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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

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.
Orion claimed he had a paper trail. To prove his work.
Why people should keep paper trails.
 

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Some of the comment's I've seen here reminds me of what Owen K.C. Stephens wrote on his Real Game Industry quotes.

"When a ttRPG professional makes a statement that is unpopular with a segment of fans there is always a group who, with no evidence, begin discussions to claim A: The pro is incompetent, B: the pro is lying to gain attention or sympathy, or C: all of the above."
 

MGibster

Legend
What if someone is employed by two companies simultaneously? Who legally owns the work?
I think it's important to note that Orion wasn't an employee they were a contractor and the two are not the same.

Employee

Employer sets their hours.
Full time ongoing work.
Benefits (health, retirement)

Contractor

Contractor sets their own hours.
Hired to work on set projects.
No benefits offered.

So if Orion was hired to work on specific projects for Wizards, they could also work on projects for Chaosium, Steve Jackson Games, and Games Workshop. The only work Wizards would be entitled to is what Orion was specifically contracted to work on.
 

Parmandur

Legend
In terms of an idea being "stolen," I'd need way, way more specific details to have anything close to a feeling about it: who, where, what is the idea are we talking about (could be that the person in question had heard similar ideas from a dozen other people over the years, so it may legitimately not have registered as a significant conversation 5 months down the road), etc...
 


Parmandur

Legend
I think it's important to note that Orion wasn't an employee they were a contractor and the two are not the same.

Employee Contractor

Employer sets their hours. Contractor sets their own hours.
Full time ongoing work. Hired to work on set projects.
Benefits (health, retirement) No benefits offered.

So if Orion was hired to work on specific projects for Wizards, they could also work on projects for Chaosium, Steve Jackson Games, and Games Workshop. The only work Wizards would be entitled to is what Orion was specifically contracted to work on.
That's outside freelance work you are talking about: an internal contractor can be a very different relationship, depending especially on the terms of said contract.
 



EthanSental

Adventurer
Even niche markets aren’t immune to the backlash...comics as of late have a few stories like this going on as well.
 


Parmandur

Legend
So how do you propose we call Jerry on this practice which we know to be totally immoral?
There is nothing immoral for checking the public record of anyone who is applying for a job: and all social media is a public act. There is no realistic expectation to privacy.

Indeed, it would be unethical and irresponsible to not protect the interests of his company by not doing an adequate background check.
 

Orcslayer78

Explorer
Anti-inclusive content
Even niche markets aren’t immune to the backlash...comics as of late have a few stories like this going on as well.
That's because, like in the comic book industry, the web is filled with people with no talent who launch accusations just to have their 5 minutes of fame hoping to get works playing the victim card.
 

Kaodi

Adventurer
I really think people downplay the work "stalking" is doing here. There is absolutely nothing in the concept of stalking that requires someone be tailed in any private place. If I document your ever move outside of your own home with the purpose of exploiting this knowledge I am doing something intensely wrong. Jerry is not a journalist. Private employees keeping tabs on their employees at all times is in no way, shape, or form a public good.
 

teitan

Hero
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.



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.
claimed and provided no evidence for the claim. It reads like a lot of sour grapes to me. The progressive company that wasn’t progressive enough and has done a lot to embrace multiculturalism, expand their player base to so many communities in the last 5 years? They’ve had controversy but here’s the thing about people like Zak S. You don’t know they’re bad seeds until they do bad seed things and in the United States at least, until recently, it was theoretically innocent until proven guilty so things like accusations were/aren’t enough for a termination of contract until a confidential investigation occurred. It’s doubly hard when it’s freelance workers and consultants because publication of unfounded accusations can lead to legal matters like lawsuits or permanent damage to reputations ala Johnny Depp. This isn’t victim blaming. This isn’t not believing victims. It is the foundations of investigation. Zak for example had enough allegations to assume the smoke led to fire. But vague and unsubstantiated claims that appear to be counter to the evidence we’ve seen so far?

I’m not saying anyone is lying and have great empathy that Orion Black feels the way they do but the problem is that when you sign a contract with a company... your idea becomes the companies idea anyway. Was an idea stolen? Maybe. What was the idea? Where is the proof? Does it matter in the end based on your contract? How much detail was in your idea? Was it thrown out like a sentence or two? It sucks for sure but I’ve seen ideas I submitted to comic publishers, including major publishers, become projects a couple years later. Because of the contracts involved though I can’t sue them because it was obviously a part of the deal they own any ideas I submitted whether I was paid, the project come to fruition or not. It’s the nature of work for hire.

Was your contract a standard beginning contract for a new employee?
 

Parmandur

Legend
I really think people downplay the work "stalking" is doing here. There is absolutely nothing in the concept of stalking that requires someone be tailed in any private place. If I document your ever move outside of your own home with the purpose of exploiting this knowledge I am doing something intensely wrong. Jerry is not a journalist. Private employees keeping tabs on their employees at all times is in no way, shape, or form a public good.
Social Media posts, again, are public and very much fair game for review by employers and future employers.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Doesn't being "token diversity hiring" mean someone who is hired despite having no skill for the job?
No. Why hire incompetent people when you may be forced to rely on them? Unqualified people often cost you more money than you earn from them.

Most often, a “token diversity hire” is actually qualified for the position they fill, but only got the job because the employer in question needs to satisfy a legal or PR need. Usually, this happens because of past (intentional or situational) discriminatory practices by the business or their industry sector.

So even if- for discussion purposes- a company owner is racist but hires minorities in order to qualify for bidding on government contracts, he’s going to take at least minimal efforts to screen out the truly unqualified. If he doesn’t, he’s got dead weight on his payroll. You might not want minorities on your payroll, but if you have no choice, they might as well add to your profit margins.
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
That's because, like in the comic book industry, the web is filled with people with no talent who launch accusations just to have their 5 minutes of fame hoping to get works playing the victim card.
Y'know, after being moderated for bandying about the term "SJW" recently I'd have thought you'd have worked it out; "victim card" is another way to dismiss and insult people. You'r enow on your 4th warning point, in case you weren't keeping track.
 

There's always two sides to every story, but if i'm honest i would have trouble summarising Orion's grievance in one sentence. Let's say a contractor is working with a company that handles IP, and theu work there as a creative. My limited grasp of IP law is that ideas can't be copyrighted. Implementations of ideas have copyright. If you get done once, and feel your ideas had merit but you didn't get credit, what i would say is, communicate these via email next time to avoid this issue in the future.

I guess there may have been other issues between the contractor and the employee. But
to address issues effectively (imho) you have to deal with them one by one. And see what you did, what you could have done differently, and what you should do differently in the future to mitigate the effect or to position yourself better. That's the only approach i can think of that will help someone in the long run.
 

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