On Artifices & Deceptions, Triggers: Latches, Switches, Levers

Latches, switches and levers are thresholds of change.

Less a trick or trigger, more a way to represent a choice in how to proceed. There is no distance between events and actions within the game. They all occupy the journey, not organized chronologically, just thematically. (i.e. "We approach the ridge, oh, I had Tod the elf pick up rope back in town (writes down rope and scratches off 15 gp on their sheet) and I use that rope to climb the ridge.")

All possible events during a game are occupying the same shared space, without boundary. It is the latch, switch, and lever that allow players to navigate and organize this space. The entire game structure involves the referee waiting for players to interact with the "contents" (monsters, traps, treasure, tricks, or 'nothing') or navigating to a new location.

Guidelines include not obscuring they nature of the switch. The player should make the choice to trigger the switch or not. If they don't understand that it is a switch (or worse, trigger a switch/open a door/pull a lever without understanding it is one), then to the player there is no structure to the events. There was the fictional reality and if the switch is obfuscated, no concrete way for the player to interact with the world. If they trigger the switch by accident, their experience is one of chaotic instability. To them, it would appear as if the world changed without cause. The crux of the game is deciding on actions weighed against risk, not on trying to comprehend how to take action.

This is also the reason you have the effect of the switch happen within the range of the player's ability to notice. If the choice produces no visible/audible effect, they will not realize the connection if they ever discover it. 

Ways to notice the effect of the switch
  • A noise or light coming from the direction of the effect (Grinding gears, monster voices, dogs howling, water running, et. al.)
  • A change in wind pressure, new breezes or smells
  • Opening a door, portal, gate, or other passage
  • Scenery changes due to teleporter

Switches can be hidden. The switch is usually a false object, detectable due to discoloration or structure. Sometimes real objects are used (such as a real book in a bookcase) but constant use eventually causes damage. The false object is often hid among several actual real items to increase the illusion.

Because the objects don’t usually move (except to trigger the switch). They may be covered in dust, or show differing signs of wear compared to other similar objects. If the object is freestanding, it often must be attached to a surface with a hinge or nails. The latch is often triggered by cables or ropes hidden within the walls. Tilting the device, pulls a rope, triggering some event.

If the object moves against another surface, such as a torch sconce that rotates against the walls, it will leave marks from the use. Cheap latches will have visible hinges, making it very obvious. More complicated triggers should be considered tricks and designed with those guidelines in mind. 

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On the Clerics Devotion

Clerics are all messed up.

I run a lot of classic style (basic/expert and 1st edition) games and I don't use clerics.

Problems include people feeling like they need to take a cleric, a complete dissociation with how polytheistic religions actually worked, and questions about how society looks if it can eradicate disease and raise the dead. 

If I do have to run clerics, I follow the advice located in Men and Magic

"The number in each column opposite each applicable character indicates the number of spells of each level that can be used (remembered during any single adventure) by that character."

What if it meant exactly what the meanings of the words implied it means? (What are the chances, right?)

What if spells can only be used during any single adventure.

The cleric gains her spells because she is seeking out danger for her deity. If she stays home, she is granted no spells. Only when she leaves home to defeat evil does she have access to her magic. 

But mostly I don't use them.


I replace clerics with devotions. There is no cleric class. Any person may devote themselves to any deity. Each level of devotion takes 5% of the characters total experience. Devotions run from levels 2-12. After each adventure, roll 2d6, on a roll equal to or higher than the devotion the character can gain levels in their devotion. Each new level grants a new power. 

The roll after each adventure is not entirely random—Gods come with a variety of observances and taboos. Following the observances of your deity will put you in their favor and allow you to become a more powerful servant. They also have forbidden activities known as taboos. Breaking a taboo immediately causes your devotion to be reduced by 1. If your bond is reduced, you lose access to the powers you gained as you fall out of favor. 2d6 is a bell curve roll meaning that devoted worshipers will rise in the god's esteem faster.

This directly engages the character into performing appropriate behaviors for mechanical benefit, and allows any class to add devotion to a god to their abilities in exchange for experience. Rules like this drive emergent play. This also dovetails with the ability to create congregations, which provide monthly value in xp/gp, allowing those who maintain a flock to subsidize the devotion expense with the value of their worship.


