Hey all, Slick Dungeon here.
As most of you who read this blog probably know, I really enjoy playing Tabletop Role Playing Games. AKA TTRPG’s. Even if you have never heard the term TTRPG in your life, you know what one is. If you’ve ever heard of Dungeons & Dragons, that is the most famous one. That game is owned by a company called Wizards of the Coast or WotC for short. Even if you’ve never heard of WotC you’ve definitely heard of the company that owns WotC. Hasbro owns WotC. So when people talk about Dungeons & Dragons being a major TTRPG, owned by a big company, owned by an even bigger company, that’s what they are talking about. Hasbro is a very famous brand but they have a bit of a problem. Not everything they make is making as much money as they would like.
One brand of theirs doing well though, is Wizards of the Coast. Not only do they release D&D stuff, they’re also the company that owns Magic: The Gathering. And they are on the verge of launching a bunch of what could be really cool stuff. There is a D&D movie coming out soon starring Chris Pine. There is a Virtual Tabletop (or VTT) coming. There are several video games, books, toys, accessories and other various merchandise about to come out. And, they are about to move to the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. Currently they are on the fifth edition of the game. They’re moving to the next version but they are calling it One D&D. As in, we don’t need editions any more we’re just going to say it is D&D. Whether that name and attitude sticks remains to be seen.
With all of this cool stuff on its way it would seem like WotC is in a prime spot to make more money than it ever has. And honestly, as a lover of D&D and TTRPG’s I don’t mind them being successful. We’re talking the chance for them to go Marvel or Star Wars big if they do this right.
But, there has been a major snag, of WotC’s own making in the last month or so.
Usually on this blog, I don’t really delve into current events or news or whatever about TTRPG’s, I just like to talk about the stuff I like. But I honestly can’t keep silent anymore. Everything in this blog post is nothing more than my opinion, none of it is in any way legal insight or advice, and a lot of this ground has been covered by people much more knowledgeable than myself. However, since there are people who read my blog who like TTRPG’s, I kind of feel like I owe it to them to say something even if I have what anyone would consider a small audience. Because, here is the thing, at this moment in time I think Hasbro and WotC are forgetting absolutely everything that makes their own game great in the first place. Yet, I don’t think it is too late for this all to be corrected. If you’re not a TTRPG nerd, this article may not be for you. I promise to get back to movie and book reviews and all the other stuff I do on this blog soon. But if you do play TTRPG’s I hope you’ll read this because I think it’s important that we all as enthusiasts of this hobby realize we are what make TTRPG’s work, whether you make content, play the games at your own home, or just read the books and do nothing else with them.
If you follow the world of TTRPG’s even a little bit you’ve probably heard about the huge dust up between WotC and independent creators over something called the Open Gaming License, or OGL for short. This license, along with the set of rules you can use to play D&D called the System Reference Document or SRD for short is what allows people to make things related to D&D for others to use and then buy those products. For example, if there was a creator like Matt Colville who decided to make a subclass for Rogues, and wanted to sell it for $0.99 he is allowed to do that as long as he acknowledges the OGL.
WotC and Hasbro, or more accurately, their lawyers want to change that. They want to revoke the OGL and put in a new version of the OGL. Whether or not they have the right to do that, and whether or not someone would get sued for making D&D third party content under the new license is really up in the air at this point in time. You see, WotC, sent a bunch of contracts with a new OGL, that would frankly, take away a ton of revenue from almost anyone who makes third party content for D&D. These contracts leaked to the press and there was strong outrage over the terms in there from the TTRPG creator community. I won’t get too specific here but basically it boiled down to this. WotC would almost certainly be able to tell anyone they want that they can no longer use the old OGL, and might have lawyers come after those creators. In addition, if you used the new OGL, you’d have to pay fairly high royalties to WotC. This meant that publishers such as Paizo or Kobold press, who make products that use the OGL, might very well be sued by Hasbro. Worse than that, WotC was saying they could have the rights to any new characters or ideas made using the new OGL, so, say Grogg from Critical Role, might now be a D&D property even though the folks at Critical Role clearly came up with him.
