Jim Butler, president of Paizo, has been at the center of a major topic of discussion within the tabletop gaming community for the last two weeks. With Wizards of the Coast’s OGL 1.1, Pathfinder’s owners made a landmark decision. Jim Butler and Paizo revealed the Open RPG Creative license, the ORC. This quickly became a very popular idea on the internet, as, unlike the OGL 1.1, it was an irrevocable license. Players won't have to fear their work being stolen or sudden royalties being required.
Jim Butler has been a game designer since around 1995 when he worked for TSR, the company that would later be purchased by Wizards of the Coast. His design work can be found in The Sword of the Dales, Netheril: Empire of Magic, and more. Over the years, Butler has worked for several companies and is currently the president of Paizo. Paizo is best known for creating the Pathfinder and Starfinder tabletop RPG systems.
In a recent interaction with long-time tabletop RPG fan and Pathfinder player Jason Parker, Jim Butler discussed the importance of the ORC, the problems with OGL 1.1, what Pathfinder class he’d be, and much more.
Jim Butler speaks at length about the ORC
Q. First off, thanks for taking the time to speak with us about Pathfinder and the ORC! For those who aren't aware, what is the ORC?
Jim Butler: The Open RPG Creative (ORC) license is, at its core, an irrevocable replacement for the Open Gaming License. It’s a license that allows game publishers to release their game mechanics to other companies, granting them the ability to create content for that publisher’s games. Paizo is one of several larger publishers that have signed up for the ORC license, which is being driven by Azora Law.
Q. What is the goal of the ORC, would you say? At the end of the day, what does it bring to tabletop gaming?
Jim Butler: It is a license framework that will allow creators and publishers to deposit their own game mechanics into it for use by other creatives in the hobby, and allow creativity to be unlocked across multiple genres, expressions, and media. It is a safe harbor where those with new ideas can access engines with installed player bases for mutual benefit.
It’s important not to confuse the license framework (which both the OGL and ORC are) and the game mechanics within the System Reference Documents (SRDs) contributed to it. The ORC will tell publishers all of the legal steps they have to follow (like the OGL does now). The SRDs will provide the open game mechanics that can be used by anyone participating in the Open RPG Creative (ORC) license.
Q. The world of tabletop RPGs has surely been interesting lately. Was the ORC license something that you and other publishers had been discussing before the leak of Wizards' OGL 1.1? If so, how long was it in the works?
Jim Butler: The birth of the ORC license was definitely driven by the leaks related to OGL 1.1, but Paizo has been moving away from the OGL for some time now. For example, Pathfinder Second Edition was rewritten from the ground up, sharing none of the specific rules and expressions contained in the SRDs released by Wizards of the Coast.
A lot of publishers in the tabletop gaming space are in the same position as Paizo in that our games don’t contain SRD material and instead use the open gaming elements of the OGL to allow other publishers to expand on our games. Once it became clear that the safe harbor granted by the OGL was under attack, we started working with Azora Law and other publishers on releasing the ORC license.
Q. On the topic of the ORC, what is Paizo's philosophy on open-source gaming, and what do you feel the strengths and weaknesses of the model are?
Jim Butler: There is a much lower barrier of entry for fans to become publishers. Intellectual property laws can be complicated, and the Open RPG Creative (ORC) license will allow fans to become publishers without worrying about whether a particular entry in a book is considered open content or not. Since each publisher in the license provides their own SRD, new publishers can use that material in their work to create something that’s greater than the original.
By having a wide swathe of creators working in and improving a base system, evolution happens quickly. Likewise, open gaming creates a wealth of material across a range of interests, creating stories and rules that build on a system framework. That adds to the value of the system opened up.
Historically, both the licensor and licensee have benefitted greatly from open licenses. However, there are a few downsides. For instance, there was the d20 glut in the early to mid 2000s, where there was so much material being released that it overwhelmed the retail channel. Some products weren’t at the same quality level as the core system, and other products would have fared better had they created their own rules system that better suited their gameplay. Overall, though, open gaming has been hugely beneficial to the entire industry.
Q. When it comes to the OGL 1.1 leak, virtually everyone was upset about the changes to the decades-old license. What would you say the most egregious changes were, and why?
Jim Butler: The most egregious change was the plan to deauthorize the 1.0(a) version and force everyone into a new version. It’s totally within Wizards’ rights to create a new version of the OGL for their new edition (as they did with the 4th Edition and GSL). As Paizo stated in our announcement of the ORC, we don’t believe they have the right to deauthorize 1.0(a).
The other downside is trust. After 23 years, a novel theory was developed to “deauthorize” an open framework that was undeniably intended and promised by the creators for decades to be perpetual and irrevocable.
