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5E Orion Black No Longer a D&D Designer [UPDATED!]

WotC employee Orion Black announced yesterday that they were no longer working for the company or on D&D, citing the corporate culture at the company.

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"It's July 3th and I no longer work for Wizards of the Coast. I no longer work on D&D, the little that I did. This is going to be a long thread and my last for quite a while, so bear with me.

I took the job for two reasons. The first was for the dream. To escape poverty doing what I love, writing and making games. The second was to make D&D welcoming to the millions who are scorned by it.

A lot of people had hope for D&D that they carried with me. While some people were upset to see me work for a corporation that overshadows indie, others hoped that I would be able to make real change. I tried. I failed. And I lost a lot.

Liking a tweet or post, RTing, or even following people who speak ill of WotC can lose you your job in an instant. That's why you never see it happen. @Zbeg is 100% correct. It's a silencing tool. I can say more now.

Kindness doesn't replace respect. Working within your comfort zone doesnt support change. Most people in that group were not ready for me to be there, a nonbinary Black person who would actually critique their problems. Idk what they expected.

I worked hard for a very long time. I got a lot of smiles and vocal support, but it was followed by inaction and being ignored. My coworkers were frustrated for me, and still are now. I confided in them often, cried on shoulders on a few occasions.

I realized at one point that leadership had given me 2 assignments over about 5 months. It was mostly me asking project leads for work, searching out opportunities. Leadership didnt really care about me or my growth. I had to.

I firmly believe that I was a diversity hire. There was no expectation for me to do much of anything. I probably disrupted them by being vocal and following up. It didnt matter if I was supported by seniors and positive.

I think genuine people proposed me as an option and it was accepted because it would look like a radical positive change. It would help quiet vocal outrage. And because I had to stay silent, it was a safe bet.

I started to lose all of my confidence. I started to lose trust in myself. After finding out that I wasnt getting an extension or FTE, I resolved to just finish things out and take care of myself. To stop fighting and to just survive, quietly. But it just kept getting worse.

They would talk about how they're going to start working on treating staff better, retaining contractors, actually answering questions. How much they were invested in diversity and change even though they hired two cis white dudes into two big leadership positions during this. One of whom claimed that he doesnt know what he's doing. No shit. I never want to hear "maybe they just hire the best person for the job" again.

I found out that some of my work was stolen, which destroyed me. It lined up with a project they were going to do and I had sent it in to someone in leadership months ago. The project was announced and this person who contributed "forgot" that we had a meeting where I gave them my ideas, and then a follow up document the day after. I knew nothing was going to be done about it. Someone else told me that the person said sorry that they forgot. That's it.

I was really losing my ability to do much of anything. I have depression and anxiety and ADHD, all of which I manage pretty well. But those parts of me were under the pressure of being ignored, disrespected, "forgotten", and not being able to say a word to the world.

Then, as social unrest continued global due to BLM, the D&D team comes out with their statement. It was like a slap in the face. How much they care about people of color, how much changing things (that I and others had been pushing for months, if not longer) was just going to happen now. It took weeks of protesting across the globe to get D&D to do what people they hired have been already telling them to fix. You cannot, CANNOT say Black lives matter when you cannot respect the Black people who you exploit at 1/3rd your pay, for progressive ideas you pick apart until it's comfortable, for your millions of profit year over year. People of color can make art and freelance, but are never hired. D&D takes what they want from marginalized people, give them scraps, and claim progress.

I spent my time in that building worrying about how much people hated me for working there. I spent a lot of time thinking about how much it hurt to work there. I had and still have supporters, and many. Thanks to you all for being my voice and speaking out when I could not. But I felt so isolated and alone. If not for some coworkers who checked in on me, who were going through the same things? I would've quit. Every angry statement about D&D felt personal because I couldn't fix it. Because I failed, whether it was my fault or not. I felt like I was being trashed by everyone because I could not disconnect what I set as a personal responsibility from the state of the game. That part IS my fault.

