This week: the authors of D&D fantasy series, Dragonlance sue Wizards of the Coast for breach of contract over a commissioned new trilogy; Chaosium commemorates two years since the death of Greg Stafford with #WeAreAllUs — and a new edition of the legendary Pendragon RPG; and we look at the looming 5e boom (hopefully no bust).
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What We’ve Been
For James’ wife, Alex’s birthday we held a virtual watchparty (how prevalent have those become in recent months?) of Disney & Pixar’s D&D-inspired Onward.
Okay, so we’re late to the party on this one (getting Amy to watch any film is frankly a trial). But, we really did enjoy it. The Disney Pixar film is the story of two elf-brothers in a satirical modern fantasy world; on a quest to resurrect their father for one last conversation.
It’s a little bit D&D, a little bit Shrek, and a little bit Weekend at Bernie’s, but at the heart of it is that classic Pixar gentleness. The emotional heart of the film is the love between characters: in particular, the care between two brothers, who find support and healing through each other, and through a roleplaying game-as-reality.
This is mirrored in the relationship between the boys’ mother and the quest-giving manticore, who team up to rescue the brothers. We had mixed feelings about this one: on the one hand, it’s great to see compassionate friendships between middle-aged women in film; on the other hand, this relationship was so queer-coded (there’s even a nudge-nudge wink-wink in the form of a labrys) that we were disappointed that it ultimately went nowhere.
Meanwhile, Disney made a big deal out of including its first openly gay character: a cop who appears in a single scene and makes a throwaway reference to her girlfriend. It’s frustrating that we continue to be fed scraps beneath the table, and end up, as James put it, in a zero-sum game where we have to choose between healthy platonic relationships and sub rosa queerness.
Still, it’s a funny, moving, and unapologetically nerdy film (there’s a dungeon-crawl sequence that is so 1e that Amy nearly fell off her chair).
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Dragonlance authors sue Wizards
Authors of the classic D&D fantasy series, Dragonlance, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, are suing Wizards of the Coast for breach of contract. Wizards apparently terminated without due cause a deal to produce a new series of Dragonlance novels.
The lawsuit claims that Wizards of the Coast ended the Dragonlance deal in order to “deflect any possible criticism or further public outcry regarding Defendant’s other properties”.
This came off the back of waves of criticism earlier this year: of a culture of racism in Magic the Gathering; against the glacial pace of revisions to the racism in D&D; after Orion Black quit, criticising the company’s treatment of minority groups; after Wizards’ milquetoast response.
The implication is that the Dragonlance novels could have renewed that criticism because of their own content. The lawsuit cites concerns Wizards had “ranging from the use of love potions in the story, as referenced in the 5E Dungeons Masters Guide, to concerns of sexism, inclusivity and potential negative connotations of certain character names.” Extensive rewrites were apparently demanded and undertaken.
After approving the first novel, Wizards stated they would not approve any further drafts, effectively terminating the contract and killing a deal between the authors and Penguin Random House.
Weis and Hickman are seeking damages in excess of $10 million.
Well, we’ll definitely be watching this one, though my money’s on a quick settlement. The lawsuit paints a picture of Wizards panicking in the midst of this year’s criticism — which was certainly the impression we got at the time. I’m personally really curious about what in Dragonlance had them so worried. — Amy
State of the Industry
Fandom releases its State of Fandom report for 2020, showcasing how fans’ behaviour has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Not RPG news, and RPGs don’t get an explicit mention there, but these insights resonate with what we know from our own industry.
Roll20 releases its Q3 report, showing growth in Call of Cthulhu and Pathfinder, as well as a few new up-and-coming systems.
Chaosium commemorates Greg Stafford with #WeAreAllUs, a week focused on Stafford’s legacy in gaming. This featured the official announcement of Pendragon 6E, along with the release of a starter adventure.
First published in 1985, Greg Stafford described Pendragon as his “magnum opus”. While it was never a huge commercial success, it has proven to be quietly influential.
It could be said to be the first game published with such a focus on matching design and theme. At a time when the vogue was for crunchy, complex systems, Stafford opted for a streamlined set of rules with as much emphasis on personality traits and passions as physical attributes and skills. It was also one of the first games to put downtime activities into its core mechanics.
From what I could tell from the quickstart rules, the 6th edition will only differ very slightly from earlier editions. But the prospect of a definitive edition is enticing to me, and the layout looks fantastic. — James
The company also gave out the Greg Stafford Memorial Award for Gloranthan Fandom, and is selling Print-on-Demand recreations of classic RuneQuest RPGs.
New & Upcoming Releases
Gizmodo features an excerpt from the upcoming The World of Critical Role, in which the cast discuss why they love roleplaying games.
I loved this bit from Laura Bailey:
“When I think back about the memories of our game, I don’t think of it in terms of us sitting at a table and rolling dice. I remember it as our characters. I remember us going on these epic journeys together and fighting beholders and just doing epic things… We all remember those things. And in nowhere else in life do you get that kind of memory-dream.”
Memories of our games really do feel half like our own. — Amy
Paizo releases the second part of its Starfinder Alexa game.
Bundles & Deals
Chaosium is offering deals on Print-on-Demand recreations of classic RuneQuest RPGs.
Bundle of Holding is offering a two bundles of Shadow of the Demon Lord books, a bundle of the Dracula Dossier campaign for Night’s Black Agents, and a bundle of Girl Genius graphic novels and ebooks.
Noteworthy New Projects
Thirsty Sword Lesbians: A game about angst, swordfighting, and queer melodrama, Powered by the Apocalypse, by Evil Hat Productions (Fate Core, Designers & Dragons, Agon) — November 12th. So far this project has raised over $87,000 from 2,500 backers.
