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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