My Poorly-Informed Opinion on the Dungeons & Dragons OGL Fiasco.

Okay, I’ve watched a bunch of Youtube videos and now feel ready to add my two bitcoins about the current Dungeons & Dragons uproar over the new Open Gaming License.

Seriously, though, I’m not unequipped to discuss this. I am an OG RPG gamer. I mean OHH GEE. I gamed with the original D&D woodgrain box. The box with chits of paper instead of polyhedral dice. I’ve been gaming since before there were ten-sided dice.

I went to a D&D tourney when I was in high school, and I was the only girl there.

I have also joined the fairly rarefied community of lady Dungeon Masters. So I do feel qualified to speak as a gamer, about gaming.

My viewpoint is that Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro is engaged in a ham-fisted money grab, and understands absolutely nothing about the customer base that is the mainstay of their revenue. And seems to care less.

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

A quick recap if you’re not aware. Back around 2000, Wizards of the Coast published Third Edition D&D with an “open gaming license,” which declared the basic rules and stats of D&D to be open source, and keeping only named IP like Elminster, the Forgotten Realms, Waterdeep, Beholder, the purview of Wizards of the Coast. A harmonious vision, that created an active culture of third-party publishers making new worlds, monsters, classes, adventures for D&D, that succeeded for twenty years.

But during those twenty years, WOTC got bought out by game giant Hasbro. Who I suspect are the real villains in this story, because they speak in bad faith and care only about the bottom line.

WOTC/Hasbro wants to rescind the Open Gaming License (which was intended to be irrevocable) and replace it with a new, far more restrictive license that demands royalties, and contains an outrageous clause that says, you, third-party publisher, “own” your original content — but WOTC can use it and publish it whenever they want, at no cost and in perpetuity.

And this has the entire tabletop gaming community in an uproar. We don’t like seeing indie creators attacked. We don’t like being gaslit and disrespected like that.

I know this is all very, very inside baseball. But my husband hasn’t shut up about it for five days now, and neither has the Internet.

Wizards attempted to backtrack, too little too late, but their press releases have actual lies in them (this was just a draft license) and are not fooling anyone. The vapid legalese indicates to me that the suits over there have no idea who they are dealing with: to wit, fandom, a legion of obsessive, obstreperous nerds like myself. Some of whom are lawyers, or also work in the gaming industry.

The whole thing is, IMO, just a clumsy, tone-deaf attempt to wring more money out of the D&D brand. Wizards/Hasbro cares nothing for “the community” of gamers, the rights of artists and makers, putting out a quality product, or any of that. They see D&D as a cash cow from which they are trying to milk every drop. Charging creators. Raising prices for the fans. Undercutting other publishers. I understand they’re trying to corner the market on the “virtual table top” software as well.

This impression is heightened by an earlier incident in which WOTC also tried to “monetize” its other flagship brand, Magic: The Gathering, by selling an overhyped anniversary set of cards that they actually expected regular gamers to buy by the case in order to play. Screw the legendary game that created a whole new market sector, and WOTC’s bones in the industry. Screw the anniversary. Screw the fans.

Well, the fans are revolting, and doing so by canceling their subscriptions to D&D Beyond, which I guess is Wizard’s own virtual table top. (I don’t really know, I’m still a pen and paper gamer.) So many cancellations, it crashed the servers. That membership which, they were planning to hike to 30 dollars a month according to some reports. Damn,. even HBO doesn’t charge that much.

Leading third-party publisher Paizo struck back at WOTC by vowing to create a true, irrevocable open-source gaming system, which they call the ORC License. Which is cute, but I’ve already forgotten what it means. … ah. the Open RPG Creative License. To be shepherded by a non-profit organization. They have the means to do it, and support it, too. So a lot of other companies are jumping on board The hashtag is #OpenDnD.

Wizards of the Coast is straight killing the goose that lays the golden egg, here. It’s hard to believe even the Hasbro suits didn’t see the folly of threatening to take other people’s stuff, without license or fee, forever. It’s a means of forcing other companies out of business, is what it is.

The suits also forgot how engaged and activated subcultures are in the age of social media. This news went around the world instantly. And people responded instantly. Hasbro got caught with its pants down. Somehow they really didn’t think anyone would object to this vulgar display of hubris.

I agree with WOTC/Hasbro about one thing. There’s no reason Dungeons & Dragons couldn’t be a cultural juggernaut like the MCU or Star Trek. I mean, my God, they have forty years of adventures, campaigns, tie-in novels and more to draw from. D&D survived the Satanic Panic in the 1980s, and the nerds who were stuffed into lockers back then are now the titans of industry and culture. There’s no reason the whole country shouldn’t know what a Beholder is just like they know who Hawkeye is. The property has been sadly mishandled in that regard.

But man, this is NOT the way to go about it. Might I remind you an A-List D&D movie is coming down the pike in mere weeks. WEEKS.

Great move, WOTC, completely enrage and alienate your customer base, indeed your entire industry, RIGHT when you are launching the first of a hoped-for tentpole movie franchise. The Iron Man of D&D, as it were. GREAT MOVE.

Oh, and Hollywood just greenlighted a live-action D&D TV show, didn’t it?