Boccob, the Greyhawk Deity of Magic, the uncaring, the lord of all magics, and the archmage of the deities. 

Destroying books, magic items.

Acquiring new arcane knowledge (+1)
Engaging in magical research or experimentation (+2)
Burning Incense (+1)
Creation of a magic item or spell (+4)
Utilizing florid and elaborate language (+1)
Devotion level 2: Detect magic at will
Devotion level 3: Gain the ability to cast comprehend languages or command 3 times a day
Devotion level 4: Gain your devotion level as a % bonus on all magic/spell research/creation rolls. 
Devotion level 5: Gain +4 on any saving throws versus spells
Devotion level 6: If you cannot cast spells, gain a spellbook and the ability to cast spells as a 1st level wizard. If you can cast spells, treat your character as one level higher in regards to spells slots available. 
Devotion level 7: Once a day you can reflect any spell targeting you on a successful saving throw versus spell.
Devotion level 8: For the purposes of crafting magical items, golems, scribing scrolls and brewing potions, your class level is considered 5 levels higher. (For campaigns that require a minimum level to craft—for a more modern game, I would grant a cost reduction or crafting time bonus).
Devotion level 9: You can cause your nails to secrete a magical ink that can be used to scribe spells and scrolls for free. 
Devotion level 10: You are considered blessed by Boccob and your intelligence increases by 2.
Devotion level 11: You can overcome the resistance of bindings and metal better than normal arcane wielders, Armor up to chain can be worn without affecting spellcasting. 
Devotion level 12: If you can only cast spells because of your devotion to Boccob, you are now considered a 5th level caster. If you can cast spells from another class, treat your character level as two higher in regards to spell slots available. 

This makes worshipers of deities in a realm where the gods are real into real worshipers, and creates impactful issues in the day to day lives of the player's characters. Now any character can follow as many gods as they want, as long as they are willing to spend the experience points to do so. The scope of work is limited, needing only to cover any deities you consider important and any the players select. 

Here's A guideline for creating Devotions from deities. 

Consider taboos—any of which will cause the characters to drop a devotion level immediately
Consider observances—These should be material, actionable acts within the game that will come up during the course of play. Consider activities pre/post camp/battle, behaviors and traits of the deity and the ways those can be propagated by the players. 

Designing the Devotion levels.

Devotion level 2 should be a minor constant bonus or other baseline cantrip level ability relevant to the deity.
Devotion level 3 should be a limited use signature ability, that will characterize the worshipers in society. 
Devotion level 4 look to a non-combat/non-adventure ability relevant to the gods. It should have some utility.
Devotion level 5 Should be an appropriate defensive bonus or ability
Devotion level 6 Should be a spell or power that can be used at will. You should take the ability and integrate it into a ritual or effect. A enchantment spell might include coating a tongue in quicksilver, a firebolt should require a flaming pellet, a divination spell might require a sacrifice or anything  
Devotion level 7 This level should contain a thematic deific ability. A storm god could cast a lightning bolt, an animal god might allow shapeshifting, or some other key ability related to the gods domain. At this point, the character is giving over one third his earned experience to the deity and this power should be for that exchange. Devotions higher than this level are more difficult to get due to the bell curve on 2d6, progress beyond this point will be less quick.
Devotion level 8 This should be a unique, chance based ability, or one that has utility that isn't directly related to combat or power. It should be active, but a constant bonus, such as increased hit die to undead raised, a bonus to some skill or class ability, and something that brings the deity into the fabric of the world. 
Devotion level 9 This level represents the deity expressing their glory through the character. It provides some utility and a visible transformation. 
Devotion level 10 This level should be a passive blessing or bonus that indicates the grace of the possessor. It may or may not also have a visual component. 
Devotion level 11 This level should provide a major power or benefit of the deity. 
Devotion level 12 It should be noted that level 12 is fairly difficult to achieve. It requires a roll where the total is higher than 12. Even with a bonus of +2 from observances, there is still only an ~9% chance. It is unlikely in all but the longest campaigns that characters will realistically reach this level, therefore it is ok to provide an appropriate capstone ability for the deity.

