lucapaschi, who coordinated the whole thing, and provided a lot of the research along with HispaZargon.
Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again soon!