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When leaks about an upcoming Dungeons & Dragons license shakeup surfaced earlier this month, many fans and creators were aghast at apparent changes that could limit their ability to make derivative games, shows, and other content.
But ultimately, NFTs proved to be the biggest target—concerning news for Web3 gaming company Gripnr, which was building a project that attempts to capture the allure of the fantasy-themed tabletop smash for a new era. Now the firm is changing course as it becomes clear that D&D’s parent company wants nothing to do with NFTs.
For over two decades, the current version of the D&D Open Game License has enabled fans and companies to create content compatible with the storied tabletop experience by borrowing certain elements—such as game mechanics—via a System Reference Document.
Even though Wizards of the Coast recently removed some of the more onerous conditions—including mandated royalties—of the new license following considerable backlash, the license’s newest iteration remains steadfast in prohibiting D&D’s content from being integrated 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, calling its response to third-party Web3 projects one of the firm's main goals in updating the license.
However, combining elements of Dungeons & Dragons with Web3 tech was pretty much what Gripnr had originally set out to do.
The Louisiana-based company began working on The Glimmering, a blockchain-based tabletop game, in late 2021. Leveraging Ethereum sidechain network Polygon, it set out to facilitate play while recording currency, items, and experience points on-chain, among other features like rewarding creators and those who oversee sessions of The Glimmering.
Referencing the Open Games License and System Reference Document, the game’s whitepaper states that the two documents would be used to “bring The Glimmering to life.” A meeting was called among some members of Gripnr’s top management immediately following the leak of the controversial license update, lead game developer Stephen Radney-MacFarland told Decrypt.
“It was a good amount of chaos,” he said. “We had to go back and rethink, ‘How are we going to do this?’”
GRIPNR isn't moving forward with OGL 1.2 or SRD 5.1. It's not protective of creators nor meets our standards of "open."
To be blunt, Wizards has no broad right to prevent the use of Web3, blockchain, or NFTs in TTRPGs.
— The Glimmering (@The_Glimmering) January 20, 2023
Gripnr decided that its best course of action was to move forward with the project while revoking all uses of the Open Games License and System Reference Document. And Gripnr believes its game does not infringe on any of the intellectual property that’s protectable by Wizards of the Coast.
Radney-MacFarland said the ban on NFTs under the proposed version of the license wasn’t entirely shocking, as the company had previously received communications that suggested Wizards of the Coast “may not be happy” with The Glimmering. Wizards of the Coast did not immediately reply to Decrypt’s requests for comment.
Refusing to roll the dice
Last week, Gripnr released an extensive response to the latest proposed version of the license, outlining issues it has with modifications that extend far beyond a ban on blockchain applications. It ultimately put forth a plan to create 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 one of the primary reasons for its desire to update the license, considering its parent company Hasbro has sold NFTs before—including digital Funko Pop collectibles and Starting Lineup NBA action figures bundled with NFTs.
Gripnr raised $2.5 million in funding, as announced in April 2022, to bring the project to life. But much like the vocal backlash from some video game fans against NFTs, the project has faced considerable skepticism from tabletop fans. “NFTs are here to ruin D&D,” tech publication Gizmodo wrote last year in a lengthy explanation of the project.
While The Glimmering hasn’t yet been released—the on-chain campaign is slated to launch in March—Gripnr has launched its Genesis Collection of NFT heroes that will be used to play the game. Radney-MacFarland cited the heroes’ sale as one of the reasons for pushing ahead.
“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 randomly generated attributes that specify a myriad of qualities pertaining to each character, like their weapons, armor, and respective backgrounds. On OpenSea, there’s only ever been one recorded sale of a hero from the Genesis Collection, in October 2022.
Radney-MacFarland, a veteran of the tabletop gaming industry, has worked for both Wizards of the Coast and Paizo, the publisher of Pathfinder—one of D&D’s biggest competitors. The developer said that he’s currently reworking The Glimmering and making adjustments to accommodate dropping the Open Games License and System Reference Document.
“I'm frantically going over the stuff that I've already built and making changes,” he said.
Class: Bard 🪕
With sword and harp in hand, Lidl is ready for any challenge the party may face! pic.twitter.com/bj6DdlJX79
— The Glimmering (@The_Glimmering) January 17, 2023
Currently, prospective players can get a sense of what The Glimmering will look like through The Tower of Power, a one-hour game session run on Gripnr’s Discord server. It still uses the version of Gripnr’s game that incorporates the D&D license as the current version hasn’t been revoked yet.
The game will still have elements that are staples of the tabletop gaming industry, including 20-sided dice, spells, adventures, and treasure, Radney-MacFarland explained. But some elements, like certain monsters and sections of the game’s mythology, are likely to change given the need to clearly differentiate itself from its legendary influence.
“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.”