So, What is Going On with that Dragonlance Lawsuit?

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In 1984, a pair of authors named Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, published the first of a trilogy of licensed novels in D&D’s Dragonlance setting. The books were very well received and in many ways started the mainstreaming of D&D. People read them who didn’t play, and some of those people started to play.

Fast forward to 2017, and Weis and Hickman pitched a new Dragonlance trilogy. The trilogy was licensed by Wizards of the Coast, current owners of D&D, but would be published by Penguin Random House.

Well, until the entire deal apparently collapsed in a lawsuit. Polygon has the brief embedded at the bottom of their article here.

So, what is going on?

Weis and Hickman are Suing Wizards for Breach of Contract

So, the basis of the suit is breach of contract. This was apparently triggered by editor (the second editor to see the product) Nic Kelman saying he would not approve any further drafts…essentially leaving the book in limbo.

According to Weis and Hickman, the contract says Wizards can’t do that. I haven’t seen the contract, obviously.

This is where things get, shall we say, a little bit lurid. Nic Kelman is infamous for writing the novel Girls: A Paean. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either a satire about power (which is potentially sexist against men)…or a novel glorifying pedophilia. Without having read the book concerned, I’ll just leave the opposing views there.

Weis and Hickman’s lawyer brought this up in the brief. Why?

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What is Going On?

As a writer, I have written precisely one media tie-in, a short story, but I’m also more familiar than most with the editorial process.

It appears that Weis and Hickman turned in the original draft, got some kind of preliminary approval, then Wizards switched the editor to Mr. Kelman (who’s presence in the company remains controversial).

Mr. Kelman either did a sensitivity read himself or hired a sensitivity reader, and issues were flagged in the book. According to the brief, these issues involved a love potion.

Love magic is something very hard to do well, even for writers with the experience of Weis and Hickman. I can’t say that they crossed the line into rapey with this book because I haven’t read the manuscript and don’t want them suing me for libel. But it’s very easy for it to be read that way, regardless of the author’s intent.

My guess, though, based on my own understanding of the editorial process is that what actually happened was this:

Kelman wanted the love potion gone.

The love potion plot was so integral to the overall arc that this would have required a structural rewrite.

Weis and Hickman, understandably, didn’t want to do that at this point.

Kelman told them he wouldn’t approve another redraft.

In other words, there is something in this manuscript Wizards doesn’t want out there.

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Is this Cancel Culture?

Weis and Hickman, in the brief and other statements, though, are trying to present a quite different picture.

They are arguing that their books are being canceled due to PR problems at Wizards.

And Wizards did have a PR problem this summer, involving a completely unrelated property: Magic: the Gathering.

The immensely popular and highly competitive collectible card game was rocked by no less than three scandals:

  1. They were caught giving certain professional tournament players information on rules changes in advance of the general public, and banned Austin Bursavich for blowing the whistle on this. Yes, he had signed an NDA, but…apparently whistleblower protections don’t apply here.
  2. They “fired” (air quotes because she’s a freelancer) popular artist Terese Nielsen after it turned out she was apparently an anti-Semitic white supremacist. A number of racist cards were removed from the game.
  3. They also “fired” Noah Bradley for, well, sexually harassing other artists.

Weis and Hickman are arguing that their book was canceled because of this, but to me this doesn’t pass the smell test. They may well believe it, but…

…what’s the best way to deal with a scandal? Distract the fans from it. The release of a new Dragonlance book would have been an absolutely fantastic distraction.

In other words, what I suspect is really going on here is, in the non-euphemistic use, “Creative differences.”

There’s something in that book the editor really doesn’t want in the book, and the work required to fix it is more than Weis and Hickman want to do at what should have been a late stage in the process.

As a writer, I can say I have been where they stand…thankfully it was with a shorter work. And I still feel that I was right and the editor was wrong, but I also feel that the editor believed they were right. That they had a good reason for forcing the changes they forced.

I can absolutely understand why somebody might not want to make substantial changes to a full length novel they thought was approved.

But I can also understand that there might be something in there Wizards doesn’t want out there right now.

The case will almost certainly not go to court. These kinds of author-publisher disputes are generally settled. But fans should understand that this is not just Wizards being mean, but likely a genuine disagreement over content in which both sides truly believe they are right.

Freelance writer, freelance editor, novelist and short story writer. Jack of many trades.

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