What's an OGL? An SRD? What's OGC? A Quick Primer!
  • What's an OGL? An SRD? What's OGC? A Quick Primer!


    With all this information about OGLs and SRDs and other acronyms flying around, I thought I'd write a quick primer for those who aren't familiar with the concepts. This is not legal advice in any way, shape, or form - it's just a basic explanation of what these things are and what they mean. For the purposes of this article, I'm not including the Dungeon Master's Guild material, which is an entirely different structure and set of rules. Also, as it's not legal advice, I'm not going into detail on the nuances of the license - it's literally just a cursory overview of the concept, not a detailed analysis of the text. I hope it helps!

    First, some definitions.

    OGL. This stands for Open Gaming License. About 15 years ago, when D&D 3rd Edition launched, the then-VP of of WotC was Ryan Dancey. He was the architect of something called the Open Gaming License, or OGL. The OGL is a license to use and share material which has been designated as "Open Gaming Content".

    SRD. This stands for System Reference Document. This is how WotC told us what they were designating as "Open Gaming Content". Basically, if it was in the SRD, you could use it. If it wasn't, you couldn't. So, if you were a publisher writing a D&D resource book, you'd use the SRD as your basis, not the D&D 3rd Edition Player's Handbook. That way, you knew you were only using Open Gaming Content.

    OGC. That's an acronym for Open Gaming Content. Because typing that out all the time gets annoying.

    15 years ago there was something called the "d20 Boom" ("d20 System" being the name of the underlying ruleset behind D&D 3E) -- hundreds of publishers used these licenses and produced supplements and games compatible with or based on the D&D 3E (or later 3.5) ruleset. And I mean hundreds - d20 books were falling out of the sky. It dried up eventually, of course.

    So, those things out of the way, what just happened?

    WotC has just released a new SRD based on the D&D 5th Edition ruleset. Like the old SRD, it contains the rules of the game and tells you what is OGC and what is not. In other words, if it's in the new SRD, it's OGC. Note that the old SRD is still valid; OGC once designated as such is permanently OGC. So you can use anything in either SRD (or, indeed, anything any other party has designated as OGC).

    Now that you know what is OGC (the answer to the question "can I use X?" is "read the SRD"), you can go ahead and start producing products compatible with D&D 5th Edition. It's all legal, it's all approved of, it's all with permission. However, there are some restrictions.

    The main restriction - the biggest obstacle - is that if you are using the OGL you have to follow its terms. And one of those terms says that you agree not to use any trademarks without written permission from their owner. Now, WotC has given you written permission to use a bunch of stuff - that's the SRD. A big 300-page written permission. But notably, that SRD is missing certain things, and that means you can't use them.

    One of the things not in the SRD is the words "Dungeons & Dragons" or "D&D". So you are allowed to produce stuff compatible with D&D... but you can't say so directly. Not if you agree to the terms of the OGL. So you'll see people using the OGL and describing their content as "compatible with the world's most popular roleplaying game" or somesuch.

    Now it's time for another definition.

    d20 STL. This was the d20 System Trademark License. It was rescinded years ago, so you can't use it. But it was a license which allowed you to indicate compatibility by using a trademark - the d20 System Logo. You've probably seen it; it was a red and white square like this:


    You can't use this

    As I said, you can't use it any more. The license was rescinded. Paizo has a similar logo for the Pathfinder RPG which you use to indicate compatibility. They have their own trademark license if you want to use it.



    You can use this

    So, right now, there's no way to clearly indicate compatibility with D&D 5th Edition. The Dungeon Master's Guild offers some methods, but that's an entire different route, and I'll go into that at some other time.

    That's the Open Gaming License, what it is, and what it does. It's actually fairly simple, as licenses go. And it's fairly short. You can read it in its entirety, and that will answer most questions you may have about it. If you're planning on publishing using the OGL, your first step is to read the OGL, and understand it. Here it is:

    Open Gaming License

    THIS LICENSE IS APPROVED FOR GENERAL USE. PERMISSION TO DISTRIBUTE THIS LICENSE IS MADE BY WIZARDS OF THE COAST!


    OPEN GAME LICENSE Version 1.0a


    The following text is the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and is Copyright 2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc ("Wizards"). All Rights Reserved.

