Continued Conversations

Back when I was freelancing, during the 4e days, it was a fair bit more difficult to self-publish your own material for 4e. The fan policy at the time allowed for some stuff, but if you wanted to actually make money off of your work, you had to know a lot more about copyright law, what they were likely to go after and not, and there wasn't as much art available for the average user to be able to use for free. On the other hand, due both to the pace of release and the online Dungeon and Dragon magazines, it feels like there were more official opportunities. In addition, folks that were in the freelancing group were given a list of articles and other opportunities Wizards wanted writers for and you were allowed to pitch your own ideas. And every so often, they would have an open cycle where anyone could submit pitches.

With DMs Guild, we no longer need Wizards' "official blessing" on a lot of content because the license allows us to use wide swaths of their IP as long as it is published through the guild. This means that there's less gatekeeping and you don't have to convince a central group that there's a market for your material. But it does mean that, at least to me, it's way less clear how people are chosen to write, which feeds into this larger question about accountability and transparency.

In addition, since the DMs Guild has been around for a few years now and a number of people have been producing quality content, we have a group of seasoned, tested writers who are making in demand content but there's nowhere really for them to go. They could keep creating their own content and getting small amounts of money from DMs Guild but often this means that about 50% of what they earn goes to OneBookShelf and Wizards and that's very little overall.

And most of the more lucrative writing jobs, which by the way were stated as a potential reward for folks who wrote for DMs Guild and did well, still don't seem to be going to a lot of the folks who are creating that quality content on DMs Guild. At least, that's a big part of the perception I'm hearing from folks as I listen to them.

This situation is part of what is leading to the Fire Mike Mearls hashtag. Because the community understanding is that the reason why Zak and Pundit ever were listed as consultants is because of a personal relationship between them and Mearls. And due to the lack of transparency and accountability, it at least seems like the only way to get work is if you happen to know (and never piss off) the right people.

The solution to this isn't actually clear, which is not to say we shouldn't do anything, but it means it's hard to know what to do. And given the gravity and implications of the discussion, folks usually react to this by digging further into their respective positions.

One key issue is that there just isn't enough data. For instance, this happened a lot when it came to discussions of representation we were having during 4e and early 5e. People would point out, for instance, about the comparative lack of female characters, and others would respond that they saw a lot of female characters, and it was really hard to discuss because there wasn't actual data, just observations. That's when I started doing posts like Analysis of Gender: Hoard of the Dragon Queen because it became much clearer what I was describing and, perhaps as importantly, it provided a tool kit and approach that writers and companies could use before anything was even published. They could set an overall goal when it came to representation of various genders, and then decide if they had met it.

That's a lot easier when we're talking about the demographic makeup of fictional characters and a lot harder when we're discussing the makeup of creative teams. Part of this has to do with the informal networking nature of our work and how implicit bias and systemic discrimination interact with it, but also, with so few seats available for writing and a much larger number of people seeking to fill those seats, the discussion itself gets harder. In addition, how do we come up with a way of measuring our progress towards a goal that doesn't cause more harm that is necessary.

For an example of what I mean by that, let's say we decide that we want to increase the diversity of the creative staff and we decide gender identity is one of the measures we want to use to see if we have made any progress towards that goal. How do we handle folks who are not out about their identity, either folks who have not yet come out or transitioned or folks who have transitioned but the general population doesn't know that part of their identity.

These are hard problems, but again, they shouldn't stop us. But it would mean that we probably can't design this on Twitter with its short character limit. And maybe that isn't the right data to collect to determine if we are making progress towards our goal.

Some additional thoughts I have is that while it would be nice to have official and high level support from Wizards for this initiative, we could do this ourselves. From what I've been hearing, it also would probably be good for Wizards or OneBookShelf to really talk to the creators about the problems they are having and see if we can't come up with some solutions. Like the #PlayItForward campaign felt like it was addressing some real issues folks are facing and gave folks who are concerned about supporting Wizards directly a way to support third-party creators in the ecosystem.

If we could create some clear metrics for what we would like to see, that could also help folks like streamers or outside collaborators (e.g. Matt Mercer, Penny Arcade, and the like) put pressure on Wizards to make needed changes. We also could apply these same rubrics to other companies in the ecosystem and make things better for everyone.

I'd love to hear what you think. Please feel free to email me at tracy [at]

More Like This Please: Return to the Glory

Return to the Glory is a D&D Adventurer's League (DDAL) legal adventure for four to six orc or half-orc characters levels 6 to 8. All proceeds from the sale of the adventure go to Red Nose Day USA, a charity to help children in poverty. The adventure designers include DMs Guild adepts and members of the D&D Adventurer's League administrative staff.

