We won’t say much about OGL 1.1 here – but suffice it to say, we stand with the creators who use OGL 1.0a, entirely and with no caveats. We see OGL 1.1 as an attack on the D&D creator community, and it is untenable as a license.
OGL 1.1 is clearly part of the strategy to monetize D&D, given that Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast executives consider the brand “under-monetized”. We believe this is because they fundamentally misunderstand the true value of D&D and the intellectual property under that umbrella. We’ve seen D&D making a bigger push into the general market these days, with Stranger Things branded Starter Set, or toys sold at GameStop as collectibles. Heck, we even bought our child the ABC and 123 books! But here’s the problem – they’re all branded as “D&D” – which is a faceless, generic rule-set for an RPG. It, by design, has a Charisma score of 0.
So what, in our opinion, should Hasbro/WotC be doing instead? We aren’t experts in marketing, but we have thoughts. And our thoughts are just as worthy as anyone else on the internet, so let’s discuss…
The Settings are the Brands
Hasbro needs to realize that their greatest opportunity to monetize D&D is Dragonlance, Eberron and the Forgotten Realms. Dragonlance would be perfect for a multi-season, epic television show that would put Game of Thrones to shame. With all of its funky magitech, Eberron is a no-brainer for a kids show, in the vein of Batman: The Animated Series or Batman Beyond. And the billion-dollar megaproperty is Forgotten Realms. This setting has hundreds, if not thousands of years of lore already written. This is where the D&D Cinematic Universe would reside. Dozens of compelling characters and locales. Epic historical events. Crossovers galore. This is where the Marvel Model would come in…limited TV series, big-budget movies, the works. All of these are ripe for the plucking. Instead, time and time again – we get word of generic “D&D” movies. Rumor has it that the upcoming movie is actually set in the Realms, and I hope so – but they need to start making that name the one people know. Imagine going to the theater to see Forgotten Realms: The Fall of Myth Drannor (A D&D Movie).
People love D&D. They really do. Heck, we do too. And now that it’s been around for so long, parents want their kids to love it too. We mentioned the ABC-123 books above, but lean into that. Get cute stuffed dolls out there. Skip Funko Pops – go for something more fun and lasting. Action figures. Our son recently went to Build-a-Bear and got a Jurassic World branded velociraptor. Imagine if an Owlbear or an Axebeak was available? Or a stuffed Illithid? And now that we’ve established that the settings are the brand – lean into that too. Make Drizzt even more famous. Get costumes out as the Lords of Waterdeep. Sell replicas of the most famous weapons and treasure in the settings. The possibilities are endless here.
Critical Role is the model, not the Enemy
Critical Role’s success shows how strongly audiences will connect with professional actors as well as characters – and the powerful link between the actor and the character. Sam Riegel doesn’t just portray Nott – he IS Nott. And the same goes for the rest. The actor and the character are inseparable – even though the actors play multiple characters! Hasbro and WotC can lean into this for their Actual Plays. Get professional actors (who love D&D or RPGs, or who are truly invested in the gameplay) to play famous characters from Dragonlance and the Realms – and let those actors own the character for as long as possible. If the character cameos in a game, the actor portrays them. If the actor ever has to stop portraying the character, it will be a big deal – just like when Superman or Batman is recast. People will remember their favorite Drizzt. People will compare every actor who has portrayed Elminster. Who does the best Laerel Silverhand – the Actual Play actor, or the movie actor? These debates will keep the brand alive.
Taking these famous characters on epic adventures as actual plays is how you build the brand. Critical Role did it from scratch, all new characters in an all new world – but the Realms already exists. We know what happens in its history – now we’d get to find out how it happens.
Keep OGL 1.0a
The ship might have sailed on this one, with heavy hitters like Kobold Press launching Project Black Flag, and MCDM abandoning 5e to develop the MCDM RPG. But it goes (almost) without saying that the OGL and the third party community helped make 5e the huge success that it is. Without it, there’s no Exandria or Critical Role. There’s no Acquisitions Incorporated. There’s no Kobold Press, DM’s Guild or MCDM. Driving a spike into that community is probably not suicide – but it’s certainly a disfiguring amputation. Wizards made this mistake already with the GSL and 4e, and we ended up with a very solid competitor in Pathfinder. The talent in the creator community is both broader and deeper now than it was then…and more than every before in D&D’s history. Competition is coming now – and fast. We’ve seen people argue that it won’t matter – D&D is the 800 pound gorilla and nothing can take it down. Pathfinder didn’t, and a fractured gaming community with a half dozen new RPGs won’t either. And that’s true – until it isn’t. This could be a Black Swan event, something no one saw coming. Market leaders can fall fast and hard when you least expect it.
Hasbro and Wizards must walk OGL 1.1 back, all the way, and apologize profusely. But it still might be too late. And that’s a wound of their own making. A rising tide lifts all boats!
The wolves are circling. Paizo is salivating as the heir apparent, given that they have an alternative ready to go right now, with a robust creator ecosystem in place. There is speculation that they’re OGL 1.0a dependent too, but I’m sure they have a plan – and enough lawyers to actually stand up to a challenge. Other games are jumping on this too, like our personal favorite Cypher System. Monte Cook Games has the core book on sale for half off right now (a rare discount), has an open license, and has just committed to releasing more fantasy-oriented content. Smart.
Again, not a marketing expert – but with a little actual knowledge of D&D and its properties, it seems like these are no-brainer ideas to properly monetize the D&D brand, long term. And if that’s what Hasbro and Wizards really care about…I hope they’re listening to these free ideas. Pretend they’re under an open license for free use.