Characters should advance fairly quickly to the median of the bell curve (level 7 or 8) and then will progress more slowly as it becomes more difficult to score the higher rolls. 

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On the 5th Edition Shadow Wizard

A 5th edition wizard school for your games. With new spells.

School of Shadow

As a member of the School of Shadow, you have used the dark essence of shadowstuff to power your magics. Some shadow mages travel and discover hidden secrets, others corrupt those pure and innocent, still others watch from the shadows to insure that what is at bay, remains at bay. Shadow is a sub-school of illusion, and certain illusion spells are also considered shadow spells.

Shadow Savant
Beginning when you select this school at 2nd level, the gold and time you must spend to copy a shadow spell into your spellbook is halved.

Starting at 2nd level when you choose this school, your mastery over the powers of darkness and shadow increases. As an action, you can choose to cause a source of bright light to become dim, and an area of dim light to become dark. You also gain Darkvision out to 60 feet.

Blinding Shadow
Beginning at 6th level, You can blind creatures with shadow. Choose a creature within 30 feet. On a failed Dexterity saving throw against your wizard spell save DC they are considered blinded. They may reattempt this save at the end of each of their turns.
Also, you are considered in total cover due to being obscured while in darkness, and are considered to have three-quarters cover in dim light.

Shadow Step
Starting at 10th level, as a bonus action you may move between any area of dim light or darkness to any other area of dim light or darkness within 400 feet.

Shadow Self
Beginning at 14th level, shadow becomes infused with your essence. You gain expertise at stealth checks and your armor class increases by 2 due to the fact that you are partially immaterial.
You can also spend 1 full-round to create a Shadow Double. This double has your abilities, hit points, armor class and is identical in all ways, except it is made from shadowstuff and has no equipment or will of its own. You my command it to protect you, in which case all incoming attacks are at disadvantage due to the confusion and protection provided by the shadow double.   Or, you may command the shadow double to move anywhere within your line of sight. You can see what the shadow double sees and can cast spells having them originate through the double. It lasts as long as you maintain concentration, up to 1 minute or until it takes lethal damage.

Shadow spells
New shadow spells are italicized. Spells that are normally of other schools, categorized as shadow spells before are identical to their Players Handbook versions, excepting the fact that they manifest as shadow, instead of illusion. Blur cloaks you in shadows, rather than obscuring your form using light.


1st Level
Wall of Gloom

2nd Level
Ray of Enfeeblement
Shadow Blade

3rd Level
Shadow Anchor

4th Level
Darkening Bolt
Evard's Black Tentacles
Shadow Bolt

5th Level
Create Darkenbeast

Conjure Shadow

6th Level
Demishadow Magic

7th Level
Shadow Walk

8th Level
Shadow Form

9th Level
Mass Blindness

Shadow Cantrip
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (a bit of soot)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
The caster touches a target wearing metal or other reflective material, and it darkens becoming black. This grants the user advantage on stealth checks when in dim light or darkness.

Wall of Gloom
1st-level Shadow
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S, M (Cotton)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
Creates a 10 foot high wall, up to 40 feet long and 10 feet thick of dim light. Any targets behind the wall are considered lightly obscured.

Shadow Blade
2nd-level Shadow
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, M (an iron rod painted black
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
This spell creates a blade of darkness and shadow. It uses the casters Strength, Dexterity, or Intelligence bonus as a bonus to hit and damage, as the caster prefers. It deals 1d6 damage and is treated as a magical weapon for purposes of resistance to normal weapons.

Shadow Anchor
3rd-level Shadow
Casting Time: 1 Action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S, M (A small needle)
Duration: 1 minute
Choose a target. That creature must succeed on a Strength saving throw versus your spellcasting DC or is considered grappled, because their shadow is pinned to the ground. They may reattempt this save at the end of each of their turns.
At Higher Levels, If this spell is cast using a higher level spell slot, you may select one additional target for each level above third.

3rd-level Shadow
Casting Time: 1 Action
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (A strip of gauze)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
This spell turns the caster immaterial and insubstantial. They gain resistance to non-magical bludgeoning, piercing and slashing attacks. They may pass through solid objects, no thicker than 10 feet. This spell does not grant the ability to fly, nor does it make the user invisible.

