The Tragic History of DGP…
It may be hard for people to believe this now, but Traveller was once big enough to support two separate independent magazines devoted to it. I’m not talking about lowly fanzines (thought they may have begun that way), but really professional, slick-looking journals: Traveller Chronicle from Sword of Knight Publications and Traveller Digest from Digest Publications Group (DGP). There’s more on the latter company here.
The fate of DGP illustrates the need to own whatever it is you are pouring your heart and soul into. If you don’t own it, and someone else does, then all your all your care and effort on its behalf can become endangered. The people at DGP didn’t just produce a great magazine either. Their many supplements to Traveller remain, to this date, an extremely impressive legacy. Check out this independent review of one of their best pieces – The World Builders Handbook – here. It’s clear that this work, in particular, can speak to people outside even the Traveller and gaming milieus. That’s hardly a common achievement.
When I went through this same supplement recently I was struck by the way it sought to recreate the all the processes entailed when scouts start scanning and investigating new worlds. This laborious process could be “played out” in the course of the game, and they authors provide explicit ways that data could be collected and collated. I got the idea that they actually expected the players to man various imaginary stations in a central ship observatory while data was collected and displayed. The level of detail for all of this is staggering. Was anyone playing this way able to report, “Yeah, we basically sat, observed, and calculated the data on how much the axis tilt on the planet was effecting its atmospheric currents and pressures – we did that for a month on a scout rotation.” Further details of these operations concerned the ways such work suffered during the fracturing of the galactic Imperium during civil war and other crises.
But the people at DGP didn’t own Traveller. Whatever great things for the game they came up with, it was all done under license – a license, of course, that could be taken away from them at any time. When the game’s owners decided to go a different way, DGP had to give it all up. I can easily imagine their frustration. Anyone reading their work might assume that, at a certain point, they cared far more about the game, and even its canon, that the original authors and owners did. But that didn’t matter. They still didn’t own it. In effect, it was if they were putting loving improvements on a house that they were merely renting. The same can be seen with the folks at the Judges Guild. After all, they were working under license too – and this is one reason why we can’t buy fresh new editions of the original version of The City State of the Invincible Overlord.
Naturally, realizing their situation, the DGP sought to come up with a game that they owned and could control the rights to – the ill-fated A.I.. But it was too late. The moment had passed, their game would never be as popular as Traveller, and everything came to an end. Now all their work is out of print and some of it, unsurprisingly, commands very high prices on the secondary and used market. I, personally, paid through the nose for one of their supplements – and thought it was well worth it. How much of it will be included in any new version of Traveller, or if any of it will ever be available again, is hard to say. If you go through their magazines and other pieces it’s easy to imagine all their creations existing in some kind of lost, parallel universe. If you, like me, have all this stuff, then you could use it to construct an entirely separate Traveller continuum.
The invention of the “Open Game License” should put an end to some of these problems. But even the people taking advantage of this new innovation can run into many of the same problems. The co-authors of my own beloved OD&D clone – Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox – had a falling-out over the rights to it. As a result, neither truly champions the clone and it – unfairly, I strongly believe – languishes. Game creation, we can see, is something that often happens with many talented, energized collaborators. But game ownership? Intellectual property rights? That’s another story.