Letters to the editor

Can Dungeons & Dragons regain gamers' trust? Plus: Attachment parenting by any other name; will Chris Columbus ruin Harry Potter?


Salon Staff
April 4, 2000 8:00PM (UTC)

Opening the dungeon
BY WAGNER JAMES AU
(03/29/00)

As someone still actively concerned with the RPG [role-playing game]
market, it was both interesting and informative to read Au's
comprehensive treatment of the open-source flap. When Wizards of the Coast first
announced this concept to the industry, the talk lists serving the
professionals and insiders were inundated with e-mails. The repute of the
former management of TSR certainly engendered considerable of skepticism. From what I could make of it, Dancey's extensive and quite patient responses to the many questions and attacks
that followed pretty well covered the whole matter. The offer is just what
it says it is: an offer by Wizards to make the core rules of
the 3E Dungeons & Dragons game open-source material.

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The continuing doubt appears a bit cynical from my perspective. There is a
small but extremely vocal segment of the hardcore RPG audience, consisting
of game designer-publishers and their dedicated fans, that views the game
form as being something other than it is. This element believes that
"story" and theatrical elements are the true substance of the game form.
As the D&D game is action-adventure oriented, and
the most popular RPG, it has become the target to attack by this
group. It appears that the thinking in this regard is that if the 3E D&D
game can be made less dominant in the marketplace, then the door will be
opened for their own game products. So the debate continues.

Perhaps
there is merit in the novel theory of what the role-playing game is all
about, but current successes seem to point toward combat and the
heroic as remaining the themes that attract players. The 3E D&D game, and
its open-source approach, will stand or fall on its own merits. My bet is that the much-abused "hack and slash" RPG format will
continue to dominate the marketplace regardless of what happens, for it doesn't
preclude other aspects, merely centers on the heroic fight. Hoary as the
underlying concept might be, the attraction of this sort of adventure has been
popular since Homer's time.

-- Gary Gygax

While I can respect Dancey's good wishes and desire to resurrect D&D, history shows that companies -- notably TSR -- change hands, one day run by benevolent men of goodwill, the next by a pack of rabid lawyers. Dancey has also brushed over many unpleasant chapters in TSR's publishing history. Today authors are told that if they use the D20 system as part of a
work, that work is automatically "derivative" (Dancey's word, not mine).
Which means, I believe, that if I write a novel and am so foolish as to put a D20 system character write-up in the back, I've lost all rights to that novel and the characters in it. An extreme case, granted, but I can easily
see a situation where I write an adventure module and intersperse it with a short story. TSR, by the contract, gains the right to take that short story and publish it in their own anthology, and likewise with the entire module, and while the D20 contract may specify "proper credit," legally that can be
interpreted as being listed in fine print on the copyrights page under the sea of other authors and editors, which will, of course, accrete after a few uses of D20 material.

As the article notes, most D&D players run games set in their own worlds, many of which then become the settings for short stories and novels. Some of these stories and novels are eventually published by the
conventional press. However, once an author sticks a character into the tar baby
that is the D20 system, all rights to it are lost -- save to self-publish something which TSR or any other publisher can then reprint for free, no payment, no copies and no guarantee of any credit save a tiny mention in a sea of other credits.

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TSR may have changed hands, but it looks like they've kept the same old lawyers.

-- Kevin Andrew Murphy

Ryan Dancey's initiative is indeed interesting, but the analogy to software is strained. There is no legal protection afforded to game systems. You can't trademark or copyright a game system, though you can copyright the expression of a game's rules. So this "open source" for gaming is really only acknowledging the legal facts of the matter -- that a game system per se can be used and modified by anyone.

The proposed licensing arrangements for D20 let you use the D20 logo on a product, but only if that product does not include rules for character creation or advancement. Thus Hasbro/WotC hopes to get you to buy the D&D Player's Handbook -- a perfectly reasonable business plan, but you'll note that Ryan Dancey doesn't really mention that anywhere. Using the D&D logo itself would require an actual licensing arrangement with Hasbro/WotC, with strict regulation of content (as it should be, for them to protect their trademark!). These important details point up that this "open-source" license is not exactly throwing open the gates and giving everyone access to D&D.

