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The OGL -- Just What's Going On?

D&D fandom is in uproar again about purported upcoming changes to the Open Gaming License, and rumours are flooding social media regarding WotC's intentions to 'de-authorize' the existing Open Gaming License in favour of a new one. What's the OGL? The Open Gaming License is a share-a-like license created by D&D owner WotC about 20 years ago so that third parties could create material...

D&D fandom is in uproar again about purported upcoming changes to the Open Gaming License, and rumours are flooding social media regarding WotC's intentions to 'de-authorize' the existing Open Gaming License in favour of a new one.

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What's the OGL?
The Open Gaming License is a share-a-like license created by D&D owner WotC about 20 years ago so that third parties could create material compatible with the then-3E D&D game. This allowed smaller publishers to ensure the game was supported with products which WotC could not make themselves, driving sales of the core rulebooks. D&D 5E's rules are also released under that very same license, which is why you see hundreds of 5E-compatible products on Kickstarter from massive projects like the 5E-powered The One Ring, down to small adventures and supplements. It has been widely believed for two decades that this license is irrevocable (and, indeed, WotC itself believed that -- see below), but it appears that WotC is now attempting to revoke it.

A Quick Recap
A few weeks ago, WotC made a short statement regarding the OGL, followed later by a more in-depth announcement covering revised terms, royalties, and annual revenue reporting.


At the same time, at the end of December, a number of hastily arranged meetings with 'key' third party creators under a strict NDA agreement were set up with WotC's licensing department in order to share the company's plans regarding licensing of D&D going forward (disclaimer -- while WotC also reached out to me, we were unable to schedule a meeting over the busy Christmas period, so I am not party to that information).

A New Rumour Emerges
This all came to a head yesterday when the Roll For Combat YouTube channel released what they said was a leak of the upcoming OGL from multiple trusted but anonymous sources within WotC.


This leak claims the following. Note -- it is impossible to verify these claims at this time.
  • There will be TWO OGL's -- an OCG: Commercial and an OGL: Non-Commercial.
  • The original OGL will become unauthorized. This hinges on the wording of s9 of the current OGL:
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.

While the license does indeed grand a 'perpetual' right to use the Open Gaming Content referenced, it appears that WotC currently believes that it can render a version of the license unauthorized. The license itself makes no reference to authorization or the lack thereof, nor does it define any methods of authorization or deauthorization, other than in that line. So this entire thing hinges on that one word, 'authorized' in the original OGL.

RollForCombat posted the following summary -- it is unclear whether this is their own paraphrasing, or that of their anonymous source, or indeed the actual document (although tonally it doesn't sound like it):


"This agreement is, along with the OGL: Non-Commercial, an update to the previously available OGL 1.0(a), which is no longer an authorized license agreement. We can modify or terminate this agreement for any reason whatsoever, provided We give thirty (30) days’ notice. We will provide notice of any such changes by posting the revisions on Our website, and by making public announcements through Our social media channels."

"You own the new and original content You create. You agree to give Us a nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, royalty-free license to use that content for any purpose."

"You waive any right to sue over Our decision on these issues. We’re aware that, if We somehow stretch Our decision of what is or is not objectionable under these clauses too far, We will receive community pushback and bad PR, and We’re more than open to being convinced that We made a wrong decision. But nobody gets to use the threat of a lawsuit as part of an attempt to convince Us."

The ability for WotC to use your Open Gaming Content is not new; the company could do that under the old OGL also; it has rarely exercised that right, though it did reuse a couple of third party monsters in a 3E rulebook.

iO9 Gets A Copy
However, Linda Codega over at Gizmodo/iO9 got hold of a copy of the current draft of the OGL 1.1.
  • It's long. It's ten times the length of the current OGL, at 9,000 words.
  • No bigots. It prohibits NFTs and bigoted content.
  • Print/PDF only. It also prohibits apps and video games. And pantomimes, apparently. The wording says "including but not limited to things like videos, virtual tabletops or VTT campaigns, computer games, novels, apps, graphics novels, music, songs, dances, and pantomimes."
  • Deauthorizes the previous OGL. The license states that the OGL 1.0a is "no longer an authorized license agreement".
  • It’s soon! Pressingly, the draft also indicates that publishers who wish to sell SRD-based content on or after January 13th (which is just 8 days away!) have only one option: agree to the OGL: Commercial. That gives companies very little time to evaluate the license or make any necessary changes.
  • Clear OGL declarations. The new license contains other restrictions which effectively prohibit companies from identifying their OGC via a separate System Reference Document (which is what games like Pathfinder do); instead the reader must be alerted to Open Gaming Content within the product itself.
  • Royalties. As previously noted, creators who make over $750K will need to pay royalties to WotC. WotC does indicate that it might reach out to succesful creators for a more 'custom (and mutially beneficial) licensing arrangement). Creators are divided into three tiers - under $50K, $50K-$750K, and $750K+. The royalty is 20% or 25% of 'qualifying revenue', which is revenue in excess of $750K. The term used is revenue, not profit.
  • They want you to use Kickstarter. Kickstarter -- their 'preferred' platform -- attracts the lower 20% royalty, and non-Kickstarter crowdfuders attract 25%. It's interesting that WotC even has a preferred crowdfunding platform, let alone that they are trying to influence creators to use it over its competitors like Backerkit, IndieGoGo, Gamefound, and the like.
  • New logo. An identifying badge will be required on products which use the new OGL, and creators will need to send WotC a copy of their product.
The document itself comments that “the Open Game License was always intended to allow the community to help grow D&D and expand it creatively. It wasn’t intended to subsidize major competitors, especially now that PDF is by far the most common form of distribution.” That sounds like it is talking about companies such as Paizo.