So, one might ask themselves, what? A DDAL adventure that requires orc or half-orc characters? Why?

Because it's a chance to tell a different story about orcs, one that you might not find in your history books (I'm looking at you Volo).

Imagine that there had been an orc society, one with a bunch of different groups, with different ways of viewing and interacting with the world. That these groups built a large complex that celebrated their cultures, imbuing it with the wisdom and outlooks of each. And that eventually a cataclysm happened, that created an orc diaspora, the loss of identity, and that the history was now written by their enemies. And now, several hundred years after that event, those of orcish descent decide to reunite and reclaim their past. This...this is the story of Return to the Glory.

For some of you, this probably sounds very familiar. There are a lot of echoes here of what happened to many people in Africa, those who were stolen and enslaved. How there is a great sorrow and loss around that loss of continuity of culture and history.

And there was a large conversation recently about how the words and arguments that have been used to describe Black people, to argue for their enslavement or for discrimination against them, were also used to describe orc. And this conversation has been had several times because...because folks often refuse to understand and acknowledge it.

So, at this point, you might ask, what makes this product different?

The biggest difference I can say is intentionality.

We can discuss all day whether or not the various iterations of orcs in D&D and beyond were intended to represent Black people and probably not get anything clear and solid. But once the same arguments and descriptions that have been used as weapons against Black folks were used to also describe orcs; that connection becomes impossible to deny, regardless of intention.

So once we have this connection in at least some folks minds, what do we do with it? How do we move beyond it? The answer for this adventure is by intentionally invoking the connection in an attempt to fundamentally change it.

This adventure rewrites the history of the orcs. It puts orcs in a city of their own construction, a complex city with a story to tell as the characters explore it. It details out a variety of different groups that existed in that city, with their own viewpoints and creeds (here mentioned as omens). It provides a history of orcs that is written by orcs, through what was left behind. It challenges the history written by Volo (who is often known for being at least slightly untrustworthy and biased).

The adventure details 13 sections of the city and introduces an omens pattern that helps describe the creed and/or outlook of the group responsible for that section. The large number of groups with different viewpoints but under the same omen approach is an intentional method for dealing with orcs. There is a shared culture in the broad sense, but a range of diversity and opinions below it. And by incorporating the omens of that group into how the section functions, it reinforces that diversity and story and brings that history alive.

At least one section may have an owlbear.

Additionally, another part of the intentionality here is that there is an editorial assistance credit for Tanya C. DePass, who some might know as Cypher of Tyr, the founder and Director of I Need Diverse Games.

I really enjoyed reading through this adventure because I could see the thought and intentionality that went into creating it. I really enjoyed the application of what makes orcs unique and the omens structure to how different parts of the adventure play out. It made me think a lot.

It's an interesting adventure worthy of adding to a library without all of this of course.

Is it enough to reclaim orcs? I don't get to determine that. But I can't wait to see what discussion and play unfolds because of this adventure.

If you'd like to grab the adventure and discover it for yourself, you can grab it on DMs Guild here:

All proceeds from the sale are going to Red Nose Day, in case it's important for you to know where your money is going.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I don't know if this is going to harm or help. I don't know if it's going to mean anything. I'm probably going to mess it up. I may end up being hated by a whole new group in gaming. All I know is I will try. I will try to do something right, knowing I may fail.

July 3

For those who don't know, back in 2014, I made these two tweets

These came after me expressing a bunch of pleasure regarding the inclusion of gender identity, sexual orientation, and a variety of skin tones in the art and text of the basic rules of the new edition.

July 5

I wasn't the first person to mention concern over the consultants list nor was I the last. But I was one of two people Mike Mearls mentioned on July 5th, presumably to Zak.

No worries - I did some digging and everything you cite squares with what I've read.

Basically, I keep getting "Zak hates gays and women" and when I ask for proof, people suddenly shut the fuck up.

Here's what I think is happening: Dudes like Hill or Sarah Darkmagic get really emotional about this stuff. A few people online know that they can bait these folks into forming a lynch mob, so they do. I've had people cite the blog post you linked to, and when I pressed them to actually read it they were like, "Oh, well, I was told he said something nasty, maybe not."

It's been eye opening for a few people.

So leaving that aside for a moment, one of the things we often do when there is an incident in my primary occupation (software development) is a thing called a blameless post mortem. That's where we get the folks involved in an incident and get together, with some rules, to understand what happened. So as I write this, this is about detailing what happened and what could have happened, so hopefully we can do better next time. So try to keep that in mind as I write. I'm not trying to blame folks.