Darkening Bolt
4th-level Shadow
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self (100 foot line)
Components: V, S, M (A bit of dark cloth and a glass rod)
Duration: Instantaneous
A stroke of Darkness forming a line 100 feet long and 5 feet wide blasts out from you in the direction you choose. Each creature in the line must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 8d6 Necrotic damage, or half as much damage on a successful one. Targets who fail their save are blinded. They may save at the end of each of their turns in order to end this condition. Anyone viewing the bolt, sees it as a dark purple, as if they had stared at a bright light.
At Higher Levels, When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 4th.

Shadow Bolt
4th-level Shadow
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 180 feet
Components: V, S, M (Iron fillings)
Duration: Instantaneous
The caster flings out a number of bolts of shadow at targets. The caster flings out 4 bolts. Each bolt makes a separate attack roll. The caster may target a separate creature with each bolt, or send as many bolts as he wishes to the same target. Each bolt that hits does 2d8+2 damage, and the target must save or gain the poisoned condition. The target may save at the end of each of its turns to end the poisoned condition.
At Higher Levels, When you cast this spell using a slot of 6th level or higher, you gain an additional bolt for every 2 slot levels above 4th.

Create Darkenbeast
5th-level shadow (ritual)
Casting Time: 1 Minute
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (Bone Ash)
Duration: Special
This spell turns a normal animal into a Darkenbeast under the control of the caster. The caster may only have one darkenbeast at a time. This spell lasts until the creature dies or is exposed to sunlight, at which point it reverts to its natural form. The animal gains the following traits: Magic Resistance, the creature has resistance on saving throws versus magic. Armor class increases by 2 due to shadow and sustainability. The creature gains a +6 bonus to Strength and Constitution, granting it 3 hit points per hit die, and +3 to hit and damage. 
At Higher Levels, When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the creature gains an additional point of AC and an additional +2 to Strength and Constitution for every slot above 5th.

Conjure Shadow
5th-level shadow 
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: 90 feet
Components: V, S, M (oil)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour
You call forth an a Shadow. Choose an area of darkness that fills a 10-foot cube within range. 4 shadows appear in an unoccupied space within 10 feet of it. The shadows disappear when they
drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.
The shadow is friendly to you and your companions for the duration. Roll initiative for the shadows, which have their own turns. They obeys any verbal commands that you issue to it (no action required by you). If you don’t issue any commands to the shadows, they defend themselves from hostile creatures but otherwise takes no actions.
If your concentration is broken, the shadows don't disappear. Instead, you lose control of the shadows, they become hostile toward you and your companions, and they might attack. An uncontrolled shadow can’t be dismissed by you, and it disappears 1 hour after you summoned it.
The DM has the shadow’s statistics.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, more creatures appear. Twice as many shadows appear with a 7th level spell slot, and three times as many with a 9th level spell slot.

Shadow Magic
6th-level Shadow
Casting Time: Special
Range: Special
Components: V, S
Duration: Special
This spell allows the user to cast any Evocation spell of 1st to 4th level. This invocation isn't as real as a normal casting, the spell energy being substituted with shadowstuff, so the spells are considered of their base level when cast. E.g. a Fireball cast with Shadow Magic is cast as if a 3rd level spell slot were used.
All other factors involved with the spell are as they are listed above. Casting time, range, and duration are as the original spells, as are saving throws and damage. This spell can only duplicate damaging evocations: no rituals or non-attack effects.
At Higher Levels, When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, you can duplicate more powerful evocations, a 7th level spell allows you to duplicate 5th level spells like Cone of Cold or Bigby's Hand (but not Wall of Force or Wall of Stone, because those are damaging evocations), an 8th level spell slot allows 6th level spells and a 9th level slot allows 7th. You may also choose to use a spell slot of 7th level or higher to increase the level of the evocation spell being cast. A 7th level spell slot will produce a fireball cast as a 4th level spell.

Shadow Walk
7th-level shadow
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour
This may only be used in shade. When cast, the target enters the plane of shadow, where they may travel up to 7 miles per 10 minutes, moving normally on the plane of shadow, but a great distance on the prime material plane. This affects the target the caster touches.
At Higher Levels, When an 8th level spell slot is used to cast this spell, the duration is 8 hours and the caster may walk himself and up to 2 other people. When a 9th level spell slot is used to cast this spell, the duration is 24 hours and the caster may take up to 8 other targets with him.

