Today, we've asked three members of the project (BOZ, Drilnoth, and Peregrine Fisher) to answer a few questions about their experiences there:
1. What can you tell us about the origins of the project?
BOZ: In the beginning, there was no D&D WikiProject; believe it or not, we actually had WikiProjects for Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and Greyhawk first. At the time, people working on D&D stuff didn't seem overwhelmingly concerned about any "rules" on Wikipedia, and just kind of went around writing about whatever subjects they found interesting, without worrying about any silly notions such as "notability". Consequently, we had more D&D articles about fictional elements like monsters, characters, gods, and locations than anything else; we also had articles about novels and game books which were more plot summary than anything. And that's how we liked it, I imagine – it's what you'd expect to see on any fan website, and it's the sort of thing many fans want to read about. I know that's what I came here to read, and it's what I came here to write about.
Now I don't know if it was me who started people talking about this, or if I was just one of the ones to jump in on the idea early on, but about three years ago we got to talking about making a WikiProject for D&D in general, sort of as a central meeting place for the people working on the various "setting" WikiProjects. I know I wasn't heavily involved in the actual project at the time, just kind of floating around the edges and doing my own thing. I was able to proudly show off what we were doing to other people, who began coming to Wikipedia to lend a hand. The project felt like such an alive and vibrant place back then, with people pitching in to help all over the place, working freely and together. It was almost like an idealistic hippie commune for D&D. That seemed to work pretty well for about a year.
Then came the deletionists. And they were very mad at us, it seemed, for doing whatever we liked all fancy-free and not really caring about the "rules" (which, to be honest, I knew little or nothing about). Wave after wave they came (really just a few determined individuals, rather than in groups – although they grouped up when they realized there was more than one), slapping templates on every article they saw, nominating articles for deletion, redirecting articles... it basically tore the project apart, because I don't think we realized we were supposed to be organized in any way and following someone else's rules. Some of the deletionists were particularly aggressive and persistent, and wound up being far more hurtful than helpful. This activity greatly upset numerous WikiProject members and those working with us, and many people quit working on D&D articles – or even left Wikipedia altogether. The WikiProject was basically in shambles by early 2008, and felt more or less dead to me. Even I felt like leaving Wikipedia.
Later that same year, after the deletionists had more or less subsided and found other treasure troves of fandom to go after, I was still around, and was about the only one left still regularly working on D&D stuff. When the Wikipedia 0.7 release was being prepared, I saw a selection bot listing of all the articles on the WikiProject. Very few of the articles were of high enough quality that they were even being considered for the release. And, I noticed, so many important D&D articles weren't even on the list. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, Wizards of the Coast and TSR, Inc., Gen Con, Dragonlance and Greyhawk were all conspicuously absent... and where were all the D&D video game articles? Why was our project not taking responsibility for all of these subjects so important to the game?
It was then, about a year ago, that I became determined to reorganize and revitalize the WikiProject, even if I had to do it single-handedly. I began adding the WikiProject banner to every article on which it belonged, adding it to probably hundreds of articles. I knew that the only way to legitimize and rescue our WikiProject was going to be by striving to improve article quality and achieve more GAs and FAs. So, starting with Gary Gygax and then Wizards of the Coast, I began my quest for quality. Drilnoth came around at about that point, and together the two of us turned the WikiProject around for the most part. Peregrine got involved again as well and the three of us really got the machine working again, even if it is mostly just the three of us holding it together with help from a few others. And here we are!
Peregrine Fisher: It's interesting to speculate on what happened to all the editors. By 2007 or so, we had covered DnD to such a fine granularity, that there probably seemed like there wasn't that much to do. And the various attempts to "clean up" the projects articles by people who felt they were to in-universe drove a lot of people to quit. Whatever did it, we went from tens to maybe 100+ regular editors, to probably less than 10. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future.
2. What aspects of the project do you consider to be particularly successful? Has the project developed any unusual innovations, or uniquely adopted any common approaches?
