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D&D General Dragonlance's Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman Are Suing WotC for Breach of Contract

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For fans of the Dragonlance D&D setting, there's some mixed news which has just hit a court in Washington State: it seems that there's a new Dragonlance trilogy of books which was (until recently) being written; but we may never see them. On 16th October 2020, a lawsuit was filed in the US District Court by Dragonlance authors Weis and Hickman asserting an unlawful breach of contract by WotC regarding the licensing of a new series of Dragonlance novels. Indeed, it appears that the first of three novels, Dragons of Deceit, has already been written, as has Book 2, Dragons of Fate.

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The Lawsuit
From the documents it appears that in March 2019 a new Dragonlance trilogy was licensed by WotC; Weis and Hickman wrote a book called Dragons of Deceit, and the draft of a second called Dragons of Fate, and then WotC terminated the contract in August 2020.

The suit asserts that the termination was unlawful, and "violated multiple aspects of the License Agreement". It goes on to assert that the reasons for the termination were due to WotC being "embroiled in a series of embarrassing public disputes whereby its non-Dragonlance publications were excoriated for racism and sexism. Moreover, the company itself was vilified by well-publicized allegations of misogyny and racist hiring and employment practices by and with respect to artists and employees unrelated to Dragonlance."

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NATURE OF THE ACTION

1. Margaret Weis (“Weis”) and Tracy Hickman (“Hickman”) (collectively with Margaret Weis, LLC, “Plaintiff-Creators”) are among the most widely-read and successful living authors and world-creators in the fantasy fiction arena. Over thirty-five years ago, Plaintiff- Creators conceived of and created the Dragonlance universe—a campaign setting for the “Dungeons & Dragons” roleplaying game, the rights to which are owned by Defendant. (In Dungeons & Dragons, gamers assume roles within a storyline and embark on a series of adventures—a “campaign”—in the context of a particular campaign setting.)

2. Plaintiff-Creators’ conception and development of the Dragonlance universe has given rise to, among other things, gaming modules, video games, merchandise, comic books, films, and a series of books set in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy world. While other authors have been invited to participate in creating over 190 separate fictional works within the Dragonlance universe, often with Plaintiff-Creators as editors, Weis’s and Hickman’s own works remain by far the most familiar and salable. Their work has inspired generations of gamers, readers and enthusiasts, beginning in 1984 when they published their groundbreaking novel Dragons of Autumn Twilight, which launched the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy. Their books have sold more than thirty million copies, and their Dragonlance World of Krynn is arguably the most successful and popular world in shared fiction, rivaled in the fantasy realm only by the renowned works created by J.R.R. Tolkien (which do not involve a shared fictional world). Within the Dragonlance universe, Plaintiff-Creators have authored or edited 31 separate books, short story anthologies, game materials, and art and reference books in a related series of works all dedicated to furthering the Dungeons & Dragons/Dragonlance brand.

3. In or around 2017, Plaintiff-Creators learned that Defendant was receptive to licensing its properties with established authors to revitalize the Dungeons & Dragons brand. After a ten-year hiatus, Plaintiff-Creators approached Defendant and began negotiating for a license to author a new Dragonlance trilogy. Plaintiff-Creators viewed the new trilogy as the capstone to their life’s work and as an offering to their multitude of fans who had clamored for a continuation of the series. Given that the Dragonlance series intellectual property is owned by Defendant, there could be no publication without a license. In March, 2019, the negotiations between the parties hereto culminated in new written licensing agreement whereby Weis and Hickman were to personally author and publish a new Dragonlance trilogy in conjunction with Penguin Random House, a highly prestigious book publisher (the “License Agreement”).

4. By the time the License Agreement was signed, Defendant had a full overview of the story and story arc, with considerable detail, of the planned trilogy. Defendant knew exactly the nature of the work it was going to receive and had pre-approved Penguin Random House as the publisher. Indeed, Defendant was at all times aware of the contract between Penguin Random House and Plaintiff-Creators (the “Publishing Agreement”) and its terms. In fact, the License Agreement expressly refers to the Publishing Agreement.

5. By June 2019, Defendant received and approved a full outline of the first contracted book in the trilogy (“Book 1”) and by November 2019 the publisher accepted a manuscript for Book 1. Plaintiff-Creators in turn sent the Book 1 manuscript to Defendant, who approved it in January 2020. In the meantime, Defendant was already approving foreign translation rights and encouraging Plaintiff-Creators to work on the subsequent novels.