7th-level shadow
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (an ivory likeness of the caster, costing 500 gp, and a strip of paper)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
This spell causes the caster to have only two dimensions, height and width, without any depth, like a sheet of paper. When viewed from the side, the caster is invisible. This allows the caster to make stealth checks at advantage anywhere, even in plain view, and on a successful stealth check be considered invisible.
The wizard can declare that he is keeping himself turned to the side against one opponent as a bonus action. This makes the caster unaffected by any form of attack from that opponent. However, any damage the caster does suffer (from area affect spells or damage from other targets) is doubled.

Shadow Form
8th-level shadow
Casting Time: 1 round
Range: Unlimited
Components: S
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour
The caster creates a transparent duplicate of herself, which appears adjacent to the caster. For the duration of the spell, the caster controls the actions of the shadowform and can perceive as if the caster were the shadow. It is an extension of the caster.
The caster does not gain any extra actions, but may use her actions to control either the form or herself. If the shadow form is struck in combat or dispelled, it vanishes, leaving nothing but dust and leaves. 

Mass Blindness
9th-level Shadow
Casting Time: 1 Action
Range: 180 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 minute
All desired targets in 100 foot radius from a point the caster designates become blind. Shadowstuff crawls over their face and eyes blocking their vision. Creatures may take an action to make a Dexterity saving throw to end the effect. On a success, they target can see again. 

This post was originally published 6/22/15 and is available in print from lulu and PDF along with many other optional classes in Hack & Slash Compendium III from DTRPG. If you like this content, support me on Patreon and get special bonuses like advertisement free PDFS!

On Spending Money

In systems where you don't spend your gold for direct increases in power (i.e. there is no "wealth by level" table), what do you spend your gold on?

This is a common refrain from players new to 5th edition, Basic/Expert, and 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons. I recently wrote a book "On Downtime and Demesnes" mostly as a tool for me to answer this question. The book goes into great depth into the many options but it isn't very portable. I'm Presenting free portable version here, and permanently available for download from DTRPG. 

What to spend money on?

The master list of relevant ways to spend money in fantasy games
Adornment: Clothing is expensive. The character gains 1 experience for every 2 gold spent, up to 100 experience. Fashion is a world unto itself in ways to represent character and values. Players can consider double layered cloaks, knife boots, harnesses, or many other things. 

Carousing: Originally proposed in 1976 in the article Orgies Inc. they "waste" the gold by partying, gaining some experience instead of using it to increase their personal wealth. Carousing also matches the pulp and picaresque fiction that Dungeons & Dragons was inspired by. Spend a random amount of gold (usually 1dX times 100 gp) and gain that many experience. On a failed saving throw, an unfortunate event happens, like a city fire, untoward tattoo, pregnancy or other circumstance. 

Sacrifice: Player characters can sacrifice gold or other valuable objects (such as livestock, virgins, willing converts, or children) to various supernatural entities, spirits, dark lords, elemental energies, and "gods" in exchange for magic items, boons, and power.

Rumors: Player characters can track down information by taking time and spending gold. For every day they go out and buy drinks (10-40 gp), they have a chance to hear a local rumor.

Healing: They can spend their time resting at a healer or in a nice room to regain hit points.

Scouting: They can pay for some equipment, specialized tools, and spend a week planning to scout the location of their next adventure, giving them a +1 on saving throws on their next adventure.

Training: They can spend their time learning special tricks, feats, increasing their skills or statistics. This may take many months and cost many thousands of gold and may require a specialized trainer to track down. 

Working: This is reverse spending. The character earns gold. They will have to explain how.

Crafting Items: They can spend gold to make things: Alchemical bombs, armor, poison, et. al.

Gain Influence: 1,000 gp per week for minor influence, 5,000 gp per week for major influence, 10,000 gp per week for Grand Influence. This is acquiring titles, responsibilities, and favors, allowing the players to gain certain rights (such as hiring mercenaries, owning land, et. al.) as well as having input on political machinations. 