If you want someone to wade into the legalese, or count the beans, you’ll find plenty on YouTube. It’s all over there.

From my viewpoint, this will be taught as a case study in business schools in how NOT to treat your customers OR your suppliers.

It’s too bad. I had hopes for that movie.

But take heart! All is not lost. D&D is not lost to you. Even if you’re poor, even if you live in the developing world.

This is what I told gamer friends who were anxious about Third Edition … and Fourth … and Fifth.

You don’t need any of that. No one can take D&D away from you. You don’t need Wizards. Or Hasbro. Or D&D Beyond, or any of it. What you need are secondhand copies of the core rulebooks from your favorite rules set , some PDF modules from DriveThruRPG, and off you go. Run a few of those and then design your own adventures. D&D lives in your head and your heart. Not in the books. Not in warehouses or cloud servers. You can game for the rest of your life and never give another penny to Wizards if you don’t want to. In the final analysis, D&D belongs to us. Not the suits.

My Artist Statement — an Update

Can it really have been a year since I blogged on Atlantis Fallen? My goodness. I know time has no meaning these days, but that’s too long. I used to love blogging. It was my refuge.

I need to be more visible. I WANT to be more visible. Making the first round of the Self-Published Sci-Fi Contest has reminded me I have something worth selling.

So as an update on what I’ve been doing this year, I wrote an Artist’s Statement:

I joined the Great Resignation, and took early retirement to write full time.  None of us have as much time as we thought, so I need to devote mine to using this gift I’ve been given, of storytelling.  I  told my first story before I could read or write.  I dictated it to my mom, and she folded the paper into a little quattro, and I illustrated it.  My dad still has it. 

The first book I recall reading on my own, for my own pleasure, was a Scholastic Books compendium of Greek myths — the Labors of Hercules, Theseus and the Minotaur. I’m sure that’s what gave me my enduring taste for the fantastic and otherworldly.  I write what I read growing up in the 1960s and 70s, the era of Star Trek and the New Wave in science fiction.  That’s pulpy, entertaining speculative fiction that also advocates progressive values, and interrogates structures of power and belief.  My goal is to entertain people by telling tales of other worlds, which help them think how we could manifest a better world here and now. 

Great Contest News

Hey I have some great news! From an unexpected quarter. A while back I entered The Pono Way into the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest. And it made it through the first round! On to the quarterfinals with my team of reviewers, Team Galactic Beards! Details below.

Team Galactic Beards

This is progress! Daughter of Atlas got bounced in the first cut of the Self-Published Fantasy Blook Blog-Off a couple years ago.

MY LANE IS THE HIGHWAY

There was a piece of advice going around at the 20 Books Vegas conference that really is true, but I can’t take to heart:  

“Stay in your lane.”  

Meaning, write to market, keep writing what you know and what your readers like to keep buying.  Do what works. Don’t waste time in different genres or sub-genres that your core readers don’t like.  If you must, use a pseudonym and start a whole separate marketing campaign.  Shifter romance, domestic suspense, post-apocalyptic, military sci-fi, reverse harem.  Whatever.   Stay in your lane.

This is a valid strategy if you are working on the rapid-release model of writing, where you are trying to earn your living with your writing.  Write what brings in money, yes. Don’t waste your energies on side projects.  

But I’m not trying to support myself with my writing in that bread and butter way. I’m retired, I have retirement income and healthcare.  I’m good so far. I want my writing to be successful, certainly.  But I won’t be evicted without it.  I have some breathing room, I guess.  And I need it, because I find this idea stay in your lane pretty stifling.  

Or at least, let’s widen the lane.  My lane is, at its loftiest, “speculative fiction.” In more workaday terms, science fiction and fantasy.  It is what I have read and enjoyed since before I can remember now, and what I want to write.  All of it, not a razor-thin slice of a subgenre.  I write to express myself, and I want to express myself in different forms. I want to try my hand at high fantasy and urban fantasy, at space opera and alternate history, sword and sorcery and solarpunk. All of it. I have so many ideas.  At this point I feel it would be a disservice to my craft to do otherwise.  To confine it to a marketable category.  

I left the paid workforce to no longer be subject to the demands of the market.  To do what I wanted to do.  So why shackle myself right back to the market?  

I think over time, as I develop my body of work, readers will be able to see the themes and issues that preoccupy me: strong female characters, our relationship with the earth, drawing inspiration from myth and history.  You can see that already in the two books I’ve published.

I want my lane to be the entire broad highway, the entire mighty river of speculative fiction. The same course that, as a reader, I have been navigating my whole life.  

It seems an artist’s statement might help me refine my ideas here.  I could share that, if that’s not too lofty, and invite readers along on that journey across the forms of speculative literature. 

The Republic of Orleans

https://link.medium.com/2LDqoJTWtlb

I don’t necessarily agree with this guy’s premise, but his map of a Balkanized United States is very similar to what I imagined in THE PONO WAY.

Some of my workshoppers shocked by that. But a Balkanized future US has been a staple of science fiction for a long time.

