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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."

Screen Shot 2020-10-19 at 4.51.11 PM.png


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

Mistwell

Legend
Is it accurate to say that according to the filing Penguin Random House paid an advance to WOTC and which WOTC still has?
 

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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Well, we're supposed to, but corporations keep pushing copyright back. I for one am still waiting on Public Domain Superman.
And all the lawsuits when people try to use things from future stories that haven't come out of protection yet... (like regularly happens with Sherlock Holmes, apparently).
 

jgsugden

Legend
The situation will likely settle out of court, and where it settles will be determined by the full set of facts and the contractual terms, both of which are not known to us. When it settles, we will be unlikely to ever know the terms.

There are ways this could settle where the novels are published, but the odds are remote. One such way would be if the settlement involved all rights to the IP being passed to Weis and Hickman from Hasbro/WotC. However, that seems highly unlikely.

For those that hope to read these, the best chance is if part of the first novel is leaked online and there is enough support to create more backlash for not publishing the novels than publishing the novels. Again, that is highly unlikely.
 


Reynard

Legend
And all the lawsuits when people try to use things from future stories that haven't come out of protection yet... (like regularly happens with Sherlock Holmes, apparently).
I'm all for the holders of copyright to protect their IP, but i also see the benefit to culture and society for ideas to eventually enter the public domain. And like most things, allowing corporations to hoard IP is a bad idea. They do not hold society or culture or anything besides profit as important.
 

MarkB

Legend
The situation will likely settle out of court, and where it settles will be determined by the full set of facts and the contractual terms, both of which are not known to us. When it settles, we will be unlikely to ever know the terms.

There are ways this could settle where the novels are published, but the odds are remote. One such way would be if the settlement involved all rights to the IP being passed to Weis and Hickman from Hasbro/WotC. However, that seems highly unlikely.

For those that hope to read these, the best chance is if part of the first novel is leaked online and there is enough support to create more backlash for not publishing the novels than publishing the novels. Again, that is highly unlikely.
WotC, in particular, may not want this to drag on too far through the courts. This sort of licensing agreement can't be too uncommon for them, so too much publicity around it will make other third parties reluctant to enter into any similar deals with them.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
And all the lawsuits when people try to use things from future stories that haven't come out of protection yet... (like regularly happens with Sherlock Holmes, apparently).
That's being generous to the Sherlock Holmes estate. If the Sherlock Holmes stories that are still in copyright by Arthur Conan Doyle had never been written, people would still be writing stories about an older retired Sherlock Holmes, and a less emotionally crippled Sherlock Holmes. The elements of the later stories under dispute are the obvious courses for the character.
 

It might be doable if it was shown in a way that using them was an evil act.
I'm not sure magical roofies, even shown as an evil act, are really anything WotC wants to concede have official stats and, in recent memory, the recipe for players to make them themselves in D&D.

Dragonlance also, historically, has skewed to a YA audience. Unless this is a very different sort of Dragonlance trilogy, I don't think a big lesson about consent matches with what WotC was likely hoping for. (Pretty standard fantasy adventure, in other words.)

That said: If WotC ever wants to revive the Knights of the Silver Dragon YA series -- and they should -- tackling issues like racism and sexual abuse is stuff that YA series do tackle nowadays, and I think it's possible to do so in an interesting way in a fantasy novel, if it's given the full weight of the series and not just a random aside to show, for instance, just how evil one of the latter-day Dragonlords, or whatever, are.
 

mockman1890

Explorer
So, the problem with this line of thinking is that in speculative fiction, everything is a metaphor for the real world. Everything in speculative fiction has an analog that is mirrored in the real world. Otherwise, there's no reason to put it in the story. That's what sci-fi and fantasy are for: To present human stories in different dressing. The reason this is the case is because while we can imagine that other races exist, they don't. Every character in every story is anthropomorphized to make them meaningful and relatable to the very human audience. A Vulcan isn't really a logical alien from another planet with a different culture. It's an imagined culture which takes everything in it from humanity. It's a human that imagined the setting, a human who wrote the script, a human who portrayed the character, and a human who watches the show. That's why aliens and fantasy races usually seem kind of two-dimensional: they are. They are all facets of humanity, and they exist to reflect us and emphasize certain aspects of our culture. Even if this isn't how you personally analyze media, this is how media is interpreted in general and especially by people outside the game.