Retinue: Characters can have hirelings (torchbearers, pack-apes, miscreants), henchmen (classed characters who work for a player character), mercenaries (soldiers who will fortify structures and engage in combats outside of dungeons), followers (troops and men who flock to the character. They cost nothing but must be provided for),  sidekicks (a gestalt team where experience is split 66/33 between two adventurers controlled by one player, specialists (alchemists, engineers, armorers, gem-cutters, et. al.), pets (animal or non-human companions of player characters), proteges (spending 1 gold per experience to create a 'backup' character that doesn't start at 0 experience), hangers-on (Dandelion to your Witcher), Cronies/Contacts (people with a pre-existing relationship to the character) and sages (who turn money into true answers).

Congregation: They player can spend money to acquire congregants. As long as they tend to their flock, each congregant provides 1 gp/month in labor or magical research costs. 

Investments/Mercantile Ventures: The character invests a sum of money for a term. After the time passes, depending on the risk and the amount invested, the player character will receive a return. 

Lifestyle upkeep: It costs gold every month to maintain a certain standard of living. This collects a variety of costs, taxes, housing, food, and various other expenditures. 

Clan Hordes: This refers to any family, noble, organization, or guild. The more the player contributes, the more benefits the clan horde provides. 

Research Library: Tomes and libraries and books are quite rare and valuable for magical research, learning new spells, researching unknown magics, creating magic items, and more. In order to perform these tasks, a library of sufficient value must be present. The following items will all require a research library.
Brewing a potion: 500 gp and 1 week per level.
Crafting a magic item: Takes 1 day per 500 gp of the item. 
Spell Research: 1000 gp and 2 weeks per level.
Vat Creatures & Crossbreeds: 2000 gp per hit die, 5000 gp per special ability
Constructs and Vehicles: 500 gp per ton for wooden, 3,000 gp per ton for metal. 

And last but not least:

Construction: Characters can build castles, keeps, druid groves, churches, mobile cities, giant mechs, underwater or volcano bases, floating islands, dimensional pockets, or new planets or planes.

You may notice many of these integrate the characters within the world. This is what gives depth to the game, and why focusing on the 'non-fun' parts drives engagement.

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On Dragonlance Denied

"We are not moving toward breach of contract, but we will not approve any further drafts." -Defendant, Wizards of the Coast.

Margert Weis and Tracy Hickman, authors of the best-selling Dragonlance saga have filed suit against Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast for breach of contract.

There are two completed new Dragonlance books! We can't read them!

I'll be describing parts of the filing, but if you want to look for yourself, it's right here. That is a plaintiff filing, and there's been no response yet. That means we only have one side of the story. There may be facts that come to light—but more likely a settlement. That makes everything in this article that isn't a quote or a link from a document unfounded conjecture. 

It's important to note that Tracy Hickman is a New York times bestselling novelist, and  10 million dollars seems to be a completely realistic total for how well a new Dragonlance trilogy will sell. They have already sold twenty-two million copies. 

What is Dragonlance? It was a revolutionary series of novels, music, and adventure modules co-written by Margert Weis and Tracy Hickman, chronicling a war of the lance among dragons destined to return the gods to the world, and two brothers, one good and strong, the other feeble and evil, and what the evil brother will sacrifice to become a god. 

I'm going to say some things about Tracy Hickman, and merely mentioning them may cause people to assume I'm casting aspersions. I am not. Here are some facts regarding Tracy Hickman.

Dragonlance and D&D

He is known for co-writing the Dragonlance Novels, and writing the Dragonlance series of adventures.

"If the party fights the elves, they must take on the rest of the elven army, one unit every game hour. . .  they keep coming, wave after wave, fighting for their homeland with cold fierceness. They fight to the death." -DL1 Dragons of Despair

"If the PCs foolishly decide to attack the unicorn, he calls at once for magical forest creatures to defend him. . . .From now until the PCs leave the woods, all creatures encountered attack them on sight." -DL1 Dragons of Despair

Dragons of Despair is one of the less restrictive modules in the series. It "allows" you to use your own Characters: "Players may wish to use PCs from the DRAGONLANCE story, detailed on character cards in the center of the module. It is generally an advantage for players to use these characters rather than bring their own into the campaign."

