Let us discuss the “Before Time.”
Back before Wizards of the Coast wrapped their fuzzy little claws around Dungeons & Dragons, there was this company called T$R. There was no Open Game License for Gary Gygax was not big on sharing his creation unless T$R would profit from it.
If someone (perhaps foolishly) wanted to work in the TableTop RolePlaying Game industry there were basically two options. First, get a job working for a game company. Second, create one’s own game. Obviously no one currently remaining at WotC seems to have any clue about how bad either of these options truly sucked because if you (WotC) did, there would likely not be an Open Game License 1.1.
The first option was the worst, in my experience. No one wanted to hire new talent fresh out of high school or college and there weren’t a lot of great ways to showcase one’s writing skills as there are now. It was pretty tough to even get in writing articles for Dragon Magazine. (I know y’all forgot all about Dragon.) Basically, if you weren’t already on staff, an editor would say something quippy like, “Come back when you have more experience writing for another industry publication, kid.”
Only to find out that the other industry publications wanted writing experience from Dragon Magazine, Dungeon Magazine or another reputable company like T$R. It was a very vicious cycle and very unproductive. Game company execs, especially at T$R, had a reputation for being a🦆🦆holes. They already had their nice, cushy ttrpg industry jobs and screw all the rest of us.
That led to option number two: Write, find art, and produce one’s own game, then figure out how and where to get it printed. Unless one wanted to spend a mint at the photocopier, one would have to scrounge up about $2-3,000 and get a print run. After that, one prayed for enough sales to pay for another print run. Again, no one at WotC ever had to suffer through this as far as anyone can tell.
One could still do plenty of stuff for free. There were no agreements to sign. One could distribute FREE materials at game conventions, some small indie magazines, and over the fledgling Usenet. There was no OGL and no way to get one’s name in print that it provided.
Ah, the dawn of the OGL.
This is where your, uh, greatnesses came in at WotC. D&D was acquired and Third Edition was born. This great idea called the OGL was likewise born out of 3rd Ed and there was much rejoicing among the fans. Again, not that anyone currently at WotC seems to remember this sh🦆t.
Many, many publications were born and new companies sprouted up everywhere. Most of them made D&D or D20 products using the OGL 1.0 that we all loved dearly. Those were the good old days. Writers were no longer automatically pigeonholed and could get their names out there in the industry. It was a veritable revolution. It was a win-win scenario to use one of those fancy shmancy business goob terms. Not that anyone at WotC seems to remember or wants to return to the Silver Age of TTRPG history.
Fast forward past the travesty that was 4th Ed D&D and the closed license onto 5E. The OGL 1.0A brought back the love. The DMsGuild.com was born to give fans and writers the chance to maybe earn a little credit and still get their names out there. Maybe the profits weren’t all that great, but enough to buy another book. Again, I don’t see anyone at WotC seemingly remembering what it was like to be a small fish in a big pond.
5E has been good times so far. WotC puts out mediocre corporatized products and the fans/writers create homebrew fixes for all the errors. Sometimes a little money is made on DMsGuild, other times stuff is given away for free. WotC didn’t used to care because it got their product out the door and kept all the fans happy. What changed? Was it greed?
Then we come to Kickstarters and Patreon, where the real money is seemingly made from OGL 1.0A these days. 5E ushered in a whole new batch of companies who greatly benefit from the D&D brand. Maybe it has gotten excessive. Maybe WotC has a right to be jealous of an industry they helped build up. But, don’t we all grow together? Isn’t there room for everyone at the table.
It’s about family.
I understand WotC is like every other big, slimy McCorporation out there these days. You have hundreds of people that are underpaid and underappreciated on staff. WotC and Hasbro have their big, doofy, “important” meetings where middle management gets to lord their feeble power over the underlings. These people all have families to feed, too. I guess. The top of the McCorporate ladder at WotC seems especially detached these days. They seem more than happy to spend (waste) a bunch of time and money defending Intellectual Property that is going to rapidly fade away into obscurity with the way things are going.
But, the crass changes and insensitive, unfeeling, cold, ruthless business tactics projected by the OGL 1.1 is going to return D&D to the ttrpg industry stone ages. Tough luck for new and aspiring game designers, I know. See, all those independent writers on DMsGuild and all the new or old companies who sprouted up around the OGL are probably going to go away, or go bankrupt when WotC crushes them beneath their McCorporate hee.. Think of all the unemployed, bitterly angry people WotC clearly doesn’t care about. That’s a good look for the D&D brand, isn’t it?
I applied for creative positions at WotC. I noticed I didn’t get hired. Not even a flush letter. Jerks. Grr. Maybe it’s for the best. I’d probably make some of your management cry.
If we’re really back to the dark ages before the OGL, I might consider finding a new hobby. Seriously. We had some big egoes out there before OGL 1.1. It’s only going to get worse. Again, is this really the brand image an “under monetized” D&D wants? Good luck getting more player money on hats and movie sales if hundreds of jobs are lost because of OGL 1.1. Jerks.
Stay tuned next time when I talk about what this does to the TTRPG community. Specifically, we’ll talk about Pathfinder and the OSR movement. You’re not doing anyone any favors, WotC. Take a hint.
Thanks to all of my regular readers for making this especially vitriolic rant possible. At least it feels good to get this sh🦆t off my chest. You guys are the best.