    1. Definitions: (a)"Contributors" means the copyright and/or trademark owners who have contributed Open Game Content; (b)"Derivative Material" means copyrighted material including derivative works and translations (including into other computer languages), potation, modification, correction, addition, extension, upgrade, improvement, compilation, abridgment or other form in which an existing work may be recast, transformed or adapted; (c) "Distribute" means to reproduce, license, rent, lease, sell, broadcast, publicly display, transmit or otherwise distribute; (d)"Open Game Content" means the game mechanic and includes the methods, procedures, processes and routines to the extent such content does not embody the Product Identity and is an enhancement over the prior art and any additional content clearly identified as Open Game Content by the Contributor, and means any work covered by this License, including translations and derivative works under copyright law, but specifically excludes Product Identity. (e) "Product Identity" means product and product line names, logos and identifying marks including trade dress; artifacts; creatures characters; stories, storylines, plots, thematic elements, dialogue, incidents, language, artwork, symbols, designs, depictions, likenesses, formats, poses, concepts, themes and graphic, photographic and other visual or audio representations; names and descriptions of characters, spells, enchantments, personalities, teams, personas, likenesses and special abilities; places, locations, environments, creatures, equipment, magical or supernatural abilities or effects, logos, symbols, or graphic designs; and any other trademark or registered trademark clearly identified as Product identity by the owner of the Product Identity, and which specifically excludes the Open Game Content; (f) "Trademark" means the logos, names, mark, sign, motto, designs that are used by a Contributor to identify itself or its products or the associated products contributed to the Open Game License by the Contributor (g) "Use", "Used" or "Using" means to use, Distribute, copy, edit, format, modify, translate and otherwise create Derivative Material of Open Game Content. (h) "You" or "Your" means the licensee in terms of this agreement.

    2. The License: This License applies to any Open Game Content that contains a notice indicating that the Open Game Content may only be Used under and in terms of this License. You must affix such a notice to any Open Game Content that you Use. No terms may be added to or subtracted from this License except as described by the License itself. No other terms or conditions may be applied to any Open Game Content distributed using this License.

    3.Offer and Acceptance: By Using the Open Game Content You indicate Your acceptance of the terms of this License.

    4. Grant and Consideration: In consideration for agreeing to use this License, the Contributors grant You a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license with the exact terms of this License to Use, the Open Game Content.

    5.Representation of Authority to Contribute: If You are contributing original material as Open Game Content, You represent that Your Contributions are Your original creation and/or You have sufficient rights to grant the rights conveyed by this License.

    6.Notice of License Copyright: You must update the COPYRIGHT NOTICE portion of this License to include the exact text of the COPYRIGHT NOTICE of any Open Game Content You are copying, modifying or distributing, and You must add the title, the copyright date, and the copyright holder's name to the COPYRIGHT NOTICE of any original Open Game Content you Distribute.

    7. Use of Product Identity: You agree not to Use any Product Identity, including as an indication as to compatibility, except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of each element of that Product Identity. You agree not to indicate compatibility or co-adaptability with any Trademark or Registered Trademark in conjunction with a work containing Open Game Content except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of such Trademark or Registered Trademark. The use of any Product Identity in Open Game Content does not constitute a challenge to the ownership of that Product Identity. The owner of any Product Identity used in Open Game Content shall retain all rights, title and interest in and to that Product Identity.

    8. Identification: If you distribute Open Game Content You must clearly indicate which portions of the work that you are distributing are Open Game Content.

    9. Updating the License: Wizards or its designated Agents may publish updated versions of this License. You may use any authorized version of this License to copy, modify and distribute any Open Game Content originally distributed under any version of this License.

    10 Copy of this License: You MUST include a copy of this License with every copy of the Open Game Content You Distribute.

    11. Use of Contributor Credits: You may not market or advertise the Open Game Content using the name of any Contributor unless You have written permission from the Contributor to do so.

    12 Inability to Comply: If it is impossible for You to comply with any of the terms of this License with respect to some or all of the Open Game Content due to statute, judicial order, or governmental regulation then You may not Use any Open Game Material so affected.

    13 Termination: This License will terminate automatically if You fail to comply with all terms herein and fail to cure such breach within 30 days of becoming aware of the breach. All sublicenses shall survive the termination of this License.

    14 Reformation: If any provision of this License is held to be unenforceable, such provision shall be reformed only to the extent necessary to make it enforceable.

    15 COPYRIGHT NOTICE
    Open Game License v 1.0 Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

    Section 15

    You need to put a copy of the OGL (i.e. all that text above) in your book.

