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Paizo commits to legal battle against Wizards over the future of Pathfinder and D&D

RPG publisher steals the initiative along with allies Kobold Press, Chaosium, and Legendary Games

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A Black woman stands amidst the tumult of a medieval battle, arrows flying overhead. Her sword is raised over a shield that reads “Open RPG.” Image: Paizo
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Paizo, creators of the Pathfinder and Starfinder role-playing games, has committed itself to a legal battle against Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons. In a statement issued on Jan. 12, the Redmond, Washington-based company announced that it would move its products off the Open Gaming License (OGL), which is expected to be either altered or withdrawn by Wizards in the near future.

The OGL was developed and refined in the lead up to D&D’s 3rd edition, and has been in place for some 20 years. It is part of the legal framework by which creators like Paizo have been able to build their own tabletop RPG companies alongside Wizards’ own brand. In December, Wizards said it would be updating the OGL with increased specificity — that it would only apply to written content and static digital files (like PDFs), and that creators would be required to report related earnings back to Wizards on an annual basis. But many have interpreted the repeal of the OGL as an existential threat to non-D&D games like Pathfinder.

“Paizo does not believe that the OGL 1.0a can be ‘deauthorized,’ ever,” Paizo said in its statement. “While we are prepared to argue that point in a court of law if need be, we don’t want to have to do that, and we know that many of our fellow publishers are not in a position to do so.

“We have no interest whatsoever in Wizards’ new OGL,” it continued. “Instead, we have a plan that we believe will irrevocably and unquestionably keep alive the spirit of the Open Game License.”

The Open RPG Creative License, also known by the acronym ORC, is currently in development by Seattle-based Azora Law, a firm which represents Paizo and other allied game publishers. According to Paizo, Azora co-founder attorney Brian Lewis “was the attorney at Wizards who came up with the legal framework for the OGL itself.”

“Paizo will pay for this legal work,” the company said. “We invite game publishers worldwide to join us in support of this system-agnostic license that allows all games to provide their own unique open rules reference documents that open up their individual game systems to the world.”

The statement goes on to say that no one gaming company will own the ORC, but that it will be up to Azora Law to take “ownership of the process” and provide “stewardship” in order to create “safe harbor against any company being bought, sold or changing management in the future and attempting to rescind rights or nullify sections of the license.

“Ultimately,” Paizo concludes, “we plan to find a nonprofit with a history of open source values to own this license (such as the Linux Foundation).”

While Paizo will be footing the bill, other, smaller publishers have also lined up behind the ORC. Reached for comment, Paizo confirmed to Polygon that Kobold Press, Green Ronin, Legendary Games, Roll for Combat, Rogue Genius Games, and Chaosium have already thrown their support behind the initiative. Additional publishers, Paizo said, are already beginning to reach out.

As of Friday morning, more than a week since a draft of the OGL was leaked to the press, Wizards continues to remain silent.

Update (Jan. 27): Wizards of the Coast announced on Friday that it would abandon its efforts to change the Open Gaming License completely. OGL 1.0a will remain in effect. The Hasbro-owned company is going a step further, however, by placing a large portion of the core rules and lore of D&D into a Creative Commons license — which effectively enhances protections for creators and further opens its intellectual property for the world to build on, commercially and otherwise.

Paizo made a statement on Twitter about the sudden and near total about-face. Creation of the ORC will proceed, and the company is recommitting to the difficult legal work that is still ahead of it.

“We welcome today’s news from Wizards of the Coast regarding their intention not to de-authorize OGL 1.0a,” Paizo said. “We still believe there is a powerful need for an irrevocable, perpetual independent system-neutral open license that will serve the tabletop community via nonprofit stewardship. Work on the ORC license will continue, with an expected first draft to release for comment to participating publishers in February.”

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