Open Letter to WOTC Follow-Up: Repercussions of an Open Mouth

In the Aftermath of the Wizard’s Letter

Holy Crap…

What else can I say? The letter posted two weeks ago took a life of its own. I was hoping it would have an impact, but I had no idea it would do this.

Let me explain, or as Montoya would say, let me sum up. On February 28th, I decided to reach out publicly to Wizards of the Coast to offer suggestions to improve their relationship with their GSL 3rd party companies. Without going into too many details, I’ll enforce certain ideological points the letter hit upon. The first dealt with WOTC’s relationship with 3rd party companies and the fact that the community is divided on what that relationship is. Accusations abound that WOTC created the GSL as a handout to prevent an uprising, while others considered it a restrained, but conscious business decision to protect WOTC’s franchise while still offering its rules to outside publishers. Still others consider it an aggressive maneuver to destroy said competition. Assumptions followed claiming WOTC considered 3rd party companies annoying tolerances best pushed under the bed. This despite WOTC listing 3rd party companies on their website under the title “Partnerships”, indicating something more valued.

Fast-forward a week later, the letter on Living Dice had received no comments and little attention…until a news posting on EnWorld on Monday. Three comments followed, a link on thread on EnWorld, but the letter seemed fated for obscurity. That was March 5th. Upon my return from work on March 6, the responses on Living Dice had increased to twelve and the thread on EnWorld had exploded to 135 posts over nine pages with over 2,000 views. By the end of the week, those numbers would triple. Unfortunately the dialogue appeared more concerned over the conflict between which was the better system, Pathfinder or D&D. I have to take personal responsibility for that, as I had stated that some 3rd party companies were enjoying increased sales under the Paizo banner over the Wizards’ one. That statement was easily misunderstood as a declaration that Paizo was selling better, a statement I neither made nor could back up with any accurate data.

Overall, the responses were extremely supportive, though many provisionally. Some comments held hope that WOTC could actually adopt these proposals, though convinced the letter would fall on deaf ears for reasons as varied as grains of sand. The negative comments appeared divided into two camps, those that considered the letter the ramblings of a whiner complaining that WOTC doesn’t do his work for him and those using the letter to extol the virtues of Paizo’s community policy. The latter I will deal with later. As for the accusations of whining, beyond the ill-mannered tone of such accusations, I realize now I could not have hoped to have posted that letter without such comments being made, despite their ignorance. If the policies and business practices I suggest are so pitiable, then why does Paizo follow that same model (more on that later)? These comments also appeared isolated to certain regions. On EnWorld, although initially present, they quickly vanished in the swell of Paizo vs. WOTC rhetoric. On WOTC’s official forum, three threads discussed the matter without a single negative remark towards the spirit of the letter. I have seen at least one extensive negative thread continue on two other sites, revealing how certain people congregate to certain sites.

The conflict between which was the better system eventually dragged Morrus (owner/operator of EnWorld) to defend his company practices along with praising the advantages of writing for 4th Edition. Humorously, he repeated a comment I had made in jest to a podcast interview some months back concerning the lack of products in the 3rd party 4e landscape being in our favor (given the absence of competition).

There were comments made about my opinions towards Pathfinder, based mostly on assumption. I stated I have my preference, which is true, but it is in no way based on the quality of the product. I have never played or read Pathfinder. My group made a decision; gamers can be stubborn that way. They won’t even touch Essentials despite me wanting to. Pathfinder was released a year after DEM had signed the dotted line on the GSL. Because of the limitations with the license at that time, there was no point in attempting a dialogue with Paizo, as there was no way we could adapt Amethyst to 3.75 without breaking our license agreement with WOTC. However, my initial opinion was that an Amethyst-Pathfinder adaptation would not succeed given the deluge of 3rd Edition products available.

Little did I know the irony of this situation. In actuality, as I alluded to earlier, the proposals I was hoping WOTC would adopt were the same Paizo follows as gospel. Pure coincidence. What does that say about the practicality or effectiveness of that business model? If the concepts I suggest are so totally alien to a successful business, why is it that Wizards’ biggest competition in the RPG market follows those very same practices? Regardless, the letter was made not as a vent but also not as a heartfelt attempt to garner a response for Wizards, as I agree with many people in that WOTC is unlikely to respond. But sometimes you have to make a statement despite the futility of it. The fact that it generated this considerable reaction does indicate a lot of pent up frustration felt by players and publishers alike. With a definite presence of knee-jerk reactionaries and armchair quarterbackers, it’s unlikely that WOTC would be willing to sift through the conflict to see the legitimate concerns their fans and 3rd party companies have. If by some grace of sorcery Wizards does respond, and does implement some of the suggestions offered, I imagine the fanatical naysayers would not be the first to apologize.

