No one asked: Lise’s take on the OGL 1.1 kerfuffle

(Slightly edited from something I posted on Facebook)

For those of you (none of you) who were waiting on my hot take re: the OGL 1.1 kerfuffle, it’s a very boring, middle-of-the-road one. Merely a lukewarm take, if you will.

I am more concerned with the legal side of it than the financial one. It is unethical, if not illegal, to revoke a contract that was intended to be irrevocable. Given that this is the take of my friends who are lawyers, I sort of trust them in this.

(The fact that WotC’s defense is like “we were never gonna take away the rights of creators! This was a draft that was leaked!” when a) said contract had already been sent out to creators to sign, and b) the contract they sent out very specifically DID say they could use OGL content in any way they wanted… is disingenuous, at best).

OTOH, good points are made (by one of my current DMs, no less) that DNDBeyond is essentially a small company that was bought out by a larger one, and that by boycotting it, you are hurting the writers and developers more than you are WotC. This will always be the case in situations like this, unfortunately, because Capitalism™️. The same was said when Paizo workers were fighting to unionize, (and yes, Paizo has done some shitty things, too), or when Blizzard was staging a walkout. Generally my point of view is that it’s best to give support in the way that the workers themselves want support.

Unfortunately, the only DNDBeyond employee that I am aware of who has spoken out is the person who wrote to a bunch of TTRPG YouTubers telling them to boycott DNDBeyond, and I have heard it claimed that that letter is a fake. (Would love to see evidence either for or against — I don’t fully trust any YouTube talking head). But if you believe that letter is real, then I agree, you are perfectly in the right to cancel your DNDBeyond membership.

Have I canceled mine? No. My reason is simple — I have games in progress that depend on it, both as a player and a DM. (And uhh I happen to be writing the epic love story between a druid and a drow, based on a 5e adventure which I sometimes have to reference). Even if I were to do something like scrape the content of all the books I have access to in DNDBeyond before closing my account, I still no longer be able to use those books in what is probably one of the best character sheet generators out there.

And if I wanted to use them in, say, roll20– I say this with great dismay — the best VTT for playing 5e out there, I’d have to buy them again in the roll20 marketplace. Which also gives WotC money, if indirectly. (Or I could enter them in manually to any VTT like. If only I had that kind of time!)

(Foundry/Forge, OTOH, partners with Paizo, so all the rules are built right in and/or it’s easy to get them in there with a script. I haven’t set up a game myself, so I don’t know the details, though).

Which brings me to my next point, and the crux of the matter. D&D is the center of an ecosystem. It is the largest player in this ecosystem. It has financial, legal, social, technological, and nostalgia power. 5e is also a really good system for the type of game a lot of people want to play. Go to r/lfg (… a year ago, not today) and try finding a game that isn’t D&D. I did it, a year+ ago, when I found my ongoing Pathfinder game, and it was not easy.

There’s more. If you look to the newly TTRPG-curious, it’s probably because they watched CritRole or another popular D&D actual-play. (And yes, I know, they used to use PF1e, etc). It’s almost certainly not because they listened to Glass Cannon Podcast. Compare how many people played Baldur’s Gate III –which is still only in pre-release! — compared to Wrath of the Righteous or Kingmaker. Compare who knows about Faerun to what folks know about Golarion.

And here’s the thing. This kerfuffle is widening people’s view of that ecosystem. It is making them aware that there ARE other systems out there. That there are other VTTs, or actual-plays, or podcasts. That there are other ways of licensing Your Basic Fantasy RPG. (I am all-in on ORC, and I think it’s the best idea that’s come out of this mess).

I’ve always been aware of that; back when I played AD&D 2e with my high school friends, we also played Shadowrun and the Star Wars RPG and others that were lost to time (remember Aeon Trinity?) But we haven’t all been doing this for *cough* 25 years.

Most of the migration away from D&D has been towards Pathfinder, because they are the ones heading the ORC charge. r/Pathfinder2e has grown by THOUSANDS in the last week. It added 1,000 just on Thursday.

Paizo is, as my DM rightly pointed out, a big company, too. And Paizo has done some shitty stuff, as well — releasing an adventure about playing fantasy cops in July 2020 was more than a little tone-deaf. And certainly there were specific injustices that led the employees to unionize.

But on the whole, Paizo has taken a much stronger stance on diversity than WotC. There are no longer races; there are ancestries. The adventures contain many queer, non-cis, and non-white-coded NPCs — in fact the prototypical champion is a queer Black-coded woman. The mess with the aforementioned adventure — Agents of Edgewatch, the one I’m playing now — was followed up by an apology directly from CEO(?) Erik Mona and a reprinting of the adventure where non-lethal damage was the default and you also had the option to play as adventurers instead of cops. When Jewish folks objected to the language of “phylactery,” they changed it to “soul cage.”

People, and companies, are gonna fuck up on matters of DEI. It’s how they get back up that matters. And Paizo has consistently done a better job at that than WotC.

(Maybe it’s because they were born out of WotC fucking them over. I dunno).

While I have come to deeply enjoy playing in a Golarion, I still kind of hate the PF2e rules. And I think a lot of these D&D emigrés are going to find that Pathfinder (1e or 2e) is way too crunchy for them, too. But maybe they discover FATE, or Blades in the Dark, or Thirsty Sword Lesbians. Or, yes, Mork Borg (as my friend Alice would heckle me about 😂).

And I think that’s pretty special.

… on that note, there’s something to be said — and it’s not good — that the impetus for this migration away from D&D and to Pathfinder is licensing issues instead of, oh, you know, the continued racism in D&D products. While they’ve done some things in reparation here (like making drow less “elves in blackface”), let’s not forgot that back with Candlekeep Mysteries, they bowdlerized the work of a Black writer without his knowledge (or permission). Or that, more recently, one of the races presented in the brand-new Spelljammer book was a simian race that had some unfortunate tropes associated with.

The former event is about when I said “… maybe I should look into what Paizo is up to lately.” But apparently racism was okay for a lot of people, but licensing issues were a bridge too far? That kind of cheeses me off. Or at least, it cheeses me off that this is what was publicized — you can’t fail to hear about OGL-gate in geek spaces right now — and not the continual racefails.

So that’s where I am. Explore other systems, question shitty legal practices, maybe (or maybe not) cancel your DNDBeyond membership. I hate to be all “both sides,” because I do generally think WotC is in the wrong here. But I respect your opinions and decisions either way.

Author: Lise

Hi, I'm Lise Fracalossi, a web developer and writer. I live in Central Massachusetts with my husband, three Maine coon cats, and a collection of ridiculous hats.

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