Disclosure time: I'm part owner of Hero Games, and we have been licensing the Fuzion RPG system to other publishers for several years (in fact, Ryan admits he based his concept partially on what we have done). We've been successful in encouraging widespread development of Fuzion content. We make it easy for anyone to develop Fuzion material; it's free to put up Fuzion-related Web sites. We do insist on a license to market for-profit Fuzion products that include the Fuzion rules, but we let publishers include the full Fuzion rules, customized to suit the needs of their game.

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-- Steve Peterson

thefuze.com

It is important to note that while the D20 license is being hailed as a godsend by some in the RPG industry, the individual writers and role players are taking a critical look at it before jumping on the bandwagon. And a closer look reveals that D20, in and of itself, is NOT open source.
There are two initiatives being spawned by the purveyors of D&D. D20 is an onerous licensing agreement that says, in effect, the user has the right to utilize the mechanics of the D&D system, a right, most people note, the average gamer already has, since the mechanics are not copyrightable, trademarkable or patentable. In return for that "right," the author gives up the ability to explain character creation or character leveling (gaining experience) in their product and must refer the players of their game to the D&D 3rd Edition handbook slated for release this summer. In other words: Use the license to create whatever you want, but only if it sells more of our books.

That is most decidedly NOT open source, as I'm sure Linus Torvalds will point out. Indeed, Dancey is also pushing a second initiative, the Open Gaming License, which is strongly similar to the licenses used by programmers in open-source code, such as Linux. While this license is certainly more "open," there are already several other games on the market that are free and open by the same definitions, such as FUDGE.

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While I applaud the change in attitude within the staff of the former TSR and Wizards of the Coast, I and most of the gamers of my generation I know, those of us who began playing D&D in the late '70s and have been playing it since, would be more impressed by an apology, an acknowledgment of the huge contributions of the fan base over the years in guiding and promoting the "mythos" of D&D and an allowance that fans may make any supplement they want for the game using whatever mechanics they wish without fear of being sued. We of course understand the nature and importance of trademarks and copyrights and the right of a company to defend them, but to attack 15-year-old authors who are only giving away their "cool module" online was no way to make new friends and fans.

Let's hope this is the beginning of a new time for the fans of D&D. I remain cautiously optimistic.

-- Jeff Reynolds

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No bottle feeders, no spankers

BY AMY BRILL
(03/31/00)

Attachment parents would likely recoil in horror at these details of my early life, predicting low self-esteem, poor performance in school, drug and alcohol addiction, lack of fashion sense, inability to achieve orgasm and a host of other plagues to rain down on my life as a result. Through some miracle, apparently, I narrowly missed becoming a freakish sociopath due to the abuse and neglect inflicted upon me by my unenlightened parents. In reality, however, I'm holding down a high grade point average at one of the nation's top liberal arts schools, looking to become a professor and planning to marry my significant other of three years. The only real problem I'm dealing with right now is an unnatural fear of bearing children of my own and as a result becoming obsessed with the countless minutiae involved in raising them in the prescripted, small-minded manner dictated by the gurus of attachment parenting.

-- Erin M. Curtis

I'm three months into my first pregnancy and I plan on doing most of the "attachment parenting" things, both because I think they'll be good for the baby and good for me. Sleeping with the baby seems like it will be easier than getting out of bed to feed it in the middle of the night, wearing it in a sling seems more convenient than negotiating a stroller on buses and stairs, attending it when it cries certainly seems preferable to listening to it yell. But I nonetheless find myself feeling uncomfortable with the current pro-motherhood, pro-natural atmosphere surrounding pregnancy, because the assumption -- sometimes articulated, sometimes not -- is always that the mother, not the father, is the best, most natural caregiver.