I have to say, I didn’t imagine the Republic of Orleans, though. Shame on me. That ties right into my last post, doesn’t it? **makes notes.**

Murphy’s Law

So I barely left the house for two whole years.

Then I tried to start living again, and went to a writer’s conference.

The conference was great. But I caught Covid-19 out there.

I’m fully vaxxed of course. But you can still get it.

I got the monoclonal antibodies today because of my underlying conditions. It’s supposed to help me feel better quickly. I don’t feel better.

Don’t travel these holidays. Cases are rising. It’s not worth it. Wait a year.

This Can’t Go On

After Hurricane Ida last month, our power went out for, it turns out, a whole week. The eight major transmission lines for the city of New Orleans and suburbs went through one single decrepit tower, which collapsed under the storm, draping the lines into the Mississippi River and leaving the whole region without power for days.

After a late-summer hurricane it always becomes extremely hot. The storm sucks up all the moisture over the Gulf of Mexico and precipitates it, so after the storm passes, the sky is clear and the sun in August or September is absolutely brutal. And with the power out, no AC. People die in these circumstances. My husband couldn’t handle the heat, so we decamped to his parent’s house north of Baton Rouge. Their power was out for less than a day.

“We can’t keep doing this, ” I said as we drove north, skirting Lake Pontchartrain, the water and sky a vista of blue.

“We can go to my sister’s if we can’t go to Mom’s next time,” he said.

“No,” I said, “I mean Louisiana! This is going to keep happening. These storms that spin up from nothing to a Category 4 or 5 in 48 hours. That’s not enough time to prepare. To evacuate.”

“Nope,” he said.

“And we can’t keep cleaning up these messes. My God, all the power going through one tower, what the hell! It’s climate change. These storms are going to keep happening. We need to harden this place, south Louisiana. We can’t keep getting caught with our pants down. Spending billions of dollars we don’t have for recovery.”

“That’s not going to happen,” he said. Louisiana is a very poor and red state.

“It has to! Somehow.” I looked at the marsh grasses beside the lake, shining in the sun, ideas tumbling in my head. “Maybe I should write a book about it.”

“You just did!” he said.

I did, sort of. Climate change and the ensuing havoc are part of the backstory of THE PONO WAY, an integral part of the character’s lives. The very first page mentions how coffee, real coffee, has become a scarce and expensive luxury. The second page lists a litany of chaos and destruction that is the normal course of events “two centuries into the Anthropocene era of mass extinction and climate change.” The destruction of the environment is part of the background tenor of everyday life in Pono, my island state. It’s largely why Pono was created (it’s an artificial sea-steading) and why many of its inhabitants migrated there, to escape the instability of the mainlands. Including my protagonist, Jake Weintraub.

But the Ponoans come to discover that even a thousand miles of ocean can’t really protect them from the danger and dysfunction of the broken, corrupt remnants of North America forever.

So yes, calling attention to climate change and its ensuing disasters is part of why I wrote that book. Part of why I write at all. My last book was about an epic, civilization-ending apocalypse too. [Daughter of Atlas: A Novel of the Fall of Atlantis, if you haven’t read it yet. 😉 ] And that, too, was caused by unchecked human greed and pillaging of the earth.

It’s important to me. Society has been talking about ecological collapse and doing nothing about it for my entire lifetime. This is my way of doing something.

But there’s more yet to write. I was imagining a story where a bunch of solarpunk misfits take over Baton Rouge and turn it into a green, sustainable, New New Orleans. Baton Rouge is as far north as the Mississippi is safely navigable for the huge container ships that provide so much of Louisiana’s revenue. Far enough north that it won’t be under water in a hundred years. It is the state capitol and a university town, home of LSU, my alma mater. It’s the logical place to migrate to.

Because we will have to migrate, one day. Everyone in south Louisiana. I hope it’s done in a just and peaceful manner. Instead of some kind of Mad Max land rush.

To make something happen, you first have to imagine it.

That’s what I do. You can help me by reading my books, yeah? 😉

Home and safe!

We evacuated subsequent to Hurricane Katrina — er, Ida. Ida hit on the 16 year anniversary of that monster storm. You better believe that was pretty hard for south Louisiana to take.

My husband just couldn’t take the heat without AC, and he has a medical device which needs electricity. So we decamped to his parents north of Baton Rouge. They only lost power for a night.

We were there for about a week, but now we are home: cool, dry, and safe.

Sixteen years ago, in Katrina, we lost our home, my job, and everything we ever owned. So believe me, this last week was NOTHING. A minor inconvenience. My heart is with the people who lost. everything this time. I’m angry. South Louisiana should be more prepared. We all know this isn’t going away.

But now I am home with power. You don’t know what a luxury that is until you don’t have it for an extended time. The Internet is spotty, but that’s okay.

I am continuing to work on getting my full paper and ebook copies of THE PONO WAY properly online. Let’s say it’s an iterative process. My friend Charlie is helping me.

So I am good. I feel good. Very grateful and happy to be able to work. Check back with you soon.

Update

Just a quick update. I have to conserve my phone battery.

My family is safe so far. But all of New Orleans is without power. Catastrophic flooding north of Lake Pontchartrain.

Don’t expect to see me online much for a while.