    You see Section 6? That tells you that you have to put stuff in Section 15. If you're writing for D&D 5th Edition, you have to put this in s15:

    System Reference Document 5.0 Copyright 2016, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, Chris Perkins, Rodney Thompson, Peter Lee, James Wyatt, Robert J. Schwalb, Bruce R. Cordell, Chris Sims, and Steve Townshend, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

    You also have to add your OWN copyright notice. If somebody uses your OGC in future, they then have to include your copyright notice in their s15. So I might add:

    Morrus' Book, Copyright 2016, Morrus

    And there we go. That's what the OGL is, and what it's for.

    Yes, But...

    The OGL is a license. A license is a form of contract - an agreement you voluntarily make.

    Now, folks often say "hey, WotC can't copyright the word X!" -- and you're right. In all likelihood they can't. That's not what this is, though. This is you making an agreement which contains conditions as to what you can and cannot use. The argument isn't "I should be able to use this because it's uncopyrightable", it's "I can't use it because I agreed not to".

    What you're doing is agreeing to certain terms in exchange for other benefits. In this case, the benefit is what's known as a "safe harbor" - a whole bunch of stuff you can conveniently use without challenge, safe in the knowledge that nobody will send you a Cease-and-Desist letter form their lawyers. It's up to you if that deal's worth it, of course. Generally, it really is, but that's your call.

    You could do a lot of this stuff without a license. You could fall back on regular IP law, fair use, all sorts of other stuff. But then you need to know what you're doing, and you probably need to hire a lawyer to be sure. And even then, you might get it wrong. The OGL is a safe way to do it, written in clear language, making it nice and easy for you. It's a pretty sweet deal.

    I hope this has been useful. Like I said, it's not legal advice. It's just a quick primer for those who aren't familiar with the concept. Before you start using the OGL, you need to do some research. But this should suffice as an introduction to the topic.
    Comments 115 Comments
    1. TerraDave's Avatar
      TerraDave -
      Good to have a summary, and a new SRD!

      Also, Dungeon Master Guild is not one of those things above. Its yet another thing.
    1. ChapolimX's Avatar
      ChapolimX -
      Now I see
    1. mach1.9pants's Avatar
      mach1.9pants -
      Sticky sticky me thinky!
    1. Yaarel -
      It seems the abbreviations that are gaining currency are

      SRD5
      SRD3

      to refer to the System Reference Documents for D&D 5e and 3e, respectively.
    1. Yaarel -
      By using the OGL, an indy authorship agrees to avoid mentioning WotC trademark names, like ‘Dungeons & Dragons’, ‘D&D’, ‘Forgotten Realms’, and so on.

      But it seems ok for the authorship to say, their product is ‘SRD5 Compatible’, or something similar. That way, the authorship can inform the potential customer that the product can be used along side any other product that is also using the SRD5, as written, with minimum modification.

      Similarly, D&D5 players can look for the ‘SRD5 compatibility’ label, to know which indy products are (at least intended to be) used with official D&D 5e products.

      By contrast, if a creator is using the SRD5 to completely rewrite the rules into a different kind of system (for example, to make products for Dragon Age, Fate, or so on), then the creator would avoid saying the product is compatible with the SRD5.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yaarel View Post
      But it seems ok for the authorship to say, their product is ‘SRD5 Compatible’, or something similar. That way, the authorship can inform the potential customer that the product can be used along side any other product that is also using the SRD5, as written, with minimum modification.
      Yeah, but that only informs a tiny fraction of your potential customers. To the rest of them, that's just gobbledegook. That's why brand names have value.
    1. Kramodlog's Avatar
      Kramodlog -
      If you use the OGL for 3.x or PF, you had to put the OGL text in the book you were releasing. Do you have to do that if you use DmG to release your 5e material?
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by goldomark View Post
      If you use the OGL for 3.x or PF, you had to put the OGL text in the book you were releasing. Do you have to do that if you use DmG to release your 5e material?
      Dungeon Master's Guild stuff is an entirely separate setup to this; nothing to do with the OGL. I'll write a post on that at some point.
    1. Staffan's Avatar
      Staffan -
      Quote Originally Posted by goldomark View Post
      If you use the OGL for 3.x or PF, you had to put the OGL text in the book you were releasing. Do you have to do that if you use DmG to release your 5e material?
      Not a lawyer, but: No. Not only don't you have to, but you can't. The DM's guild and the OGL are mutually exclusive.
    1. AverageCitizen's Avatar
      AverageCitizen -
      It seems like everybody is assuming that WotC won't offer an separate, independent licence to indicate compatibility for a particular partnership. I mean... has anybody asked?
    1. Sir Brennen's Avatar
      Sir Brennen -
      Quote Originally Posted by AverageCitizen View Post
      It seems like everybody is assuming that WotC won't offer an separate, independent licence to indicate compatibility for a particular partnership. I mean... has anybody asked?
      To me, that sounds like how the licensing for Hero Lab is working, especially since they mentioned having to go with using separate licenses for their two products that support 5E.
    1. CapnZapp -
      Question:

      What is the difference between the old Open Gaming License (for 3rd edition) and the new Open Gaming License (for 5th edition)?