Drilnoth: I think that there have been a few things that have made the project really work. I feel that we've learned that working in collaboration with other project editors produces much better articles than individually-written ones. A lot of our over 20 good articles achieved that status thanks to having multiple users with similar interests but different areas of Wikipedia expertise working together. At this point, the group of "regular" D&D editors consists of myself, BOZ, and Peregrine Fisher, although quite a number of GAs have had one or two other users working on them. We really work together on articles to make them as good as they can be. When choosing what articles to focus on, I like to use the page view stats for the project, with a goal of getting pages higher on the list to GA or FA status before focusing on other articles, which so far has worked to make the project better overall from a reader-standpoint than just focusing on the "easiest to improve" articles would.
I think that of our current articles, one gets the "most successful collaboration" award... Dwellers of the Forbidden City. This article's story really shows the value of an article's potential, not just its current state. It was actually deleted after a discussion before a DRV restored it. A year and a half later, and it's a Good Article. If it had been kept deleted, Wikipedia would have one fewer GA than it does today.
Peregrine Fisher: Our GAs are definitely a high point. Possibly the major reason for them is that we're an active project. We frequently discuss things on our talk page, help each other with article improvement, and congratulate each other on our accomplishments. I feel this helps keep us motivated. I don't have a recipe for how we've achieved this, but it's probably helped a little bit by our demotion of some sub-wikiprojects into task forces, and then keeping the discussion on the main projects talk page. Something we do that's unusual, although it shouldn't be, is that we add a little bit of cited info to a large number of articles. BOZ is particularly good at this. A lot of our best sources are magazines that are 20–30 years old, from the heyday of DnD, and not computer searchable. When we get our hands on these hard to find sources, we do a little summary on the corresponding wikipedia articles and cite it. If we later get serious about improving one of the articles, it's easy to see which sources should looked into further. A little blurb like "This book was reviewed in the September 1979 issue of White Dwarf magazine" can save a lot of research time, even if the actual summarizing of the review is yet to come.
BOZ: Like Drilnoth and Peregrine, I'm proud of the GA and FA articles our little project has racked up this year. They are both hard workers, dedicated to doing what it takes to improve articles on Wikipedia, and this WikiProject in particular. A year ago, this project was almost dead, seeming to exist in a barely active state, and now we have achieved something to be proud of and continue to do so. Getting Dwellers to GA was something that I pushed for, and for the very reasons Drilnoth mentions.
3. Have any major initiatives by the project ended unsuccessfully? What lessons have you learned from them?
Drilnoth: The project actually hasn't had any "major initiatives" that I thought didn't turn out at least OK. Although this is kind of odd for a project of our size, I'd attribute this to our small group of editors: When you have a project like WP:VG or WP:BK, major initiatives are more likely to fail because the group of editors is so unconnected. With the D&D project, there's only the few of us, and we really try to work on things together, which is harder to do with large groups.
Peregrine Fisher: Well, there is no deadline. ;-) But, we've had some trouble with cleanup. We have about 1700 articles tagged as being part of our project. We're currently discussing a cleanup push, with the goal of condensing those down to about 1000 articles. We're still getting rolling on that, but I think we had a cleanup discussion about a year ago that didn't work as well as this one hopefully will. For whatever reason, it's more fun to take a stub to GA than to condense a group of in-universe articles down to one GA. If/when we have major success in this area, it will probably be because we keep trying.
BOZ: Earlier this year, I was pushing to get as many articles as possible to GA or higher, but changes in my personal and professional life began seriously limiting the amount of time I had for Wikipedia activities, so that drive slowed down considerably. I wouldn't say it's ended (got Pool of Radiance to GA very recently) but I wish there were more volunteers to work on these articles the way we have been. This used to be a much more active, vibrant WikiProject; I'll touch more on that in my response to the next question.
4. Your project works in an area which has often been criticized for being too concerned with trivia and plot details. Do you believe such criticism is justified, and how has it affected the project? Have you developed any special methods for dealing with such issues?
Drilnoth: I think that in various discussions I've made my views on trivia, plot, notability, etc., fairly clear... I feel that a number of the current guidelines are too strict, a feeling which I think has to be shared by most people working in an area so closely related to fiction. That having been said, I do understand the need for such guidelines and generally I try to follow them, although maybe just not as tightly as some would like. With the D&D project, one of our long-term goals is to try and merge a lot of articles about fictional elements of the game, like monsters or deities, into list pages. In this way, we hope to preserve useful content while also compromising but not giving everything its own article. I believe that a topic should be allowed its own article if there are enough sources about it, even if they are all primary. For example, in discussion at Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Kalamanthis, I !voted delete because the article's topic isn't even well-covered in primary sources; however, with Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Mimic (Dungeons & Dragons), I !voted keep or merge because it is very well covered in primary and in-universe sources, which I think should count for something. In the end, I think that most everyone in the project agrees that content should be preserved, and merging content is usually the best way to go about preserving that content while also keeping most of the "deletionists" happier than if everything had its own article.