6. During the development and writing process, Plaintiff-Creators met all contractual milestones and received all requisite approvals from Defendant. Defendant at all times knew that Hickman and Weis had devoted their full attention and time commitment to completing Book 1 and the trilogy as a whole in conformity with their contractual obligations. During the writing process, Defendant proposed certain changes in keeping with the modern-day zeitgeist of a more inclusive and diverse story-world. At each step, Plaintiff-Creators timely accommodated such requests, and all others, within the framework of their novels. This collaborative process tracks with Section 2(a)(iii) of the License Agreement, which requires Defendant to approve Plaintiff- Creators’ drafts or, alternatively, provide written direction as to the changes that will result in Defendant’s approval of a draft.

7. On or about August 13, 2020, Defendant participated in a telephone conference with Plaintiff-Creators’ agents, which was attended by Defendant’s highest-level executives and attorneys as well as PRH executives and counsel. At that meeting, Defendant declared that it would not approve any further Drafts of Book 1 or any subsequent works in the trilogy, effectively repudiating and terminating the License Agreement. No reason was provided for the termination. (In any event, no material breaches or defaults were indicated or existed upon which to predicate a termination.) The termination was wholly arbitrary and without contractual basis. The termination was unlawful and in violation of multiple aspects of the License Agreement (arguably almost every part of it, in fact). The termination also had the knowing and premeditated effect of precluding publication and destroying the value of Plaintiff-Creators’ work—not to mention their publishing deal with Penguin Random House.

8. Defendant’s acts and failures to act breached the License Agreement and were made in stunning and brazen bad faith. Defendant acted with full knowledge that its unilateral decision would not only interfere with, but also would lay waste to, the years of work that Plaintiff-Creators had, to that point, put into the project. Given that the obligation to obtain a publisher was part and parcel of the License Agreement, Defendant was fully cognizant that its backdoor termination of the License Agreement would nullify the millions of dollars in remuneration to which Plaintiff-Creators were entitled from their publishing contract.

9. As Plaintiff-Creators subsequently learned, Defendant’s arbitrary decision to terminate the License Agreement—and thereby the book publishing contract—was based on events that had nothing to do with either the Work or Plaintiff-Creators. In fact, at nearly the exact point in time of the termination, Defendant was embroiled in a series of embarrassing public disputes whereby its non-Dragonlance publications were excoriated for racism and sexism. Moreover, the company itself was vilified by well-publicized allegations of misogyny and racist hiring and employment practices by and with respect to artists and employees unrelated to Dragonlance. Plaintiff-Creators are informed and believe, and based thereon allege, that a decision was made jointly by Defendant and its parent company, Hasbro, Inc., to deflect any possible criticism or further public outcry regarding Defendant’s other properties by effectively killing the Dragonlance deal with Plaintiff-Creators. The upshot of that was to inflict knowing, malicious and oppressive harm to Plaintiff-Creators and to interfere with their third- party contractual obligations, all to Plaintiff-Creator’s severe detriment and distress.


Delving into the attached document, all seemed to be going to plan until June 2020, at which the team overseeing the novels was replaced by WotC. The document cites public controversies involving one of the new team, issues with Magic: The Gathering, Orion Black's public complaints about the company's hiring practices, and more. Eventually, in August 2020, the suit alleges that during a telephone call, WotC terminated the agreement with the statement "We are not moving toward breach, but we will not approve any further drafts.”

Ending the Agreement
The suit notes that "None of the termination provisions were triggered, nor was there a claim of material breach much less written notice thereof, nor was a 30-day cure period initiated." The situation appears to be that while the agreement could not in itself be unilaterally 'terminated' in this way, WotC was able to simply not approve any further drafts (including the existing draft). The text of that allegation reads:

Not only was Defendant’s statement that “we will not approve any future drafts” a clumsy effort to circumvent the termination provisions (because, of course, there was no ground for termination), it undermined the fundamental structure of the contractual relationship whereby the Defendant-Licensor would provide Plaintiff-Creators the opportunity and roadmap to “fix”/rewrite/cure any valid concerns related to the protection of the Dungeons & Dragons brand with respect to approvals. In any event, Defendant had already approved the essential storylines, plots, characters, creatures, and lore for the new Dragonlance trilogy when it approved Plaintiff-Creators’ previous drafts and story arc, which were complete unto themselves, were delivered prior to execution of the License Agreement, and are acknowledged in the text of the License Agreement. In other words, Defendant’s breach had nothing to do with Plaintiff-Creators’ work; it was driven by Defendant’s response to its own, unrelated corporate public relations problems—possibly encouraged or enacted by its corporate parent, Hasbro, Inc.

