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. 

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. 

Cover Reveal!

Today’s the day! I said I would do it and I am. So happy to be able to reveal the cover for my next novel, THE PONO WAY!

I’m very happy with this cover. I got it pre-made from The Book Cover Zone, with a couple tweaks. Both of my covers so far are pre-made, and I’m very happy with both of them.

For an indie author, a cover needs to signify your genre/subgenre of fiction clearly in a small thumbnail, and I think this cover does that well. If you Google “solarpunk” in Image Search, you quickly understand the aesthetic — futuristic white cities with lots of greenery tumbling everywhere. I think his cover captures that very well.

The PONO WAY should be live early next week! Publishing this book was the one thing I actually wanted to accomplish this year. So I feel PRETTY DAMN PLEASED with myself right now.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Inching Closer

Still a couple fiddly layout bits to fix with my manuscript, and then it will be ready to publish! I’m so stoked! Publishing THE PONO WAY was the one thing I actually wanted to accomplish this year.

Credit: OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

This picture is much what I imagine my island-state, Pono, to look like, although this is a coastal city and my Pono is in the deep ocean. This is an architectural concept of a floating city called Oceanix. It’s synchronistic how it popped up in the news as I was drafting my novel.

Tomorrow I will share the cover reveal! Meanwhile, here is the blurb for Amazon. What do you think?

A refugee crisis tests a utopian island community to its limits.

In 2050, the United States of America finally crumbled.  Jake Weintraub’s family fled the burned-out ruins of Chicago for the safety of the artificial island steading of Pono. Now grown, Jake works as an independent journalist, but the horrors of the Chicago River Riots still haunt him.

As Pono watches, safe in the Pacific Ocean, the successor West Coast state of Cascadia collapses under a further series of catastrophes.  Thousands of desperate refugees arrive on Pono’s shores – homeless, stateless, and hungry.

Jake throws himself into covering their story, even as their plight evokes memories of his own trauma and flight.  Can Pono, a carefully constructed island society, accept this influx of strangers? Or will this crisis tear Ponoan society apart?

THE PONO WAY is a solarpunk science fiction novel in the vein of Kim Stanley Robinson’s THREE CALIFORNIAS or THE FIFTH SACRED THING by Starhawk. Find out what happens by buying your copy today!

You Just Have to Do It, Part the Second

 

 

Cover1

 

When I was shouldering my way into Geek Fest, April, one of my colleagues, encouraged me to donate a few copies of my book to the library, so that attendees could check them out.  Which is something I always intended to do, but never got around to, because of my shyness.  Another way I just “had to do it,” as Alys Arden said, but didn’t.

But with April’s encouragement, I did, and the cataloging department kindly had them ready in time for Geek Fest.

Of course, I earmarked a copy for my own branch that I manage.

That’s it above. One of my staff members put it on display. They were excited to finally see it.

“They could make a movie out of this!” my coworker Belami said.

(I think so too, but find the possibility unlikely.)

And now, all three copies of my book are checked out and there is even a waiting list!  I have to tell you, that makes you feel like a real author.

It was lovely to receive this support from my coworkers.  It’s encouraging.

That’s the thing about “just having to do it,” — it’s not all nerves and anguish.  It can be good too. You get support.  There are rewards. (Besides, you know, selling books.)   This is what I learned from this.

And the more you do it, the easier it gets.

So, if you are an indie author like me, you might look into donating a few copies of a book to your local library.  Particularly the first book in a series, if you have one.  It’s another way for people to discover your work.  If they like it well enough, they may be moved to buy your subsequent books.

If you work exclusively with e-books, you might look into the SELF-e platform libraries use.  Again, it’s a donation, but it’s a way to get noticed.

It’s up to the inclinations of individual libraries and librarians whether they collect indie authors or not.  Some libraries are very supportive of their local authors. Some are not.  But it can’t hurt to offer.

DON’T, however, try to sneak in a purchase request for your books as if you were just a regular patron.  We librarians can always tell, it smacks of desperation, and it just pisses us off.  Be above board and donate a few copies if you can.  If nothing else, they will go to the library book sale. You will get noticed and help the library earn a couple dollars.

 

You Just Have to Do It

I had a great time at the Geek Fest down at Main Library Saturday.  I sat on an author’s panel, and we had a really good talk, “Can Science Fiction inspire change in the real world?” (Spoiler: Yes.)

Geekpanel
Left to right, authors Claudia Gray, Brandon Black, Maurice Ruffin, myself, Zach Bartlett, moderator.

 

I met bestselling author Maurice Ruffin, author of WE CAST A SHADOW:

 

GeekMaurice

 

Alys Arden was running the Tubby & Coo’s table, and she hand-sold my book! (Or tried to anyway.)

 

GeelAlys

 

Alys was a real team player Saturday, helping out and supporting other authors, like having an impromptu panel with Bryan Camp:

 

GeekPanel2

 

Big shout out to Alys, whose third book in the Casquette Girls series, The Cities of Dead, just came out.  I appreciated her support Saturday.

Bryan’s second book, Gather the Fortunes, sequel to The City of Lost Fortunes, comes out later this month!

So I did have a really great time.  But the thing is, I had to force myself to do it.  Represent myself as an author allied with the library, who deserved to be there.

I have real issues with marketing my work.  I’m so introverted and socially avoidant, I quail at the thought of putting myself or my work out there, even if it’s just online. God forbid actually in public in front of real people.

But you have to do it.  No one’s going to read your books if they don’t know they’re there.

When my book was first published, I asked Alys, “How do you make yourself market your book?”

And she said, “You just have to do it.  You just have to put yourself out there.  It’s hard. But you just do it, and it gets easier.”

Well, I struggled and avoided it for a long time, but when I learned of Geek Fest, I thought, I have to be involved in this.  I thought, Hey, why aren’t I on that panel?

So I talked to the organizers, some of my colleagues at Main Library, and said, “Hey, I want to be on that panel at Geek Fest.”  And they said okay.

And it went well.  And there are rewards too:

 

GeekBethany

 

This is Bethany.  She came up to me after the panel.  I thought she was going to give me grief for trash-talking Laurel K. Hamilton.  (An unpopular opinion.)

But no. She said, “I’m Bethany. I work with your husband.  He gave me your book to read, and I loved it!”

Wow! My first time hearing from a fan out in the field. What an incredible moment.  Isn’t this why we write at all? To reach people, to be heard? Thank you, Bethany!

“She said, “I just wanted you to know.”  I offered her one of my cards with this website on it, and she said, “I have one, Sam gave it to me.”  So, hi Bethany! Great to meet you!  We talked about my follow-on book to Daughter of Atlas, which isn’t a straight sequel, but shows what happens elsewhere when Atlantis falls.  Which Bethany said was what she was curious about in a sequel. So that was wildly encouraging.

They say that’s the way indie authors build their fan base, one reader at a time.  The only way you can do that is by reaching out to them, both on and off-line.

So, if you are struggling with marketing your books, don’t be afraid.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  Go ahead and shoulder yourself onto a panel at your local sci-fi con.  You never know who you might meet.