This argument reminds me of the fact that Ta-Nehisi Coates played D&D and once referred to Trump (insultingly) as "orcish". By which I mean, whether orcs have racist echoes of PoC in some contexts, clearly that wasn't how Coates thought of them and probably wasn't how orcs were used in his games.

Likewise, tho I'm white, I've played in a multiple-year campaign DMed by a person of color (in the 2000s), and they used "evil humanoids" pretty much as they are used in baseline D&D: as badguys for the player characters fight and usually kill.

I'm not in touch with that DM anymore (or with Ta-Nehisi Coates ever), so I don't know if their opinion on "evil humanoids" has changed -- maybe it has? -- but my point is: these things are metaphors, they can mean different things to different people.

There's definitely colonialist & racist elements and "punching down" in some of the D&D fantasy-race depictions... the way that there's so many spear-wielding "savage" "stupid" creatures out there in D&D threatening Civilization... or the way that the one major dark-skinned race is evil. This is undeniably bad.

But these are specific problematic elements which can be reskinned. Orcs could be (they're obviously not this way in current D&D lore but they could be) symbolic of fascists. They could be some pale-skinned monstrous Lawful Evil people who just colonize and destroy and kill. Or, orcs could be renamed "'Mericans" and be just crude slobbering jerks who consume and consume and kill people and run around with guns. I mean, why should right-wingers have all the fun making up obvious metaphors? XD

Or orcs could be just the generic Inherently Evil Space Aliens, or Inherently Evil Demons, like we always see in movies in which the point is (of course) that humanity bands together to defeat the monsters. Orcs, evil tentacle aliens, whatever... these kind of things can be clearly problematic when the only humans depicted are white people.... but when there's actual PoC in the cast of the movie, or in the D&D rulebook, fighting them, surely these creatures represent something different? One of the things we can do in fiction is to create imaginary crises, imaginary problems, and imaginary enemies that everyone can fight, whether it's "demon invaders" or "orcs" or "body snatchers" or "zombies" or "the Knights Templar secretly doing evil stuff" or whatever. We can depict the common good aspects of humanity by making up enemies that are Evil and Not-Human.

Beyond orcs, the truth is that every 'fantasy race' is a symbol (or stereotype) and problematically mixes "race" and "culture" in a way that would be unacceptable if we were talking about real people. Vulcans being inherently logical, Klingons (or recent orc depictions) being inherently honor-obsessed and 'noble savage warrior', dwarves being hypermasculine drunks, Kender being thieves... all of these would count as GROSS stereotypes if we were talking about anyone 'real'. But paradoxically they're also what draws (many) people to these things, because they get to play with these ridiculous exaggerated stereotypes. Or to consciously play against them by having an emotional Vulcan or whatever. Yes, these fantasy race cultures are overused and yes they're boring (I don't like using standard D&D fantasy races in my own games) but they clearly scratch an inch. And when you get past the obvious boring ones like elves and orcs, you get into some interesting territory where writers can make up imaginary cultures as a "what if".

Of course it's easy to imagine removing any cultures from the phenotypes associated with elves and orcs (and tieflings and...). But then what's left? "I want to play an elf so I can be graceful and have long ears?" Basically we're left with a sorta fantasy bodytype fetish... which is fine in fantasy but, I think undeniably, also isn't a way that you can acceptably talk about any real-world "race".

Basically my point is: there are specific f'ed-up things about specific fantasy races (the colonialist residue) but essentially the whole point of fantasy races existing is for them to be 'living metaphors'. There's no way to responsibly equate them to discussions of real-world race. Ultimately if you have elves and dwarves and orcs at all -- which you don't have to -- you have to give up and think of elf/dwarf/orc stereotypes as being like cat/dog stereotypes or something.

Or at the very least, consider that these metaphors have been used in different ways by different DMs and writers and can be used either responsibly or irresponsibly. Fantasy is about symbolism, not realism.
 

dm4hire

Explorer
Reading Bell of Lost Souls article it implies a little more that could be the real underlying reason.

In particular the lawsuite cites the controversy around Nic Kelman, whose book Girls: A Paean, has drawn repeated fire and debates around sexism, misogyny, and possible pedophilia–who in June of 2020. replaced the female editorial team assigned to the planned novels, becoming a major part of the Editorial/Oversight team on the books.