The module indicates when the characters should read their backgrounds, and later instructs them to read the prophecy out loud to each other, and then sing the song of Goldmoon, the white savior who finds the golden plates of Morm—I mean the discs of Mishikal with the truth about the old gods of Krynn.

Apropos of nothing, Tracy Hickman is a proud Mormon. 

"Song of Riverwind is in the center of this module. If Goldmoon is a PC in the adventure, have the player . . . sing them with the music provided."

Music is provided. It's even on the internet

But it's Dragons of Flame that led to the 'force a narrative' shift from adventure and exploration based play of first edition. To wit:

"To run this module properly, you must think of it as a story, and try to motivate your players subtly to follow the right path. . . This module introduces several enemy NPCs. . .Since these NPCs appear in later . . . try to make them have “obscure deaths” if they are killed. . . their bodies should not be found. Then, when the NPCs appear in later modules, you have a chance to explain their presence. Be creative; think up an explanation for their “miraculous” survival. The same rule applies to the PCs on pages 17-18. Most of them have roles in future modules, and must be able to return to life somehow. This does not apply to PCs other than those who are part of the story."

This was the genesis of the sea change in the approach of the game. Dragons of Flame has a literal secret door that must be found for the adventure to progress. 

Adventure Module DL3: Dragons of Hope introduced the Aghar—Gully Dwarves. From the module:

"Aghar are the lowest class in the dwarven cast systems—indeed, most Mountain Dwarves say that they aren't part of any caste. These raggedly clothed dwarves vary in skin color from parchment to mottled to olive. Their hair is as unkempt as their clothing. Their health is generally bad, their bodies bear sores and scars, and they smell. 

Though humans often find the Aghar comical, they are a disgusting race who's motto is "Do anything, no matter how mean, to survive." Occasionally a decent moral Aghar can be found but those are extremely rare. Gully Dwarves. . . have weak constitutions and low intelligence. . . An average Aghar cannot count higher than two."

You see, on Krynn. the world on which the Dragonlance novels take place, all dwarves are ignorant filthy subhumans with giant noses who are too stupid to count.

It's a commonly accepted fact that Tolkien founded the dwarves on semetic tropes, but World War II caused him to re-evaluate the horror of those stereotypes, and portray them more positively. ("I do think of the 'Dwarves' like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations" and "[t]he Dwarves of course are quite obviously—couldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic, obviously, constructed to be Semitic "J.R.R. Tolkien)

You know, let's step away from Krynn, Gully Dwarves, pale-skinned saints and kleptomaniac Kinder who wear bright clothing and roam around in caravans completely immune to fear. 

Ethics in Fantasy

D&D 3rd edition was released early in the year 2000. A few years later, sensing a shift away from moralist heroic fantasy, Tracy wrote the essay  called "Ethics in Fantasy: Morality & Dungeons & Dragons". The link takes you to the wayback machine, which is the only place you will find the essay.

The essay was not up long, for reasons that seem quite apparent from a cursory read. 

"Fantasy is not escapist fiction; it is a morally based genre. Good fantasy demands ethics and good fantasy role playing demands ethical play and design.

Ethics is not something which is outmoded; truth is not situation nor relative and we shouldn't pretend that it is. Our games are teaching people around us not just about a fantasy world, but about how we deal with each other. If we cannot learn to deal with each other honestly in our imaginations, how can we hope to deal with each other face to face in the real world?" -Tracy Hickman, Summary, Ethics in Fantasy Gaming. 

It  seems born out of a desire to educate fearful clergy about the reality of Dungeons & Dragons by selling the idea: it's a moral testing ground. 

It contains some bold, unproven claims: "Because of this heavy identification, players in role playing games learn lessons from their games as though they really were experiencing the adventure. They don't set out to learn anything. It's just a game, isn't it? No, they learn from their experience in the game." -Ethics in Fantasy: Part 3: The Moral Imperative of Fantasy

"Do thieves always get away with their crimes in your game? Do player character assassins murder at will? Do your players use torture without being tortured themselves? Are towns being ravaged by players without fear of retribution from the king?

If you answer yes to any of these or similar questions, then you are not only misusing the game but you are teaching false and negative lessons to your players. . . 

