Dragonlance and the Realms as Intellectual Property

Posted by on Sep 22, 2010 in Fantasy, Publishing, RPGs | 14 Comments

Philip Athans has put together a lengthy article contrasting the development of the intellectual property that comprises the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms settings. Extensive discussion with Tracy Hickman and Ed Greenwood provide a great deal of high-quality insight. For example, Hickman writes:

Story is the universal conveyor of meaning. Properly deployed story in game settings extends the game experience beyond the rules and the setting into the realm of change, growth and life application. I think it is a mistake to fixate on the specific and more tangible elements of the setting; one needs to have a grasp of the overall tone and message that a ‘property’—whatever that is—conveys to the reader. Dragonlance isn’t meaningful to readers because it has dragons and lances. It’s meaningful because it conveys a certain attitude, viewpoint, promise and meaning.

The article is a good, insightful look at IP—as opposed to game, or story—devlopment. Check it out.

“The Worlds That Outgrew Their Stories: Two Roads to Intellectual Property Success”

14 Comments

  1. Will Hindmarch
    September 22, 2010

    This is a really great piece, provoking some new questions while also addressing some that I’ve had about world-driven versus story-driven shared worlds for a while. I’ll go back and re-read this piece before I comment more on it, but it’s a great look at the thinking behind these worlds and the stances of the co-creators who helped to make them successes. Recommended.

    Reply
  2. Cam Banks
    September 22, 2010

    Every “new edition” of a setting like this creates a fury of discussion and often divides the fan base. When we were producing Dragonlance product under license, we had a core vision to meet, we tried to tie up all loose ends and establish a singular continuity, and we always had to make it work with the novels. Sometimes there were retcons, which some people loved and others hated. But always it was with a passion for the setting, not just because we wanted to do something for the sake of it being cool.

    Reply
  3. Keith Senkowski
    September 22, 2010

    An interesting article that brings up the question: “Is their path to relative success the right path, or just a successful dead end?” They are certainly very successful in regards to the gaming community, but fall short once compared against other IP in the greater cultural sphere.

    Reply
  4. Brand Robins
    September 22, 2010

    Nice find.

    I particularly like this line: “But if you give a product a vision, a direction and a structure within which everyone can explore their own ideas . . . then you don’t have to sweat the individual details because everyone being on the same page and within the same structural parameters of the unified vision.”

    In my experience, this is pretty fucking core to success in any group creative/communicative endeavor.

    The kick in the pants of it, though, is that its often this slippery place of vision and direction. Like, its less that everyone is on the same page and more that everyone has the same karma (in the Buddhist sense). That is to say, everyone is moving in the same direction with similar intent and at a similar speed.

    Because when you hit certain moments of definition and really drill down to specify that vision, you often find out it isn’t there. Like Cam’s experience with Dragonlance — sometimes you find that visions split.

    But, sometimes, you have to wonder if they really changed, or if its that there never was one central vision in the first place. The key to brilliant success in this issue seems to revolve around a certain negative capability, a certain ability to never fully say and never fully know, and yet know enough to say enough to convey what actually matters.

    Magic, really.

    Reply
  5. JDCorley
    September 23, 2010

    I like how the comments get all of, what, three in before someone says how much better it was back in the old days and how Hasbro has RUINT EVARAYTHANG

    Reply
  6. Will Hindmarch
    September 23, 2010

    Keith, what are you standards for success? Nothing lasts forever. While Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms aren’t, say, Star Wars, they’re pretty successful by a lot of meaningful measurements. They have plenty of fans, they have long lives, they’ve been bestsellers and they’ve attracted and developed a lot of talent, haven’t they?

    I’m not sure there’s one true path to a successful shared-world property which these two endeavors missed. I think each shared-world property makes its own way across the sand. It’s not like the success of any IP is formulaic and reproducible, else we’d have a lot of Star Warses. How much success is enough?

    Reply
  7. Will Hindmarch
    September 23, 2010

    Are split visions an inevitability of any project that outgrows or outlasts a single creative participant? Readers may kvetch, but the books are still bought and read and presumably enjoyed, no?

    The level of static in an audience may rise and fall, as a property moves through time and adjusts its own dials and outputs, but some noise in the signal is probably inevitable. The trick is keeping the static within acceptable levels such that the fan base doesn’t dissolve or fail to replenish itself as fans inevitably drift away in favor of other properties, other hobbies, other ways to spend their time. I think. :)

    Reply
  8. Jeff Tidball
    September 23, 2010

    More interesting/sad/important for me, when comparing something like Dragonlance to something like Star Wars, is the fact that we’re simply not going to see the massive popular IP juggernauts we saw in the 20th century again, ever. The mass market simply lacks the mass, now, for good or ill.