Basically, while the contract itself could not be terminated, refusing to approve work amounts to an 'effective' termination. Weis and Hickman note that the license itself does not allow for arbitrary termination. The following section of the document is relevant:

Nothing in the above provision allows Defendant to terminate the License Agreement based on Defendant’s failure to provide approval. To the contrary, should Defendant find any aspect of the Draft to be unacceptable, Defendant has an affirmative duty under contract to provide “reasonable detail” of any changes Plaintiff-Creators must make, which changes will result in Defendant’s approval of the manuscript. Accordingly, for Defendant to make the blanket statement that it will never approve any Drafts going forward is, by itself, a breach of the license agreement.

So, the agreement apparently requires WotC to allow W&H to fix any approval-based concerns. Notwithstanding that WotC might be unsatisfied with W&H's previous rewrites, the decision in advance to simply not approve drafts without giving them this chance to rewrite appears to be the crux of the issue, and this is what the writers are alleging is the breach of contract.

Weis & Hickman are demanding a jury trial and are suing for breach of contract, damages, and a court order to require WotC to fulfill its end of the agreement. They cite years of work, and millions of dollars.

Licensing Agreements

Defendant acted with full knowledge that its unilateral decision would not only interfere with, but also would lay waste to, the years of work that Plaintiff-Creators had, to that point, put into the project. Given that the obligation to obtain a publisher was part and parcel of the License Agreement, Defendant was fully cognizant that its backdoor termination of the License Agreement would nullify the millions of dollars in remuneration to which Plaintiff-Creators were entitled from their publishing contract.

So how does all this work? Obviously we don't have access to the original contract, so we don't know the exact terms of the licensing agreement; similarly, we are hearing one side of the story here.

The arrangement appears to have been a licensing arrangement -- that is, Weis & Hickman will have licensed the Dragonlance IP from WotC, and have arranged with Penguin Random House to publish the trilogy. It's not work-for-hire, or work commissioned by and paid for by WotC; on the contrary, in most licensing deals, the licensee pays the licensor. Indeed in this case, the document indicates that Penguin Random House paid Weis & Hickman an advance in April 2019, and W&H subsequently paid WotC (presumably a percentage of this).

Licensing agreements vary, but they often share similar features. These usually involve the licensee paying the IP owner a licensing fee or an advance on royalties at the start of the license, and sometimes annually or at certain milestones. Thereafter, the licensee also often pays the IP holder royalties on the actual book profits. We don't know the exact details of this licensing agreement, but it seems to share some of those features.

On March 29, 2019, Plaintiff-Creators and PRH entered into the Publishing Agreement. PRH remitted the signing payment due under the Publishing Agreement to Plaintiff- Creators in April 2019. Per the terms of the License Agreement, Plaintiff-Creators in turn remitted a portion of the signing payment to Defendant—an amount Defendant continues to retain despite having effectively terminated the License Agreement.


Tortious Interference

On information and belief, Defendant also engaged in back-channel activities to disrupt the Publishing Agreement by convincing PRH that Defendant would prevent Plaintiff- Creators from performing under the Publishing Agreement

There's another wrinkle, a little later. The document says that a second payment was due on November 2019 -- similarly it would be paid to W&H by Penguin Random House, who would then pay WotC. It appears that PRH did not make that second payment to W&H. W&H later say they discovered that WotC was talking directly to Penguin Random House about editorial topics, which is what the term 'tortious interference with contract' is referring to.

By June 2019, Defendant/Hasbro expressly approved a detailed outline of Book 1. In November 2019, PRH indicated that the complete manuscript of Book 1 was accepted and it would push through the second payment due on the Publishing Agreement. At that time, Plaintiff-Creators submitted the complete manuscript of Book 1 to Defendant/Hasbro who expressly approved the Book 1 manuscript in January 2020. Inexplicably, and despite Plaintiff- Creators’ repeated request, PRH never actually delivered the second payment due on approval of the Book 1 manuscript.


What Happened?
Throughout the process, WotC asked for 'sensitivity rewrites'. These appear to include four points, including the use of a love potion, and other "concerns of sexism, inclusivity and potential negative connotations of certain character names." W&H content that they provided the requested rewrites.

One section which might provide some insight into the process is this:

During the writing process, Defendant proposed certain changes in keeping with the modern-day zeitgeist of a more inclusive and diverse story-world. At each step, Plaintiff-Creators timely accommodated such requests, and all others, within the framework of their novels.

