Undone – The DungeonScape Song

Trapdoor LogoWhen Codename: Morningstar was announced earlier this year, players of Dungeons & Dragons greeted the news with a mixture of interest and apprehension. Veteran players of 4th Edition D&D had used the digital tools created by Wizards of the Coast for years with mixed results. The Character Builder certainly assisted in organizing the cumbersome process of character creation and maintenance, though its reliance on Silverlight was an issue for some. The Monster Builder was useful for certain functions, but other user-created tools (i.e., Masterplan) offered greater flexibility and functionality at a lower cost for designing and organizing monsters. Meanwhile, the Virtual Tabletop and was abandoned altogether, and other promised DM Tools never surfaced. Wizards of the Coast and Trapdoor Technologies, the development team for Codename: Morningstar, set out to renew hope that a functional digital toolset for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragon was possible.

Codename: Morningstar reintroduced itself as DungeonScape at Gen Con this summer. Since hosting a number of prominent online community members to demonstrate the functionality of DungeonScape, the team has attempted to answer questions and roll out a working product for players of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. A beta project was underway, and it seemed as if DungeonScape would soon be released. However, Trapdoor Technologies announced last month they would no longer be partners with Wizards of the Coast. Wizards followed up with a brief statement saying that the relationship with Trapdoor Technologies had been terminated, leaving the future of a licensed digital toolset for 5th Edition up in the air.

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Ego Check: Michael Bruce, Editor, Philosopher and Writer of Angst! Blog

Michael Bruce

When I became interested in the strange new world of non-ownership and how it relates to tabletop roleplaying games, I spent some time researching what others have written or said about the topic. In my online travels, I came across a blog entry written by Michael Bruce who is an editor and previously taught philosophy and mathematics at University of Washington. I reached out and he was willing to talk about his column – and his background investigating the changing currents that influence the lives of young people including technology.

While Michael is not involved in the roleplaying game industry, I benefited from his perspective and hope you find the exchanges below thought provoking. And what better day than Black Friday to discuss to changing culture of ownership in our society!

Thank you for agreeing to communicate on the subject of ownership. When I first started to research a column on the subject, I discovered an article you wrote for Psychology Today last summer titled Netflix My Life: A Culture of Non-ownership. I immediately connected to the themes you discussed within the article. But before we dive into that specific topic, could you introduce yourself and let the readers know about your work?

I received my master’s degree in philosophy from San Diego State University where I concentrated on the history of philosophy, particularly on rationality and the philosophy of science. I have taught philosophy and mathematics at the Robinson Center for Young Scholars at the University of Washington, Seattle and publish in academic journals, books, and online.

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The Future of Non-Ownership Is Now

Between the time I graduated high school in 1994 and completed graduate school in 2005, the concept of ownership drastically transformed into something else. Now in 2012, I not only cling to fond stories of obsolete technologies from my youth, but also a seemingly ancient sense of what it means to truly own something. It reminds me of the first lines in the film version of The Fellowship of The Ring:

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.

When my generation has aged and expired, it seems the concept of ownership will come to pass. No one will recall a time when an individual sought out real-world products, purchased them and physically took those products home to display them on shelves, desks and other storage centers. Media cabinets full of books, music albums and movies have already been replaced by such things and services as Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Netflix and Hulu.

“For it shows things that were, and things that are, things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell. Do you wish to look?”

Over three years ago, the current Editor-in-Chief of The Scholarly Kitchen wrote about the Kindle and the freedom of not owning books:

Consider how many encyclopedias you’ve purchased in the past 20 years. Will you ever buy one again? Of course not. Wikipedia and Google have combined to make ownership of an encyclopedia irrelevant. The same thing is happening to atlases (Google Maps and GPS), and will soon start happening to cookbooks (Epicurious, anyone?) . . .

Ownership isn’t a panacea, especially in an age of information abundance. Will I be concerned if the Kindle dies and books I’ve read on it become inaccessible on that platform? Not really. If I want to read them again, there will be plenty of alternative ways in the future. And my bookshelves long ago stopped being my collection of known facts and resources . . .

Two of my favorite old Sherlock Holmes collections are on my Kindle — for free. A copy of “Moby Dick” typeset especially for the Kindle also held sway for a while. From classics to current bestsellers, I can wirelessly get books for free and for less.

And I don’t have to own them.

It is a common theme offered in support of the new concept of ownership – whether it be books, albums, movies or even video games. People are perfectly agreeable to not owning a product and are willing to enjoy the product for free or for less cost at their convenience. And how the new process of non-ownership will play out with tabletop roleplaying games is both unknown . . . and completely predictable.

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