The incredible firestorm lit by Wizards of the Coast when they decided to alter the Open Gaming License (the OGL) upon which 20 years of tabletop RPG gaming has been based is still roaring along.
Apparently, according to an anonymous source inside WotC, upper management believes that this whole thing will blow over in a week, that the noise is just from a handful of dissenting voices, and that on the whole the fans of D&D really don’t understand or care about their draconian overreach regarding creators rights where third party content is concerned. Unfortunately for them, none of this appears to be true. The creative community that has been keeping the Dungeons and Dragons brand afloat for the past 20 years has, instead, apparently coaelesced and now speaks with one very loud voice.
What This One Loud Voice Has To Say
There are two subgroups within the outraged fans of D&D: the publishers of third party content, and the players themselves.
The players themselves are following the lead of D&D influencers like Ginny Di, Roll for GM and Nerd Immersion who have been calling for players to cancel their subscriptions to the online service D&D Beyond, as this is apparently the only metric WotC is paying any attention to. The response has been so intense that initially it crashed the D&D Beyond servers. The subscription cancellations were coming in so fast that the servers simply overloaded and jammed up. WotC has since altered the interface so tht you can’t unsubscribe directly; now you have to file a trouble ticket to do that. It’s an attempt to keep the server from just rolling over and dying from the high demand for unsubscription.
The publishers are the other group. Kobold Press has announced its Project Black Flag, a new gaming system that uses no content from Wizards of the Coast, and they invite TTPRG fans to come play in their creative space under an open, subscription free license that guarantees perpetual, irrevocable rights to do so.
The biggest news, though, comes from Paizo, the creators of Pathfinder, a D&D work-alike gaming system that rose to industry dominance starting in 2008 when Wizards of the Coast tried turning their backs on the Open Gaming License with the release of the much maligned D&D 4.0.
The original Pathfinder needed the OGL because they had borrowed a fair bit of content from Dungeons and Dragons 3e to get up and running quickly, but their new gaming system, Pathfinder 2e, does not contain any of these dependencies. It still carries the OGL, not to protect themselves against any accidental inclusion of WotC content, but to protect other third party creators of Pathfinder modules.
Wizards of the Coast was supposed to have had a live Twitch stream on January 12th to serve up a question and answer session. This did not materialize. The firestorm surrounding their announcemnts of the termination fo the original OGL has put them on the back foot. The D&D Beyond feed on Twitter posted a cryptic message three days ago, saying that they would be releasing more information shortly. That hasn’t happened either, leaving a massive information vacuum.
Into the Void
In a surprisingly strong move, Paizo has taken advantage of WotC’s silence to take the spotlight. They have announced that they, along with a coalition of other publishers including The biggest news from that part of the gaming universe, though, is Paizo’s newest announcement. They have effectively declared war on WotC with the news that they are creating a new Open RPG Creators License (the ORC License). A number of publishers have already signed on to collaborate in this new license.
This new license, with nearly all the major third party publishers signing onto it, will pretty much swamp the original OGL 1.0a managed by Wizards of the Coast over the next decade. The result may well be that by far the biggest chunk of the TTRPG industry will have turned their backs on Wizards of the Coast. D&D probably isn’t going anywhere, but WotC’s intent to move everything off onto a virtual tabletop system and create a walled garden where only their own content can live won’t be a smashing success when the rest of the gaming world is a mouseclick away. Walled gardens on the internet never work. Just ask AOL.
Paizo’s move is masterful. The moment was primed, and Wizards of the Coast probably thought, in their profound hubris, that they owned the stage and could play the audience’s tension and wait as long as they liked. From reports, WotC thought this whole thing would blow over in a week.
While the stage was empty, Paizo just jumped up on it and took the mic away from them.
For the last several weeks, as news of Wizards of the Coast’s new version of the Open Game License began circulating among publishers and on social media, gamers across the world have been asking what Paizo plans to do in light of Wizards’ intention to de-authorize the existing OGL 1.0(a). We have been awaiting further information, hoping that Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro would realize that, for more than 20 years, the OGL has been a mutually beneficial license which should not–and cannot–be revoked.