Games that allow such things are not only teaching the wrong lessons, they are bad games."

TL; DR—Stop having badwrong fun.

Still, he says, there are some ethics we can all agree on in fantasy.

  • The Omniscience and Omnipotence of God
  • The Good Redeems its own
  • Evil Feeds upon itself
  • Man may choose good or evil for himself
And last, but not least
  • Consequence for our choices are mandated by nature.
These are all obviously true to everyone who plays fantasy games, right? (Narrator: "They were not.")

Do consequences being mandated by nature have any relationship to the poor gully dwarves? The Kender?

I'm not giving Tracy Hickman a hard time, I'm telling you who he is, so you have some perspective for what comes next. 

The Lawsuit, Finally.

I'd like to start here. (Download the whole complaint)
"35. On or about August 13, 2020, [Wizards of the Coast] held a telephonic meeting with plaintiff[s]. . . At that meeting with no forewarning [WotC] refused to perform under the license agreement. . . respond[ing] with the nonsensical statement 

"We are not moving toward breach (of the contract), but we will not approve any further drafts."
Like a robot, over and over. 

What's going on here? Simple. They had a contract. They were gonna write 3 books about Dragonlance. 2 were written. Penguin Random House was going to publish them. The plaintiffs (Tracy Hickman & Margret Weis) agreed to rewrite whatever Wizards of the Coast wanted, and indeed claim they did, cutting and changing at one time as much as 70 pages of the book.  But even though they claim they were willing to make the changes—Wizards of the Coast won't breach the contract, but they won't approve any of the drafts written.

The plaintiffs make the claim the "Wizard's of the Coast's arbitrary decision to terminate the License Agreement. . . was based on events that had nothing to do with . . .the work or Plaintiff-Creators. (Tracy and Margaret). . . Defendant was embroiled in a series of embarrassing public disputes wherby its non-Dragonlance publications were excoriated for racism and sexism. Morever the company itself was vilified by well-publicized allegations of misogyny and racist hiring and employment practices. . ."
  • In June of 2019, Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast Expressly approved a detailed outline of Book I ("Dragons of Deceit")
  • In November 2019, the complete manuscript was submitted and expressly approved by January 2020 via written approval form #272074-0
  • In June 2020 Liz Schuh and Hilary Ross were removed and replaced with Nic Kelman and Paul Morrissey.
Mr. Kelman is a controversial figure himself. In their lawyer's words: "Kelman issued a four-point set of comments dealing with various sensitivity issues ranging from the use of love potions. . . to concerns of sexism, inclusivity, and potential negative connotations of certain character names."

They claim to have complied with all these changes.

Then they found out that Wizards of the Coast was communicating directly with Penguin Random House about "editorial topics" while excluding them, leading to August 13th, and the meeting at the start of the section. 

Wizards of the Coast won't end the contract because of penalties, won't complete the contract in good faith. 

What's a writer to do?

And the road goes ever on. . . 

Could Tracy Hickman write hard enough to make people forget he's a conservative Mormon? 

There are easily millions of dollars here at stake, but millions apparently isn't enough to make it work with Tracy and Margaret. This is not a thing that is this way or that. I've seen "two sides" of this discussion and repudiate them both. Death of the Author has been a thing since the late 1960's. 

Consider the story and consent implications of a love potion and the likely intended introduction of a transsexual or bisexual character.  Consider the complaint's focus on Wizard's of the Coast "supposed reasoning," rather than on the text of the contract. Why did they pull two women off of the project and put two men on the project, one of whom has a book involving sexual descriptions of child prostitutes? 

If published there would be backlash—even if it met the standards of the sensitivity writer. Would it hurt sales? What are their reasons for stalling the book? Hasbro itself might not even know.

Wizards of the Coast is and always has been a place of unorganized chaos. From the sex orgies in the pre-corporate days (and all the harassment present in any environment where people are having sex in a common area), to divisive intense political 'fiefdoms' within the company, to alienating the Magic: the Gathering userbase this week. What is it we expect them to do?

They are not and have never been gatekeepers of fantasy. 
I aspire to Isaiah 52:7. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” It is my hope that in all that I write I am publishing peace.- Tracy Hickman
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