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Dungeons and Dragons book battle could be worth $10 million – Lake Geneva Regional News


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Dungeons and Dragons book battle could be worth $10 million

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Scott Williams

WILLIAMS BAY — An author of Dungeons and Dragons-themed books is suing the maker of the Lake Geneva-created fantasy game in a dispute over a new book deal aimed at revitalizing the brand.

Margaret Weis, along with her partner Tracy Hickman, has written dozens of books in the “Dragonlance Chronicles” series, which was created in the 1980s to market stories based on the Dungeon and Dragons game.

The last “Dragonlance” book was published more than 10 years ago. But the Williams Bay author and her partner are planning a final trilogy of books to culminate their contribution to the series.

Now, the two authors are suing the makers of Dungeons and Dragons in a breach-of-contract dispute that could be worth as much as $10 million to the partner writers.

According to the suit filed Oct. 16 in federal court in Seattle, Washington, the current owners of Dungeons and Dragons, a company called Wizards of the Coast LLC, pulled out of a licensing deal for the books this summer after months of planning and work.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, plus a court order requiring Wizards of the Coast to move ahead with the book deal.

In the world of Dungeons and Dragons, fans and followers are thrilled to hear that new “Dragonlance” books are in the works. But the new court battle is raising concerns about when the new stories will be published — if ever.

Lake Geneva fan Daniel Colwell said Weis and Hickman are giants in the science fiction and fantasy genre of games and literature. Colwell has long hoped that the two authors would resume their story-telling.

“They’re icons — it would be wonderful,” he said. Of the lawsuit, he said, “It’s very disappointing.”

Contacted at her home in Williams Bay, Weis declined to comment.

Officials at Wizards of the Coast LLC — a Renton, Washington-based firm owned by toy giant Hasbro Inc. — have not yet responded to the suit and could not be reached for comment.

The suit alleges that by canceling plans for the new “Dragonlance” book trilogy, Wizards of the Coast undermined a publishing deal that was designed to “revitalize the Dungeons and Dragons brand.”

Weis and Hickman, whose books have sold more than 30 million copies, also contend that the new trilogy of stories would have meant more than $10 million in future earnings for them.

“Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman are two of the most widely read and beloved authors in the fantasy fiction universe,” the suit states. “To fans of the genre, they are rock stars.”

Dungeons and Dragons was invented by Gary Gygax in Lake Geneva in 1974. The fantasy role-playing game exploded in popularity, and Gygax’s business flourished until Wizards of the Coast acquired it in 1997.

Two years later, Wizards of the Coast was acquired by Hasbro, a $4-billion-a-year corporation based in Rhode Island.

Gygax, who died in 2008, is the subject of a new exhibit under development at the Geneva Lake Museum.

During the 1980s, Gygax and his creative team developed the concept of the “Dragonlance Chronicles” books, based on characters that were part of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game.

Weis and Hickman, both of whom worked for Gygax’s company, TSR Inc., wrote the first book, “Dragons of Autumn Twilight,” and authored or edited 30 others in the years to follow.

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Harold Johnson, who was vice president of publishing for TSR, recalls helping get the “Dragonlance” series started, knowing that it had the potential for a long and lucrative run.

“I said, ‘Guys, this is a great story,’” Johnson recalled. “’Dragonlance’ is a great property. It has many, many good stories.”

Other authors added to the series over the years, but the books stopped around 2007.

Another Lake Geneva fan, Colin Cummings, said he has been reading “Dragonlance” books since he was in high school 20 years ago. Cummings said releasing new stories would rekindle interest and bring new audiences to the Dungeons and Dragons concept.

“The old-school people are going to go buy it,” he said, “and they’re going to share it with the next generation.”

According to the lawsuit, Weis and Hickman struck a publishing deal with Wizards of the Coast in 2019 to license the use of Dungeons and Dragons in a new trilogy of books. The two authors viewed the books “as the capstone to their life’s work and as an offering to their multitude of fans.”

Hickman currently lives in the state of Utah.

Josiah Pendergrast, a California-based attorney representing the two authors in the suit, declined to comment.

The suit alleges that Weis and Hickman presented their first manuscript, titled “Dragons of Deceit,” and were undergoing some editing with Wizards of the Coast when the company in August of this year announced it would not go any further with the publishing deal.

“The termination was wholly arbitrary and without contractual basis,” the suit alleges.

The suit alleges breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing, and tortious interference with a contract. It was filed in Seattle because the defendant company is based in Renton, Washington.

The suit has captured the imagination of the trade press covering the gaming industry and science fiction literature.

One writer for the website Geek Wire wrote that “Dragonlance” books were “a major pillar of the Dungeons and Dragons franchise back in the 1980s and ‘90s.” The writer added: “A sudden revival of the franchise in 2020 would have sold quite a few copies just on the nostalgia value.”

The suit alleges that Wizards of the Coast pulled the plug on the book deal as the company was suffering negative publicity stemming from allegations that some of its other products and workplace practices were tainted by racism or sexism.

“Defendant was engulfed in controversies,” the suit states. “Defendant was subject to a drumbeat of negative publicity.”

Without further explanation, the suit alleges that the demise of the “Dragonlance” deal was related to the other controversies.

Johnson, who owns the recently shuttered Breadloaf Bookshop in Lake Geneva, said he was not aware that Weis and Hickman were working on new installments in their series.

Johnson called the two authors and former colleagues “wonderful people,” adding that it saddens him to hear that their efforts at resuming the “Dragonlance” series was being held up by a court fight.

“I thought it was gone,” he said of the “Dragonlance” series. “I thought I would never hear from them again. So to hear that they’re writing again, that’s exciting.”

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