If Kelman, who I assume was hired and assigned by WotC, was let go due to his book drawing attention WotC and Hasbro do not want I can see as fallout them just canceling all projects he was assigned too. WotC's response could be a way of deflecting from the real issue if it is in terms of a blanket dismissal instead of editing corrections.

I read the comments for the book in question he wrote and the majority of them are not good.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
So, the problem with this line of thinking is that in speculative fiction, everything is a metaphor for the real world. Everything in speculative fiction has an analog that is mirrored in the real world. Otherwise, there's no reason to put it in the story. That's what sci-fi and fantasy are for: To present human stories in different dressing.
That is what some SF and Fantasy are for.

There is SF that where the human stories and relationships are set dressing for the meat of the story.

Unless you take "analogue" to mean "any relationship you can make up to the point of being meaningless". I mean, there are many books which are really about playing with physics, biology or similar and what it would be like if certain things became true.

Greg Egan's Orthogonal trilogy is about space time geometry with 4 space-like dimensions. Watts has books about what if consciousness is a parasite on intelligence.

They have beings who have relationships and stuff, but stretching it to some analogy of politics or culture is ridiculous and, honestly, stupid. Their purpose is not to be a metaphor for the real world.

There is fiction that does use the trappings of SF or Fantasy to be a metaphor for the real world, but pretending that is what it is about is seriously impaired tunnel vision.
 


Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
This argument reminds me of the fact that Ta-Nehisi Coates played D&D and once referred to Trump (insultingly) as "orcish". By which I mean, whether orcs have racist echoes of PoC in some contexts, clearly that wasn't how Coates thought of them and probably wasn't how orcs were used in his games.

Likewise, tho I'm white, I've played in a multiple-year campaign DMed by a person of color (in the 2000s), and they used "evil humanoids" pretty much as they are used in baseline D&D: as badguys for the player characters fight and usually kill.

I'm not in touch with that DM anymore (or with Ta-Nehisi Coates ever), so I don't know if their opinion on "evil humanoids" has changed -- maybe it has? -- but my point is: these things are metaphors, they can mean different things to different people.

There's definitely colonialist & racist elements and "punching down" in some of the D&D fantasy-race depictions... the way that there's so many spear-wielding "savage" "stupid" creatures out there in D&D threatening Civilization... or the way that the one major dark-skinned race is evil. This is undeniably bad.

But these are specific problematic elements which can be reskinned. Orcs could be (they're obviously not this way in current D&D lore but they could be) symbolic of fascists. They could be some pale-skinned monstrous Lawful Evil people who just colonize and destroy and kill. Or, orcs could be renamed "'Mericans" and be just crude slobbering jerks who consume and consume and kill people and run around with guns. I mean, why should right-wingers have all the fun making up obvious metaphors? XD

Or orcs could be just the generic Inherently Evil Space Aliens, or Inherently Evil Demons, like we always see in movies in which the point is (of course) that humanity bands together to defeat the monsters. Orcs, evil tentacle aliens, whatever... these kind of things can be clearly problematic when the only humans depicted are white people.... but when there's actual PoC in the cast of the movie, or in the D&D rulebook, fighting them, surely these creatures represent something different? One of the things we can do in fiction is to create imaginary crises, imaginary problems, and imaginary enemies that everyone can fight, whether it's "demon invaders" or "orcs" or "body snatchers" or "zombies" or "the Knights Templar secretly doing evil stuff" or whatever. We can depict the common good aspects of humanity by making up enemies that are Evil and Not-Human.

Beyond orcs, the truth is that every 'fantasy race' is a symbol (or stereotype) and problematically mixes "race" and "culture" in a way that would be unacceptable if we were talking about real people. Vulcans being inherently logical, Klingons (or recent orc depictions) being inherently honor-obsessed and 'noble savage warrior', dwarves being hypermasculine drunks, Kender being thieves... all of these would count as GROSS stereotypes if we were talking about anyone 'real'. But paradoxically they're also what draws (many) people to these things, because they get to play with these ridiculous exaggerated stereotypes. Or to consciously play against them by having an emotional Vulcan or whatever. Yes, these fantasy race cultures are overused and yes they're boring (I don't like using standard D&D fantasy races in my own games) but they clearly scratch an inch. And when you get past the obvious boring ones like elves and orcs, you get into some interesting territory where writers can make up imaginary cultures as a "what if".

