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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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Parmandur

Legend
I think that ignores the reality of the situation. Pre-Internet, a well-known figure in the RPG community looks for a job with GE. Do they look at the fanzine he edited and largely wrote? No. Do they look at his letters and writings in Dragon Magazine? No. Do they even look at the major publications for TSR or White Wolf he wrote? Maybe, but plausibly not. Everything he said to the RPG community is basically private. Today, everything posted here is viewable by GE without digging out print sources, even though this is more akin to the fanzine that would be nigh impossible to find copies of than even the stuff published in Dragon Magazine.

Likewise, Facebook posts aren't nearly as edited as Christmas letters to family, but are much more easily accessible. It's like every argument in a private social club or bar was preserved and made available to just about everyone. There's really no comparison.
The world is as we find it: this just the way things have been for my entire adult life.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
Not only is citation mostly unnecessary, it's also a waste of time. A teacher in North America typically gets about 2.5 hours a week to prep about 30 hours of classes, so it pays to spend that time on getting the best lesson together, not pretending that you're writing a university paper.
Citation is always a waste of time. How does it serve the publisher to offer the name of the cover painter, or the interior writers? (Note that many ghost writers are happy to be anonymous.) Citation is a way to give fair credit to the producer of a work. It's demanded in some fields and it's ignored in others. That fact that it's ignored in yours, says that being the author of a worksheet in your field is not valued, it's an anonymous labor. I'm not arguing for or against that, but it would be a major faux pas in other fields.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
Regardless of who is in the wrong or how truly wrong anyone's actions were, he definitely didn't think of the future impact on his career.

Such is the effect of acting on emotion rather than logic.
You don't know that. Logic does not dictate goals; it can but offer routes to goals. Maybe he did not prioritize his future career; his actions would still be entirely logical, just with different goals then you would have.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Quite likely not. Nobody’s likely to care about the re-use of worksheets put together by individual teachers to support their classes in an academic setting.
Says someone who's obviously never been a teacher. Worksheets are commonly available online both paid and free and usually have the source right on them, so that isnt an issue. If youre writing your own worksheet and using, say, historical material from a variety of sources they often wont be sourced. Who does citations for an elementary worksheet? No one. Why, because theres no need mostly. It has zero to do with attribution though. If you want students to learn more, sure, give them a website link.

Not only is citation mostly unnecessary, it's also a waste of time. A teacher in North America typically gets about 2.5 hours a week to prep about 30 hours of classes, so it pays to spend that time on getting the best lesson together, not pretending that you're writing a university paper.
As a teacher . . . . if you are using someone else's worksheet (or powerpoint or other curriculum piece), there should be a citation/source somewhere on the page (usually at the bottom), and of course you should have a license to do so from the author/publisher. If you are making your own worksheets, it's uncommon to put citations on the worksheet itself, but good practice is to include those citations in the lesson plans the worksheet is a part of . . . . .

But nobody every checks up on that sort of thing, it's a good habits/practice sort of situation. And as Fenris says, we are so catastrophically screwed on prep time that properly citing within lesson plans usually falls to the wayside . . . heck, even writing out complete lesson plans is rarely done unless you have to turn them into somebody (administration, college professor, portfolio).
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Citation is always a waste of time. How does it serve the publisher to offer the name of the cover painter, or the interior writers? (Note that many ghost writers are happy to be anonymous.) Citation is a way to give fair credit to the producer of a work. It's demanded in some fields and it's ignored in others. That fact that it's ignored in yours, says that being the author of a worksheet in your field is not valued, it's an anonymous labor. I'm not arguing for or against that, but it would be a major faux pas in other fields.
Maybe you missed the part where I said worksheets are almost always attributed in the first place? They tend to come with the website or whatever right on them. I was talking about citing various actual history books used to create a grade 5 or 6 handout on Egypt. No, I'm not citing it, and no it's not necessary.

I would also completely disagree that citation is a waste of time in general. It isn't. Its just not necessary in every case.
 


Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Look it's about due diligence. Of course a company is gonna check this stuff out: if you have written something on twitter, or published or book or made a movie - whatever - it will all be taken into account. That's what recruiters and HR people do. And are expected to do. And I can promise you, a bad sign - a very bad sign - is people dissing former employees on twitter. It is such a turn off.

The Orion-dude also know this if you read his posts. He himself mentions that he probably will not get much more work in the bizz. Crux of the matter is that this should have been handled between him and his employer. But it's the sign of the times to go complaining on Twitter.
Posting on Twitter when angry, sad, upset, or otherwise emotional is rarely a good idea. But humans are flawed creatures driven by emotion. And sometimes, your desire to call out injustice or bullshit outweighs your concerns about future employment within any given industry. Orion Black sounds tired and exhausted from working within the RPG field, and seemingly has, at least in part, given up on a career in RPG writing. I'm not gonna judge them.