To make a long story short, community creators didn’t like this and there has been a lot of pressure put on WotC to do something about it, or at least acknowledge the problems people were complaining about. In fact, WotC waited so long, Paizo may end up looking like the biggest heroes in the TTRPG space for decades to come. (More about that later in the post.) The pressure seemed like it might have started working as people began to unsubscribe from D&D Beyond, where you can buy lots of virtual stuff for D&D fifth edition. Hasbro has assuredly at this point realized they are losing money. Whether or not they care about that is still unclear in my opinion. WotC released a statement over the whole debacle and there was something in there that just angered and saddened me so much that I had to write this post.
On the one hand, they have delayed the release of the new OGL, probably because they now need to scramble with the wording to make it more palatable for creators, but still basically suck as much money from people as WotC can. It makes sense for them to delay given the context of what is going on. But in their statement, giving what amounted to a non-apology apology, they had a paragraph in there that just blew my mind as to how adversarial and negative the Executives at WotC and Hasbro must think towards their audience.
The quote is below and I’ll talk about why it made me so upset after.
Like I said, delaying the release of the new OGL makes perfect sense. I don’t have any issue with that. But the statement in full did not completely address some of the biggest problems with the proposed new OGL. If Wizards of the Coast was smart and could see the writing on the wall, they would have given up and said they would just stick with the old OGL.
There is another alternative WotC could have chosen but we’ll get to that later as well. What they instead chose to do, was to talk about winners and losers. I want you to keep something very basic about D&D in mind as you read the rest of this post because this just shows how little WotC and Hasbro seem to get it right now. There are no winners or losers in D&D. Never have been and never will be. We’re not playing Monopoly here. This is a cooperative game where people are supposed to work together to slay the dragon. WotC and Hasbro don’t seem to realize that at this point, they are the dragon. In my opinion, this whole “people say that they won and we lost because making your voices heard forced us to change our plans.” section absolutely is trying to devalue any opinion long time lovers of this game have. It’s not so much how they phrased that but that they think there should be any us against them at all in the TTRPG community. When D&D does well, other TTRPG’s also do well and vice versa.
In essence Hasbro expects that they can lose a bunch of old timers who have been playing this game since forever and replace them with all the new fans they will get once a shiny new movie and edition come out. They may even be right about that. It’s possible D&D will see more devoted and dedicated players than ever before and they won’t need any of us who have always played this game. But I have my doubts that will work. For one thing, I’ve never heard of a show or movie convincing anyone to actually sit down at a table and play a D&D campaign for hours on end. As successful as Stranger Things is, I don’t think there are very many people who started playing solely because they watched that show.
You know who does get people to start playing D&D? People who already play D&D. Older sisters, younger brothers, friends, cousins, teachers, mothers, fathers, sons, aunts, uncles and anyone else who just really loves the game and wants to share it with others. As much as I love this game, it’s going to be hard to tell someone I want them to play this game, but be warned, the company that makes this game does not care at all about the people who play it. And right now, that’s what I would have to say in order to be honest.
Now, maybe Hasbro actually doesn’t care about the TTRPG known as D&D. Maybe they only care about the movie, video games and VTT that are coming because those are potentially bigger money makers. But a big chunk of their audience is upset and disappointed in the direction this stuff is going. I don’t, nor should anyone, blame people who just so happen to work at WotC or Hasbro and have no influence over this decision. The people I do blame are the ones who don’t seem to understand this game at all, don’t care about the creators, players, older sisters, younger brothers, friends, cousins, teachers, mothers, fathers, sons, aunts, uncles and anyone else who just really loves the game and wants to share it with others. Instead they see us as roadblocks to money. It’s as boldfaced an incident of corporate greed as I have ever seen. And I was willing to hand my $50 over for almost any book WotC printed before. I’m not so willing now.
I had some content coming up this year that was going to feature some 5th edition D&D. I was strongly considering doing a solo D&D 5E play through and writing about it on this blog. I was also considering writing an adventure for D&D this year and releasing it on The Dungeon Master’s Guild website. I still may do so, but it is going to 100% depend on what WotC does next. I would be considered the tiniest of tiny creators but even someone as small as me is having second thoughts. I would encourage anyone reading this to think twice about making anything using the OGL at this point in time because we just don’t know what will happen and it would be a major shame for all that energy and effort to simply put you in a courtroom.
