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Hasbro, Wizards of the Coast, and the OGL

When Wizards of the Coast announced Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition, along with the new 4E GSL, there was a bit of excitement on my part. We published compatible 3rd Edition supplements for Dungeons & Dragons since 2003, beginning with our flagship product, A Question of Honor, A Guidebook to Knights, and looked forward to seeing the new innovations that would dominate the tabletop role-playing game industry.

Alea Publishing Group was not alone. Paizo was eager to set sail and awaited the new license, as well as other prominent publishers, such as Goodman Games and Mongoose Publishing.

But then, the schism happened. Rumors of a developer’s kit, coupled with a $5,000 fee, and the restrictive nature of the new 4E GSL came to light. While larger companies found these barriers manageable, smaller companies, like ourselves, were helpless in the impending storm.

Despite the rumors and restrictions, in the end, it was time that brought about the schism. Whether due to alterations to the 4E GSL or incompetence, the delay in its release forced larger companies, such as Paizo, to rethink the importance of Dungeon & Dragons as a star to steer their ship. Paizo had products to plan, content to produce, and a staff – people who needed to know whether their livelihoods were in jeopardy.

Paizo did what it needed to do, and thus the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rose to challenge 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, like a chivalrous knight of old against, well – a dragon.

For Alea Publishing Group, we found our footing with the newest edition of the system. We filled out and submitted the required registration card and launched our first 4E GSL product, Feudal Characters: Noble, on 1 October 2008 to much success. In fact, it might be the first product released under the 4E GSL.

Despite the boon the 4E GSL provided, I am a historian. While others seem doomed to repeat history, as a historian, I’m doomed to watch others repeat it. Let me explain.

There was a snippet years ago in Dragon Magazine, perhaps it was a letter to the editor, nevertheless, it mentioned that there were more astronauts at NASA then people working for TSR. It stuck with me as a hopeless proposition. Though I continued to write articles for both Dragon and Dungeon magazines (to no avail), I felt it was a whim well beyond reach.

Then, Wizards of the Coast, creators of Magic: The Gathering, bought TSR. Wizards also had a vision, that of a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons – and open gaming. For me, it brought the game I loved within reach.

What became known as the Golden Age of Roleplaying Games during the tenure of 3rd Edition, as well as its renaissance with the announcement of 5th Edition and return of the OGL, it is now clear that Wizards of the Coast does not quite understand the magnitude of open gaming.

It is people. People are the OGL, creating content for their beloved pastime and for their most treasured game. Paizo created Pathfinder because of its staff – its people.

The OGL, in a lot of respects, created one of the earliest gig economies. For many, their cherished hobby became a career. For others, it gave official validation for numerous homebrewed campaigns. The OGL did not just create a movement in the industry, it created a community.

Now, another schism approaches as rumors abound and influencers wail and preach, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” OGL 1.0a is in question with the new OGL 1.1 lurking around the corner. Without its release, and all succumbing to speculation, Paizo, once again, dusts off its armor, equips its sword, and rides off to face another dragon.

While I am under the conclusion that the OGL 1.0a is irrevocable, and Wizards of the Coast is just adjusting to protect its brand in a growing cyber economy, I remain vigilant. While I am excited about a new version of the license, the Iconic Adventuring System, still in development, makes use of the OGL 1.0a – for many of the reasons OGL 1.0a came into being – to grow the brand.

Wizards should have released OGL 1.1 upon its announcement, rather than giving time for speculation and rumors to set in – forcing larger companies to find a foothold to protect their own brands. Brands created during the first schism. While I applaud Paizo for its announcement, and signed on as an interested publisher, Wizards could have prevented such if it took a moment and think about the people that endeared themselves, heart and soul, to the hobby.

Even as I write, Hasbro announced it will postpone the new OGL. For now, the dragon sleeps and the schism, just a tremor.

And while it is much too late to become an astronaut, with OGL 1.0a, I did become a game designer and write for the game I love. Hasbro better remember that.


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