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.

Wizards-of-the-coast-logo-696x387-223254015.jpg

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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overgeeked

B/X Known World
I don't at all disagree with what you're saying, and honestly I agree that's likely a large component of WotC's motivation, but...it's baffling.
They could, with VERY little effort, put out a single hardback "Basic D&D" book that was functional as a largely complete game; be a gateway to 5e; and be largely compatible with most of the OSR crowd. They're 9/10ths of the way there already. Basic 5e (which exists online) is probably the most OSR game system TSR/WotC has done since the mid-80's. So they COULD move into the OSR market AND channel people to "Complete" 5e...but they don't.

Actually, I lied. It's not baffling.

WotC no longer supports/has interest in supporting "free-form" D&D. They don't publish "toolkit" books. They don't support (and haven't for at several years) anything that encourages you to create and run your own campaign. Ravenloft was the last gasp there. What WotC is selling is adventures, with the idea that once you play (or quit) one, you buy another. It's the same idea as a board game expansion, or even an escape room. It's a curated experience.

Obviously there's a lot of wiggle room there; WotC can't make anyone forget how to homebrew and I think there are still people working for WotC (or were) that aren't wholly onboard, but that's clearly the way it's being sold now, and it doesn't jive with what I outlined above.
Almost anything I could possibly want out of D&D I’ve found in the OSR or adjacent games. The scene is wildly creative and puts out more high-quality stuff in a year than I could play in a lifetime.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Almost anything I could possibly want out of D&D I’ve found in the OSR or adjacent games. The scene is wildly creative and puts out more high-quality stuff in a year than I could play in a lifetime.
If The Stygian Library was published by WotC, fans would never shut up about how awesome it is. (It really is awesome and incredibly portable to almost any campaign.)
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
If The Stygian Library was published by WotC, fans would never shut up about how awesome it is. (It really is awesome and incredibly portable to almost any campaign.)
WotC fans won’t ever shut up about how “amazing” WotC’s mediocre-at-best products are. Their heads would explode like in Scanners if they got ahold of something like Stygian Library, Pirate Borg, DCC, or any one of hundreds of other games and supplements

“What?! You can do that?!”

tenor.gif


Boom.
 

S'mon

Legend
I don't at all disagree with what you're saying, and honestly I agree that's likely a large component of WotC's motivation, but...it's baffling.
They could, with VERY little effort, put out a single hardback "Basic D&D" book that was functional as a largely complete game; be a gateway to 5e; and be largely compatible with most of the OSR crowd. They're 9/10ths of the way there already. Basic 5e (which exists online) is probably the most OSR game system TSR/WotC has done since the mid-80's. So they COULD move into the OSR market AND channel people to "Complete" 5e...but they don't.

Actually, I lied. It's not baffling.

WotC no longer supports/has interest in supporting "free-form" D&D. They don't publish "toolkit" books. They don't support (and haven't for at several years) anything that encourages you to create and run your own campaign. Ravenloft was the last gasp there. What WotC is selling is adventures, with the idea that once you play (or quit) one, you buy another. It's the same idea as a board game expansion, or even an escape room. It's a curated experience.

Obviously there's a lot of wiggle room there; WotC can't make anyone forget how to homebrew and I think there are still people working for WotC (or were) that aren't wholly onboard, but that's clearly the way it's being sold now, and it doesn't jive with what I outlined above.
Good post. I'm two sessions in to a 5e Basic campaign using the 2014 Basic rules (print copy from Lulu) as primary resource, set in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, Threshold from the 1983 red and blue boxes. Excellent ruleset! It avoids all the broken bits of 5e, clearly these were the spells and classes that had the most play testing. It's even simple to create most NPCs as PC class characters. Play balance is great, the encounter building rules and CR seem pretty accurate! No more money to WoTC feels like a plus after the events of last year.
 

S'mon

Legend
Almost anything I could possibly want out of D&D I’ve found in the OSR or adjacent games. The scene is wildly creative and puts out more high-quality stuff in a year than I could play in a lifetime.
I tend to run OSR stuff with 5e, which works a lot better than WotC 5e published adventures. I'm not sure how WotC manage to be so bad at it but I've not really seen a good adventure from them since Forge of Fury. Some of the mini adventures in the Essentials Kit are ok. For 5e rules adventures, Kobold Press are mostly good. The Primeval Thule adventures from Sasquatch were great.
 

