Open for who?

The week has brought several bits of good news.

  • WotC has said that content released under the original OGL will not be impacted. Let’s hope this is true. The new OGL will likely still be destructive to any future releases of D&D. But (hopefully) the current 5e content and Pathfinder 1e content is safe.
  • Project Black Flag is being produced by Kobold Press ensuring that a new RPG system, committed to the ideals of Open Gaming will exist.
  • Paizo and its allies are working together to make a new Open RPG Creative License or ORC. Paizo has also said that Pathfinder 2e/Starfinder do not use OGL content and as such do not need any permission from Wizards to continue to operate. Their open letter rallying the troops was glorious.

Nonetheless I am very concerned about the future of the tabletop community, both in ways that are being discussed and in ways that, at least as I have encountered so far, are not. Particularly around one of WotC’s excuses.

WotC already has recourse

One of the excuses Wizards is making for changing the OGL is an allegedly high-minded attempt to stop bigots.

Even under the current licensing paradigms in effect WotC and Paizo can retaliate at creaters that produce bigoted content. High high level, having a license to use game mechanics does not imply a license to make content that can retroactively hurt the good name of people who released those mechanics.

So first thing – if Wizards says that they need to OGL to stop bigots, that’s bullshit. They have legal recourses to do that already. And on their proprietary marketplaces that have full right of editorial control. As they should. It’s their marketplace. And if they restart the “D20 System” Logo they can put as many riders on that as they want and even get even more editorial control for those companies who want to opt in. Pathfinder currently has a community program that uses a similar paradigm.

So no, WotC is not the good person here. Their alleged love for minorities is not why they are doing this.

But the fact that this argument is compelling to people, coupled with the fact that I am now seeing licenses with various degrees of ideological strings attached causes me to worry.

Divisions in the Community – “Race” as a Case Study

The world right now is very divided. And that means even our definitions of hate are not universal. If I might be allowed a slight diversion for an example:

Wizards evidently thinks that every product they have produced thus far is racist (or at least “problematic”) for using the term Race to refer to Elves / Goblins and the like. I for one support a move to Ancestry, Heritage, Demihumans (this after all puts all human humans in one equal category), Peoples, Lineage or the like.

After some thought, I think “Species” may be the one word in the English language that is somehow more “bioessentialist” and therefore more racist than the terminology currently being used.

If someone referred to my ethnicity as a “species” I’d be pretty offended. I can’t see Humans meeting new sentient creatures and asking “hey what’s your species.” That may work in a Sci-Fi context, but in a fantasy context it fundamentally misrepresents things.

There is a difference between the Ghose of Christmas Present asking Scrooge “Are they not of the HUMAN RACE?” in response to Scrooge’s bigotry and asking “Are they not of the human species?” like a biology professor.

Species is a brute biological fact. Race is about culture, identity, lineage, family. Species is Sci-Fi, genetic, unchanging (without millions of years passing). Ancestry, lineage, peoples or heck even race is more spiritual, communal. More proper to the ideas we want to explore in fantasy.

You may think I am wrong about this. You may even be right. But if you release “Open Game Content” on the requirement that I refer to Elf game mechanics as a “Species” and not say “Ancestry” or a “People” or the like, frankly that is deal breaking for me.

Open for who?

Which begs the question – do we as a RPG community believe in a world where the best ideas will win out and thus are willing to open our game content to the extent the current OGL and Creative Commons licenses do (which, reminder, still allows for recourses against bigots) or do we want the future of open gaming to include long paragraphs as to what our current social/political/sexual/gender/economical/racial/ideological worldview is and to siphon our community into red, blue, and who knows what else subsections? I don’t think I trust Hasbro to be a fair moderator.

I’ve even seen an “Anticapitalistic License.” Given that you need to link to the license to use it, it functionally requires you to identify as an “Anticapitalist” to use it. I don’t think this will catch on. I’m not against Capitalism, so I can’t use it.

Even WotC has produced content a reasonable person might disagree with. Which begs the question: If ideology clauses start getting added to Open Game Licenses who is going to be the judge jury and executioner of small RPG companies? Because you can be sure that certain capitalist corporations don’t care about any minority communities until they can use them as a hammer to punish products they think are competing with theirs.

What about My community?

Also when corporations say that want to make a “safe space” for people they generally mean those that they can score political points within the current climate. It is routine in the videogame industry and ttRPG industry, to produced sexualized, violent-ized or hypercritical depictions of the Catholic Church.

The creepy god that builds the drift in Starfinder is Triune. (A play on the Trinity). Trinity itself is the name of a fascist organization that serves as the villain in Tomb Raider. “Lawful Good” religion in 5e content often is “Lawful Jerk” and given a (anti)Catholic vibe. I’ve even had a GM who directly said that a certain Lawful Jerk (Tyr) in 5e was a stand-in for the Catholic Faith. Warhammer 40K’s core rulebook refers to the old Emperor creating a “secular peace” which is contrasted with the current hellscape that is ruled by religion. Religion that always has a semi-Catholic vibe to it.

Honestly if the “Sisters of Battle” faction in 40K was based on literally any other religion in the world besides Catholicism would there not be an outcry? “Nuns with Guns” is fun. “Gurus with Guns” is bigoted. Not sure what the difference is. And before you give me any BS about “punching up” vs “punching down” please research the living conditions Catholics face in many countries in the world.

But I digress.

In short, there is content I find hateful that is in the mainstream of the current tabletop community. And it is published by those who will, depending on how these new licenses are written, be serving as the oh-so-high-minded guardians of content in the future.

The Future

I could insist that the Muckraker System and the Fueled by a Hostile Sun system have a lengthy list of conditions as to how the Catholic Faith will be represented in your game.

But here’s the catch – when I release my games under Creative Commons I don’t require you to sign a “have a positive view of the Catholic Church” clause to use my game mechanics. Why? because I know even the current legal frameworks allow for retaliation against extreme bigotry and even more importantly, I believe in a world where the answer to bad ideas is good ideas, and that those good ideas will win out.

Every ideological clause I add to my game mechanics, even if it seems obvious to me, won’t seem obvious to someone else. Which means every ideological clause I add to my game mechanics is me saying to someone “I don’t want you in my gaming community.”

Going back to the “anticapitalist” license – even if I fit the definition of people who can use it, I have to identify as an antiCapitalist to use it (as linking to a license with that title functionally gives the impression that I am an “AntiCapitalist”).

Depending on how this new generation of “open gaming” licenses are worded, linking to them (a likely requirement of using them) may give the impression that I endorse a certain ideological worldview. For example, No I don’t support the sexual “revolution” and I can’t even give the slightest impression that I do. I am aware that the majority of RPG players in the current climate think this is (to put it mildly) a moral error on my part.

I am a traditional Roman Catholic – there is a lot of modern culture I can’t openly endorse. And while I try to keep my RPGs light-hearted, noncontroversial and fun, I am sure if you comb through them you can find something to attack. Depending on what degree of “oversight” these new licenses give (and who is doing the Overseeing) it may be wise for those of us who haven’t signed all of Woke-orthodoxy to be wary of them.

The Black Flag, Pathfinder, ORC License, and Dungeons & Dragons communities with all this license upheaval are going to make decisions that communicate what level of freedom of ideas they want in their community. And right now, I fully suspect the cultures they try to build will normalize sharing-with-only-those-I-agree-with-only.

I hope I am wrong.

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