RPG Evolution - The AI DM: The Downside of Free

With the arrival of Large Language Model (LLM) AI, all the content that's freely accessible on the Internet is about to dominate every topic, including tabletop role-playing games.


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.


The nature of tabletop role-playing games has always been collaborative. Dungeons & Dragons is a machine that makes more D&D. By its very nature, game masters are expected to share the content they produce with their players.

This naturally extended to fanzines, personified by Alarums & Excursions. Fanzine distribution was initially limited, but that changed once the Internet arrived, effectively unbalancing the stranglehold then-publisher of D&D TSR had over the game's future. What was once a vehicle for D&D's popularity became an existential threat to its brand.

That tension, between fandom and capitalism, continues to this day, as Wizard of the Coast's attempts to delegitimize the Open Game License recently demonstrated.

A Middle Path​

Early role-playing game innovations were often launched by creators frustrated with perceived flaws in D&D. Over time, these games would go on to become competitors to D&D itself, Tunnels & Trolls being a prime example.

After TSR's numerous attempts to control its fandom through threats of lawsuits, it was acquired by Wizards of the Coast, who altered course. Gone were the hostile overtures towards fans, replaced by a new model in which fans could potentially make money by leveraging the core rulebooks without competing with them. The Open Game License unleashed all that fan creativity with the opportunity to make a profit. The Dungeon Masters Guild created an even closer relationship between iconic D&D settings and fans looking to share their work.

Of course, fandom has never been constrained by rules, and gaps in Internet support created an opportunity for content to flourish on sites like the D&D Wiki:
In 2015, the WotC message boards, the hotbed of creativity which spawned this very wiki, were shut down by WotC. This action occurred because it became apparent that other communities on the internet had exceeded their capacity to discuss the subject of Dungeons and Dragons effectively, and that maintaining what amounted to a link-hub to other websites was not cost-effective. It is entirely possible that D&D Wiki, along with other communities like it, may have contributed to this unfortunate event. This was followed a few months later by the opening of the Dungeon Master's Guild.
The D&D Wiki's influence cannot be underestimated:
D&D Wiki, as the largest and most active of this type of website, remains the top search result when seeking D&D homebrew on the internet, even on multiple search engines, and even outcompeting the official WotC Dungeon Master's Guild, which offers its users the opportunity to make a profit off of their work!
Similarly, Open Game License sites that publish OGL-only content are treasure troves of free RPG material, the basis of which helped launch Pathfinder and the OSR.

The tension between "for pay" sites and "for free" sites continues to this day. But neither group likely anticipated an era when robots would comb the Internet, combine its content into something human-legible, and then release it for free without citing its sources.

Feeding the Machine​

LLM AIs consume the data sets provided to them. When it comes to role-playing content, this means that tools like ChatGPT are only as good as their data sets, and those data sets are only as good as the content they have access to. Out of sheer economic necessity, LLMs pull that data from free content which is both large and accessible enough to refine the AI's responses.

In the past, releasing content for free was frequently seen as a stepping stone to monetizing it later, as Writers First explains:
There is nothing wrong with producing “free content” by writing on a blog or on social media if it’s something you enjoy. And indeed, there’s the potential to leverage that writing into economic benefit in the future.
With the advent of LLMs, there's another factor to consider. Be it a Wiki, a blog, or on social media, all that "free content" is fodder AIs.

There are now plenty of gated options that still release content at no cost, but not entirely for free. Pay What You Want is one way to ensure that a human must click through to purchase something without making it easily accessible to the Internet (and thus LLMs).

But for fans and hobbyists, releasing content for free is counterbalanced by the fact that they are feeding a machine that will neither give them credit or link back to their work.

Your Turn: Would you still give away your work for free knowing an AI might use it?
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


Community Supporter
This is a really interesting idea becuase it means that things released under creative commons (a very anti corporate control idea) is now inverted to being the thing most likely to feed a corporate tool.
Exactly my concern, thank you for summarizing it so succinctly!

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