But I wound up as I am now because of all of this and much, much more. I am depressed. I am unable to write. I constantly question if anything I create is worth anything. I feel like I let everyone down, and no matter how much people tell me I didnt, that doesnt change. I feel guilty for not being what y'all needed me to be, what I wanted to be, and betrayed for how I was treated at that company. It's an exceptionally kind place on the D&D team. People are very nice to each other in a very genuine way that I truly enjoyed. However, that doesnt replace respect. That doesnt delete how I was treated. It doesnt change the fact that I honestly never want to play a trpg again and am definitely not working in that field anymore.

I know that I'm probably losing a ton of opportunities writing elsewhere because of what I've said here, as well as what I've sent in internally. It may mean that I will return to poverty, which makes me feel like a failure to my race, my family, and my partner who I want to provide the world. But under all these things, I have my integrity. I worked my ass off. I did my best for as long as I could. And I didnt let them treat me like that without telling the world what needs to be said.

Trust actions, not words. Not "look at how much we freelance so and so", because freelancing is exploitation of diversity with no support for the freelancer. Not "here we finally did what we KNOW we should've done a long time ago", because they only care about how optics turn to dollars. EVERYTHING involving D&D will continue to farm marginalized people for the looks and never put them in leadership. They wont be put on staff. They will be held at arms length. I hope they prove me wrong.

A lot of BIPOC and other marginalized people are trying to make their way by using D&D. Dont shame them for that. Think about how much, and when you wield your anger, that it is done righteously.

That said, I dont recommend to anyone, working for the D&D department of Wizards of the Coast."


Orion's Tweet about this. They also cite this statement, The Wizards I Know, by Zaiem Beg.

WotC's PR person, Greg Tito, commented publicly on the issue.

This should not have happened the way it did & I'll continue to fight so it does not happen again. I'm sorry if I let you down, Orion. You deserve better.


In response to an observation that this required more than just a PR statement or donation, and that it required diversity at the executive level he continued:

I have said almost these exact words for years, and more recently to executives put in charge of a community they don't understand. I am in the awful position of saying things I believe without the company making even a single, simple action of real change.


UPDATE! WotC has issued a short statement:

We sincerely apologize to Orion Black for the negative experiences they had as a contractor with the D&D franchise team. Their statement is being taken seriously and is an opportunity for us to improve the experiences of all those who contribute to our company and community. We're not perfect and we know there is more work to do. The ongoing dialogue with our community is critical to make meaningful change. We remain committed to making D&D a more inclusive community by supporting voices from people of all backgrounds.
 
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Comments


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Minigiant

Legend
Can't read the whole discussion right now but I always predicted that the small tight knit nature of most forms of gaming would result in nepotism, backlash, and confusion eventually as it becomes more corporate.

Eventually the corporate world wants more money and more money. At a certain point, you can't expand your consumer demographic without actual outreach, hiring, and hard work into the groups you see as potential customers. Many gaming companies sat back on their virtual monopolies and are now realizing they spend little time growing their market share.

It's happening in sports as well.
 



Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
It's impossible to know from only hearing one side of the story what really went on. My radar blips a little bit though when anyone trashes a former employer this publicly though.

Maybe he's right, maybe not. I have no clue. But it's hardly shocking that a big corporation doesn't care about you personally. Sometimes people just aren't a good fit. While I value diverse styles and opinions (even or especially when they don't agree with me) when I'm part of a team, I've been at companies where the opposite was true. I was once let go because I didn't do lunch or hang out with everyone after work. Had a friend actually call my old boss for a reference and they praised me up and down - except for the social thing.

I wouldn't be surprised if he's 100% accurate but I don't think we'll ever know.
 
