27 January 2023

The Good Guys win! The OGL will remain

From Polygon

Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast will abandon attempts to alter the Open Gaming License (OGL). The announcement, made Friday, comes after weeks of virulent anger from fans and third-party publishers caused the story to make international headlines — and on the eve of a high-profile movie starring Chris Pine.

Full article here.

Sometimes good things do happen!

A perfect day for this news: tonight I'm going to see The Fellowship of the Ring on a 60-foot screen with a symphony Orchestra performing the score.

ETA: The official statement via Dungeons & Dragons Beyond is here.

20 January 2023

WaPo on WotC: the dragon must be slain

The ongoing storm within the role-playing games community over the plan by the Wizards of the Coast to "deauthorize" the OGL 1.0a and replace it with a new, far more restrictive one has caught the attention of the Washington Post: "The D&D Open Game License controversy, explained." 

It's not great PR for WotC when the article compares the company to a dragon and concludes: "as any group of D&D adventurers might tell you, in stories like this, the point of a dragon atop a treasure trove is for it to be slain."
[Image from the WaPo article.]

18 January 2023

Wizards’ second apology and the OGL

In response to the raging storm within the RPG community over the potential revocation of the OGL 1.0a, Wizards of the Coast issued a sorry-not-sorry “apology” on January 13th. It went over like the proverbial lead balloon.


So today we have a second apology – this time with a human name (“Kyle Brink – Executive Producer, Dungeons & Dragons”) attached to it.


My key takeaway from this statement concerns this:


Your OGL 1.0a content. Nothing will impact any content you have published under OGL 1.0a. That will always be licensed under OGL 1.0a.”


Note the past tense (“have published”). Nothing in the statement indicates a willingness to recognize the legality of products using OGL 1.0a in the future.

Until WotC acknowledges that OGL 1.0a cannot be revoked – or amends the OGL to include the "irrevocable" language that seems to be the source of the trouble – they haven't changed on the single most fundamental issue. 


Nothing else really matters.  

14 January 2023

Classic Fantasy (Mythras) on sale for 99 cents


I received this notification from the good people at the Design Mechanism yesterday:


Between now and the end of January 2023, we're offering the Classic Fantasy supplement in PDF for Mythras and Mythras Imperative at the amazing price of just $0.99. For less than a dollar you can access the whole rules-set designed to bring the Old School dungeoneering experience to d100 roleplaying, complete with classes, character ranks, monsters, treasure, and everything else needed to scratch that dungeon delving itch.


Classic Fantasy includes:


  • 11 Character Classes
  • 7 Character races
  • Full rules for Passions as Alignments
  • Battle-Board combat
  • Arcane and Divine spells for Ranks 1 to 3
  • 40+ monsters
  • 100+ magic items
  • Deities and Cults


Watch out also for Classic Fantasy Imperative - a free introductory rulebook that will be launched under an open license and accompanied by its own SRD.


You can take advantage of this deal either at DrivethruRPG or the Design Mechanism’s store.


As I’ve said many times here before, I’m a huge fan of Mythras. (Indeed, as a player, it's my main game these days.) Looking through Classic Fantasy, it’s remarkable how well it translates the main elements and overall ethos of old school AD&D into Mythras terms. I certainly would consider using CF for future “D&D-style” campaigns!


13 January 2023

Wizards of the Coast finally speak

It looks like the “Silence” spell finally has worn off and WotC has issued a statement about the storm that has raged over the past two weeks regarding their proposed changes to the OGL.


Overall, I think that the statement is a ridiculous bit of gaslighting and ego-soothing ("Second, 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." WTF?!? How childish can you be?)


So long as OGL 1.0a isn't secure for future products, whatever WotC does to tinker or improve OGL 2.0 is going to be wholly inadequate. But I predict that they won't back down on trying to "de-authorize" 1.0a because it's part of their "master plan" to consolidate everything on Dungeons & Dragons Beyond in the future.


At least the statement confirms that existing products that used the OGL 1.0a will continue to be available. (I see no grounds for thinking that they would’ve had to stop being sold, but I worried that people might pull their products out of fear. That doesn’t look like it will happen now.)

12 January 2023

Into the Unknown! (Goodbye WotC)

Given the astonishing mixture of avarice and malevolence manifested by WotC’s recent actions (here’s yet another summary, this time from the New Republic), I’ve decided to switch my ongoing Greyhawk campaign over to the Into the Unknown system.


I purchased Into the Unknown a few months ago upon discovering it in a thread at the RPG Pub (pretty much the only RPG forum I visit these days). I’ve been fond of it ever since I looked it over, and even considered transitioning to it before the current brouhaha. While I like 5e D&D overall, elements of it are quite fiddly, and I have found myself consulting the rules during play more often than I would like. Something compatible with the 5e material that I have and want to run – but simpler and faster – certainly was attractive.


