To D&D or Not To D&D?

So, here’s the decision many derivative IP creators are faced with now- keep producing 5E compatible game content OR switch to another game entirely for upcoming releases. Personally, I’m okay running 5E D&D and compatible games, but when I finally get a product ready to roll out? It’s not going to be 5E. Plenty of other game companies have their own OGL and SRD for their core systems.


Aye, there’s the rub. Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of the OGL battles, or break for other game systems. That is the question today.

It’s been an eventful week in TableTop RolePlaying Game news. We went from talking about Wizards of the Coast’s claims of being “under monetized” to the raging debate that continues over the Open Game License. The TTRPG industry seems paltry compared to what is happening in the real world, but I don’t have the time or inclination to cover all of that here.

What I am here to cover is TTRPG issues that affect the hobby and its participants. Personally, I’ve had my own beef with the #OSR crowd and their respective gatekeepers. If the Old School Renaissance/Revival/ Renewal/ Regeneration/Re-whatever-this-week is the only alternative to regular current edition Dungeons & Dragons? I’d rather sit quietly in the corner and roll dice while mumbling to myself. Yes, there are other fantasy TTRPGs, but we’ll get into that further in.

I think D&D 5E RPG designers are headed for a crossroads.

The Open Game License and System Resource Document in the D&D 3.0/3.5 days and again in 5E opened the door to a massive flood of games powered by the D&D rules. With the announcement of the OGL 1.1 this may be coming to a screeching halt. The spin doctors at WotC think they’ve soothed everyone’s jangled nerves at the prospect of revoking the OGL. They seem to think their announcement here fixed things in the community. I think they’re delusional.

There are a couple of key points WotC is carefully avoiding in their rhetoric. They seem to be avoiding commenting on DMsGuild.com in all their various proclamations. They don’t seem to be saying much about their plans for One D&D nearly as much as 5E. But, according to earlier releases, One D&D is supposed to be 100% retro compatible. I really get the impression the spin doctors are avoiding further panic over what is looking more and more like an exclusive VTT platform and WotC-only web sales.

Yeah, you’ll still be able to make all the 5E content you want for commercial sales. WotC assumes we all believe 5E and One D&D are going to be practically the same even though so far they really haven’t been. They’re trying to smooth over ruffled feathers in 2022 before the uproar in 2024 hits. One D&D is already looking like a whole new world from where we are now.

So, here’s the decision many derivative IP creators are faced with now- keep producing 5E compatible game content OR switch to another game entirely for upcoming releases. Personally, I’m okay running 5E D&D and compatible games, but when I finally get a product ready to roll out? It’s not going to be 5E. Plenty of other game companies have their own OGL and SRD for their core systems.

The negative side of where this could end for the D&D OGL.

Not to be a total Debbie Downer, but we’ve seen WotC pull this maneuver before. Fourth Ed D&D abruptly closed the door to third party licensing. There really was no OGL for 4th Ed. Wizards of the Coast earned the nickname “Lawyers of the Coast” and aggressively clamped down on anyone that even remotely appeared to be squatting on their IP. Thus Pathfinder 1E was born.

While WotC was litigiously pursuing anyone trying to make 4E content without permission, Paizo Publishing was doing their own, beautiful thing with the D&D 3rd Ed OGL. For a while Pathfinder even surpassed D&D in sales. Fans still emphatically recommend Pathfinder any time someone complains about D&D.

If WotC wants to make the OGL not-so-open by slapping down all kinds of terms and conditions: that’s on them. It’s going to be their loss. I dare say a lot of creators are going to bail. They can have their big, funky lifestyle brand D&D that had better include egg on their faces.

What if Critical Role had been exclusively a Pathfinder actual play podcast? Would D&D 5E be where it is now? I have doubts.

Hasbro is going to probably change their tune real quick when it comes to WotC if they start spending more on lawyers & litigation chasing down IP violations. Remember, Renegade Studios is Hasbro property, too. What if- WHAT IF Renegade had to take over a failing, scaled-down D&D brand? What if One D&D was reduced to a frail shell of their Unreal Engine Virtual TableTop and a very basic boxed set game. Renegade is pro at making board games.

I think WotC had best watch their step when tinkering with the OGL. Yes, they said a lot of things in that article. But I’m still skeptical that they’re not going to get squirrely with the whole thing. Again, history is not on their side when it comes to reigning in the IP. If we’re looking at another situation similar to 4th Ed. Woe is them if the fan base bails out to another game or just sticks strictly to playing 5E.

I currently steadfastly refuse to recommend any #OSR games. The subculture that has hatched amongst a lot of the OSR guys is more than slightly toxic. It’s been made clear that the OSR doesn’t really want the new crowd of 5E players around. New ideas apparently scare them. Let them play Moldvay B/X in their mom’s basement just like the old days.

It’s not as “Open” as it looks, either.

About the time I see that we have to sign, register, and display badges on our products, that strikes me as more of a limited licensing agreement. I’m not a lawyer. I could easily be reading it wrong.

Having to report your revenue to WotC? Having to tell WotC what you’re selling? Registration website? Now we’re jumping through a lot of hoops for a supposedly open license. I wonder if we’re going to see another era of Lawyers of the Coast or Wizards of the Court. Time will tell.

Onward and upward, I guess.

I want to get back to writing games. I want to keep creating whether it’s the kind of generic, system agnostic stuff I’ve been doing, Dungeon Crawl Classics, or another set of game mechanics entirely is another matter. I want to get back to asking, “What’s the best that can happen?” It’s fair to note that I don’t actually consider DCC to be part of the #OSR as many of the pundits have likewise proclaimed.

I’ve also got some more Monster of the Week content on the horizon. I’m contemplating bringing Power Rangers RPG back into my lineup. I’ve also wanted to tinker with Transformers RPG, GI Joe, and SCP. (*No, not any kind of mashup with SCP other than MotW.)

In terms of fantasy RPG alternatives, my first recommendation is Pathfinder 2E. I’m pretty invested in that game and I think it’s high time to give it a chance. The only beef I have with Paizo and Pathfinder as a creator is being bound to “generic fantasy” or their world of Golarion which I’m not always 100% keen on. It’s okay, but it ain’t great.

I’m also considering building a Cypher or Cortex RPG fantasy setting. FATE is not out of the question. Open Legend RPG is another good system to build a game in as well. Again, these are all (mostly) licensable games that will allow creators to make quality RPG content for their game system without too much hassle.

Personally, I’m also still working out details on my own space/sci-fi/mecha RPG. More on that as it develops, but it’s not fantasy related. It’s a new system that I’m slowly creating. I may also work out a fantasy game IF the rules are right for it. No idea what I’m calling any of it yet. LOL!

Thanks for stopping by. I hope that things turn out better than predicted with the new One D&D. However, I’m going to continue to do my own thing regardless. Keep on gaming.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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