      If "none", please explain how this can be.

      Thx
    1. Yaarel -
      Quote Originally Posted by CapnZapp View Post
      Question:

      What is the difference between the old Open Gaming License (for 3rd edition) and the new Open Gaming License (for 5th edition)?

      If "none", please explain how this can be.

      Thx
      Difference: none.

      The same OG License applies to both the SRD5 and the SRD3.

      You can use and modify content from either SRD, at will.

      For example, if you are playing D&D 5e, you can use the SRD5 High Elf as is. Then, add the SRD3 Wood Elf as an other option, by modifying it to invent your own version of a Wood Elf that is compatible with D&D 5e.
    1. Staffan's Avatar
      Staffan -
      Quote Originally Posted by CapnZapp View Post
      Question:

      What is the difference between the old Open Gaming License (for 3rd edition) and the new Open Gaming License (for 5th edition)?

      If "none", please explain how this can be.

      Thx
      The Open Gaming License itself is exactly the same. The material released under the license differs.

      Note that D&D itself has never been released under the OGL. Rather, a document called the System Reference Document was released, both for 3e and 5e, which included many (but not all) elements of the games.

      In addition, Wizards is now offering a different thing called the Dungeon Master's Guild, where you can create material derivative of anything in 5e, anything in the Forgotten Realms, and anything already released in the Dungeon Master's Guild, as long as you release it exclusively via DM's Guild (where you get 50% of what it sells for) and let others build on the material you contribute. The DM's Guild and the OGL are mutually exclusive, because releasing something on the DM's Guild requires you to grant rights the OGL doesn't give you.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by AverageCitizen View Post
      It seems like everybody is assuming that WotC won't offer an separate, independent licence to indicate compatibility for a particular partnership. I mean... has anybody asked?
      I think we all know not to ask WotC questions. They're like MI5 or something!
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by CapnZapp View Post
      Question:

      What is the difference between the old Open Gaming License (for 3rd edition) and the new Open Gaming License (for 5th edition)?

      If "none", please explain how this can be.

      Thx
      None. It's the exact same license. I'll leave it to others to explain more.
    1. Staffan's Avatar
      Staffan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yaarel View Post
      Difference: none.

      The same OG License applies to both the SRD5 and the SRD3.

      You can use and modify content from either SRD, at will.

      For example, if you are playing D&D 5e, you can use the SRD5 High Elf as is. Then, add the SRD3 Wood Elf as an other option, by modifying it to invent your own version of a Wood Elf that is compatible with D&D 5e.
      Note, however, that 3e wood elves differ quite a bit from 5e's wood elves. 3e's wood elves are exactly like high elves, but stronger and dumber. If you include a wood elf with a Wisdom bonus, faster movement, and a bonus to hiding in natural conditions, Wizards might look at you sideways and send lawyers after you.
    1. Sir Brennen's Avatar
      Sir Brennen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      None. It's the exact same license. I'll leave it to others to explain more.
      Yep. There is no "new" 5E license. Just new 5E content released under it.
    1. AverageCitizen's Avatar
      AverageCitizen -
      Quote Originally Posted by CapnZapp View Post
      Question:

      What is the difference between the old Open Gaming License (for 3rd edition) and the new Open Gaming License (for 5th edition)?

      If "none", please explain how this can be.

      Thx
      The OGL is the same, what has changed is that there is a new 5e SRD that designates most of the 5e PHB as "Open Content" under the same OGL that the 3.5 SRD used. It's all the same OGL, just new open content.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Staffan View Post
      Note, however, that 3e wood elves differ quite a bit from 5e's wood elves. 3e's wood elves are exactly like high elves, but stronger and dumber. If you include a wood elf with a Wisdom bonus, faster movement, and a bonus to hiding in natural conditions, Wizards might look at you sideways and send lawyers after you.
      No they won't. You can include a 3E style wood elf, a 5E style wood elf, or a wood elf who flies and acts like Ziggy Stardust. You can include any OGL wood elf, or you can make up your own wood elf. The OGL contains no clause in those 15 clauses which prevents you doing that.
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