It's hard to interpret that without the context of the full conversations that took place, but it sounds like WotC, in response to the previously-mentioned publicity storm it has been enduring regarding inclusivity, wanted to ensure that this new trilogy of books would not exacerbate the problems. We know they asked for some rewrites, and W&H say they complied, but the phrase "within the framework of their novels" sounds like a conditional description. It could be that WotC was not satisfied with the rewrites, and that W&H were either unable or unwilling to alter the story or other details to the extent that they were asked to. There's a lot to unpack in that little "within the framework of their novels" phrase, and we can only speculate.

It sounds like this then resulted in WotC essentially backing out of the whole deal by simply declaring that they would refuse to approve any further drafts, in the absence of an actual contractual clause that would accommodate this situation.

What we do know is that there are two completed drafts of new Dragonlance novels out there. Whether we'll ever get to read them is another question! Dragons of Deceit is complete, Dragons of Fate has a draft, and the third book has been outlined.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Weis & Hickman's claims of a company embroiled in racism and misogyny are ridiculously overblown.

The inference I got was that WOTC were knocking back the new books due to not approving a lot of the content in them. They wanted the authors to be more inclusive and drop a lot of the 'Kenders are always thieves, Gnomes are always insane, and Gully Dwarves are always subject to a severe intellectual disability' aspects of their works, and possibly other stuff as well.

Looks like there was pushback on that, and WOTC just flat out decided not to approve the new books (which they are arguably able to do) without actually repudiating the contract (which would require a payout to the authors for damages).
 

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The U.S. federal system of government is unique, and really easy to misunderstand. The state of Washington has its own courts, which try cases based in Washington state law. The same goes for Nevada, Arizona, and the other 47 states. There are federal courts (that is, both as organizational and actual entities - facilities and such) throughout the U.S. whose job it is to try cases based in federal law. Given that WOTC/Hasbro does business nationally, this is a case that falls under federal law, meaning that Weis & Hickman are accusing WOTC of violating federal contract law. And so they are suing in a federal, not a state court. The building where they've filed their case is in Washington state, but the jurisdiction of that court is for laws written by the U.S. government, not that of an individual state.

The contract could have a jurisdiction clause.

The same Federal system is in place in Australia (also a common law jurisdiction). Some contracts will contain clauses for what jurisdiction applies to them though (where the parties considered the contract formed).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The more I think about it, this might be the reason the lawsuit is alluding to. Perhaps WotC wanted to avoid revitalizing a beloved, but problematic, property.
That seems pretty likely to me.
There's no reason why WotC, in partnership with Weis & Hickman, couldn't have shifted course and decided to reboot Dragonlance (hard or soft) to remove or mitigate the racist and sexist issues in the original novel trilogy and game world. I would love to see something like that!
Well, it’s possible that the reason that isn’t happening is the part of the story we’re not seeing. I find it hard to imagine that WotC would just tell Hickman and Weiss “there has been some controversy surrounding our treatment of employees of color, so we won’t be approving any more of your drafts, but we won’t terminate the contract either.” It just doesn’t make any sense as a response to the situation. There have to be details we’re not getting.

This is of course baseless speculation, but what would make a lot of sense to me is if WotC said “because of the recent controversies, we are concerned with some of the depictions of race in Dragonlance, and we won’t be approving any more drafts unless these specific issues are addressed” and that Hickman and Weiss simply refuse to make those changes.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Good plan, this. I think Dragonlance is best returned to the original authors. Pity they are too broke to purchase the rights to Dragonlance the way John Wick purchased the rights to 7th Sea.
Yeah, but . . . Weis & Hickman are NOT the sole creators of the Dragonlance story and world. Dragonlance, both world and story, was created by committee back in the old TSR offices back in the day. Weis & Hickman were a part of that team, and weren't even the original authors tapped to write what became the Dragonlance Chronicles. They ended up with the assignment of writing the novel, a first for them both, and turned out a fantasy classic! But not alone, and (IMO) the rights belong with WotC (as they purchased them along with TSR).
 

Dire Bare

Legend
didn't WOTC cancel all books at the same time including for a while the Drizzt books? I'm sure that wll be part of their defense. Probably not selling well as D&D was in a low point
WotC has certainly pulled back on D&D novels, the only ones being published right now (that we know of) are Salvatore's Drizzt novels. I don't think they've ever released a statement, official or unofficial, that "we're done with novels". Sounds like, for at least a while, they were willing to give Dragonlance novels another try. Shame that doesn't seem to be happening anymore.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Instead of actually providing any editorial feedback, or trying to work with them, they just cancelled the contract?
Well, no. First of all, they didn’t cancel the contract, they just informed Hickman and Weiss that they don’t intend to approve any more drafts. That’s the reason for the lawsuit - they are arguing it’s a functional termination that sidesteps their contractual clauses surrounding termination.