We believe that any interpretation that the OGL 1.0 or 1.0(a) were intended to be revocable or able to be deauthorized is incorrect, and with good reason.
We were there.
Paizo owner Lisa Stevens and Paizo president Jim Butler were leaders on the Dungeons & Dragons team at Wizards at the time. Brian Lewis, co-founder of Azora Law, the intellectual property law firm that Paizo uses, was the attorney at Wizards who came up with the legal framework for the OGL itself. Paizo has also worked very closely on OGL-related issues with Ryan Dancey, the visionary who conceived the OGL in the first place.
Paizo does not believe that the OGL 1.0a can be “deauthorized,” ever. While we are prepared to argue that point in a court of law if need be, we don’t want to have to do that, and we know that many of our fellow publishers are not in a position to do so.
We have no interest whatsoever in Wizards’ new OGL. Instead, we have a plan that we believe will irrevocably and unquestionably keep alive the spirit of the Open Game License.
As Paizo has evolved, the parts of the OGL that we ourselves value have changed. When we needed to quickly bring out Pathfinder First Edition to continue publishing our popular monthly adventures back in 2008, using Wizards’ language was important and expeditious. But in our non-RPG products, including our Pathfinder Tales novels, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, and others, we shifted our focus away from D&D tropes to lean harder into ideas from our own writers. By the time we went to work on Pathfinder Second Edition, Wizards of the Coast’s Open Game Content was significantly less important to us, and so our designers and developers wrote the new edition without using Wizards’ copyrighted expressions of any game mechanics. While we still published it under the OGL, the reason was no longer to allow Paizo to use Wizards’ expressions, but to allow other companies to use our expressions.
We believe, as we always have, that open gaming makes games better, improves profitability for all involved, and enriches the community of gamers who participate in this amazing hobby. And so we invite gamers from around the world to join us as we begin the next great chapter of open gaming with the release of a new open, perpetual, and irrevocable Open RPG Creative License (ORC).
The new Open RPG Creative License will be built system agnostic for independent game publishers under the legal guidance of Azora Law, an intellectual property law firm that represents Paizo and several other game publishers. Paizo will pay for this legal work. We invite game publishers worldwide to join us in support of this system-agnostic license that allows all games to provide their own unique open rules reference documents that open up their individual game systems to the world. To join the effort and provide feedback on the drafts of this license, please sign up by using this form.
In addition to Paizo, Kobold Press, Chaosium, Legendary Games, and a growing list of publishers have already agreed to participate in the Open RPG Creative License, and in the coming days we hope and expect to add substantially to this group.
The ORC will not be owned by Paizo, nor will it be owned by any company who makes money publishing RPGs. Azora Law’s ownership of the process and stewardship should provide a safe harbor against any company being bought, sold, or changing management in the future and attempting to rescind rights or nullify sections of the license. Ultimately, we plan to find a nonprofit with a history of open source values to own this license (such as the Linux Foundation).
Of course, Paizo plans to continue publishing Pathfinder and Starfinder, even as we move away from the Open Gaming License. Since months’ worth of products are still at the printer, you’ll see the familiar OGL 1.0(a) in the back of our products for a while yet. While the Open RPG Creative License is being finalized, we’ll be printing Pathfinder and Starfinder products without any license, and we’ll add the finished license to those products when the new license is complete.
We hope that you will continue to support Paizo and other game publishers in this difficult time for the entire hobby. You can do your part by supporting the many companies that have provided content under the OGL. Support Pathfinder and Starfinder by visiting your local game store, subscribing to Pathfinder and Starfinder, or taking advantage of discount code OpenGaming during checkout for 25% off your purchase of the Core Rulebook, Core Rulebook Pocket Edition, or Pathfinder Beginner Box. Support Kobold Press, Green Ronin, Legendary Games, Roll for Combat, Rogue Genius Games, and other publishers working to preserve a prosperous future for Open Gaming that is both perpetual AND irrevocable.
We’ll be there at your side. You can count on us not to go back on our word.
Where there are lawsuits that may be in progress soon to address WotC attempting to revoke the original OGL 1.0a (most legal experts apparently think they can’t do this), these legal tactics will take years to resolve. The gaming industry would be in limbo during the entire time.
