Tuesday, January 9, 2024

The Golden Age?

 Well, it has happened again. All the wits and pundits of the blogosphere have spoken and I feel like I must weight in as well.

Ben Riggs, who purports to be a historian, has made a bold claim that 2023 marked the end of the Golden Age of TTRPGs. https://www.reddit.com/r/rpg/comments/18xtxdq/the_golden_age_of_ttrpgs_is_dead/ And the reason I say "purports" is because he's missing an obvious historical parallel to the scenario that he lays out in his post: D&D 4e.

The Open Gaming License was first introduced to enable the average hobbyist gamer to support Third Edition D&D back in the yesteryear of Y2K and maybe make a buck or two while doing do. And some people began making more than a buck or two and were able to do very well for themselves. Over the course of the 3,x publishing era, a number of companies sprang up that were able to sustain themselves entirely on publishing 3.x content under the OGL.

I mention those companies because that seems to be the thread that Ben isn't following, but it's really key.

When D&D 4e was announced, it was made clear that it would not be an OGL game. While players would have to buy all of their books from Wizards of the Coast from then on (which WotC didn't mind at all), this is also cut off the meal ticket for this whole ecosystem of publishers who supported 3.x over the years.

So the hunt was on for a d20 successor system, so those publishers could continue to do something very close to what they had been doing previously. Paizo and its Pathfinder system ultimately won, but let's not forget that once D&D left the OGL market, there were a number of people trying to fill that gap. True20, FantasyCraft and a host of others that I've forgotten in the interim.

And now, thanks to the OGL 1.1 fiasco of a year ago, we're in a similar situation. Even though WotC has recanted and relented and begged for forgiveness, they burned a lot of trust. Enough that the OGL publishers supporting 5e decided that they needed to design for a system that either was truly, assuredly open as WotC had previously promised D&D would be, or was under their direct ownership and control.

That's what these products that are "fracturing the market" are. Publishers seeking assurance that the rug won't be pulled out from under them again. And there's every possibility that those game lines won't last long. For every Pathfinder, there are a large number of True20's. And this disruption is arguably smaller than the one that created Pathfinder, so it could happen than none of these manage to sustain much more than a niche interest.


Dick McGee said...

And yet 4e did have some books made by third-party publishers, including ones who were simultaneously making decent bank of OGL d20. It's also effectively gone on to have its own "Pathfinder" in the form of Pelgrane's excellent 13th Age, which is currently playtesting for 2nd edition and has a few of its own spinoffs from companies using its SRDs - King of Dungeons being a good example. And recently we had Orcus come out, which is even closer to being 4.5e than 13th Age for better or worse.

All very small fish compared to what the OGL spawned, but meaningful on a more modest scale.

F. Douglas Wall said...

I think Goodman did have a 4e license, but most OGL publishers stuck with some flavor of OGL to support.

I've been reading 13th Age and while it does share some of the design team as well as the combat focus of 4e, it does have some distinct design mandates of its own.

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