TURMOIL AND DISMAY: The new OGL
So, I've been fascinated and dismayed by the turmoil over the rehaul of the Open Gaming License, with all the potential fallout this could bring. Having neither behind the scene knowledge nor any particular insights, I've held off making any comment, other than to observe that historically TSR swung back and forth between two approaches to non-TSR rpgs: to exploit or to suppress (as anyone knows who got a cease-and-desist from Lake Geneva back in the day). The OGL was a successful attempt to add a third option: co-opt.
I'd also note that blow-ups over what third party publishers can/can't do tend to cluster around the run-up to new editions of the game. In this particular case I suspect events are exacerbated by the forthcoming D&D movie, with its potential to be a big money-maker (assuming it's not a replay of the disastrous duds associated with 3e twenty years or so ago).
With that in mind, I was struck by Steve Winter's post on Facebook a few days ago, reprinted with his permission (Hi, Steve):
Many people are expressing dismay that, if small publishers refuse to adopt the new OGL (as they should), and they respond by publishing their own games based on the 5th Edition D&D rules, that the RPG community will fragment into tribes and be irreparably damaged.
This doesn’t frighten me at all.
Why not? Because I was a roleplayer in the 1970s.
An aspect of those early years that’s often misunderstood by people who weren’t there is how much wild experimentation was going on in game rules. Once D&D hit, a very quick succession of years brought Empire of the Petal Throne, Traveller, Villains & Vigilantes, En Garde, RuneQuest, Bunnies & Burrows, Starships & Spacemen, Space Opera, Chivalry & Sorcery, Tunnels & Trolls, Arduin, Boot Hill, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, The Fantasy Trip, and countless other indie one-shots I don't recall anymore.
It seemed as if everyone with access to a typewriter and a mimeograph machine put out a newsletter or a digest with their versions of D&D monsters, D&D spells, D&D rules, D&D settings, and entire variant games built on the D&D model. Because so much of it was based on D&D, it all got used with D&D. Some of it was fully compatible, some kind of compatible, some not really compatible at all. Heck, even the different, official iterations of D&D weren't fully compatible with each other. It all got used at the same table regardless.
It was utter chaos, but it also led to a vibrant and exciting RPG community. So I’m not afraid the world of tabletop RPGs will splinter and disintegrate over this OGL fiasco. I think it will become more lively and more creative.
--I'd just add something else to take into account. During early days at TSR, far from trying to force everyone to play a single system, TSR itself published multiple rpgs, each with its own rules system: DAWN PATROL, BOOT HILL, GAMMA WORLD (itself derived from the one-shot METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA), TOP SECRET, GANG BUSTERS, and probably one or two I'm forgetting. Other companies varied between having a set of house rules they adopted for use in each game they published (e.g. Chaosium) while others whipped up a new rules system with each new genre of roleplaying game (I think FGU fit in this category). There's a reason it's a hobby/industry known for its diversity.
--current reading: new biography of Warnie Lewis.