Last night, a good fellow and friend, a professional ex-editor (I'll call him Phil), took a metaphorical club to me last night to correct my errors with regards to yesterday's post, making a very good case that while the content of roleplayng games is fair use, the TRADEMARK is not. And then he - incredibly usefully - actually found the trademark for DUNGEON MASTER. Here it is.
I've heard about it for years, people have chattered about it, disputed it, etc. WOTC ought to have a link to it on their front page.
Shame they have no intention of using it.
Now, there's a couple of issues. For one thing its in all caps. For another, it doesn't state that 'DM' is trademarked. The renewal deadline is next month, but ... somehow ... I think the company will renew it. Would be interesting if they didn't.
I'm not up on trademark law; like Phil says, I'm thinking like a journalist. I'm probably fine putting DM on the front cover, and putting it on a poster behind me at a trade show, so long as I don't make any money and I don't draw any attention to myself. Not much use there. At the same time, Phil is virtually shouting at me, "Why do it? Why take the chance? What the hell for? Why don't you invent a far more CREATIVE title? Why don't you use that brain of yours to be more creative?"
Phil is right about taking the chance. The image I've had in my mind is a table at a con, with a big glossy poster-board behind me, saying, "HOW TO DUNGEON MASTER." A sign like that will draw flies like vinegar. You don't need another word on the sign. The mere mention of the administration role will bring the curious and interested. But of course, that IS using someone else's trademark to sell my book. And it IS illegal.
What to do, what to do. There's a reasonable possibility that I'd still be free to use DM, DMing, Dungeon Mastering and so on in the actual text (though that does seem to annoy the pedantic among you - 'DMing' is NOT a word!). Just not on the cover, as the appearance of the cover is everything.
Let me go over the possibilities. Just doing this will give poor Phil apoplexy, as he can't understand what makes me so stupid I don't immediately take his advice.
- I can adopt the title 'GM' ... or worse, 'referee' ... but I'll be fucked if I'm going to wear a black-and-white striped shirt.
- I can ignore it, and expect to make such a little splash that it doesn't matter.
- I can wait for the inevitable 'cease and desist' order, then cease and desist, changing the title and content of the book.
- I can ignore any such order, and see what happens. The "no news is bad news" argument.
- I can risk being a success, then losing everything, even the possibility of being legally barred from writing anything else about D&D, including this blog.
Well, admittedly, I don't want to take the chance. Phil is right about that. In the long run, it isn't worth it. I'll see how far I can push 'DM' in the text first, and keep it off the front cover.
That brings us to the title. And here Phil went off on me again, because I want to produce the book to have, well, dignity. Phil is anxious that the book actually sell, so he's shouting for AN EXCITING TITLE and AN EXCITING FRONT COVER. He's a bit aggravated that I'm like most writers here, in that I equate super-shiny with super-shit. Just about every published resource that exists in this hobby is a shiny, interesting cover wrapped around a lot of pages of useless dreck. It would be nice if my book did not emulate that format.
At any rate, an exciting cover is there so it will sell off a shelf somewhere. I don't think this book is going to sell off any shelves for awhile. At least, until people already know of its existence and are going to Borders specifically to find it. A random person picking the book off a shelf is going to be SORELY disappointed in the book. For one thing, there's no actual passage intended for the book that describes what a role-playing game is.
I got an excellent run down of the preview from a fellow yesterday, that I will call Vincent. He made a point that I can't fault him for making, but it was demonstrative of how the mandate of my Advanced Guide is meant to differ from other Role-playing books.
I included the passage, "... I questioned everything. I questioned everyone. I asked deliberately worded questions about why a rule was the way it was, or how it was expected to improve the game. I challenged people to play the game differently. I challenged people to tell me how the lack or addition of a rule had been better or worse." Vincent asked me (paraphrasing) to be more specific about what I discovered in asking these questions, and to give examples.
This is EXACTLY what I don't want to do. I don't want to write a book, like I write this blog, with examples of what I think makes a 'good' rule. What I want, what I feel is needed, is DM's who go out and do their own research. I'm not saying, "I went out and found the answers, and here they are." I'm saying, "I went out and asked for answers. Do it yourself."
It doesn't matter to me if people understand that in context or not; that's because those who DON'T immediately understand that, haven't been asking questions already. And those people who do ask questions will think, "Fucking A. I knew I was on the right track."
I'm not writing an answer book. I'm writing an academic breakdown of methodology and gameplay, which is going to make no sense whatsoever to someone who doesn't already play the game. Someone who doesn't already know what 'role-playing' is will come away very, very confused.
I don't care. This is an academic discussion. It's here for the already aware.
So where it comes to a 'creative' title, that's just silly. There's only two words that anyone already interested in the game is going to care about. ROLEPLAYING and ADVANCED. I know my audience. They'll open any book that says the word that describes what they LOVE, and adds elitism.
A title. I'll still need a title.
I suggested "An Advanced Guide to Role-playing Games," which was always going to be the subtitle of the "How to DM" book, and Phil harangued me for twenty minutes about how boring it was. Good old Phil. He does have my interests at heart. But he's wrong about making it something new and interesting, since then the audience won't know what the book is and they won't buy it. On some level, this thing has to have the content written on the wrapper.
So I'm thinking, okay, something with punch ... something short ...
Here is where I come to the usefulness of people's opinion. Because I couldn't help noticing how many times people wanted to change the words "in a running" or "during a running" to during a session or during the game ... both of which I do use. I take this to mean that there's a growing dissatisfaction with the 'running' of a game. As though, on some level, we shouldn't be saying, "I run D&D" or "I run a Steampunk campaign."
I really like that, you know? The word RUN - with respect to roleplaying - is a solid, immediately identifiable colloquialism, which you the gentle reader would recognize if overheard as proof positive that the person is a roleplayer: "I ran a few people last Saturday and ..." would be all you'd need to prick up your ears and listen for the inevitable mention of a game or system. You'd be disappointed if you were wrong.
So I mocked up a front cover this morning:
I like it.