Community Reaction
Social media has exploded, with a lot of very negative pushback regarding this news.

Many people have weighed in with their interpretations of s9 (above), both lawyers and non-lawyers. There seems to be little agreement in that area right now. If the above rumous is true, then WotC's current leadership clearly believes that previous iterations of the OGL can be 'de-authorized'. It's interesting to note that previous WotC administrations believed otherwise, and said as much in their own official OGL FAQ:


7. Can't Wizards of the Coast change the License in a way that I wouldn't like?

Yes, it could. However, the License already defines what will happen to content that has been previously distributed using an earlier version, in Section 9. As a result, even if Wizards made a change you disagreed with, you could continue to use an earlier, acceptable version at your option. In other words, there's no reason for Wizards to ever make a change that the community of people using the Open Gaming License would object to, because the community would just ignore the change anyway.

OGL architect Ryan Dancey also appears to have felt otherwise. In an article right here on EN World he said:

I also had the goal that the release of the SRD would ensure that D&D in a format that I felt was true to its legacy could never be removed from the market by capricious decisions by its owners.

Of course, many game systems are released using that license: Pathfinder, Fate, Open d6, WOIN, and many, many more -- many of them have nothing at all to do with D&D and simply use the license as a useful tool for enabling third-party content creators; while Pathfinder is, of course, the industry's largest OGL game and published by Paizo, the industry's second largest TTRPG comapmny after WotC itself. If the original OGL were somehow to become invalid, all these games would be affected.


There are other bits to the current rumour -- a 30 day notice period during which WotC can change the license any way they wish, and a waiver over the right to sue the company.

It's hard to get a clear picture of what's going on right now. I haven't seen the new OGL, and other than a handul of 'key' creators, it seems like very few have. WotC did indicate that it would be unveiled very soon.

Is it an OGL?
While it may be called "Open Gaming License v1.1", if the above is true, this isn't really an update to the OGL, it's an entirely new license. Ryan Dancey, architect of the original OGL. and who runs the Open Gaming Foundation, defines open gaming licenses as --
1. Game Rules and materials that use those rules that can be freely copied, modified and distributed.​
2. A system for ensuring that material contributed to the Open Gaming community will remain Open and cannot be made Closed once contributed.​
By these definitions, it appears that the new OGL is not actually an open gaming license, and has more in common with the Game System License WotC used for D&D 4th Edition.

So, What Now?
Now, we wait and see. Many eyes will be on the bigger players -- Paizo, Kobold Press, Green Ronin, etc. -- to see what action they take. As yet, none of these have commented publicly except for Green Ronin's Chris Pramas who told Gizmodo that they had not yet seen the new license, but they do not believe there is "any benefit to switching to the new one as described.” As for Paizo, Gizmodo says "Paizo Inc., publisher of the Pathfinder RPG, one of D&D’s largest competitors, declined to comment on the changes for this article, stating that the rules update was a complicated and ongoing situation."

Will these companies go along with it? Will they ignore it? Will they challenge it? We'll have to wait and see!

7 days is not enough time for even a small publisher to overhaul its entire product line to comply with new rules, let along a large one like Paizo. I have to assume there is an allowed time period to do this, otherwise it's practically impossible to do. It does seem that -- if proven enforceable -- the de-athorization of the existing OGL would drive many companies out of business, especially those which produce or lean heavily on electronic apps and the like.

It also remains to be seen how WotC goes about the task of persuading creators to use its new license -- will it tempt them with a carrot (such as access to the D&D Beyond platform), or try to force them with a stick (such as threat of legal action)? And how will the TTRPG community react, because this goes far beyond just D&D.

It sounds like we'll hear something more solid imminently.
 

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FallenRX

Adventurer
So just a straight lack of concern for other human beings. Got it.
Honestly, as crappy as he sounds, they arent entirely wrong.

Most dnd players dont care about this, we are a minority really, most people just play dnd and move on, its the only TTRPG they know of, and the only one they really care about. and most have little to no interesting in making real money off it.

Back during the 4E days when TTRPG's were more tight, and smaller, that mattered a lot, so we could really cause hasbro o lose a lot, but now? DnD has gotten far beyond that, in fact thats one of the reasons they are trying this gambit now, because they believe that DnD is big enough that without us, they can just.... do whatever they want and still make money, be the biggest and grow.

Its why someone like CR, or big DnD Youtube channels need to spread the word to get those people to care a bit, and even then it remains to be seen if thats enough.
 

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Its why someone like CR, or big DnD Youtube channels need to spread the word to get those people to care a bit, and even then it remains to be seen if thats enough.
They only need to do this if 1.1 goes forward in it's current form.

It's best overall for D&D if they allow the OGl 1.0a to remain, and entice 3rd parties to go with 1.1 with benefits I would say.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
They only need to do this if 1.1 goes forward in it's current form.

It's best overall for D&D if they allow the OGl 1.0a to remain, and entice 3rd parties to go with 1.1 with benefits I would say.
Yes, it absolutely would be best. But we don't know either way yet, and the spectre of Worst Case Scenario has legs under it and is pretty darn scary.
 

Remathilis

Legend
If they never bought a 3PP book, will they care?
The big difference is that social media is pushing the "greedy WotC is going after its fans" as a meme. It doesn't have to be accurate either as lots of misinformation is being added and mixed into the conversation. I've seen it in a lot of corners of SM, and while I don't claim I have any sort of specific insight, I can say this is being discussed in any rpg adjacent area. Some people who have never bought a 3pp book will drop the game because of this. Now, is that enough to matter? I don't know. But it's a non-zero number.
 

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