Somehow, by now we thought this whole fiasco with WotC (Wizards of the Coast) would be over. But it carries on with more and more ridiculousness added each day. We are talking about this because we are active members of the TTRPG community, and until recently had a channel on Dungeon Master’s Guild. Here is what is going down.
For those just now reading up about what is going on with Dungeons and Dragons, here is the short version recap. Years ago they put out an Open Game License (OGL) that allowed third-party publishers (3PPs) to create content that used portions of the D&D system. This created a thriving TTPRG community, where home-based indie creators could build adventures, subclasses, monsters, and more for people to use in their D&D5e games. The community thrived. WotC made lots of money. Everyone was happy.
Until WotC decided they would destroy everything they’ve built over the years. And it hasn’t even taken long to do it. First came a leaked copy of a proposed new OGL 1.1 that was, basically, no longer “open”. Creators would have to pay royalties, and WotC could take content made by small ma-and-pa shops and use it for their own purposes royalty-free. There was a lot more in this new OGL, but what it boiled down to was shutting down any creator that wasn’t Wizards of the Coast. Small businesses that depended on the original OGL to pay their bills and feed their kids were now in danger of actually OWING WotC money. You know, so the C-Suite can go buy a third yacht.
While the community was in a panic about what this would mean for the little guy for nearly two weeks, WotC remained completely silent. They did not respond to the large-scale public outrage and cry for answers. That all changed with a leaked statement from an employee at WotC who kept themselves anonymous. Their statement was fairly incriminating, claiming that WotC just wanted this to blow over, that they saw the fanbase as obstacles to their profit, and that they were looking at D&D Beyond subscriptions to gauge what was profitable and what was not.
Well, the community responded quickly and decisively. So many rushed to cancel their subscriptions that the site began to have technical issues. And what many considered a saving grace in all this took the form of the company Paizo, the creators of Pathfinder. They announced they would be partnering with other major gaming companies to create a new OGL they were calling ORC (The Open RPG Creative License) that would be non-profit so no corporate greed could get involved. They also offered indie creators and 3PPs to contact them to stay up to date on the ORC so it could be rolled out in a way that was most beneficial to everyone.
So it was rather not coincidentally that WotC decided to finally, finally issue a statement the following day. The day that the OGL 1.1 was supposed to go into place.
Only, they didn’t do themselves any favors. In fact, it made the entire situation worse. The statement came through D&D Beyond, not even their official account. They claimed the OGL 1.1 was only a “draft”, that everyone was overacting, and that the words were being misconstrued. Perhaps the most damning phrase of all in this statement was a fierce claim that they were still on top.
“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.”
Wizards of the Coast truly could have saved themselves here if they had done the exact opposite of everything they did in that statement. It only worsened the anger by the community who were quick to pull apart the lies in the statement, the heavy PR tone, and lack of anything of real substance in terms of what the future held.
One would think that was as worse as things could get. But in the following days, it’s only gotten more and more shady and complicated. More leaks from inside employees warn fans of heavy D&D Beyond paywalls that WotC wants to put into place, of establishing AI Dungeon Masters, and of trying to use a survey as a platform for people to complain on and thus clear up the angry Twitter / Reddit / etc platforms. WotC denies each and every leak, although their denials keep coming surprisingly late and always behind a “face” that they choose to speak for them. Whether that’s D&D Beyond or random employees, it’s never the actual person that is making the decisions.
From an outside perspective, one would think WotC decided to wage war against its own player base. And it is losing.
Players are flocking to Pathfinder so quickly that it is sold out in local stores. Major companies like Kobold Press are leaving 5e behind and doing their own thing. Everyone from large influencers to small-time streamers are also leaving behind D&D for other TTRPG systems. Why? Because trust has been broken. Because WotC has yet to promise anything of real value, instead using PR-language to try to hide the lack of meaning behind their messages. Because they refuse to make the original OGL irrevocable, and thus people are worried they will keep trying to push the new version forward no matter how long it takes them. Because for little creators that are paying their bills, they have a guillotine hanging above their heads that WotC could drop to destroy everything they have made and take it for themselves.
Why would any creator even want to stick around in this circus?
WotC truly could have saved themselves from this nightmare if they had been upfront with their fanbase and been honest. Without any sincere apologies, without any communication directly from the source, and without any real action, the community loses more and more trust in the future of Dungeons and Dragons. Many who are now refusing to buy or support anything that Hasbro (the owners of WotC) decides to release.
So where does this leave everything in the future? What we’ll likely see is former D&D players gravitating to Pathfinder and their new ORC to create content. We are likely to see more smaller TTRPG systems get attention as people look for new games to play. And the once near-monopoly WotC held on the industry will die. And they will only have themselves to blame.