And twitter has reach. If you want people to hear your message, tweet it. Orion's post has gone viral and gathered a lot of attention. Hopefully this will help move the needle for change at WotC and within the RPG industry. And it's even possible that sympathetic publishers might be willing to give Orion work due to his bravery in posting his frustrations with WotC, when before they might have not known who they were.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
Maybe you missed the part where I said worksheets are almost always attributed in the first place?
I'm terrible for recycling other teacher's worksheets without giving credit. I have some that I have no idea who the original author was, and they have probably been through several sets of hands before coming to me.
You're moving the lines, then. When we talked about plagiarism, we were obviously talking about Farquhar's original statement.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Is this official? And the wording is very specific. Sorry about the way it happened does not equal it should not have happened, perhaps just handled differently. Very specific language from a member of the communication team.
It's officially from Greg Tito in his capacity as a human being. But not official as in a statement from WotC. Greg seems like good people, but he isn't the boss.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
I guess a question I have is were the other contractors they have brought on for a year or so paid similarly. Did WOTC treat Orion differently or did Orion have different expectations? We will likely never know.
The other contractors were likely paid similar rates as Orion (I hope, at least) . . . but corporations routinely hire contractors at significantly lower rates than full-time staff, don't provide benefits, and expect the same level of work. In other words, the social construct of "contracting" is corporate BS to underpay folks and squeeze out more profits. The issue here isn't likely pay, even though it seems Orion was paid unfairly low, but in how they were treated and valued by management.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
You're moving the lines, then. When we talked about plagiarism, we were obviously talking about Farquhar's original statement.
And again, context matters. Most classrooms have shelves and shelves of binders worh worksheets in them, left there specifically to be used by whomever has the room next. Teachers also tend to share sheets around to whoevere needs them. I can't think of too many worksheets that dont fit one or the other category I've mentioned. Your insistence that there's some sort of serious plagiarism issue here isnt just overblown, its bordering on the ridiculous.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Publicly burning a bridge of the magnitude Orion has done, in an already small industry, was probably the worst decision for finding more freelance work or landing a permanent position..
The problem with a small industry like RPGs or minis is that it is hard to expand the base outside of those already in it and broaden your audience when the stockholders want more money.

The other problem with a small industry like RPGs and minis is that you cannot criticize the industry heavily and remain in it.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
To float an alternative POV here, if I were WotC I think allowing Tito to do this would be a very smart move. By not lopping him and issuing some kind of half-baked statement of support that backhands some of the responsibility on Orion and adds 'we'll do better' caveat, I think you'd sidestep a lot of the furor.

Cynical? Sure, but I think it would work.
 

Derren

Hero
To float an alternative POV here, if I were WotC I think allowing Tito to do this would be a very smart move. By not lopping him and issuing some kind of half-baked statement of support that backhands some of the responsibility on Orion and adds 'we'll do better' caveat, I think you'd sidestep a lot of the furor.

Cynical? Sure, but I think it would work.
Oh they certainly won't fire him now. That will come in 6+ months when this has been forgotten.
 

jerryrice4949

Explorer
To float an alternative POV here, if I were WotC I think allowing Tito to do this would be a very smart move. By not lopping him and issuing some kind of half-baked statement of support that backhands some of the responsibility on Orion and adds 'we'll do better' caveat, I think you'd sidestep a lot of the furor.

Cynical? Sure, but I think it would work.
Reminds me of a good cop, bad cop scenario. Could work.
 

Olrox17

Hero
To float an alternative POV here, if I were WotC I think allowing Tito to do this would be a very smart move. By not lopping him and issuing some kind of half-baked statement of support that backhands some of the responsibility on Orion and adds 'we'll do better' caveat, I think you'd sidestep a lot of the furor.

Cynical? Sure, but I think it would work.
He's throwing people under the bus, though. Important people. All while claiming a moral high ground for himself. I don't think that's going to fly unnoticed. Somebody is going to lose its job, perhaps in a few months.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
And again, context matters. Most classrooms have shelves and shelves of binders worh worksheets in them, left there specifically to be used by whomever has the room next. Teachers also tend to share sheets around to whoevere needs them. I can't think of too many worksheets that dont fit one or the other category I've mentioned. Your insistence that there's some sort of serious plagiarism issue here isnt just overblown, its bordering on the ridiculous.
You're arguing that plagiarism is a bad thing, we aren't doing bad things, therefore we aren't doing plagiarism. That's not a strong argument.

When you copy worksheets without giving credit to the original author, you're engaging in plagiarism. In some fields, this copying would be a big deal. In others, it's not. I'd note that RPGs aren't really careful about credit; authors will get their name on the credits page, but in larger books, you'll get a bunch of names with no notes about what they did. In other fields, co-authors take full credit for the entire work or are credited directly for their section. In yet other fields, no one gets credit for their work; my father had his name removed from his work, and when it's declassified, it will be an anonymous work. It's different field-by-field, but let's not deny you're doing things that in other fields would be very major issues.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
He's throwing people under the bus, though. Important people. All while claiming a moral high ground for himself. I don't think that's going to fly unnoticed. Somebody is going to lose its job, perhaps in a few months.
Those higher people aren't going to be affected either way, and it's just 'higher people' not anyone specific. They get to look 'active' by not firing or chastising Tito, and can pretty much ignore Orion. This probably isn't the case anyway.
 

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