The conclusion of this tale takes an interesting twist. I was in fact contacted by a major publisher involved in this entire episode. It wasn’t Wizards of the Coast that contacted me; it was Paizo, specifically Vic Wertz, its technical director. With little stake in the situation, watching silently from the sidelines, Vic decided to wave a flipper of friendship from welcoming shores, inviting me to dip a toe in water of Pathfinder. After Morrus discussed the difficulty with converting his 4E products to Pathfinder, he suddenly announced a Pathfinder adaptation to ZEITGEIST. The revised GSL issued in 2009 does open 3rd party companies to develop properties outside of the GSL, even single products released under two rules (a fact I confirmed with Goodman Games). This permits simultaneous releases of both Amethyst 4E and Amethyst 3.75. Alas, as I have mentioned, I have no experience with Pathfinder (though extensive with 3.5), so there is considerable research to be done.

IF such a project were to move forward (which it actually is—I bought Pathfinder last week), it would be an expansion of the line, not a shift (as two books are still due for Amethyst 4E this year). It would also be an adaptation from the 4E Foundations book, not the 2008 Amethyst D20 release. Too much has changed in the setting in the intervening years and I’ve gotten to be a much better writer (I didn’t even have an editor for the old book). This is not an official announcement; I’ll make that up for later.

It’s an interesting footnote to the story. By this posting, I still have not received a word from WOTC. I am grateful at all the positive feedback received.

Apparently I have a 500 page rulebook to read…


Chris Dias

Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.

27 thoughts on “Open Letter to WOTC Follow-Up: Repercussions of an Open Mouth

  • March 22, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Good for you for posting the initial letter. It’s a dialogue that needs to be had and reflects on the companies involved. My group tried 4e and embraced Pathfinder after determining 4e wasn’t for us. I’m glad to hear you’ve found a new outlet creatively in Pathfinder!

    Also, you can’t say, write, imply, suggest or even state a fact on the internet without someone calling you foul names because of it. Welcome to the technology that was supposed to bring us all together!

  • March 22, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Vic Wertz I think, not mercer.

    • March 22, 2011 at 11:02 am

      Yup, Mercer. Blame an overly-tight necktie. 🙂

      • March 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

        I mean Wertz…DOH!

  • March 22, 2011 at 11:18 am

    I am glad you go the opportunity to know what it feels like to have a company you work and make products for actually support what you are doing. In every way possible, Paizo keeps doing great things.

  • March 22, 2011 at 11:30 am

    If/when you convert to “Amethyst 3.75”–which I’d humbly suggest you not refer to Pathfinder as–I’ll buy the product.

  • March 22, 2011 at 11:34 am

    WotC’s response is typical and expected from a corporate behemoth (ironically what dinosaurs are called in 4e.) While Paizo’s response shows where their priorities lie–supporting the gaming community.

    • March 22, 2011 at 3:06 pm

      I love this comment… 🙂

    • March 22, 2011 at 5:06 pm

      Isn’t Paizo also an corporate behemoth? They are motivated by profit, like all other companies. And their whole Pathfinder business model is about taking other people’s work (3.x edition) and cashing in on nostalgia, isn’t it?

      • March 22, 2011 at 7:55 pm

        Comments on the basis for Pathfinder aside, there is a BIG difference between Paizo and WotC, and one that massively affects its approach to profitability – Paizo is privately owned. The only investors/owners of Paizo are (AFAIK) Lisa Stevens and her long-term significant other, Vic Wertz. It’s their personal money behind the company (money from, ironically enough, the Hasbro buyout of their WotC stock), so if there’s an idea they feel strongly in, they can make riskier moves and do things WotC just simply can’t, whether WotC’s managers want to or not. Paizo isn’t reporting to an impersonal board of shareholders, trying to meet target profit margins, they’re running a company to meet their own personal standards, for good or bad.

        • March 22, 2011 at 8:06 pm

          (As far as the unoriginality claim goes, I would contend that Pathfinder the RPG was created solely to support Pathfinder the Adventure Paths. The APs were something that Paizo specifically created during the years when they ran Dungeon Magazine, (building from past cycles of adventures into a monthly series of adventures stretching across the full level range of the core game) and any success the at best iterative if not derivative Pathfinder RPG might have today is a side effect of the original thought and work Paizo put forward in the creation and development of the APs.)

      • March 26, 2011 at 7:20 pm

        Change is not necessarily improvement. Liking an established system is not nostalgia. Physics didn’t become nostalgia when Quantam Mechanics came on the scene. FPSs are not better than RPGs.

        The reason that a lot of people buy Paizo is because for them it is the better system. Yes it’s true, some people don’t like 4E. That doesn’t make them “nostalgic”.

        WoTC gambled that they could abandon a great system with an established but less exciting market for a completely different system in the hopes of gaining a new, shiny, more lucrative market. It’s not Paizo’s fault for cashing in on their loss, it’s just good business. You can’t expect consumers to give up what they like and force them to choke down your new product. Paizo is giving consumers what they want. If WoTC dropped the ball, Paizo are entitled to run with it.

