When leaks about an upcoming Dungeons & Dragons license reorganization surfaced earlier this month, many fans and creators were outraged by apparent changes that could limit their ability to create derivative games, shows, and other content.
But ultimately, NFTs proved to be the largest target, which was disappointing news for Web3 gaming company Gripnr, which was developing a project that aimed to recreate the fantasy-themed tabletop occurrence for a new era. Now that it is clear that D&D’s parent company wants nothing to do with NFTs, the company is changing course.
The current version of the D&D Open Game License has allowed fans and companies to create content compatible with the storied tabletop experience by borrowing specific elements, such as game mechanics, via a System Reference Document for more than two decades.
Even though Wizards of the Coast recently removed some of the more onerous conditions of the new license in response to significant backlash, the most recent version of the license still prohibits the incorporation of D&D content into NFTs.
“We wanted to address those attempting to use D&D in Web3, blockchain games, and NFTs by making clear that [Open Game License] content is limited to tabletop role-playing content,” D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast wrote in a blog post.
Nonetheless, Gripnr’s original plan was to combine Dungeons & Dragons elements with Web3 technology.
Late in 2021, the Louisiana-based company began developing The Glimmering, a blockchain-based tabletop game. Utilizing the Ethereum sidechain network Polygon, it aimed to facilitate gameplay while recording currency, items, and experience points on-chain, among other features such as rewarding creators and those who oversee The Glimmering sessions.
The game’s whitepaper mentions the Open Games License and System Reference Document, stating that these two documents will be used to “bring The Glimmering to life.”
“It was a good amount of chaos,” he said. “We had to go back and rethink, ‘How are we going to do this?”
The best course of action for Gripnr was to proceed with the project while revoking all uses of the Open Games License and System Reference Document. And Gripnr believes that its game does not infringe any of Wizards of the Coast’s protectable intellectual property.
The company had previously received communications indicating Wizards of the Coast “may not be happy” with The Glimmering, so Radney-MacFarland stated that the proposed license’s ban on NFTs was not entirely unexpected.
Choosing not to throw the dice
Gripnr issued a long reply to the most recent proposed version of the license last week, outlining its concerns with modifications that go well beyond a ban on blockchain applications. In the end, it proposed a new open-source license for tabletop role-playing games.
“The best path forward for Gripnr and many other companies in the industry is to abandon the [Open Games License] and find licenses or other methods that will allow us to continue our business,” it stated. “To be candid and blunt, Wizards has no broad right to prevent the use of Web3, blockchain, or NFTs in tabletop gaming.”
The blog post also called it “disingenuous” for Wizards of the Coast to cite NFTs as a primary reason for its desire to update the license, given that its parent company Hasbro has previously sold NFTs, such as digital Funko Pop collectibles and Starting Lineup NBA action figures bundled with NFTs.
As announced in April 2022, Gripnr raised $2.5 million in funding to bring the project to life. However, similar to the vocal opposition from some video game fans to NFTs, the project has been met with considerable skepticism from tabletop fans. Last year, the tech publication Gizmodo wrote in a lengthy explanation of the project, “NFTs are here to ruin D&D.”
The Glimmering has not yet been published. Gripnr has introduced its Genesis Collection of NFT heroes for use in the game. Radney-MacFarland cited the sale of the heroes as one of the reasons for proceeding.
“We were definitely not going to pack things up and go home,” he said. “We’d already put in a great deal of work [and] sold out of our first run of NFT heroes.”
The heroes have random attributes that describe many things about each character, like their weapons, armor, and backgrounds. On OpenSea, a hero from the Genesis Collection has only ever been sold once, in October 2022.
Radney-MacFarland is a veteran of the tabletop gaming industry. He has worked for both Wizards of the Coast and Paizo, which publishes Pathfinder, one of D&D’s biggest competitors. The developer said that he is currently reworking The Glimmering and making changes to account for dropping the Open Games License and System Reference Document.
The Tower of Power, a one-hour game session on Gripnr’s Discord server, gives people who want to play a taste of what The Glimmering will be like. It still uses Gripnr’s game with the D&D license because the current version hasn’t been taken away yet.
Radney-MacFarland said that the game will still have things like 20-sided dice, spells, adventures, and treasure that are common in tabletop games. But some things, like some monsters and parts of the game’s mythology, are likely to change because the game needs to stand out from the legends that inspired it.
“Our orcs will be a little different,” he said. “It’s going to be very familiar to what people are used to playing and a bit different in parts, but I don’t think those parts will be too grating.”