July 3 - August 1

A bunch of discussion happens, mainly on G+ and mostly with RPG Pundit.

August 1

I write a post about what has been happening since I tried to talk to RPG Pundit

August 4

August 5

August 16

Lunch at Gen Con with Mike Mearls (as detailed here:

So why make this timeline?

Things aren't often what they appear. Since 2014, a few people have come forward and said things about Zak. People that used to be pretty close to him. People who used to say I was lying about him. We know a lot more approximately 6 years later.

But even without knowing all of that, we went from the often referenced remark about how I was just manipulated into saying what I did to having lunch with Mike at Gen Con and discussing D&D and industry stuff. He was the only person I wasn't friends with who extended me that courtesy.

Does that absolve him? Absolutely not. Should that be good enough for other folks? Well, no. I honestly don't know what to do about the situation in that way.

But folks are asking me about what I want, and I don't know how to feel about the whole Fire Mearls thing. And I think when it comes down to it, it's because firing an individual doesn't fix a failed system. And it's the system that failed. In my line of work, when systems fail, they don't get fixed by getting rid of the human but instead by building a better system. That's part of what I thought I was doing at that lunch with Mearls.

Some ideas:

Protections for Freelancers and others

I have no idea how to actually get this done. One of the largest issues is that freelancers have no protection in an industry where fans are often fanatics. I've been asked to be considered part of a larger group where one of the other people in the group had called me a "pretentious bitch" because I had gotten an honorable mention for my blog on 4e. That person was going through some stuff, sure, and we talked through things much later, but at the time, I was still getting harassment from them.

Likewise, I had to watch as someone I admire, Rob Schwalb, kept being brought up as someone to axe so I could get more writing opportunities (like, it doesn't even work that way).

And there's no support for this. There's no paid time off to deal with these incidents. No HR to direct them to (not that that is a panacea). No one cares if you can't make deadlines because of the toll of this even though they want you to keep being in public because it increases the exposure of the company you are working for. (A lot of freelancers are hired because they already have an audience, not just because of their ability to write or draw or edit)

No wonder everyone was scared of reaching out to me and helping me. One of the people we're discussing apparently has Hollywood ties and let's be honest, a good portion of gaming is pretty much the entertainment industry, especially when you consider how many companies are either licensing IP to make games from or licensing IP from games to make movies and tv.

Focus on those harmed

Part of the issue with writing this is that it's going to come across as self-serving and I don't mean it this way. But part of what really hurts me is that folks still believe the lies Zak spread about the situation and about the people involved. Those people still have a hard time getting work. They have had a lot of people turn their backs when things were super dark. They need a path out of oblivion. One that isn't only about retribution and revenge.

Ask Wizards of the Coast how they've changed

They likely won't be able to comment on the situation directly any more than they have. But they might be able to talk about what training they have available for employees. Any policies they might have for working with consultants and the like. If you happen to work in fields with expert knowledge in these areas, it would be wonderful if you were willing to share your insights with the broader community/industry because this isn't just an issue with Wizards of the Coast.

I've seen some folks call for changes in how this community works and I'm definitely in favor of that. Not just relying on informal social networks for hiring or freelancers. Finding ways to give folks who get attacked like I did for years the ability to earn back trust and maybe freelance again.

Otherwise, what we'll see is a continuation of people being scared professionally to say something. And we'll see folks from marginalized groups saying its not worth it and burning out those who try to speak up.

I don't know if any of this will help anyone. I just know that I've never been a scorched earth person and, honestly, it feels too much like what Zak wanted to do to me for me to be comfortable with it. But I honestly mean this. Other people will feel differently and those views are valid as well. What's super important to me is that people listen to one another and find ways to try to move forward. Say what you feel and why you feel that way and maybe, just maybe, some healing will occur.

Part of the mermaid was done using a stamp by Jane Davenport.

Notes: The Haunting of Lobsterclaw Island

So, the story that I sort of have in my mind for Lobsterclaw Island is really getting to me, and so I'm trying to work out how I might create an adventure for it. But it's been a super long time since I've had a chance to run something other than a published adventure and I'm still catching up on all the changes to 5e since my child was born, so these are super rough notes.

One thing I want to tap into is the idea that some people lived on this island and that they were stolen from the land (enslaved). I think I want to make those who were enslaved humans and those who captured them orcs (but with slight twist). And I think I want this to have a huge impact on the land itself, culminating in a part of the story that I'm calling The Long Walk. My thought is to rely on undead and particularly haunting to make it work.