This looks set to be Evil Hat’s biggest crowdfunding project since Fate Core way back in 2012 (Blades in the Dark was more successful but Evil Hat only came on board with that project after John Harper had launched it).
We’ve been in love with this concept since it was announced, and are delighted to back it. It’s a game that celebrates marginalised identities, promising sexy-but-safe melodrama, using a Powered by the Apocalypse system. My pick of the week. — Amy
Putrescence Regnant: An adventure module and vinyl music album for MÖRK BORG, by Exalted Funeral (The Ultraviolet Grasslands, Seekers Beyond The Shroud, Old-School Essentials: Advanced Fantasy) — October 30th. So far this project has raised over $44,000 from 1,200 backers.
Whoa. Where did this “print your RPG/adventure module on the inside of a vinyl record sleeve” concept come from? Well, actually I’m pretty sure it was Epidiah Ravachol’s Wolfspell, although that project notably lacked an actual vinyl disc. But suddenly it’s everywhere. We covered Ancient Undead Spider Wizard last week, and adding a soundtrack, pressed on vinyl, is starting to become a thing as well (see The Wretched, which we covered last month). I’m not complaining — the more recognition of games as art the better as far as I’m concerned — but it does seem to be the start of a trend. — James
Grim Hollow: The Players Guide is the player supplement complementing the Grim Hollow sourcebook that was launched last year. Ends October 24th. So far this project has raised over $498,000 from 5,800 backers.
Ghostfire Gaming has been pushing this project hard over the last few weeks: it’s been everywhere on my social media, and it has eclipsed their previous campaign in terms of popularity. Of course, adding miniatures to a project always helps in terms of maximising revenue. — James
Esper’s Emporium of Esoterica is a new 5e supplement featuring a bit of everything. Ends October 22nd. So far this project has raised over $46,000 from 1,000 backers.
Dungeons & Dragons/5e
I’ve stopped bothering to refer to this section as “5e & Pathfinder” for the simple reason that I don’t recall the last time I saw an explicitly Pathfinder compatible crowdfunding project pop up. Back when we started d100 in the Before Times (2019), it was quite common to see projects offering books that were made for Pathfinder, but that’s no longer the case.
D&D 4e was unpopular, and its Open Gaming License (OGL) was unfriendly to third-party publishers, so during that time, many publishers switched wholesale to making products compatible with Pathfinder — itself an iteration of the D&D 3.5 OGL. When the 5e OGL was released, a year and a half after the Player’s Handbook came out, it was much friendlier, especially to publishers wanting to create fantasy content.
Nonetheless, 5e OGL products were still thin on the ground at first, with many companies keeping a hand in Pathfinder. Until, that is, Pathfinder 2e was released. Regardless of the system’s merits, that does appear to have been a watershed moment — presumably because the risk of switching over to a new and untried system was too much to ask. As P2 establishes itself this trend may reverse of course.
Hopefully, the dynamics of crowdfunding and experience of the 2000s means we won’t see the same glut of poor quality D&D products that caused the d20 boom and bust. I’ve got to say though, while there are some great third-party 5e books, we see an awful lot of incredibly generic projects being pumped out week after week, with very little originality. — James
Aaralyn’s Stolen Notes to Velea (Reprint): A 5e setting themed around the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues, by Anne Gregersen — November 4th
Carbon 2185 Terminal Overdrive: A reprint and new sourcebook for Cyberpunk RPG, Carbon 2185, by Dragon Turtle Games (Dragon Drop Adventures 5e, Dangerous Descents 5e, Carbon 2185) — November 13th
Castles & Crusades Roads to Adventure: The 8th printing of classic F20 game, Castles & Crusades, by Stephen Chenault/Troll Lord Games (The Starship Warden, The Lost City of Gaxmoor 5E, Amazing Adventures 5E RPG) — November 12th
Other & Generic Fantasy
The Fartherall Companion: A campaign setting for the world of JourneyQuest and The Gamers, by Zombie Orpheus (JourneyQuest, The Gamers) — October 31st
I used to be totally in love with JourneyQuest, but it’s been a long time since I engaged with it. This looks so much more serious than the wonderful nonsense I remember. — Amy
Yonder: A game in which fugitives from a mundane land beset by war flee into a magical land that transforms them, by Fraser Simons (Never Knows Best: An RPG Inspired By FLCL, Retropunk) — November 2nd
Black Void: Under Nebulous Skies: A sourcebook and campaign for the Black Void dark fantasy RPG, by Christoffer Sevaldsen (Black Void RPG) — November 14th
Dracula: The Evidence: An art book of the prop archive of evidence related to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, by Beehive Books (BOTANICA: A Tarot Deck about the Language of Flowers, LAAB: An Art Newspaper Powered by the Radical Imagination, I WILL LIVE FOREVER: Papercraft Comics by Maëlle Doliveux) — December 8th
Not an RPG product, but possibly one with appeal to someone playing Night’s Black Agents: The Dracula Dossier or any campaign using the Bram Stoker novel as a source of inspiration. You can even grab the whole Dracula Dossier campaign for a song at Bundle of Holding.
SINS: Manifest Destiny: An expansion for the supernatural post-apocalyptic RPG, SINS, by Paul Moore (SINS – The Roleplaying Game) — November 6th
Unbound RPG Reprint: A reprint of the cinematic, setting-neutral RPG, Unbound, by Grant Hewitt (Goblin Quest, Spire RPG, Heart: The City Beneath RPG) — October 28th
Shirts With Class – Part 1: Tarot-inspired D&D class T-Shirts, by Lorena Lammer — November 14th