    (I say for good.)

    Reply
  9. Keith Senkowski
    September 23, 2010

    Will,

    I think a truly successful does two things. It reinvents itself, adding new life to the products, and it touches the culture outside its safe zone. You see this in comics, gamings more healthy cousin, but you also see it in product design everywhere. Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance have been hit or miss in their reinventions, and have not effectively worked their way into the greater culture outside gaming.

    Reply
  10. Brand Robins
    September 23, 2010

    Keith,

    I smell apples and oranges. Comparing one of the biggest new media forms and a raging monster of IP creation to Dragonlance is like saying that a welter weight boxer isn’t successful because unlike Mike Tyson he’s never had a video game named after him.

    There are lots and lots and lots of IPs out there in lots and lots of fields. Some of them are monsters of rock and some make their owners pocket change every year. Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms are neither, so comparing them to either rather than other properties in their size range seems a straw man.

    Though, if we want to talk missed game IP chances… I can’t help but think the folks who had it get away on them were White Wolf. If you watch ever so much of modern “urban fantasy” you can see the WW IP with the serial numbers filed off. From Twilight to True Blood to Vampire Diaries, Lost Girl, and even parts of the Dresden Files… so much of it clearly went through the cultural wringer, but started in a place near a WW game somewhere.

    I suppose D&D, as a genre rather than a specific IP, has had a similar history. The D&D-ified elves and dwarves and clerics and paladins and shit more or less has become fantasy in a way that leaves ever so many fantasy games and books looking more like D&D then ever they did like Tolkien. Sure, everyone says they came out of Tolkien, but the tropes are all D&D and not anything from Middle Earth.

    In both cases I think the problem was the games were drawing on other contemporary cultural sources (Ann Rice, Terry Windling, et all in WW’s case, Tolkien and Brooks and Howard in D&D) and didn’t set anything up (or enough up) that was their unique and identifiable thing. And so when we watch on True Blood and the Ventrue gets in a fight with the Brujah but they never actually say those words, there isn’t a way to really mark it as belonging to WW. Cause richy vampires and biker vampires isn’t something they actually invented or control, despite the fact that the particular cluster of tropes in play clearly (in many cases PAINFULLY CLEARLY) comes out of the IP — even if at second hand.

    Reply
  11. Keith Senkowski
    September 23, 2010

    Brand,

    I see that as a self defeating attitude more than comparing apples and oranges. Comics recently have been well tended as IP, but it was not always so. They were just as poorly regarded and shepherded by their owners as games are now. There is no reason that with the right approach, game properties couldn’t be as successful. The NYT best selling books not be exploited in such a manner is a clear example of the possibility of success.

    I am not comparing them to Superman or Batman. I am comparing similar product types, that swim in the same part of the cultural pool. It is not a straw man argument. One, comic books, has recently, finally been treated with responsible business decision making. The other, games, is still in the ghetto despite having plenty to offer as an IP because some terrible business decisions.

    Reply
  12. Brand Robins
    September 24, 2010

    Keith,

    Hmm. Could be. It sounds like we might be approaching a similar issue from different angles. Like, if WW had approached the WoD with a more deliberate IP policy from the start how much could they have gotten out of it?

    Reply
  13. Keith Senkowski
    September 24, 2010

    Or, my favorite example. What if WotC had hired a real director/producer team to helm the DnD movie? I mean, I hate the R.A. Salvatore properties for a host of reasons, but why wasn’t that their first movie project with an actual studio, not some fan?

    Reply
  14. Malcolm
    September 28, 2010

    Star Wars as we know it today is essentially the extension of an RPG IP. Its revival greatly depended on WEG content. Without it, there would have been no consistent library to build from on relaunch. This is a pretty big deal, because it speaks to competencies in our community that we don’t even think about, and which are atrophying in a big way.

    Things we reflexively do like leave open plot hooks, and story bits without a straightforward function are just being discovered in wider media, even as we’re starting to get so “meta” we’re getting worse at them.

    We created the need for a Leland Chee, but we don’t even bother to create parallel roles for our own IPs. One always gets the sense that essentially, nobody gives a damn what’s in the Realms, how the Realms’ big narrative progresses, or anything like that.

    I question the idea that there will never be another Star Wars because, well, Harry Potter. Twilight. Movie Marvel. In the first case the author’s wishes are the only thing holding it back; in the second, I believe it’s just a matter of time. The third just needs a proof of concept crossover flick, and that’s on the way.

    Reply

Leave a Reply