Second of all, we don’t know that WotC didn’t provide editorial feedback. The more likely scenario in my mind is that they did provide editorial feedback, Hickman and Weiss refused to make the changes WotC demanded, and then WotC informed them that if these changes are not made, they won’t approve any more drafts.

Again, it’s speculative, bit it would make a very confusing situation make much more sense if true.
 

Nardgrog

Villager
Anti-inclusive content
It seems you are using "politicalization" as a stand in for removing racism, as if getting rid of racism is something that is looked for by one political party and keeping racism is the goal of the other political party. Which may be true in the US these days.
Let's put racism into context for D&D for what WotC believes is racist:

WotC puts together a focus group:

WOTC: "When you visualize an orc, what do you see"

Normal Human being 1: "green skin, fur hats with horns and big fangs saying - work complete!"

Normal Human being 2: "reddish face, bumps everywhere, tortured look, fangs, evil, twisted elves"

Abnormal Human being 1: "blacks as far as the eye can see".
--That is in my no means a normal reaction you would ever see from anyone, short of them wearing a white hood or being a youtuber trying to get a minute of fame.

WotC listened to an abnormal reaction most likely to take away from their own internal practices, which could open them up to EEOC complaints. It is highly conceivable that having two white creators from the TSR days would open them up again to abnormal humans decrying WotC for being racist due to them using existing white creators and not going for a different race, ignoring the history of the product and demand.

Note, the decision was made in August, right at the height of $2B damage and 37 people murdered during the summer, so that panicked mindset that corps had at that time can be taken into context. In addition to Wizards labeling all of their work as racist from 4th edition onward (that is a head scratcher there, if things continue you could see all of their 4th edition and earlier content removed for sale to placate a handful of youtube influencers, meaning you'll have to private to get old content or eBay and pray), It does look like the Hickman/Weis legal team believes in a discrimination angle in the case. WotC didn't even read their content, they just did a blanket statement. Too much work to review 40 years of awesome content. However it ends, I hope to see some new novels, without WotC being attached.

9. As Plaintiff-Creators subsequently learned, Defendant’s arbitrary decision to terminate the License Agreement—and thereby the book publishing contract—was based on events that had nothing to do with either the Work or Plaintiff-Creators. In fact, at nearly the exact point in time of the termination, Defendant was embroiled in a series of embarrassing public disputes whereby its non-Dragonlance publications were excoriated for racism and sexism. Moreover, the company itself was vilified by well-publicized allegations of misogyny and racist hiring and employment practices by and with respect to artists and employees unrelated to Dragonlance. Plaintiff-Creators are informed and believe, and based thereon allege, that a decision was made jointly by Defendant and its parent company, Hasbro, Inc., to deflect any possible criticism or further public outcry regarding Defendant’s other properties by effectively killing the Dragonlance deal with Plaintiff-Creators. The upshot of that was to inflict knowing, malicious and oppressive harm to Plaintiff-Creators and to interfere with their third- party contractual obligations, all to Plaintiff-Creator’s severe detriment and distress.
 

Kurotowa

Legend
This is of course baseless speculation, but what would make a lot of sense to me is if WotC said “because of the recent controversies, we are concerned with some of the depictions of race in Dragonlance, and we won’t be approving any more drafts unless these specific issues are addressed” and that Hickman and Weiss simply refuse to make those changes.

I think it comes down to this little nugget. "During the writing process, Defendant proposed certain changes in keeping with the modern-day zeitgeist of a more inclusive and diverse story-world. At each step, Plaintiff-Creators timely accommodated such requests, and all others, within the framework of their novels." The key phrase being within the framework of their novels.

Those are author weasel words. They mean "The publisher demanded major changes and we tried to placate them with minor changes that didn't substantially impact the core of the story." Now sometimes that's a good thing. You can have editors who don't understand the intent of a work and the author has to work around them as best they can. But sometimes it's the opposite of a good thing. In this case it can totally mean that WotC was repeatedly trying to raise serious issues about race and gender depictions with the authors and getting blown off with minor surface edits that didn't substantially change things, resulting in WotC putting their foot down and saying they won't approve any further drafts unless Weis and Hickman actually address their concerns.

Is that what happened? We can't say yet. But from an uncharitable reading it fits the facts as presented right now. That's why I'm urging everyone not pick a side until we get a more complete view of events.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Let's put racism into context for D&D for what WotC believes is racist:

WotC puts together a focus group:

WOTC: "When you visualize an orc, what do you see"

Normal Human being 1: "green skin, fur hats with horns and big fangs saying - work complete!"

