With a tabletop RPG franchise as long-running as Dungeons and Dragons, there is bound to be some messy history. For example, fans usually credit Gary Gygax for creating the beloved RPG, but it was a more collaborative effort by their ramshackle studio, TSR. But in addition to more well-known controversies like the Satanic Panic in the 1970s or the accusations of racism found in the depiction of orcs and drow, there is an ongoing dispute happening between the reformed TSR Inc. and DnD's new owner, Wizards of the Coast.
First, a bit of backstory. While TSR Inc. did produce Dungeons and Dragons content throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s, their financial situation became more and more rocky around the 1990s. Eventually, TSR Inc. was purchased by Wizards of the Coast in 1996 with some of TSR's staff coming in the transition. WOTC went on to produce new content for the RPG going forward while several attempts were made to bring back TSR Inc. as a new, separate company that continued to make its own products, one of which was actually founded by Gary Gygax's son, Ernie, all of which either rebranded or shut down due to some combination of controversy or internal conflict.
This is important since our story involves the third new incarnation of TSR Inc.. And they haven't come together to help preserve tabletop gaming history like the Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum. No, they're seeking legal action against Wizards of the Coast, and they're doing it through crowdfunding.
According to their Indiegogo campaign, this new TSR is claiming that Wizards of the Coast has been actively slandering the name and reputation of TSR due to its association with legacy Dungeons and Dragons products. The argument goes that by including a certain disclaimer when selling any of the original products that TSR created for Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coast are actively slandering and insulting the original creators. The crowdfunding video narrated by TSR's current CEO, Justin LaNasa, even states that it is a case of a major corporation, one with no love for the hobby of tabletop RPGs at all, is trying to suppress creative freedoms. That very legacy disclaimer reads:
"We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end"
In addition to this campaign including stretch goals like a unique membership to the Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum, the campaign does include a stated goal for legal action going forward. Quoting:
"TSR is suing WOTC for Trademark Declaratory Judgement of Ownership. TSR will also pursue in the near future having WOTC remove the legacy content disclaimer placed on TSR based Dungeons & Dragons and other products, and retractions of any other libel and slander which alleges that racism and other heinous beliefs are incorporated into those products. This disclaimer attempts to make a statement of fact argument, and therefore paints all of the writers, editors, artists and consumers of those products as supporting those alleged prejudices, stereotypes and bigotry, wrongfully claimed to be part of those products. This statement by Wizards of the Coast opens the possibility for the producers and players of these 'Legacy Products' to face ridicule, and face the labeling as 'bigots', 'racists', 'misogynists', and worse Cyber & Physical Attacks!"
Broadly speaking, LaNasa's argument is that Wizards of the Coast is insulting and publicly shaming TSR for their artistic vision. While the most outright antagonistic line of the disclaimer, "these depictions were wrong then and are wrong today" can be read as a wag of the finger to the studio - applying 2021's standards to 1979 - there are arguments to be had about preservation and retroactive criticism of older works. Do you not inform potential buyers and gaming historians about certain elements of a work that haven't aged well in a modern context or do you say nothing and potentially invite even more contemporary ire from an uninformed consumer base? These are questions that the gaming industry will need to answer and confront going forward.