Judges Guild is a small game publisher in the business of creating and selling role-playing game supplements, periodicals and related material, most notable as one of the leading publishers in the late 1970s and early 1980s of Dungeons & Dragons-related materials. Its flagship product was City State of the Invincible Overlord, the first published RPG city supplement; there were numerous ancillary cities, maps and other supplements.
Judges Guild was started July 4, 1976, utilizing concepts developed in Bob Bledsaw's local D&D campaign. The founders, Bob Bledsaw & Bill Owen, had traveled to the headquarters of TSR - the publishers of D&D - to ask them to publish Owen's American Civil War rules. There they met with D&D co-creator Dave Arneson, who gave Bledsaw and Owen verbal approval to produce some play aids for D&D. At that time, TSR's only published play aids for D&D were the poorly received Dungeon Geomorphs. Judge's Guild was granted a license to produce AD&D and D&D materials, which had to be reviewed for continuity within the game systems.
After an initial investment of $400 to pay for printing the first City-State maps, the partners took them to Gen Con 1976. After selling dozens of subscriptions (of which the maps were the initial installment, lettered "I") and passing out fliers that got them many more, they had broken even in a matter of weeks.
Owen subsequently left the partnership, and Judges Guild was incorporated in 1978. The company rapidly gained popularity amongst D&D fans for their prolific product line and then-unprecedented detail, at a time when such sources were rare. At its peak in the early 1980s, the firm employed 42 people and had over 250 products in print.
Even by that point, however, the company's fortunes were declining. Its production values were stagnant as the roleplaying games industry moved to professional typesetting, full color art and slick and hardcovered material, elements Judges Guild was slow to adopt. Further, the Judges Guild fantasy RPG products - their biggest sellers - remained in their 1970s dungeoneering paradigm, replete with puns, dungeon gauntlets, and isolated cities in howling wildernesses, even as newer companies published more integrated products favoring the growing realism movement. Its license to publish Advanced Dungeons & Dragons materials lapsed in 1982. Judges Guild's last significant product was City-State of Tarantis, published in 1983 to little notice, and the firm was out of business by 1985.
Subsequently, Gamescience published reprints of some of the Judges Guild adventures, while Mayfair Games obtained publishing rights to the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, which they repackaged in 1987 with many ill-received changes.
Bob Bledsaw, founder of Judges Guild, died on April 19, 2008, from cancer.