Normal Human being 2: "reddish face, bumps everywhere, tortured look, fangs, evil, twisted elves"

Abnormal Human being 1: "blacks as far as the eye can see".
--That is in my no means a normal reaction you would ever see from anyone, short of them wearing a white hood or being a youtuber trying to get a minute of fame.

WotC listened to an abnormal reaction most likely to take away from their own internal practices, which could open them up to EEOC complaints. It is highly conceivable that having two white creators from the TSR days would open them up again to abnormal humans decrying WotC for being racist due to them using existing white creators and not going for a different race, ignoring the history of the product and demand.

Note, the decision was made in August, right at the height of $2B damage and 37 people murdered during the summer, so that panicked mindset that corps had at that time can be taken into context. In addition to Wizards labeling all of their work as racist from 4th edition onward (that is a head scratcher there, if things continue you could see all of their 4th edition and earlier content removed for sale to placate a handful of youtube influencers, meaning you'll have to private to get old content or eBay and pray), It does look like the Hickman/Weis legal team believes in a discrimination angle in the case. WotC didn't even read their content, they just did a blanket statement. Too much work to review 40 years of awesome content. However it ends, I hope to see some new novels, without WotC being attached.
Oh good lord. My eyes rolled so far back in my head over this, I've gone blind.
 

lyle.spade

Adventurer
The contract could have a jurisdiction clause.

The same Federal system is in place in Australia (also a common law jurisdiction). Some contracts will contain clauses for what jurisdiction applies to them though (where the parties considered the contract formed).
If it involved interstate commerce (that is, business that extends beyond a state border into another state or other country) it would almost certainly fall under federal jurisdiction in the U.S.; hence, they filed there.

What does Australia call NSW and Queensland - provinces? States? What? Do those individually have their own laws and courts that try them, or are they extensions of the national government? I don't know.

A point of confusion is that the U.S. gov't out of Washington, DC is usually referred to as the "federal government," and yet the system of "federalism" is not the same thing. Technically the DC govt, with the White House, Congress, etc. and so on at the top, is probably better referred to as our "general government," rather than "federal." "National" doesn't quite fit, either.

Again, our system is totally unique in the world, much like how our Congress is not "like" the British Parliament. It serves a representative function, but beyond that the two, in structure and function, are quite different from one another.
 

The inference I got was that WOTC were knocking back the new books due to not approving a lot of the content in them. They wanted the authors to be more inclusive and drop a lot of the 'Kenders are always thieves, Gnomes are always insane, and Gully Dwarves are always subject to a severe intellectual disability' aspects of their works, and possibly other stuff as well.

Looks like there was pushback on that, and WOTC just flat out decided not to approve the new books (which they are arguably able to do) without actually repudiating the contract (which would require a payout to the authors for damages).
So, WotC decided they want to completely rewrite Dragonlance lore, because somehow stereotypes of non-human fantasy races is supposed to have anything to do with real world.

Saying all "X" people in the real world, among real humans, are "Y", is bad. We know that to be untrue.

The Kender are seen at thieves because they literally have no concept of property. If it's interesting or they want it, they take it. They don't intend to steal, they really have a lot of trouble grasping the idea that other people have things that they aren't allowed to take. Gnomes are the way they are because, like Kender, exposure to the Greystone of Gargath.

facepalm

A fantasy world where most of the fantasy races are the way they are because they were literally made that way by the Gods Themselves, or they were collectively scarred by some Artifact, or generally had some collective magical event that them as a people is totally different, and utterly without real-world parallel.

Getting offended because all Kender are thieves or all Gnomes are profoundly eccentric (to put it politely) seems like LOOKING for a reason to be offended.
 

Thanks for the rundown!

However, most of these scandals are with artists and players that WotC works with, not the company or employees itself. Certainly serious and things WotC needs to deal with, but hardly representative of a racist and misogynistic corporate culture. Of course, how WotC has (and continues) to react to these types of scandals is important. My memory of how WotC handled these various dumpster fires is . . . mixed.

WotC, in my opinion, is a very progressive company that works hard at being inclusive and anti-racist, but . . . like so many companies and organizations these days, they sometime fail. In small ways and in huge ways. They certainly have work to do as a company, but Weis & Hickman's claims of a company embroiled in racism and misogyny are ridiculously overblown.
Well, the issue is that these all took place over maybe a year or 18 months. From Hasbro's perspective, it was scandal after scandal coming out in WotC-land. I know Hasbro sent in several people to lock stuff down and get a handle on everything because lots of things changed. Dice, Camera, Action is done. Mike Mearls no longer interacts on social media, where previously he was very active on Twitter and had a weekly Twitch stream. He was also moved to a less prominent position; the last round of outrage over his continued employment was when he was moved back to the main D&D team. The accused MTG players were removed from the pro tour, replaced by Autumn Burchett (and they've done very well, so it's not like they didn't deserve it). There has been a push in D&D towards inclusion, too. The race changes have come out of severe criticism by the black D&D community of the colonialism and racism built into of the game.

