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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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Bitbrain

Black Lives Matter
Doesn't being "token diversity hiring" mean someone who is hired despite having no skill for the job?

I used the phrase above because from what I read from Orion’s statement, that is what it sounded like to me: they were hired to make the company look good, and apparently little else.

I would only wish someone well if I actually knew they deserved well.

They claim that WOTC’s D&D department literally stole from them!

Sigh

I’m adding you to my ignore list. I like ENWorld a lot, but your statements towards me seem overly combative and unkind. I don’t need that in my life.
 

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Parmandur

Legend
I hope things work out, but in reading the post, it seems like a really bad fit, but nothing ... well, with the possible exception of a co-worker / fellow contractor stealing their IP, Orion Black has a lot, and some might also just be part of the issue that they are acknowledging (depression, anxiety, ADHD).

My general advise is that while these types of things, and twitter in general, might feel good to get off your chest, it's usually best not to burn bridges. Employers always do social media searches now, and they tend to frown on someone who took a scorched-earth approach to their last employer.

If there is something truly toxic at WoTC, then they should tell us.

Yeah, all of the WotC people on Twitter had been posting recs for Orion in the past few weeks as the contract was ending...now those co-workers have been burned by Orion...
 


jerryrice4949

Adventurer
To quote from the OP:

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.
[/QUOTE

Yes I read that.

IF that is the truth it would be very disturbing. Yet I don’t know that to be true and neither do you. Might be, might not. In the meantime you are ignoring all the things WOTC has done to try and be more inclusive and selecting to pay attention to a social media post.

Confirmation bias? As you already said, it is what you suspected and you have chosen to pay attention solely to the info that supports what you already believed.
 

barasawa

Explorer
I've never worked in the game industry, but corporate is still a related thing.

There have been some odd things I've seen happen, that just seem a little off until you get more info on them, then you figure out they're completely messed up. It happens, and it happens right in front of people that don't even catch on that the victim might think is obvious to them.
This isn't an excuse or anything, it's just the limitations of incomplete information, and the perception of many that tend towards the innocuous when given multiple interpretations rather than the negatives.

I've heard similar murmurs from other over the years regarding WoTC, but this has been the most blatant outright statement I've read.
I seriously hope things get better, but I know better than to believe corporate "we'll do better" statements until after they come true, if ever.


Perhaps I'm being to pessimistic, but to be honest, has anyone ever seen anything from them to dissuade such a viewpoint?
 

Mortellan

Explorer
I have loved d&d since the early 80s and I've done tons of projects for the fan community over the years, but I have never desired to work for wotc. Employee or otherwise. This is a company that routinely fires employees at Christmas. Like others said, it's a very narrow, competitive industry.
Good luck in your next endeavor Orion.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I have loved d&d since the early 80s and I've done tons of projects for the fan community over the years, but I have never desired to work for wotc. Employee or otherwise. This is a company that routinely fires employees at Christmas. Like others said, it's a very narrow, competitive industry.
Good luck in your next endeavor Orion.

Yeah, there are good people who work at WotC, but it is a very corporate sort of environment.
 


Parmandur

Legend
It should be noted WOTC has been signing creative people and consultants to a one or two year contract and then not renewing itThis person is not the

They churn through talent quite a bit especially some people on one or two year contracts. But that also might help keep ideas fresh.

It's not necessarily all bad for the industry or hobby, it's experience that the contractor can bring forward into other places (a lot of former WotC folks go into video games, for instance). But it's pretty grindy in the trenches, and not good for people's mental health and general well being frankly.
 


jerryrice4949

Adventurer
It's not necessarily all bad for the industry or hobby, it's experience that the contractor can bring forward into other places (a lot of former WotC folks go into video games, for instance). But it's pretty grindy in the trenches, and not good for people's mental health and general well being frankly.
A lot of former employees go on to great things. Look at Wolfgang at Kobold Press. There are several others too.
 





jgsugden

Legend
Superficial pandering change comes quick, actual real change is slow. None of the things we've seen this year are real change - they're marketing. Real change takes a lot more time than a few months. Unfortunately, a lot of the pandering superficial change ends up coming back to haunt the people trying to look good. Their words and their actions do not reconcile, and that creates more distrust and anger.

Hopefully, Orion's time at WotC made a positive dent in a few people and will be a small step in a long path towards a better environment.
 


Haffrung

Adventurer
Is it me or is WotC managing to find itself embroiled in a lot of hot water these days? This is just the latest in a stream, of things. There'e ConsultantGate (Pundit and ZakS), MearlsGate, SexyDMsGuildGate, ProJaredGate, now this.

And that's not even counting the MtG stuff. A lot of it seems to be poor choices of who to work with.

What's going on there?

They're the big fish in a small pond, and social media gives people a platform to express frustration about their industry or employer.

And most of the 'hot water' is only evident to the small faction of gamers who spend a lot of time on forums like this. I doubt any of the people I play D&D with have heard of Pundit, Zak, or even Mike Mearls.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
Yes. Why would I want to wish someone well if they didn't deserve it?
I think what Morrus is driving at is that in neutral situations, the normal response in polite society is to still wish someone well in most interactions (i.e. "have a nice day" to the clerk when you finish paying at the store). They don't need to have done anything to deserve my well-wishes, they simply need to have not gone out of their way to earn a negative response.

Now, it's possible you have a loose definition of "deserve" (maybe any interaction that isn't negative deserves praise), but I hope you would agree that in general usage, wishing someone well isn't something they have to earn.
 

I think what Morrus is driving at is that in neutral situations, the normal response in polite society is to still wish someone well in most interactions (i.e. "have a nice day" to the clerk when you finish paying at the store). They don't need to have done anything to deserve my well-wishes, they simply need to have not gone out of their way to earn a negative response.

Now, it's possible you have a loose definition of "deserve" (maybe any interaction that isn't negative deserves praise), but I hope you would agree that in general usage, wishing someone well isn't something they have to earn.
Generally speaking if I didn't know I wouldn't wish them anything at all. If it was someone I had reason to like I would wish them well, if it was someone I had reason to dislike I would wish them ill.
 

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