With the release of the second season of The Legend of Vox Machina on Prime Video, the most popular role-playing game in the world is in full crisis due to leaks about the future policies of its publisher, Wizards of the Coast, which have caused a tsunami of criticism from fans.
Dungeons & Dragons is the longest running and most popular RPG in the world. In its almost fifty years of life it has evolved from a nerd pastime par excellence to a real cult phenomenon, cited in countless titles, from E.T. a Stranger Thingsyes The Big Bang Theory a I Simpsons. Right at the moment of the definitive consecration, with the next release in theaters of Dungeons & Dragons: Thieves’ Honorand with the second season of The Legend of Vox Machina available on Prime Video (here our review of the first episodes), a very heavy shadow has fallen on the D&D brand, with implications that could question all progress and expectations for the future. The impact of this crisis between the D&D publisher and his “hard core” of supporters has been so thunderous that it has gone beyond the boundaries of the “insiders”, bringing to light a deep dissent that could radically change, for the worse , the way millions of people around the world play and enjoy themselves by rolling dice and playing their characters. Let’s try to figure out what happened.
Beyond the game
And Role playing game is based on a very simple assumption: following a system of pre-established rules, one plays at “interpreting” a role, identifying oneself with a character who lives his adventures in a setting, a world, in which what happens, including the consequences of the players’ actions, is managed and narrated by the game arbiter, the so-called Dungeon Master.
There are countless role-playing games (or RPGs, or RPGs), with myriads of different settings and styles.
Dungeon & Dragons is usually based on fantasy worlds with a system of rules which, now in its fifth (and passing…) incarnation, allows for a very simple and effective approach to the game’s mechanics.
What’s more: in the last few months the evolution of the gaming system was announced with a colossal project called OneD&D with a further enhancement also from a multimedia and digital point of view.
But the reason for the extraordinary success that D&D has had in recent years should probably be sought in one of its peculiarities, namely the OGL: the Original Gaming License. Established twenty years ago, the OGL basically allowed “creatives” not directly linked to the game publisher, Wizards of the Coast, to be able to develop and share elements of the game in complete autonomy.
In other words, anyone could invent new settings, propose new personalized rules, new character classes, etc., and make them available, free or even for a fee, to anyone interested.
Over the last twenty years this system has created a virtuous circle in which hundreds, if not thousands of creators have given life to a very rich and versatile system, in which both novices and more experienced players could find ideas and material, often outstanding quality.
Furthermore, the success of the best creators has led WotC itself to make their settings “official”, completely integrating them into their system.
The most emblematic case is precisely that of the group Critical Roleled by the recognized “best Dungeon Master in the world”, Matthew Mercer, who brought the Vox machina legend (their first campaign, now made into an animated series) and currently has hundreds of thousands of loyal followers worldwide (the “Critters”), who follow their live Twitch gaming sessions as well as their productions , from the mystical setting of Eberron to new character classes. But Critical Role is only the tip of the iceberg: there is an entire universe (indeed: a multiverse) of creators who publish guides, videos, game sessions and who have, so far, fueled the success of D&D. In Italy, for example, at least the group of InnTalewith their hugely popular campaign LuxastraIn short, all fantastic, at least until some creators, at the beginning of January, published leaks on the changes that Wizards of the Coast would intend to make to the OGL and which, in fact, would destroy this system from the foundations.
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Ownership and Sharing
At this point the news unfortunately becomes difficult to follow among rumors, press releases, denials and clarifications. Apparently the decision to revolutionize the open license system would have come to the management team of Wizards of the Coast, chaired by former Microsoft Cynthia Williams, to increase the monetization of D&D, which is perceived as underpowered. Some creators, therefore, would have been sent a draft contract (or an actual contract, according to some of these creators) in which it was anticipated that, shortly, the existing OGL would be shelved and replaced with a new version, very more stringent. To begin with, an obligation to register and share the original products on the WotC proprietary platform, the site, would have been established DnDBeyond. Furthermore, according to this new license, substantially WotC would not only have requested the payment of royalties on the publication of materials produced by third parties, in the event that those who produced them had exceeded a certain turnover threshold, but would also have assumed the right of possession and exploitation of any product related to D&D, without having to acknowledge anything to creatives outside the group. Furthermore, again according to this “draft”, WotC itself could have exercised a unilateral veto right to remove content deemed, in their opinion, inappropriate, and, icing on the cake, the possibility of further modifying these conditions, again without the need for deal with counterparts.
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When some creators made this information public, a hurricane of negative reactions arose, gradually more and more uncontrollable, going from the concern of the kids who laboriously finance their activities with Kickstarer projects to the multiple doubts even of a legal nature about the legitimacy of such an action. After a long silence, which actually worsened the situation, after a collapse of subscriptions to the DnDBeyond portal and after even Matt Mercer himself took a stand in favor of creators’ freedom and independence, WotC seems to have taken a step back, apologizing for what they called “an error of interpretation” and promising to work on a shared version of the new OGL, made public and submitted to the judgment of the fanbase in these days, which can both protect their legitimate interests and reassure the community of fans and creatives that made D&D’s success possible in recent years. But the problem has not returned: social networks are still literally flooded with messages of concern and protest against WotC and the multinational Hasbro, who controls it, now perceived as sinister profiteers interested only in squeezing as much money as possible from their players and from all those who, over the last twenty years, have decreed the success of Dungeons & Dragons. All that remains is to continue to follow the developments of the story.
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