Random Encounters

  1. shadow + 1d4 skeletons
  2. specter + 2d4 skeletons
  3. poltergeist + 1d4 shadows
  4. Will-o'-wisp + 1d4 skeletons
  5. Specter + 1d4 shadows
  6. Legendary ghost - I'm thinking here a leader of the group that was captured and force marched, killed while protecting a grandchild. Her goal is to seek the proper burial of the grandchild and the return of an amulet that fell with the child to its rightful home in their town.

    For lair actions: I was thinking of producing shadows (1), skeletons (1), or specters (1) but I'm not sure because I'm not sure. I could also use the flavor text from the ghost and have the lair produce effects like cold or moving objects.

    For legendary actions (2 actions):

    • Recharge possession and immediate use (Costs 2 actions) - Her goal here isn't to fight the PCs. She wants to possess them to tell a bit of her story and to find the closest she can to peace.
    • Etherealness - Thinking this gives her an out if somehow the party traps her
  7. Eventually I'd like to move random encounters away from groups of "monsters" and more like scenes that would be available.

    Sleeping in the Woods

    Another idea I have is that any night they spend in the woods, they have a chance of a dream or vision. Some things that they might experience or see include:

    • Walking through intense dark, seeing pig faces by torch [My thought is to make the orcs pig-like and have pink skin]
    • Attempting to descend a dense forest during a downpour, wake up soaked to the bone
    • Vision of a young child beneath a large old ash tree with white delicate white flowers
    • Vision of the amulet

    Things to find

    Another idea I have is of "trinkets" to find while walking through the woods

    • Simple grave marked by a pile of rocks, someone who died on The Long Walk
    • Crude and decayed weapon of the orcs that attacked the folks of Lobster Claw Island
    • Intense chill that causes shivers for 1d4 minutes

    Other Ideas

    I think it would be interesting to have a background or two or some other way to signify characters who descend from those who once lived on Lobsterclaw Island and then have some of these parts of the adventure interact with that.

More Like This Please: DMs Guild Titles - Part 4

On April 27th, OneBookShelf, in conjunction with Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Grounds, and White Wolf, announced a Play It Forward Event, running from May 4th (Star Wars Day) until May 17th. During the event, community-created products on those companies will forgo their royalties on products sold on DMs Guild and Story Vault and instead, the creators of the content will get 100% of all revenue. This is intended to help the creators, many of who are struggling due to Covid-19.

In addition to this change of revenue sharing, the sites will be having a 20% sale on titles at least 30 days old and temporarily suspending the affiliate program.

Perhaps you, like me, are wondering about some titles to invest in and explore during this event. I did some exploring and would like to recommend the following:

Triple Murder Most Fowl

Cover of Triple Murder Most Fowl

It is Highharvesttide and your character (along with two to four 10th-12th level characters) is invited to dinner. Soon after arrival, however, the characters learn that they don't have a Clue about what is going on. The matriarch was found dead, just that morning! And now they must figure out who did it, how, and where!

Reading through the adventure, I sense a lot of chances for jokes and just fun role play opportunities. I also wonder if it would be a good adventure if you have folks who want to participate in a D&D game by playing an NPC. It's exactly the sort of adventure I'd love to play.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

Eat the Rich | Volume 1

Cover of Eat the Rich | Volume 1

Eat the Rich, the anti-tyranny adventure anthology, contains 17 adventures for tiers 1-4. Like many of the adventures I've spotlighted, these attempt to explore real world topics through the guise of fantasy; allowing us to see the world around us in new ways. As such, some of the adventures deal with heavy topics like exploitation of workers, marginalized folks, and more.

Also, the pdf is gorgeous. I love the use of monotype and the art is decadent. The visual callbacks to zines fill me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate


Cover of UNBRIDLED /></p>
<p>Are. You. F*ing. Kidding. Me.</p>
<p>Yes, I love the above title, Eat the Rich. But, like, I want to know why no one told me about UNBRIDLED. I get it, it dropped while many of us were stuck at home and dealing with some heavy stuff, but seriously. Next time just <a href=@ me, ok?

Where to start?

Boring voice: Unbridled is a collection of 19 adventures for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons featuring hags and…unicorns?

Yes, folks, let's take the most of iconic of D&D monsters, hags and unicorns, and mix them up all over the place. Let's make it bizarre. Let's throw a bunch of stuff into a jar, add some glitter and water, and shake that sh*t up and play through whatever happens. That is what this book is all about. And if you think the cover art is catchy, wait until you see the unicorn on page 16. That's ok. I'll wait. Go have a look.

Ok, time to get back on topic. Another book where the art is gorgeous and on point and where the energy is amazing.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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