Peregrine Fisher: Well, DnD editors are probably a bit inclusionist. You kinda have to be to want to keep an article around until rare 30 year old magazine sources are found. I think most of our articles were started back in 2005–2007, when editors thought we were organizing the sum of all knowledge, and not just the sum of "notable" knowledge. So, I wouldn't really criticize what people before us did, but it has left us with a bit of a mess. I think our GA/FA production stems quite a bit from the criticism. When you get and article to GA or FA, you feel like its safe from deletion, and you can move on without worrying about it.
BOZ: To an extent, the criticism is not entirely unfounded, in the sense that fans of fiction have a tendency to write for... well, other fans. I know I'm not immune to this impulse. There is an overwhelming amount of cleanup work that needs to be done, and we can only do so much at any given time. But generally, I have to agree with what Drilnoth and Peregrine say above. Plenty of individuals on Wikipedia are rightly concerned with article quality, and can easily point out how many articles on fiction or pop culture are so poorly written. However, there is a very vocal minority of editors who simply don't like Wikipedia having articles on pop culture, and deprecate such coverage by deleting articles, redirecting them, or sending them to GAR or FAR simply because they don't like to see such subjects covered at all in a "serious encyclopedia". There seems to be plenty of evidence to me that our readers like such material, and keep coming back to read about it, so why deprive them? I feel that the notability guideline is a good idea in spirit and is used by many as a tool in good faith to examine the worthiness of a subject, but it is also used by some as a weapon against anything they personally dislike. Fiction is a particularly tricky subject area of pop culture, because anything created in the past few decades is a lot less likely to have received the sort of coverage that something from fifty years ago, or even centuries ago, may receive as a piece of classic literature. I don't doubt that there has been some effort to "stack the deck" in some of our guidelines and policies by those seeking to limit how much pop culture and fiction elements can be covered. The mimic, for example as Drilnoth mentioned, has appeared in dozens of D&D and related books since its introduction some 32 years ago, and has been duplicated countless times in other games, yet some people still feel we should consider it "not notable" and therefore delete it? Something is wrong with the "rules", at that point, I feel.
In the past, our WikiProject has been the target of campaigns by individual editors to severely reduce the material we cover. Some of these efforts have been particularly aggressive, even hurtful, and I feel this is a reason many editors who were once rather active in the WikiProject have either quit working on related articles, or left Wikipedia altogether. We have attempted to work past this in a number of ways, mostly by merging articles about lesser fictional elements into lists, and redoubling our focus to improve articles for which we have found reliable secondary sources. I'm hopeful that, in time, our efforts will attract more people back to the WikiProject and make us generally more viable to the doubters – so far, it seems to be working, if slowly.
5. What experiences have you had with the featured article process? It's a widely held belief that fictional topics are very difficult to bring to featured article status; do you believe this is true, and, if so, how does it affect your project?
Drilnoth: I would say that fictional topics are tough to make into FAs, although certainly not impossible... I'd expect to see Drizzt Do'Urden as an FA sometime in the next couple of years, and a number of such articles can make B or even GA class if someone really takes the time to work on them. Probably the best experience with the FA process, in my opinion, was Planescape: Torment, which ties in to the next question.
Peregrine Fisher: I've been getting into the FA process quite a bit lately. I've recently had two DnD articles promoted: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and Ravenloft (module). I had kinda sworn off doing FAs last year after a failed attempt at getting Jackie Robinson promoted, and focused on GAs exclusively. Then one evening, I got a wild hair and decided to nominate the GA that I had copy edited the most (Expedition). It passed without too much trouble, and now I'm kinda hooked. I must say that those two FAs are about real books, and not fictional characters, places, or things. Getting purely fictional topics to FA is extremely difficult. There may be many sources that mention a fictional character, for instance, but rarely do they go into great detail. They're mostly mentioned in passing when discussing the media they appear in. Drizzt Do'Urden is a good example. He's a character who has starred in a huge number of comics, novels, and other media. You might find two reviews for a single issue of a comic he appears in, without ever actually finding a single large article on the character itself. By our rules, this makes that one comic issue notable, and the character not notable. So, the next few FAs in the pipeline are all books.