However, at the time I decided against moving my campaign over to Into the Unknown as it adhered to a number of elements from the “Basic” and “Expert” versions of old school D&D (B/X D&D) that did not mesh well with the Greyhawk setting: in particular, ItU uses only three alignments (Chaotic, Neutral, Lawful) and “race-as-class” for non-human characters (Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling classes). In addition, my players had been using certain 5e options – e.g., the Arcane Trickster and Battle Master class specializations – that are not available in Into the Unknown. They (understandably) would not appreciate losing those elements from their characters.


On reflection, these weren’t great reasons to resist the switch. The alignment issue is easily fixed. I’ll keep the race-classes as unique options for non-human characters, but tweak the rules so that non-humans can be any of the standard classes as well. (I’ll also add a slight bonus to humans in order to “balance” things out.) And given that Into the Unknown is designed to be compatible with the core 5e rules, I’ll just “grandfather” in the 5e options that the characters already have into the game.


Another benefit of switching to Into the Unknown is that the rules are simple enough that I won’t need to consult them regularly during play. 


One worry: Into the Unknown uses the OGL (1.0a). Given the uncertainty concerning the OGL, I recommend that any readers interested in the system pick it up as soon as possible at DrivethruRPG in case it disappears in the near future.


Fight On!



11 January 2023

OGL Apocalypse: WotC goes full Chaotic Evil

By now I assume that most people who visit this blog are aware of the raging storm over the changes that the Wizards of the Coast (part of Hasbro) are seeking to make to the Open Game License (OGL).
The current OGL (v. 1.0a) has been around for over two decades now and has facilitated a number of important developments in the role-playing hobby. In addition to all the material produced for Dungeons & Dragons by third-party publishers (mainly for 3e, 3.5e, and 5e), it enabled the creation of a number of role-playing games that draw upon some of the core mechanics of D&D (e.g., Mutants and Masterminds). The Old School Renaissance (OSR) probably would not have happened (at least not in the way that it did) without the OGL. The original retro-clone, OSRIC, restated the 1e AD&D rules, using the OGL for cover. (It was a brilliant insight on the part of Matt Finch, aka “Mythmere,” that this was possible.) Likewise, the first edition of Pathfinder used the OGL to repackage (with some tweaks) the 3.5 edition D&D rules in order to cater to gamers dissatisfied with 4th edition. No doubt WotC was not happy about that! But ultimately it pressured WotC to rethink 4e D&D (as did, I think, the OSR to some extent) and produce a far superior product, 5e D&D.
Anyhow, it looks like WotC aims to try to revoke OGL 1.0a and replace it with a new one (v. 1.1) with rather draconian conditions. For a helpful (and brief) overview, see this Inverse article, or this Forbes (!) one, or this Ars Technica one.
As a side note, legally speaking (but keep in mind that I am not a lawyer) the OGL was never actually necessary and in fact imposes conditions stricter than those imposed by standard US copyright law (let alone the laws of other countries, which tend to be more generous with “fair use” than the US). The reason for this is that game rules cannot be copyrighted. So a product that dryly restated the rules of AD&D, for instance, would be perfectly legal. However, artistic and literary expression can be copyrighted. Given the literary nature of role-playing games, a lot of the specific descriptions of classes, spells, monsters, settings, and so forth can (arguably) be legitimately copyrighted (but not their underlying mechanics). So one would have to tread carefully in restating a set of rules. And of course, even if one has the legal right to do something (e.g., indicate compatibility with another company’s game), one nonetheless may be subject to legal harassment or bullying by a company with deep pockets. One thing that the OGL did was remove any uncertainty about potential legal harassment or worries about whether some element of the game was copyright-protected or not. (For an excellent overview of this matter, see this Electronic Frontier Foundation article.)
A lot of RPG publishers are now abandoning the OGL. Even if WotC backs down and allows OGL 1.0a to continue (or modifies 1.1 so that it is far less restrictive) many gaming companies are sensibly deciding that they do not want to be vulnerable to future Hasbro corporate whims. (And it very well may be the case that WotC does not back down and pushes on with OGL 1.1.)
As a player, most of my time has been spent using Mythras over the past twelve years, with occasional forays into other systems (e.g., The One Ring, Trail of Cthulhu, Delta Green, etc.), none of which have been dependent on the OGL. Among other things, I’ve been a sorcerer in a Young Kingdoms campaign (which used Mythras’s predecessor, Mongoose’s RuneQuest II), a Roman mystic in a Mythic Britain campaign, an aristocratic messenger in a Mythic Babylon campaign, and a paleontologist in a Return to the Mountains of Madness campaign.
But as a creator and gamemaster, I’ve been heavily involved with Dungeons & Dragons and related systems. Years ago, I got into the OSR in a big way and developed a set of house rules for modifying Swords and Wizardry (the 0e retro-clone) to give it more of a “swords and sorcery” flavour. Many of those rules appeared in articles in Knockspell and Fight On! All of those rules remain available at this blog (and were never offered here under the OGL). Many of those rules were incorporated into D101’s Crypts and Things game (which does use the OGL). (I hope that C&T rides out this storm and continues to be available. It’s a great system!)
Also, despite some problems here and there, overall, I like 5e D&D. It’s not perfect – it still has too many fiddly (“exception-based’) rules for my taste – but it’s the first “official” version of D&D since the TSR era that I’ve been happy to run. (Making feats optional was huge improvement over 3e.) I’ve been using it for my current Greyhawk campaign. And I thought that the 5e-derived Adventures in Middle-earth game was quite good. The Mirkwood campaign that I ran using AiME a few years ago remains one of my all-time favourites.
But this latest action by WotC has left a foul taste in my mouth. I already was put off by the movement toward “D&D One” (or is it “One D&D”?), which struck me as undermining some of the strengths of 5e D&D – among other things, by “hardwiring” certain elements that I prefer to keep optional, e.g., feats and inspiration, into the core game. Changing the OGL and wreaking havoc with 3rd party publishers is just plain malevolent.
So … I’ve had it with WotC. I won’t be buying anything from them for the foreseeable future. (Not that I was buying much anyway – it’s been almost two years since I last purchased a book from WotC. Most of my recent 5e purchases have been from 3rd party publishers like Goodman Games.) 
I’m not going to abandon my current Greyhawk campaign. It’s been too much fun – and the characters just made it to level 4! But I think I’ll be using Into the Unknown as the rules base going forward (supplemented with a few 5e options for the sake of continuity).
Aside from my current Greyhawk campaign, my focus (as a GM) lately has been on the Against the Darkmaster system. I hope to run a sporadic VsD campaign set in Eriador (Middle-earth) over the next few months. Aside from that, I plan to develop my own setting over the coming year. We’ll see how that goes. (Of course, VsD never used the OGL – and has a generous license for other publishers.)
Well that’s all for now. It’ll be interesting to see what happens once OGL 1.1 is unleashed on the world. 