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-- Tedra Osell

I appreciated the article on attachment parenting; it was well written. However, I want to point out that many of us that consider ourselves attachment parents also do work outside the home and do not consider this to be inconsistent. Just as staying home doesn't equal attachment parenting, neither does attachment parenting mean staying home. We pump, but since our babies often nurse throughout the night in our beds, the breast-feeding relationship is still very strong, as is the attachment gained by focusing our non-work lives on our children and meeting their needs.

In times past and in other cultures still today (which is often the model for attachment parenting), the mother is not spending most of her time entertaining her children. Child care is a shared responsibility within the community. I strongly believe that children can form strong bonds with multiple caregivers.

Attachment parenting is about meeting your children's needs, not some strict exclusionary definition.

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-- Lisa Stroyan

I guess my wife and I qualify as "attachment" parents. My wife delivered our daughter naturally, she breast-fed for a year, she works only part time and we don't mind it too much when our daughter sleeps with us, though we do like to at least start the night in our bed without her. We're hardly wealthy, either. If anything, we're "attachment" by default -- day care is expensive, our labor is cheap! My response to Brill's rather testy summary of the tenets of attachment parenting is simply: What's wrong with it? She seems to suggest attachment parents are naive and self-righteous -- everything but bad parents -- and she ends up sounding oddly defensive.

-- Derek Bridges

Fans hate director picked for Harry Potter film
BY LAURA MILLER
(03/30/00)

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I'm an agnostic, but pray with me anyway.

I had a bad feeling that this would happen. I even dreamt about what a Harry Potter movie directed by Chris Columbus would be like, and it wasn't pretty.
I looked for a positive analogy, and having found one, I am going to cling to it like Rose clung to that piece of wood in "Titanic."

Remember back when negotiations were going on for the casting of Anne Rice's Vampire LeStat? Remember how upset we all were that they were going to cast Tom Cruise, of all people, to play the luscious bloodsucker? Even Anne Rice didn't like the idea. When all was said and done, however, Anne Rice admitted, as will I, that Tom Cruise did a wonderful job. In the aftermath of that potential disaster, we saw a rebirth of Tom Cruise as an actor, and his career took a new, more-positive direction.

Could I be so hopeful as to believe that Harry Potter can accomplish this same act for a director who hasn't done much but pollute my precious movie theaters? Is there a possibility that Harry will transform Chris into a "new" director who offers up young-adult movies that inspire us while demonstrating the intelligence and wit of children? Has he seen the light, and will we be spared a Culkin-esque Harry Potter?

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I must believe. I have to. What else can I do? Pray with me, and maybe it will magically turn out for the best. If not, they had better have some of those marvelous candies that Harry is so fond of, since I'm going to need SOMETHING to take the bad taste out of my mouth ...

-- Martha Linbo-Terhaar

As the mother of an 8-year-old boy who loves both Harry Potter and "Home Alone," I have no doubt that whatever Columbus offers up will be heartily enjoyed by my son. Unfortunately, this will also serve to put Harry Potter in the same category as the bratty heroes in Columbus' earlier works and reduce my son's and my enjoyment of the Rowling trilogy to the level of an evening spent reading "Captain Underpants." One of the terrific things about the Harry Potter books was that they were entertaining enough for children to stretch themselves and read at a level probably more advanced than they normally would. I fear the possible dumbing down of these books through a blockbuster film would eradicate all the positive habits they have fostered so far.

-- Paula Welch

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He's tough, but he isn't crazy

BY ROBERT A. GEORGE
(03/29/00)

No, Giuliani is not "mental," and it is crucial to remember this. Though his control over his temper seems to wane from time to time, he is not insane. He is, in fact, pretty smart and quite determined, and to remember this will assist in wresting power from him as soon as possible.
Thankfully, he has certainly done much to unite different people from the African diaspora in New York against him.

The key to Rudy's mental state may lie in the very shape of his head: As a good friend correctly noted, it so closely resembles an eggplant as to arouse suspicion of the mushy content inside.
Cheers.

-- Hilary Russ


Salon Staff

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