For all the success of D&D and Magic recently, there have been several scandals that pretty directly included people directly employed by WotC (MTG pro tour players are effectively WotC employees, as were the DCA players, and the novel authors, and the artists, and the 5e consultant Zak S). Yeah, they're "contractors" and not employees, but they all got checks with Wizards' name on them. Controversy has continued in the MTG community, too, although this time with The Walking Dead promos (an anti-player product since they can't be reprinted and were only available in a time-limited promo) and the consequences of overall poor MTG design direction (pushing for more high power, high impact cards... there have been more bannings in the last 18 months of Standard, the most popular constructed format, than in the previous 25 years of the game combined).

Like, everything is on fire at WotC. So Hasbro has sent in firefighters. And now everything else is on fire at WotC. They're listening and making changes, but it still seems like everything is on fire.
 


lyle.spade

Adventurer
I think it comes down to this little nugget. "During the writing process, Defendant proposed certain changes in keeping with the modern-day zeitgeist of a more inclusive and diverse story-world. At each step, Plaintiff-Creators timely accommodated such requests, and all others, within the framework of their novels." The key phrase being within the framework of their novels.

Those are author weasel words. They mean "The publisher demanded major changes and we tried to placate them with minor changes that didn't substantially impact the core of the story." Now sometimes that's a good thing. You can have editors who don't understand the intent of a work and the author has to work around them as best they can. But sometimes it's the opposite of a good thing. In this case it can totally mean that WotC was repeatedly trying to raise serious issues about race and gender depictions with the authors and getting blown off with minor surface edits that didn't substantially change things, resulting in WotC putting their foot down and saying they won't approve any further drafts unless Weis and Hickman actually address their concerns.

Is that what happened? We can't say yet. But from an uncharitable reading it fits the facts as presented right now. That's why I'm urging everyone not pick a side until we get a more complete view of events.
I don't need to pick a side....I have never liked DL myself, and WOTC lost me a few years ago. Aside from the Eberron book, their stuff all reads like warmed-over oatmeal: bland and boring.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Firstly, as a Lawyer myself IRL, that Statement of Claim is atrocious. Emotive language, overly verbose, inflated with grandiosity and just really really bad. It contains supposition, insinuation, assumptions and far too much emotive waffle. The author needs a lesson on legal drafting.

It also doesn't really go into the legal grounds for what is essentially a basic contractual dispute until several pages in.

Maybe they do it differently in the USA, but from practice in the UK and Oz, it's cringeworthy and would get you your ass kicked in those jurisdictions (to say the least).

Importantly, the legal dispute itself boils down to a simple contractual dispute. WOTC hold the rights for Dragonlance, and green lit Weiss and Hickman to write a brand new trilogy in the world. A contract was signed to this effect. The authors write 3 books (subject to deadlines) and if WOTC approve of them, they get published.

The contract provides remedies for breach by a party (from the looks of it this includes damages if one party pulls out of the contract, or repudiates it), however it also provides that the books only get published if WOTC approve those books.

It can be clearly inferred from the Statement of Claim that WOTC had issues with the authors depictions of various gender roles and racial depictions (and possibly also sexuality issues) in the drafts as presented to them. Issues have been raised from the authors earlier works (the authors are both devout Mormons, and there have been accusations that this has influenced their works to some degree- from the obvious 'Golden Disks of Mishkal' returning faith to Krynn, to other less obvious examples) including rather narrow and stereotyped racial depictions (Kender and Gnomes for example who are inherently and inviolably thieves and crazed inventors respectively, and the whole Gully Dwarf thing, among others).

From the Statement of Claim it can be inferred that WOTC were giving them directions about stripping out that stuff and making the works more inclusive (in line with their recent push towards this). One can infer that there was some pushback by the authors on this point and this created friction between the parties.

It looks like it all came to a head when WOTC (with Lawyers in tow) flat out said 'we are not going to green light any more books from you guys'.

WOTC are claiming that they aren't breaching the contract, nor are they repudiating it (both of which would trigger damages clauses).

They're just not going to approve any more books under the terms of the contract, regardless of what's in them.

