Dungeons & Dragons burned all goodwill

Image: Wizards of the Coast

Image: Wizards of the Coast

As Tabletop RPG Fans Debate What to Do About Wizards of the Coast new draft of Open gaming license to Dungeons & Dragonsthe lack of goodwill might be the thing that sparks the most resentment among fans of J&D and the business moving forward.

What happened with Wizards of the Coast?

Wizards of the Coast had a a difficult few weeks. After io9 reported a leaked draft of the proposed update to the Open gaming license (OGL) – the default licensing agreement that governs all third-party publishers creating content for the fifth edition – fans immediately took to social media to make their views heard. The new OGL 1.1 was an incredibly restrictive and predatory license, and no one was happy with it. It turns out that after giving a huge creative space almost unlimited freedom of expression for two decades, any attempt to suppress it will be met with hostility. Lawyers, both professional and of the armchair variety, have separated the leaked OGL 1.1 and the original OGL 1.0a, trying to determine how these changes Wizards of the Coast could legally get away with. Interpretations varied.

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Then there was a silence. Over the course of eight days, confusion and upset turned to anger and frustration. There’s no greater unifying power than a common enemy, and Wizards of the Coast has allowed fans and creators’ worst fears to go unanswered by remaining silent. Without assurance or transparency, the silence became increasingly overwhelming, as many fans and creators who attempted a “wait and see” approach to the updated OGL became convinced that the lack of communication was as good as to be caught in the act.

When Wizards of the Coast finally released a statement on January 13, it was too little too late. Then, when the next announcement came on January 18, this time directly from Kyle Brink, the executive producer of Dungeons & Dragons—the last bit of goodwill Wizards of the Coast could have had from its fans had been burned through.

The trust is gone

And now Wizards of the Coast has an even bigger problem. Although it’s clearly been back to the drawing board several times – first with OGL 1.1, then the abandoned OGL 2.0 FAQ, then the new OGL 1.2 draft (this one open for a feedback cycle known as game test name) and the following transparent communication – there are almost no fans left willing to engage in good faith with the company. Although Brink is more genuine in his statements and has apologized directly for the company’s actions, stating that he hopes to work with the larger TTRPG space, the fact is that very few people are willing to do so.

This is partly due to WotC’s behavior over the past six to eight months. From the resumption of D&D Beyond including the Hadozee (and their subsequent retraction), to the money grab that was the release of Magic: The Gathering anniversary packs, WotC burned through the goodwill as he needed it to stay warm through the winter. Additionally, the fact that OGL 1.1 existed, and was even considered, is a testament to the kind of mindset that might still exist at Wizards of the Coast.

What happens to Dungeons & Dragons now?

Even the most benign offers from Wizards of the Coast are now treated with suspicion and negativity. Many sections of the TTRPG space, who have seen aggressive and direct tactics work over the past two weeks, are unwilling to admit that Wizards of the Coast heard them and are trying to find common ground. The “all or nothing” approach that the TTRPG talk goes into is detrimental, not only to Wizards of the Coast, but to RPG fans in general.

That is, unfortunately, just the way things work. Wizards of the Coast have been bullied and offer concessions. Wizards have ulterior motives, of course, and their adjustments don’t mean anyone should trust WotC. But there has to be a point where the TTRPG space has to agree that this incredibly awkward backtracking, scrambling, and massive capitulation wasn’t the plan. On both scenarios – either a giant corporation miscalculated the reaction to a new legal document, or, from the conspiracy theory angle, Wizards of the Coast wanted it all to happen in order to “pass something” to his fans – the former is much more likely. This is a community that literally coined the term “rules advocate”. WotC just didn’t realize how literally this would be taken.

So what happens now is that after the village comes together to defeat the dragon terrorizing their community, the power vacuum splits into factions. Some people are willing to admit that the latest OGL 1.2 and the agreement to designate part of the rules for free use under the Creative Commons license is a good start for what could be a good faith conversation with a giant corporation. Some people think that any attempt to deauthorize OGL 1.0a means that Wizards isn’t really interested in the change. Many think that people are being ripped off because this latest OGL 1.2 just looks better, but is still as bad as OGL 1.1 or even worse.

The answer to who is right about what essentially amounts to legal speculation. Sorcerers will say what they want. It’s up to the fans to decide what they will fight for. Also, “which of these fan groups is right” isn’t the question the TTRPG space needs to ask. The question every TTRPG fan needs to ask is: how willing are you, as a player, creator, company, to play by someone else’s rules? And what are you willing to give up to play alongside Wizards of the Coast?

Dungeons & Dragons is not the only game available and has never been

The thing is, Wizards of the Coast will be attempting to revoke OGL 1.0a authorization. He said it explicitly, incredibly clearly, and I’m of the opinion that no amount of backlash, feedback or threat of legal action will deter him from doing so. That’s not to say people shouldn’t tell the company not to. Every fan and creator should watch OGL 1.2 and try to understand how much they’re willing to put up with and what they’re willing to fight for. If the answer is “none of that,” then you need to find a way out of the garden, and fast. The walls are rising. While J&D is a massive part of the TTRPG industry, it’s far from the only sandbox for fans and creators to play in.

Parting with Wizards of the Coast is extreme and frustrating, especially since it’s a property that people also have visceral emotional attachments to, but hopefully people can redirect the love that comes from the games back to the gameplay itself, not to the product. Moreover, for third-party creatorsWotC said he’ll keep his claws off of products made under 1.0 (on the front page of the new OGL 1.2, in the paragraph directly below the creator badges) but… who believes him?

There are dozens of companies trying to pave the way for a complete break with Wizards. The new ORC license, third-party creator system announcements, even the dozens, if not hundreds, of indie systems shared on Creative Commons licenses, all of these tools will allow any RPG fan or creator to opt out of supporting Wizards of the Coast. if they find the final edition of OGL 1.2 truly objectionable. You can still play Fifth Edition without ever supporting Wizards of the Coast again. No one will try to stop you.

I sincerely hope that space can come together to keep fighting for the sake of those who rely on the inevitable OGL 1.2, while maintaining space for the very many who don’t want to risk lie down with Wizards of the Coast again. In the weeks and months to come, I believe the biggest divisions within the TTRPG ecosystem will not come from how much power space will wrest from Wizards of the Coast, but rather will lie in how space work will work to diversify the scene and remove individual identities from a single corporate product – and whether or not this Wildfire of Just Wrath will allow a larger multi-system TTRPG environment to grow from the ashes of the scorched earth of Wizards of the Coast.

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