Of course it's easy to imagine removing any cultures from the phenotypes associated with elves and orcs (and tieflings and...). But then what's left? "I want to play an elf so I can be graceful and have long ears?" Basically we're left with a sorta fantasy bodytype fetish... which is fine in fantasy but, I think undeniably, also isn't a way that you can acceptably talk about any real-world "race".

Basically my point is: there are specific f'ed-up things about specific fantasy races (the colonialist residue) but essentially the whole point of fantasy races existing is for them to be 'living metaphors'. There's no way to responsibly equate them to discussions of real-world race. Ultimately if you have elves and dwarves and orcs at all -- which you don't have to -- you have to give up and think of elf/dwarf/orc stereotypes as being like cat/dog stereotypes or something.

Or at the very least, consider that these metaphors have been used in different ways by different DMs and writers and can be used either responsibly or irresponsibly. Fantasy is about symbolism, not realism.
The problem with embedded, systemic racism is that it can be hard to notice until somebody points it out to you. Even if you are a person of color who has lived with systemic racism against your culture your entire life. Black people can, and certainly have, participated in many of the oppressive elements of society against their own people, for a variety of reasons including ignorance. And then, of course, sometimes folks just don't agree on what is and is not racist and/or how bad of an issue it is. That doesn't mean that systemic racism doesn't exist, or isn't a problem.

Orcs are not a 1:1 representation of black people, indigenous people, or any particular ethnic group. They are simply made into a mortal race and then othered in fantasy stories, using language and tropes very similar to how we have othered peoples in the real world. Increasingly, many of us find this problematic. Using traditional orcs in your fantasy isn't so much racist (orcs aren't real people) but promotes racist thinking.
 

Jaeger

That someone better.
The inference I got was that WOTC were knocking back the new books due to not approving a lot of the content in them. ...
...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).
Wrong inference
...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.
You are correct. Totally baseless.
...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. ...
Only in your mind.
...The clear inference I get from this is that WOTC came back and suggested changes before green lighting publishing (as they were allowed to do under the contract), and those changes were pushed back on by the authors....
Clear? You really wanna roll with that?

Did any of you actually read the complaint linked to in Morrus's news post? Or even what Morrus cut and pasted from the complaint into his article?

Could some posters here be intentionally reading things in the most uncharitable way possible?

For those that want the facts from the complaint as we know them; Here's some excerpts:

From Page 3:
"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."

And here's why Hickman and Weis got miffed about WOTC's refusal to approve any further Drafts...
Back to page 3:
"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."

Book 1 was approved by WOTC in Jan 2020.

I repeat: The Book 1 manuscript was approved by WOTC in Jan 2020.

The re-writes were evidently good enough that WOTC approved the book 1 manuscript that the publisher had.

Then months later, WOTC allegedly backdoor killed the whole deal by refusing any further approvals.

I want to hear WOTC's side of things. I am very interested to hear their reasoning for stopping further approvals when Book 1 was already approved and in the can...

But certain inferences and speculations are baseless and only in peoples minds, when we know that WOTC approved the book 1 manuscript after re-writes.


Is it accurate to say that according to the filing Penguin Random House paid an advance to WOTC and which WOTC still has?

Yup.

The publisher can certainly ask for a refund at a minimum...

And props to you for actually reading the thing.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
One thing I feel is important to point out is that while some aspects of Dragon Lance may not have "aged well" as others have written above, in many ways DL was ahead of its time in how it portrayed women. I reread the original trilogy a little over a year ago, not having looked at it since the late 80s. I was surprised at how well female characters, both heroes and villains were portrayed. Obviously I've not read their new, unpublished books, so I can't comment on whether they are cancel worthy given current sensibilities. But I do think Weis and Hickman deserve some credit for providing more interesting and strong female characters than were typically available in the genre of their time.
Weis & Hickman don't deserve "credit" nor do they deserve "blame". Dragonlance isn't their creation, but rather a fantasy world created by committee at TSR, but even then I don't think the creative team as a whole needs blame or credit. The problematic aspects of Dragonlance are pretty pervasive in D&D as a whole at the time, and in the larger fantasy genre itself. Dragonlance is a product of it's time, where we were becoming more aware of systemic sexism in society, and before the current growing awareness of systemic racism.