The legal question now revolves around that particular term (the approval term). Can WOTC flat out refuse to approve any books (under that term) regardless of content and it not be considered a repudiation (which would enliven the damages clause and require them to pay the authors for work done)?

It's

Unfortunately, that is not uncommon in the U.S. A lot of this amounts to litigating in the court of public opinion. It may not be great in terms of legal argument, but it can be effective. A deep pocket defendant may settle more quickly to avoid the damage to the goodwill it has with customers and the general public.

an interesting legal question. I dont know enough about USA Contract law to answer it.
 

Anti-inclusive content - "Politically correct" should not be used to dismiss concerns.
Those are author weasel words. They mean "The publisher demanded major changes and we tried to placate them with minor changes that didn't substantially impact the core of the story." Now sometimes that's a good thing. You can have editors who don't understand the intent of a work and the author has to work around them as best they can. But sometimes it's the opposite of a good thing. In this case it can totally mean that WotC was repeatedly trying to raise serious issues about race and gender depictions with the authors and getting blown off with minor surface edits that didn't substantially change things, resulting in WotC putting their foot down and saying they won't approve any further drafts unless Weis and Hickman actually address their concerns.
You're presuming WotC's concerns have merit.

I could certainly see why established authors would reject demands for a focus-group-driven, design-by-lawyers demands to create a sanitized, politically correct Dragonlance where checking the boxes for "inclusivity' and "diversity" is more important than telling a good story or continuity with existing canon and lore.
 

Grantypants

Explorer
The U.S. federal system of government is unique, and really easy to misunderstand. The state of Washington has its own courts, which try cases based in Washington state law. The same goes for Nevada, Arizona, and the other 47 states. There are federal courts (that is, both as organizational and actual entities - facilities and such) throughout the U.S. whose job it is to try cases based in federal law. Given that WOTC/Hasbro does business nationally, this is a case that falls under federal law, meaning that Weis & Hickman are accusing WOTC of violating federal contract law. And so they are suing in a federal, not a state court. The building where they've filed their case is in Washington state, but the jurisdiction of that court is for laws written by the U.S. government, not that of an individual state.
Not quite. Federal courts try cases of federal law, but they also try cases when the parties involved are from different states. Margaret Weis LLC is in Wisconsin, Tracy Hickman is in Utah, and Wizards of the Coast is headquartered in Washington state but is owned by Hasbro in Rhode Island. The complaint says that "parties have stipulated to venue in Washington State by contract", so we can assume that the contract also requires any disputes to be resolved using Washington state law. Most business contracts have a clause spelling out exactly what court system and set of laws applies if there is a dispute between the parties.
 

lyle.spade

Adventurer
Not quite. Federal courts try cases of federal law, but they also try cases when the parties involved are from different states. Margaret Weis LLC is in Wisconsin, Tracy Hickman is in Utah, and Wizards of the Coast is headquartered in Washington state but is owned by Hasbro in Rhode Island. The complaint says that "parties have stipulated to venue in Washington State by contract", so we can assume that the contract also requires any disputes to be resolved using Washington state law. Most business contracts have a clause spelling out exactly what court system and set of laws applies if there is a dispute between the parties.
Yeah good point - but if they're filing in federal court, that's where they hope to have it decided.

Either way, it's a bummer that DL fans will likely not get to read those stories.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I think it comes down to this little nugget. "During the writing process, Defendant proposed certain changes in keeping with the modern-day zeitgeist of a more inclusive and diverse story-world. At each step, Plaintiff-Creators timely accommodated such requests, and all others, within the framework of their novels." The key phrase being within the framework of their novels.

Those are author weasel words. They mean "The publisher demanded major changes and we tried to placate them with minor changes that didn't substantially impact the core of the story." Now sometimes that's a good thing. You can have editors who don't understand the intent of a work and the author has to work around them as best they can. But sometimes it's the opposite of a good thing. In this case it can totally mean that WotC was repeatedly trying to raise serious issues about race and gender depictions with the authors and getting blown off with minor surface edits that didn't substantially change things, resulting in WotC putting their foot down and saying they won't approve any further drafts unless Weis and Hickman actually address their concerns.

Is that what happened? We can't say yet. But from an uncharitable reading it fits the facts as presented right now. That's why I'm urging everyone not pick a side until we get a more complete view of events.
Oh, yeah, that makes a ton of sense and fits the facts. I agree that there really isn’t enough information yet for taking sides to be admissible. I’m just trying to clear up the gap between “WotC was embroiled in some controversy unrelated to Dragonlance” and “so they decided not to approve any more drafts of the Dragonlance novels,” and this explanation certainly fits that bill.
 

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