With Paizo’s announcement, the landscape is almost instantly transformed, and Wizards of the Coast, thanks to their incredible short-sighted greed, may have just lost the war.
Apparently, Wizards of the Coast has stared into the Abyss, and blinked. They have issued a new statement, via their web site at D&D Beyond, stating that they are removing the onerous IP theft permission clause from the contract, as well as the removal of any royalty structure.
However, we don’t necessarily believe them, because their published statement contains at least three easily verifiable lies.
The statement appears made up of lies, half-truths, frantic backpedaling and simple gaslighting. It doesn’t help that the new OGL didn’t accompany the press release, so we have no idea what’s in
In one section, WotC claims that ” (1) Our job is to be good stewards of the game, and (2) the OGL exists for the benefit of the fans. Nothing about those principles has wavered for a second.” This is a lie. Leaked documents from WotC indicate that management simply views us, the consumers, as obstacles between them and their money. We’re just holding the wallet. WotC clearly believes that the OGL is there for their benefit, not the fans, or they wouldn’t have tried to slam this through with no debate.
Here is one section from their press release:
That was why our early drafts of the new OGL included the provisions they did. That draft language was provided to content creators and publishers so their feedback could be considered before anything was finalized.
We know this is also lie. The reason we know what was in the finished OGL 1.1 is that third party producers were sent it, with the “draft language” in it, and they were expected to sign it. One does not send “drafts” of contracts to vendors to sign. One only sends legal department approved finished drafts. So, WotC is absolutely lying here.
Here’s another section, toward the end:
Our plan was always to solicit the input of our community before any update to the OGL; the drafts you’ve seen were attempting to do just that. We want to always delight fans and create experiences together that everyone loves. We realize we did not do that this time and we are sorry for that. Our goal was to get exactly the type of feedback on which provisions worked and which did not–which we ultimately got from you. Any change this major could only have been done well if we were willing to take that feedback, no matter how it was provided–so we are.
Thank you for caring enough to let us know what works and what doesn’t, what you need and what scares you. Without knowing that, we can’t do our part to make the new OGL match our principles. Finally, we’d appreciate the chance to make this right. We love D&D’s devoted players and the creators who take them on so many incredible adventures. We won’t let you down.
No. Just no. No it absolutely was not.
This too is a lie, and a whopper. They claim that they were trying to solicit feedback. They weren’t. If they had been, they would have presented it as “here is what we think we need to do, what do you think?” This is not what they did. Instead, they had planned to release the OGL 1.1 without public debate on January 4, and gave publishers just one week to comply. This is not how an open debate works. Wizards of the Coast is trying to gaslight us.
And lastly, note what they’re saying in the excerpt above. They’re trying to say that the OGL 1.0a is stopping them from standing true to their principles. The reverse is true. The OGL is stopping them from doing unprincipled things, and they were doing their best to completely eliminate it by using some twisted legal reasoning to “unauthorize” the OGL 1.0a.
They got called out on it, very loudly, and now they’re having to backpedal after torching 20 years of good will in less than a week..
The changes they make to the OGL for version 2.0 should be viewed with great suspicion. There is nothing preventing them from trying this again in the future. The single best and safest option is to completely walk away from Wizards of the Coast, the Dunegons and Dragons brand, and the now untrustworthy OGL. This is a Charlie Brown’s football moment for them. Nobody with anything to lose is ever going to trust them not to try to swipe the football away at the last moment.
We feel the need to call them out on one more section of their press release:
Second, you’re going to hear people say that they won, and we lost because making your voices heard forced us to change our plans. Those people will only be half right. They won—and so did we.
If by “so did we”, they really mean “we may be able to salvage some scraps of the tabletop role playing game market if we’re really careful not to piss off our own consumer community any more than we already have”, then sure, yes, they’ve won too. But the reality is, they have made an unforced error that will likely dethrone them as kings of the RPG marketplace for at least the next decade.
Fortunately for the gaming community, the Internet does not forget anything, ever. Wizards of the Coast has left a long trail of very muddy footprints that we have all seen. Nobody’s going for the “dog ate my homework” defense, and nobody’s likely to trust Wizards of the Coast to uphold their end of any bargain after this.
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