I know I sound negative and like doom and gloom is coming. But there are spots of hope. For one, WotC did delay the release of what would have been an utterly horrendous OGL and that is for one reason and one reason alone. The TTRPG community is a tight-knit, friendly community, who knows how to read and understand rules, and is more than willing to organize. For goodness sakes, most of us devour 500 page books regularly and organize 5-7 people weekly guiding our players through rules that can be very difficult to understand. That’s just to say, we can tell when a company thinks we are too dumb to understand something. That’s exactly what WotC is saying with their statement. It’s been inspiring to see the TTRPG come together and activate so quickly. Now, there are some who seem to blame people who are just doing their jobs at companies like WotC and Hasbro and that should not be the norm here. We’re better than that. Fat cat executives who only care about the price of stock and the lawyers who are more than happy to squeeze every penny out of every person playing D&D are the ones to blame, no question.
The second inspiring thing here comes from one of D&D’s largest competitors (although I don’t actually see them as competition because as I said, TTRPGs all do well when any one of them does well), Paizo. Paizo knew it would be inevitable that at some point, if the new OGL was released, they would end up in court over it. They rolled with advantage on their initiative and announced they would get behind something called the Open Resource Creative License nicknamed the ORC license. Essentially the statement from Paizo did absolutely everything right that WotC did wrong. They got ahead of an issue, even one that wasn’t of their own making, they respected the TTRPG community while doing it, and they offered to bring their lawyers to slay the dragon of Hasbro if needed. Contrast the statement below with the one above and see if you can tell which company is being friendly to their audience.
Now, we need a little bit of caution here. We haven’t seen the final draft of the ORC license but man, I already want to go around saying I have an ORC license. Something else very encouraging here is that Paizo doesn’t actually intend to be the caretaker of this license. They want to give it to a non-profit organization who has expertise in dealing with open source material. If you know anything about software think about Linnux as opposed to say Microsoft. The point is for everyone to use it and everyone to have the same basic building blocks to make stuff with. It will be important that there be some set of rules to go with the ORC license. I’m talking game rules, not law rules, although those are also important. It’s one thing for a company like Paizo to say something like this but it’s something entirely different to hear that a ton of other companies have also said they would adopt the ORC, including Chaosium Inc, Kobold Press and a bunch of other publishers well known in the TTRPG industry. This move is so bold, TTRPG gaming may have just been changed forever. And when people look back at what happened in January 2023, they are going to say Paizo innovated, thought well of their fans, and landed boat loads of good will. It’s possible Paizo’s idea won’t work but they are seriously trying to make it work and it helps that several of the people from Paizo who are working on the ORC also worked on the original OGL. In other words, Paizo had major, major credentials here.
I will admit this to everyone reading. I have never played Pathfinder which Paizo produces. I have played a few sessions of Starfinder and enjoyed it but I’m by no means as well versed with Paizo products as I am with WotC products. But I’m seriously considering the switch. (Also I love Chaosium and they were never in danger from the OGL issues but they’ve also had a good response to the whole debacle so I’ll still be playing their games.)
If you think the OGL issues has no effect on you and you play 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons at all, you’re wrong. There is some rule or mechanic, or situation you have used that came about because of the OGL. And even if you’ve never played any D&D this OGL could still affect you. The video game Knights of the Old Republic uses the same d20 system that D&D does. I don’t think Disney is going to line up to hand over money to WotC any time soon though and there’s no way, any Jedi get to become part of D&D because of this proposed move.
If WotC wanted to maintain good will and bring people back from the brink of walking away with money in their pockets, their smartest move would be to sign on to the ORC. There’s almost zero chance of that happening but if they did, I think a lot of people would come right back to sing the praises of WotC.