BOZ: I have to agree, this is true, due again to the need for finding reliable secondary sources and the difficulty in finding them for many pop culture subjects. While certain elements of pop culture (films, video games) can and often do receive significant attention in the press, other media such as RPGs may receive little or none despite having a considerable following. The lack of sources must be partly due to issues within the publishing industry; if your publication wants to write something about a character such as Drizzt, what sort of challenges do you have to face in order to do so, and how often do publishers simply not bother because of this? I really don't know. For D&D, it seems that some twenty years ago there were a quite a few more independent publications in existence reviewing RPG material, and that sort of coverage appears to have dropped off significantly over time. I know of no current independent print publications that review D&D material, and I don't know of any that have been active in the past decade or so, despite the popularity of the game's third edition. I suspect this is due in part to the boom in the internet, and the difficulty many websites seem to have in being recognized by Wikipedia as reliable sources.
Peregrine Fisher: That's a good point BOZ makes. There isn't a viable model for an independent magazine that covers DnD in the current internet age. The internet is filled with sites that discuss the game, and they're reliable enough for a reader who wants to know if the latest DnD book is any good, but they don't meet our reliable sources guideline. To throw out some wild numbers, there's probably 100 times as much published info out their now, and 10 times less being published in a way that we can consider independent and reliable.
6. What experiences have you had with the WikiProjects whose scopes overlap with yours? Are they useful collaborators, or do you feel that they have little to offer you? Has your project developed particularly close relationships with any other projects?
Drilnoth: For the most part, the D&D project works on its own. Its parent project, role-playing games is essentially inactive, and its grandparent, board and table games has too large a scope to devote much attention to D&D. However, I think that we have formed a good collaboration with some members of the video games project. D&D influenced a huge number of video games, so the two overlap naturally. Planescape: Torment became an FA primarily due to work on both the part of the D&D and VG projects, and we're getting close to having a Neverwinter Nights 2good topic.
Peregrine Fisher: I don't do that much on the video game articles, but the collobaration Drilnoth mentions has been very impressive. Plus, DnD video games make up a large part of the top of our most viewed articles. Of our top 10, we've gotten three to GA, and two to FA, with one video game GA and one video game FA.
BOZ: Drilnoth is right, in that we mostly work on our own, although we have been able to work with the VG WikiProject to good effect. There are several other WikiProjects that overlap in some way with ours, so hopefully we will be able to establish good relationships with them some day.
7. What is your vision for the project? How do you see the project itself, as well as the articles it shepherds, developing over the next year? The next five years?
Drilnoth: I see two major things as goals for the project: Merging the various less-notable topics so that the project has fewer articles to focus on, while still preserving most of the useful content; and writing more GAs and FAs! In another year, I'd like to see the article count reduced to at least 1,500 or so via merging, if not lower to 1,000-ish, although I doubt that the latter is very likely to happen in a year. Having another ten or so GAs would also really enhance the coverage of the game; I'm especially interested in seeing some of the "core" articles like TSR, Inc., Editions of Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeons & Dragons gameplay, and Dungeons & Dragons controversies as GAs to cover more of the "basic" topics beyond the Dungeons & Dragons article itself and the articles on Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and Wizards of the Coast. It would also be nice to have some more high-quality articles on fictional topics.
Peregrine Fisher: Pretty much what Drilnoth says. Try and work from both ends. I think editors work from example more than from the rules, so creating high quality articles through normal improvement and merging should encourage more of the same. I'd like to give a shout out to the IPs we have that do quality work. I'm not sure why, but DnD seems to draw in good editors who don't feel it is necessary to sign up.
BOZ: I'm hoping to see an increase in active membership, so that the improvement of articles doesn't fall on the shoulders of so few people. I've had very little success in coaxing former collaborators back into working with us, and we've actually had more new contributors join us instead. I guess putting the word out and waiting to see what happens is going to have to be the way to go!