They lost! We won! Or did we? (And some musings on the upcoming D&D movie)

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Wizards of the Coast managed to do something extraordinary. In just a few days they managed to alienate a large portion of third-party publishers and some of their former business partners and alienated a large portion of their customer base. From what I’ve heard they lost about half of their active D&D Beyond subscribers and major goodwill among the community. The attempt to deauthorize the Open Game License 1.0a also managed to bring all kinds of people together in the attempt to stop WotC’s plans while simultaneously looking for ways out of the D&D 5E monopoly.

Then – in a surprise move – after “playtesting” new drafts of the OGL, Wizards of the Coast suddenly declared their plans to create a new OGL dead and buried while even releasing the full D&D System Reference Document under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. I guess I am not the only person who is simultaneously relieved but also pretty wary about WotC and Hasbro’s possible next move. At the moment we are basically back before the whole OGL kerfuffle (sorry, I love this word) started, but with many broken bridges between the publisher of D&D and the community. But there’s no reason to feel safe.

I highly doubt that Hasbro and WotC will move away to close the perceived “undermonetization” gap. But instead of tightening their grip on current and older editions of D&D as they planned, they’ll probably make sure they get what they want another way. Perhaps OneD&D will move farther away from 5E mechanically than previously planned. They might decide to release certain content on D&D Beyond only. I am pretty sure there are people right now trying to figure out ways to turn the planned OneD&D VTT into a microtransaction hell born out of your worst mobile game nightmares.

Of course I might be wrong. Perhaps they saw the error of their ways and decided to really change for the better. D&D makes good money as it is, why make more if it alienates its customers? But who am I kidding? The higher-ups at Hasbro don’t care about roleplaying games as a cultural and artistic movement. For them it’s a way to make money. And since we are living in end-stage capitalism, they’ll try to squeeze every last penny out of it if possible and then discard the remains.

The upcoming D&D movie will show if Hasbro’s plans to turn D&D into a multimedia franchise are viable. For them D&D is another Transformers. Sure they still might sell the toys, but the big bucks are made with movies. Personally I am still shocked that the Transformers series is as successful as it is. While I enjoyed the first movie on my first watch, I actually stopped watching the sequel because I felt bored out of my mind. If this is the future of D&D as a franchise, then there are bleak days ahead.

D&D: Honor Among Thieves might be a fun movie but I fear it might also be a generic, soulless husk filled to the top with silly one-liners. I still have some hope that it’s actually set into a real D&D setting like the “Forgotten Realms” because they mentioned the “Red Wizards” in one of the trailer, but this might just be another easter egg thrown in for the fans. Some elements of the trailers also felt a bit too much “on the nose”, too forced, like the inclusion of basically every iconic D&D monster available. I am surprised they managed to leave out the mind flayer, but I guess they are too dark for their intended audience. Apropos target audience: I am pretty sure the movie is targeted at young adult males first and foremost – much like the Transformers movies. Perhaps that’s another reason why I am not so thrilled about the movie at this moment.

So what to make out of this whole situation? Personally I will keep playing D&D 5E with the material I bought so far. I invested probably a couple hundred bucks in D&D stuff and I will put it to good use. But 5E was never my “main” system. I will continue to invest time and money into other games. At the moment I am getting back into GURPS and I am already in the early planning stages for a GURPS-powered sci-fi campaign which I will offer to my players as soon as they are fed up with D&D. Or – if time permits – I might just run a second game in between the D&D sessions. I am also very excited about all the new projects started by D&D third-party publishers. I am especially interested in MCDM’s upcoming game which is currently in the earliest design phases. I have a lot of respect for Matt Colville and his colleagues and I like their approach to game design.

Regardless what happens next we definitely should take one lesson to heart: corporate entities like Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast are not your friend. They are not part of our community. They are businesses only interested in the bottom line for their shareholders. Their rank-and-file employees may be true fans of the hobby, but the decision makers on top couldn’t care less whether they sell toys, soap, sodas, or roleplaying game books and they’ll always look for ways to get more of money out of you.