Gaming Steampunk TTRPG

OGL1.1 and The Aether Throne

The Wizards of the Coast / Hasbro OGL1.1 furore has caused an understandable stir amongst the ttrpg creator community, from established third party publishers like Kobold Press to indie creators self-publishing on DriveThruRPG.

The official license and details thereof have still to be released, but by all accounts it’s not great news for creators, particularly those who write content for the dragon game. It could range from royalty-based fees to signing over IP rights, and is – whatever it ends up actually being – likely to create a negative impact on the creator industry, and therefore ultimately the whole hobby.

On the surface, it doesn’t affect me. I write scenarios for Call of Cthulhu, and Chaosium have assured their creator community that the OGL changes have zero impact on the existing Chaosium creator programs.

I’m also designing my own original ttrpg, the pulp steampunk system and setting of The Aether Throne. I’ve already made the design decision to have this as a D20 system, and I’d previously decided to use some of what I innocently thought were ‘industry standard’ terms like Initiative, critical hits and attributes named Dexterity and Charisma.

The OGL bombshell has caused me to pause. Now I’m confident that the use of a D20 to power the engine isn’t going to fall foul of the OGL, and I wasn’t intending to reference the original OGL 1.0 in my ruleset at all.

But with the way the winds are blowing, I’m going to pivot away from using those ‘industry standard’ terms. Initiative will become ‘turn order’ (which is closer to ‘doing what it says on the tin’ anyway). Dexterity will become Agility; Charisma will rebrand itself to Presence instead.

And critical hits will become something else too, although I’ve not zeroed in on exactly what yet.

So yes, I’m confident that OGL1.1 won’t affect me, and I won’t end up having to hand over my mystical pulp steampunk world to Hasbro.

But it leaves a bitter taste nonetheless, and my heart goes out to some of my fellow creators big and small who are left with far bigger problems than coming up with an alternative term for ‘critical hit.’

I’m old enough to remember when the hobby was an anarchic mess of homebrewed rules and settings, scribbled notebooks full of houserules and ring-binders full of campaign notes. And I’ve been in awe of some of the content that creators are now publishing for others to enjoy, all of which helps spread the reach and popularity of the hobby as a whole.

Now, that anarchic spirit and wonderful variety feel a little bit threatened, and the culprit is a big organisation that seems to value profit over creativity and goodwill.

I hope it blows over, I really do. I hope Wizards and Hasbro row back and concentrate on Digital D&D Beyond instead as a money maker for those who choose to use it, and leave the core system as something it was always intended to be: a gateway to worlds of limitless adventure.

And for now, I’ll return to worldbuilding for The Aether Throne, where writing about the antagonistic and expansionist Empire feels a lot more ironic than it did a month ago…

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