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MGibster

Legend
Plus I do not think dealing with freelance contracts is part of his job In a company like WotC. Who even is in charge of that stuff there? Is it some no-name in HR? Is it the new man in charge, Ray Winninger? Ray has been in the business for a long time too, but what do we know about his biases? Does he need to go already?
It would be odd for someone in HR to be in charge of contractors. I understand what many of the lines of business at my company do, but I wouldn't dream of thinking I know their lines of business well enough to determine what the contractors should be working on. Contractors will be working under the direction of the the line manager, project lead, or some other employee. The only time I ever deal with contractors is when I review our contracts to make sure everything lines up with our policies, getting them onboard, and if they happen to run into a problem involving harassment (it's only happened once in the last six years).
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I think he's pointing out the double standard of a teacher expecting students not to plagiarize while plagiarizing himself.
You obviously aren't using any definition of plagiarize that I'm familiar with. So, no plagiarism, no double standard. If you'd ever taught elementary or middle school you'd have a very firm idea how ridiculous this idea really is.
 

Mercurius

Legend
We don't know all the details - just Orion's perspective. This is not to invalidate their perspective, just that I'm hesitant to draw conclusions about the views of Crawford et al, and the D&D team as a whole, from this piece.

What we do know is that this person is suffering, and I'm sorry to hear that. I wish them the best going forward.
 

FaerieGodfather

Aberrant Druid
WotC has had a rocky relationship with employees since the beginning, too: it seems to get a little hectic over there with office politics...
How many years in a row did they post December layoffs in the Oughts? Hell, even when I was working on my entries for the 3.5 setting contest-- the one that produced Eberron-- I never really thought a job at Wizards of the Coast was a good idea.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I'm not expert but I know enough that.

1. Senior people get paid more.

2. Publically supporting people online critical of your company is a bad look.

3. Lashing out on Twitter bad idea. Well using Twitter full stop bad idea.

4. You will likely get fired through no fault of your own. If you're a minority probably feels personal but may not be. It's a tough industry.

5. They own you and your work.

I did a political compass test and I'm more or less in the middle of left wing libertarian. Means the Bernie Bros and Communists hate me along with the alt righters.

I don't go to extreme in any one direction. There's not a lot of nuance online though and people view things very black)white and there's a lot of grey.

If you give the nutters an inch though they're gonna take a mile.
 


Azzy

Newtype
That is absolutely a possibility, however, when you have Anxiety you have to stop assuming you are the problem. If you don't you will constantly defend toxic people.

I've been medicated for over 20 years and while that helps it would be great if insurance could provide Therapy and if the U.S. wouldn't shun Mental Illness.
I'm right there with you. It's not an easy place to be.

Stay kind to yourself.
 

In no way is this meant to detract for Orion Black's statement, but having worked for a large, Fortune 50 company, previously, Worker Alienation is a real psychological phenomena, in my opinion.

Occupational Psychologists seem to agree.

An important historical note to keep in mind is Monte Cook left WoTC, before 5e came out, for what Monte would only say were "Differences of Opinion with Hasbro/WoTC Management".

Mike Mearls essentially attributed Monte's leaving WoTC to Monte having
become de-acclimated to WoTC corporate culture.
Which is honestly the type of response that Institutions that have a history exhibiting/ condoning Hazing like behavior state, as well.

To my knowledge when Jack Roush left Ford, the terms were amicable.
Indeed, Roush conversions are still quite popular, and are sold at select Ford Dealerships.

Clearly, despite Hasbro/WoTC boasting about D&D's record profits, the money is not being reinvested into the work staff, and conditions have been toxic enough that a RPG Luminary such as Monte Cook would rather go his own way, then endure the conditions.

Stating that 5 years of complaints, by very different people, is coincidence strains credulity, in my opinion.
 



Zardnaar

Legend
Basically anything you make they own and do what the boss says.

Alot of people these days don't like being told what to do even when they're being paid to do exactly that.

Some jobs no matter how nice the boss is won't be good for your mental health.
 



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