01 January 2023

Best Wishes for 2023

I hope that all reading this old blog had a pleasant holiday time and that the year ahead brings them much happiness and peace.


My wife kindly got me these cookies. Obviously, she knows me well! I felt a bit guilty eating them but comforted myself in the knowledge that more could be obtained in the future.



I haven’t been too active here over the past couple of months. Hopefully my posting rate will pick up in the spring, as I thankfully will not have to travel so much for work.


In particular, I’d like to catch up on the following items:


§  Update the log for my regular “Greyhawk” (D&D 5e) campaign. A lot has happened since I last posted, some of it even a bit entertaining (I think).

o   The adventurers finally managed to defeat Lareth and clear out the Moathouse (more or less); soon they will be moving beyond Hommlet.


§  Update the status of my irregular “Against the Witch-King (Against the Darkmaster) campaign.

o    Most of the characters have been created – and they’re an interesting mix: a Dúnadan lady of Arthedain (a champion or “ranger”); two Lossoth brothers from Forochel (one a scout, the other a shape-shifting animist or “shaman”), and a Dwarven scholar from the Ered Luin (sage).


§  Post descriptions of my characters for the Mythic Babylon campaign I played in over the past few years (which wrapped up last summer) and the Return to the Mountains of Madness campaign I’m currently playing in (using the Mythras rules).

o   I’m not keeping logs for these campaigns (I generally only do that for the games I’m running) but I think that these characters may be of some interest to others, especially people interested in the Mythras system and its associated settings.


§  Return to my top-10 list of fantasy and science-fiction films. (I’ve only covered number 10 so far!)


§  Write up some final reflections on The Rings of Power series (which I found to be very much a mixed bag).


I’m watching Andor right now and finding it to be excellent. I had skipped the two most recent Star Wars series (the Boba Fett and Obi-Wan ones) but I quite liked both seasons of The Mandalorian. This series is even better, in my view. It doesn’t really feel like a “Star Wars” show to be honest – but that’s probably a good thing, given how badly the movies degenerated in quality after The Empire Strikes Back. The notable exception in recent years is Rogue One – the best Star Wars movie since Empire in my judgement – and so perhaps it’s no surprise that Andor is of such high quality, given that it’s a Rogue One prequel. Check it out if you haven’t already!

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).