Continued Conversations

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 26 May 2020

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]

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

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