At this point, unless we’re major creators, all we can do is wait and see what happens. I will say this though. If you feel strongly about the OGL needing to stay as is, or if you think WotC should sign on to the ORC, the best way to demonstrate that is with money. Or, rather, the withholding of it. If you were considering purchasing a book printed by WotC, wait a little while and see how this resolves. If you have a D&D Beyond subscription, consider cancelling it. Don’t shout at WotC employees online or in real life. Even if they are executives, they won’t hear you, but they will miss your money. And if you just can’t bring yourself to cancel that D&D subscription, I totally get it. D&D is fun! It’s supposed to be fun and giving it up is hard. But, maybe, take that money you were about to spend at WotC and go buy something new from an independent creator. Buy things on Drivethrurpg. Get something from Paizo, or Kobold Press, or Chaosium or Modiphius or any other TTRPG publisher you’ve heard of and always wanted to try. Or heck, try one you’ve never heard of and find out if it’s fun. There’s a good chance it is.
If you decide to cancel your subscription to D&D Beyond or buy a book from another publisher, use the hashtag #OpenDnD to let WotC know you can’t simply be lied to. Let them know you’re not okay with that. As always, be polite about it and thoughtful in your reactions to any news you hear. Spread the word about games you love playing that are not D&D. Or, in the case of some of these publishers who are publishing 5th edition content, such as Kobold Press, buy directly from them and use their books in your games. While D&D is the biggest name out there, they are by far not the only name out there.
Some games and supplements I strongly recommend you check out, not just because of gameplay at this point, but because of the ethical response from these companies, are as follows. Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium Inc. Pathfinder and Starfinder by Paizo, Midgard by Kobold Press, Sword Chronicle by Green Ronin, Aegis of Empires by Legendary Games, Jewel of the Indigo Isles by Roll for Combat, Super Powered Legends Sourcebook for Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition by Rogue Genius Games and anything printed by MCDM.
To be 1000% clear here, none of the links above are affiliate links, meaning I get absolutely no percentage of anything bought through those. I just think we should all take the time to take a stand against a company who will discard its own best audience. Purchasing something at the links above may help to do that.
I really hope in the end WotC saves face here, stops thinking of people like me and those of you reading this as the enemy, realizes we all can love this game together and if a smaller publisher is profiting because they are producing content for the game you have ownership of under an open license allowing them to do so, everyone benefits. The person selling the content benefits, the person buying benefits, and WotC benefits by spreading the word of this amazing game that has enamored so many of us.
I know this is a long post but I want you to just hang in there with me for a little longer. Before I go, I have to mention some of the people on YouTube who have done much more insightful, thoughtful and compelling pieces on this subject than I ever could. If you haven’t seen anything from these channels, take a look at their videos. I’ve curated what I think are the best of them so far.
With all of that said, I’m going to sign off here. I don’t know if I’ll ever do another post like this. It was kind of heartbreaking and frustrating to write. I never thought I would ever be in any position where I might want to step away from D&D at all but here I am. I hope I never have to completely walk away but the next move is WotC’s to make. Do they want to lose people like me, move on with their megacorporation plans, and only let in new players who are just here because of what they saw on television or in a movie theater? I am all for new players but I can’t recommend anyone become one at this moment. Hasbro may not care about that. I’m going to keep playing TTRPG’s no matter what.
If things all work out, maybe my next post will be about how awesome it to use horror elements in D&D. If not, well, Call of Cthulhu is pretty damn scary if you want it to be also.
I hope you’ve gotten something out of this post. If you get nothing else out of it, just take this with you. People who play this game, even the smallest of us, deserve to be heard. We deserve to be respected and we can tell when a corporation thinks of us as walking wallets. It’s not okay to treat people that way and not okay to have an us vs. them mentality when it comes to your own customers. It’s just not. WotC needs to hear this. And while there’s pretty much zero chance they will read this, maybe some of you will. If you do, feel free to share this post, reply back to me, tell me what you think in the comments (politely) and keep playing TTRPG’s. I think no matter what happens this community of people is smart enough and kind enough to keep this hobby thriving with or without big companies trying to stop us. I hope to be talking about something more positive the next time I write but until then, do what you can to help others in this community.
Long windedly yours,