OGL and The value of Shared Creativity

If you want to join my game jam in celebration of shared creativity: https://itch.io/jam/open-gaming-jam

My thoughts on (possibly) losing the OGL

As a citizen of the net who is outranged, I would like the void to indulge my moment of outrage.

Ahem.

RAWR!  HASBRO/WOTC YOU ARE A JERK-FACE LOWER THAN GOBLIN SLIME FOR ATTEMPTING TO REVOKE THE OGL AND I AM NOT SUPPORTING YOU UNTIL I AM SURE OGL IS SAFE!

Now admittedly that fine sentiment runs a bit hollow given that I was more into non-D&D games to begin with.  Boycott threats do tend to mean more from loyal fans than ambivalent ones. 

But I think, even in my case, Hasbro/Wizards should be concerned about how my/our image of them has changed. 

Yes I run a lot of Starfinder (an OGL system, a “competitor” to D&D) and Call of Cthulhu (a system with nothing to do with anything Wizards ever made) and a lot of weird systems that don’t even use d20s.  Or dice.  But I also run a wider RPG discord.  And on that server, I have played a in Curse of Strahd, other GMS have run Eberron and Theros (WotC settings).  We, even if the owner of the Discord server is a Paizo fan, have had more D&D campaigns than Paizo campaigns.  Yes I even ran a short Diablo-themed D&D game with 5e. 

Recently we were considering playtesting OneD&D.  Now we are holding off.  The player that initiated the playtesting effort said they plan to buy a Pathfinder book. 

What OGL Gave us

While this may be a business for Hasbro, for us this is a hobby. One we have poured hours of passion into.  Most of us are fine with Hasbro making money.  We are glad they made an upcoming D&D movie possible.  We are glad they took a niche hobby and made it mainstream.  I, in particular, hope the virtual tabletop they (Wizard’s) are making is sufficiently good to either put Roll20 out of business or at least motivate them to fix some of the irritating problems that platform has. 

 For most Americans (and elsewhere) D&D and tabletop RPGs were synonymous for a long time.  That was good for business.  Why were they synonymous?  Because of the OGL license.  People thought, “instead of making my own RPG, I will participate in the wider ecosystem of OGL licensed products.”

The result of this was, even if some dollars went to third parties and not to Wizards, tabletop gaming came to be a synonym for Dungeons and Dragons and vice-versa.  And, even for me, who likes exploring weird systems, I believe it has helped our hobby grow (again, good for business) that we have a common language. 

I can (or could) sit at a wide variety of games and know that Strength, Dex, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma mean the same thing as that other game I play.  That AC is armor class across the board, or even that the Fireball spell or the Bag of Holding or Goblin stats will work in a way I am familiar with. 

That shared language helped create a sense of shared ownership in this hobby.  It helped make the hobby more approachable to new players.  Instead of hundreds of warring systems, there was D&D and its third-party content. 

In other words, the OGL is part of Hasbro’s success story (even though it was made by a company prior to Hasbro).  It is one of the reasons Hasbro had the opportunity to make its current millions.  To attempt to go back on an “irrevocable” license after we the players have put in twenty years of effort into it, is a slap to the face.  A promise broken.

Even if the new OGL doesn’t cause Starfinder to go out of business, if Paizo has to lay people off, if the quality of the game I love diminishes because of this, I am insulted.  I worked on a wider RPG community for three years now that, even if I usually wasn’t the D&D GM, nonetheless created a space where your products were played.  By charging Paizo, I almost feel as though you (Hasbro) are charging me for the value I created for the hobby and by extension for you.  Hasbro, you are saying that instead of a thank you for creating a place where people were exposed to your products, I am to be treated as some kind of threat to your dreams of higher monetization. 

Now, because of this, the image people had of your company has shattered. D&D and tabletop RPGs are no longer synonymous.  Given that a lot of your efforts have been towards making D&D simpler . . . people will realize that strictly speaking we don’t need you.  We can write our own systems. 

Your product, fundamentally, was never the rules themselves. It was D&Ds “D&Dness.”  Even for those of us who liked our weird systems, D&D was still the “leader” of the RPG community.  We loved it for that.  And yes I bought books like “Tasha’s Cauldron” “Monsters of the Multiverse” and the like because I loved collecting RPG books. 

Think now I will go and collect some other publisher’s books. 

What’s weird about this – that investor that said D&D was “under monetized” was right.  There was lots of value you could have created that people would be willing to pay for.  Digital platforms.  Tools for beginners.  Tools for us newbies.  Maybe an MMO to take on World of Warcraft (I know there’s a D&D MMO but it doesn’t hold up yet). 

Heck make the D&D movie into the next Marvel Universe and let the bank roll in.  None of that requires killing the OGL.  Make a subculture around lore like Warhammer does with a video platform or audio book app. 

None of this requires killing OGL. 

Risks of Sharing

Now, I want to mention a few things about licensing one’s products.  Licensing runs the risk that someone will use your ideas to do something you don’t like.  You may think, rightly or wrongly, that the characters in a certain campaign look like a minority culture (to use an example from Hasbro’s recent past *cough* Curse of Strahd *cough*). 

But a world where we share ideas is a world where the best ideas will win out.  The RPG community was and is becoming more and more welcoming.  That process is not helped by corporate shrills punishing small companies for hypocritical reasons.  So don’t think, Wizards, that the hypocritical inclusion language in 1.1 is helping anyone.  We don’t need your protection.  And that protection you so kindly offer us won’t mean anything if we reject you anyway. 

I have licensed some of my ideas (using Creative Commons).  That runs the risk someone may use them in a less-than-ideal way.  But I have faith in shared ideas.  Shared communication.  Shared community.  That shared ownership, that REAL love, will keep us safer than the ideological filth of lawyers. 

Free speech is more than a law, it’s a culture.  It comes with risks.  But they are worth it. 

Where do we go from here?

Where do we go from here?  I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think we will change Hasbro’s mind.  I don’t know enough about contact law (or the current state of the Judiciary) to know how the legal battle here will turn out.   I have a fear that if Wizards can revoke their license, software companies can revoke their open-source software when it suits them.  This could set a horrible president outside the RPG community. 

We need to support shared ideas wherever we can.  That may mean we need to build that culture away from Wizards.  However maybe this is God’s way of saying that we’ve told the same stories of Dungeons and Dragons for a long while now.  Maybe it’s time for use to move beyond D&D to newer adventures. 

Over the next few days (which means the next few weeks because I will get busy and my plans for the next few days will come out a week or two from now).  I will talk about the world of RPGs other than D&D.

The loss of OGL (if the courts screw us over) is a tragedy.  But it’s not a final one.  To quote Stephen King “Go then, there are other worlds than these.”

Protest is great.  RAWR!  Creativity, in the long run, is even better. 

From my (soon to be CC licensed) game Under a Hostile Sun. https://muckraker.itch.io/under-a-hostile-sun

Check out Under a Hostile Sun

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