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman are good folks, who wrote a good series of novels (multiple series) . . . . and I would like to think that in a new book they would work to avoid some of the problematic elements they've written into stories in the past.
 

Warpiglet-7

Adventurer
The problem with embedded, systemic racism is that it can be hard to notice until somebody points it out to you. Even if you are a person of color who has lived with systemic racism against your culture your entire life. Black people can, and certainly have, participated in many of the oppressive elements of society against their own people, for a variety of reasons including ignorance. And then, of course, sometimes folks just don't agree on what is and is not racist and/or how bad of an issue it is. That doesn't mean that systemic racism doesn't exist, or isn't a problem.

Orcs are not a 1:1 representation of black people, indigenous people, or any particular ethnic group. They are simply made into a mortal race and then othered in fantasy stories, using language and tropes very similar to how we have othered peoples in the real world. Increasingly, many of us find this problematic. Using traditional orcs in your fantasy isn't so much racist (orcs aren't real people) but promotes racist thinking.
Does the mace my cleric put to the head of evil doers make me think the death penalty is a good thing?

does playing an evil cleric make me think others are expendable sacrifices?

this nonsense NONsense has jumped the shark.

we are trying to avoid wrong thinking in publishing adventures?

no more rated R movies or Conan stories. We might be a bad influence on impressionable young minds!

wtaf?!
 
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landstander

Villager
I have a question. If it winds up being in everybody's best interest to actually publish something, couldn't WotC take the manuscripts, rip out or replace what the feel is objectionable, put it out there, and dust their hands? I mean: Hickman & Weiss would've been paid, the publishing house would have books to sell, and WotC would have something to put out there. Is there something that legally prevents that?
 

Jaeger

That someone better.
It sounds like WotC said "we aren't accepting drafts at this time" and the other party is thinking its indefinite? I dunno, its weird.

Weird!?

It's a trilogy book deal that the two authors are writing on a timeline for their publisher that they need the approval of the license holder to move forward on.

"we aren't accepting drafts at this time" is a deal-killer.

Exactly how are they supposed to meet the timeline of their manuscript writing obligations to their publisher, from whom they have taken an advance, if the license holder puts a freeze on things?

Unless WOTC can convincingly disprove Hickman and Weis's key complaints, someone is getting paid...
 

GSHamster

Adventurer
It's an interesting question as to whether WotC can withdraw approval like this. According to the complaint, the timeline goes like this:

Jan 2020 - WotC approves Book 1
Jun 2020 - WotC replaces the editorial team (2 women, btw) with a new team
Aug 2020 - WotC refuses approval

Seems harsh for Weis/Hickman to have to deal with WotC reversing themselves.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Weis & Hickman seem to have a thing for degrading dwarves - see also the Gegs in the Deathgate Cycle.



It could certainly have gone that way. Again, right now it's hard to know. We do not know the defendant's, err, defense. Time will tell, possibly. Regardless, all this is assuredly a let-down.

As much as I love Dragonlance, there are certainly things that make me cringe. But just because the setting leaned in on certain problematic tropes in the past, doesn't mean it has to for all time. Like people, a fictional world should be able to grow, to become better.

Tolkien, R.E. Howard, they are gone and don't have that option. Living authors do. Heck, I've heard Michael Moorcock call himself out for things his past self wrote.
It's not about W&H "degrading" races of fantasy creatures, or even real-world ethnic groups. Fantasy races in D&D, Dragonlance, and in the fantasy genre are in this weird place between being cultural spirits (faeries) and sci-fi mortal races. The faerie tale storytelling tradition portraying gnomes, dwarves, elves, etc as 1-dimensional caricatures goes waaay back (although, often racist even then). If you portray your orcs and dwarves as some sort of magical, fey, spirit-world creature (and you're careful with the language you use), your portrayal isn't necessarily going to be laden with the systemic racism rife in the genre. But as soon as you incarnate them as a mortal race, to be killed, to spawn children, to go to war against . . . that's what has happened in D&D and the larger genre and has created this problem that subtly snuck up on us over the decades since Tolkien.

I don't waste my time leveling blame at authors who unwittingly furthered these problematic tropes . . . I just want folks who are creating NOW to do better.
 

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