Q. Wizards of the Coast walked back the OGL 1.1 changes publicly several days after the initial leak. Does that in any way change or alter your plans for the ORC?
Jim Butler: It does not. I’m not sure what Wizards could do right now to restore faith in their stewardship of the Open Gaming License. One place to start would be to issue a new version with the words “irrevocable” and “can never be deauthorized” in all the right places (and no other changes).
Q. The ORC is a license that had much of the internet talking, many of whom were excited. What do you think the ORC license means to the casual gamer, as well as content creators? What makes it such an appealing addition to the world of tabletop gaming?
Jim Butler: For gamers, it means their favorite game systems will have more game material available to them across print, digital, and whatever the future holds. Creators will have access to the same rules for their own creations and they won’t have to worry about it going away.
Q. Pathfinder gained a lot of potential fans with the ORC announcement, but starting a new TTRPG is often difficult. Any advice on where newcomers to Pathfinder should start?
Jim Butler: The Pathfinder Beginner Box is a robust introduction not only to the hobby of roleplaying, but to our system and how to play or run adventures in it. You can pick it up from your favorite local game store, paizo.com, online book seller, or across virtual tabletops like Fantasy Grounds, Roll20, Foundry VTT, and others.
A number of Pathfinder creators have produced some great YouTube videos, such as Nonat1s, The Rules Lawyer, The Gallant Goblin, and many more. You’ll also find some liveplays if you’d like to watch a game in action, including Troubles in Otari, The Glass Cannon Network playthrough of Dinner at Lionlodge, Geek & Sundry’s Knights of Everflame, and many more.
From there, we recommend both our rulebooks line (starting with the Core Rulebook and Bestiary) and our lore-focused treatises on the World of Golarion, the Lost Omens series. We especially recommend the Lost Omens World Guide, which provides detailed information on many of the regions and cultures of our world.
Over the past 16 years, our world has grown into a vibrant collection of polities and peoples, and is as detailed as any other fantasy world on the market. With over 180 monthly adventure paths published and numerous guides to individual regions and ideas, there are endless stories to tell. So, try the world out.
Q. Pathfinder is more than tabletop games, though. In 2021, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous came out as a CRPG. How much input did Paizo have on the story and gameplay? Can fans expect a third Pathfinder CRPG in the future?
Jim Butler: Paizo’s creative team worked closely with the Owlcat team to ensure that Wrath of the Righteous held true to the spirit and storyline of the original Adventure Path. We reviewed the scripts, artwork, marketing, and more. The Owlcat team are all Pathfinder players though, so this was an easier process than it might have been with a less experienced crew. Finding licensing partners that share our RPG passions is an important element in our partnerships.
Presently, we don’t have any news on the next installment. Owlcat is currently working on a Warhammer game, and we wish them and our friends at Games Workshop all the best as they bring that experience to life.
Q. You have a long history in tabletop RPGs, from TSR to Wizards of the Coast, and now Paizo. Are there any lessons or mistakes that you take from earlier experiences that have benefitted you in your time here?
Jim Butler: I’ve worked with a lot of amazing people at TSR, Wizards of the Coast, Turbine, Trion Worlds, and now Paizo. They were all gamers and deeply understand their community because they were a part of it. Sometimes, the executives didn’t share those community values and were mostly focused on extracting lifetime revenue from their users. Sometimes, they were too focused on short-term gains at the expense of long-term growth.
I once had a producer tell me that I was the first marketing person he ever met that actually played his games. How else can you find out what’s most important to the community? So, play the game and invest in a lot of market research.
Q. What Pathfinder class would you give yourself, and why?
Jim Butler: Hmm. Probably a wizard with a barbarian dedication. I’m good at thinking things through, but sometimes, I still stumble into hazards or strong-arm my way into a place where I shouldn’t, despite my best intentions. I’ve got a great team here at Paizo to help me stumble a bit less, and I’m very thankful for that.
Q. What is the future of Pathfinder and Starfinder in 2023? Anything major on the way fans need to be excited for? Perhaps Pathfinder 3rd Edition?
Jim Butler: We’ve announced a ton of new products for Pathfinder and Starfinder this year. I’m really looking forward to Pathfinder Treasure Vault, which comes out in February, and Rage of Elements (August). For adventure lovers, we have the Gatewalkers Adventure Path that releases in a few weeks for Pathfinder and the Scoured Stars Adventure Path for Starfinder (also in August). There’s a lot more coming, but I can only list so much!
It’s too early to talk about new editions, but there are plenty of amazing new products coming for both Pathfinder and Starfinder. We hope you’ll join us around the table.
Jim Butler continues to serve as Paizo’s president, with the publishing company set to release several great products throughout 2023. You can keep up to date with Paizo’s latest announcements on their website, Twitter, and YouTube channels.