Roll For Initiative

In March of this year, 2023, a big-budget D&D movie is being released starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, and Hugh Grant. The trailers indicate lots of action and Owlbears or at least one of those. It was also recently announced that a live-action D&D TV show would be on Paramont+. I should be excited. Instead, I’m conflicted. Here’s why.

As many of my readers will know, there is a kerfuffle in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Not from a fantastical monster, but something far more insidious. Corporate greed.

For those who are not in the know, the issue is the Open Game Licence or as I’ll refer to it now, the OGL. It allowed third-party content creators to produce new content. This ranged from books of new monsters, prewritten adventures, podcasts, YouTube shows, and other game-related products.

Under the OGL, creators could do this with confidence that they were in no way violating any copyrights. It was agreed that this was a very good thing. It might be argued that it was free advertising for the D&D brand.

D&D has always been the king of the hill in the tabletop RPG world. Even if you didn’t play, you knew the name. In recent years, it’s become even more popular, given its inclusion in Netflix’s Stranger Things. There is also a rise of popular streaming shows like Critical Roll, which kickstarted an animated version of it that was shown on Amazon Prime’s streaming service. One might think that would please Wizards of the Coast (WOTC).

One would be wrong.

A version of a new OGL was leaked. It could be best described as draconian. Here are some highlights. If you signed it, WOTC could take what you created and not pay you a thing. Any crowd-funded projects had to be done through Kickstarter, of which you had to give WOTC a cut of the funds raised. Any third-party content creators that made over $750,000, owe 25% of those earnings to them. Lower profits had lower percentages but still enough to put some of them out of business.

While not everyone who creates material for D&D makes their living from that, there are enough that do. Including companies like Pazio, Kobold Press, and Green Ronin, as well as streamers like Ginny Di, Critical Roll, and many others.

What was the reaction of the community? Anger and outrage. Not a surprise. According to some sources, WOTC felt that this was just some loud voices, it would blow over, and they’d win in the end.

However, something happened. People were not having it. Other game companies double downed on their own OGLs. Monte Cook Games (MCG) issued their own OGL last year and made a point of letting their fans know that it still was in effect. Monte Cook himself was there when the WOTC OGL was written, being a former employee. MCG is a small company with about a dozen people on staff, all of them gamers, so that’s what happens when decisions are made by those who are part of a community and not just looking to profit from one.

Pazio, publishers of the Pathfinder game, the largest competitor of WOTC, announced that they are creating their own OGL, called the Open RPG Creative License or ORC. Genius! So good I wished I had thought of it. Other game companies are following suit with their own new game systems or shifting away from D&D and creating system-agnostic products.

YouTube is exploding with commentary about all this, and all of it is not complimentary to WOTC. In fact, lots of people are canceling their subscriptions to D&D Beyond, the online service for D&D, providing a tangible effect for upper management at WOTC.

After all that WOTC put out another OGL, which was supposed to address the concerns of the community. It did not. It was a mishmash of double talk that did not change any of the plans they had to take advantage of smaller creators and wring every last cent from the marketplace.

Does this mean I hate D&D? No. Absolutely not. D&D was the first game I played as it was for many, many in the hobby. Whatever edition you love, it was created by people who love it as much as you do. Maybe even more. Remember, this was started by upper management whose only motivation is greed. They are not the ones who made what you love, they just see an opportunity for more money.

If you think that the game designers are getting a bigger slice of the pie, I can assure you they are not. Direct all your ire to those who look to exploit both them and you.

So, should you stop playing D&D? This is certainly an opportunity to try a new game, perhaps one you’ve been trying to get your table to give a shot. If not now, then when? There are many, many very cool games out there that don’t have built-in brand recognition. Give one a try. Or two, or three.

However, you don’t have to stop playing D&D. Just stop spending on WOTC products. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of excellent 3rd party resources for D&D. Support them. Let WOTC and Hasbro, their parent company know that we will not stand for this. Protest with where you spend your cash. It is literally the only thing they care about. Personally, I hope they work things out sooner rather than later because I really want to see the D&D movie guilt-free.

As to what will happen next, I can’t say. I know some of the larger game companies are willing to go to court. I’m not a lawyer and can’t speak to the legality of this new OGL, but there are plenty out there who are and have questioned its legal legitimacy. This is way above my pay grade so I’ll let them hash it out. I have no idea how long this will take, so strap on your metaphorical sword, prepare your figurative spells, and roll for initiative. We’re in combat now.

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