  • March 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Amethyst is a good setting, and since I have a 3.5 version. I would love a chance to own a updatedversion of a 3.75 version.

  • March 22, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Clearly WotC is missing out by not working with a writer with a bunch of usage errors and who can’t even catch an “it’s” error in his website banner.

    • March 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm

      Chris is not responsible for the banner, I am. This is the cost of getting graphic arts done by minimal English speakers overseas. It is a known issue and I am working on a replacement.

      As to Chris’s English grammar skills, I know his published books go through more revisions than a blog post.

      Thank you for the feedback though. Your clever use of a contraction marks you as an English major that agonizes over every word you write.

  • March 22, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Nice ending with Paizo reaching out to you. Kudos to them. What I also find interesting about those threads that were started over on EnWorld was the “Do you really need the GSL?” arguments. Interesting reading to be sure.

    • March 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm

      I like being able to put the Dungeons & Dragon’s stamp on my product. I know loopholes allow me to detach from the GSL, but the recent revisions to it allow me to keep it AND pursue Pathfinder in a separate product.

  • March 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    I edited the post. It was ZEITGEIST that EnWorld is adapting, not Santiago. I also corrected Vic’s name.

  • March 22, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Congrats, I am very glad you were able to shift though all the vitriol and Pathfinder Flag wavers (Like me) and find that Vic did reach out to you.

    You were the one that inspired me to say thank you to paizo, and I really appreciate your letter to WotC.

    Thanks Again

    Steve Russell
    Rite Publishing

  • March 23, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I am very interested in a more modern/sci fi setting for Pathfinder. I hope the ZEITGEIST pathfinder adventure path does well because I would LOVE a Santiago version.

    Same with NeuroSpasta, pretty please?

  • March 24, 2011 at 7:31 am

    Just do it. GR has done it with their Freeport setting… its nice having the flavor, followed up by multiple crunch documents that allow you to pick and choose which “rules” you wish to employ.

    Personally I like Pathfinder; haven’t converted my group to it yet but there is talk about it. Its a nice step from 3.5 that doesn’t make all the ‘crunch’ splatbooks that people have collected over the years irrelevant.

    Like it or not, WotC isn’t their own company and hasn’t been for a long time. I was really quite surprised that Dancy got the OGL going in the first place, but I think that was really before Hasbro knew or understood what was going on. This isn’t a stab at anyone at WotC, but its just the reality of the situation. GR, Paizo, etc., unlike WotC/Hasbro, doesn’t have anyone to answer to except themselves so they can be more flexible and accomodating. On the flip side they do often assume a lot more risk too if something were to go wrong, not meet deadlines, sell poorly, etc.

  • March 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Paizo a corporate behemoth? Behemoths are larger-sized were I come from. Maybe that’s just Texas.

  • March 26, 2011 at 9:07 am

    I wish you all the best with a Pathfinder test product. I’ll be sure to look for it.

  • March 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Paizo allows the 3pp because it has to. It’s the whole point of the OGL. Paizo couldn’t lock anything down if it wanted to. They are not giving some great gift to the world. Your letter read as though you were complaining that WotC wasn’t doing your work. It might not have been your intention, but it very much was received that way. You keep making stabs at WotC while reiterating that you’re not trying to. Your message is completely off.

    • March 30, 2011 at 5:16 am

      You obviously dont get it Duh! Chris was happy with the GSL and the System it was the lack of awareness and support by WotBro for the smaller publishers that he was having a problem with.

      Paizo communicate with, and actively promote 3rd party publishers because the 3pps fill gaps and offer things that Paizo is not large enough to do. This is beneficial because it exposes their rule set to people that are not interested in Adventure Paths or the Paizo world setting.

      Wotbro loose out because their rule set stops being used.

      Its about keeping a product in peoples minds.

    • March 30, 2011 at 6:35 am

      Paizo doesn’t “have” to “allow” the third-party content. They can’t restrict any existing OGL content that they use in their products, of course, but they could restrict ALL of their new content that they’ve created, and there’s a LOT of it.

      They’re under absolutely no obligation to release any of their rules updates, changes, etc. as open game content – but they do. They could have kept it all closed, but, instead, they release their own SRD, and by doing so, promote the hell out of the OGL, quite unlike most any other publisher these days.

      They also strongly encourage, support and, more importantly, MARKET content from third-party publishers. I’m not talking just selling it on their website/store, but actually promoting it via front page advertisements and direct-to-customer emails.

      What is WotC/Hasbro actually doing, besides their half-assed “support” via the highly-restrictive GSL? Answer: Not a damned thing.

      The truth here is that WotC/Hasbro doesn’t care at all about 3PP’s, and the only reason that there still exists any modicum of “support” is that a complete elimination would have backfired dramatically (hell, the first GSL attempt DID backfire dramatically).

  • April 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I can’t wait to see a Pathfinder version of Amethyst. You’ll have one definite sale from me.

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