Lupin

Explorer
I don't at all disagree with what you're saying, and honestly I agree that's likely a large component of WotC's motivation, but...it's baffling.
They could, with VERY little effort, put out a single hardback "Basic D&D" book that was functional as a largely complete game; be a gateway to 5e; and be largely compatible with most of the OSR crowd. They're 9/10ths of the way there already. Basic 5e (which exists online) is probably the most OSR game system TSR/WotC has done since the mid-80's. So they COULD move into the OSR market AND channel people to "Complete" 5e...but they don't.
[snip]
WotC no longer supports/has interest in supporting "free-form" D&D. They don't publish "toolkit" books. They don't support (and haven't for at several years) anything that encourages you to create and run your own campaign. Ravenloft was the last gasp there. What WotC is selling is adventures, with the idea that once you play (or quit) one, you buy another. It's the same idea as a board game expansion, or even an escape room. It's a curated experience.
[snip]

My working copy of D&D 5th Edition is, in fact, a printed-out copy of the latest revision of the Basic Rules (see attachment). I'd agree that its 1981-esque character creation lineup (Human/Elf/Dwarf/Halfling & Fighter/Cleric/Rogue/Wizard) with abbreviated spell & monster lists indeed has an OSR vibe. (Although the page count is 48 pages longer than both of the '81 rulebooks combined.)

I've since moved my house game over to even simpler pastures with Lightning 5e by @SlyFlourish with a handful of house rules, and it too uses the same classic set of four classes (though I've dabbled with expanding them). It's not especially OSR-like, other than leaning harder on "rulings not rules" than D&D 5e proper, but it makes the basic 5e infrastructure even more "basic." for which I love it. The simplicity of the game helps me keep nearly all the rules in my head at once. When I'm the one running the game, I find that very helpful.

Anyway, Nellisir, your points all stand. Catering to fans of vintage D&D is not really in their business model except where it requires next to no effort on their part (DTRPG PDFs/POD), and that initiative, IIRC, was started mainly to fill an income drought. Onboarding 5e players and getting them to buy new content is priority one for them at all times. Which, you know, that's business, right?

But I think it's completely disingenuous of them to make promises or near-promises that something will be delivered, and delivered in a very timely fashion no less (based on Kyle Brink's interviews), and should take minimal effort to deliver, and then fail to deliver it after close to a year.

If nothing else, this is their plan to give themselves plausible deniability about getting a built-from-scratch SRD for, say, 4th Edition. "Well, it took us over a year to go over the 3rd Edition stuff, so SRDs of 4th Edition, '81/'83/Rules Cyclopedia, OD&D and AD&D are completely off the table."

It also wouldn't surprise me if the series of events went something like this:
Some WotC/Hasbro boss orders the OGL 1.1 initiative. Negative PR abounds, so WotC creates OGL 1.2 and a limited-CC-BY version of the 5.1 SRD to try to appease people while still withholding IP bits. Internal staff suggests they put up a poll about the whole thing. Poll results come in, and the same boss who ordered the OGL update, annoyed their plan was hitting so many roadblocks (and possibly getting on Paramount's nerves) decides in a huff to just "put the whole stupid thing in CC-BY and be done with it." Staffers zip through and do it (they weren't gonna second-guess the boss, and had likely been CC-BY advocates).
Soon, articles trickle out about how brief mentions of Strahd, beholders, and mind flayers were left in the CC-BY'd SRD.
That boss comes around to ask that staffer "why didn't you take those out?!"
"You told us to put the 'whole stupid thing' in CC-BY, so we did."
"I got Chris Cocks breathing down my neck because of you. NEXT time, make sure you go over everything with a fine-toothed comb before you give away Hasbro IP like it's candy."
"....Yes, boss."

(Obviously that's just my imagining of how things might've happened behind the scenes. As has been said already, we're well past the time it would reasonably take to finish combing through the 3.5 SRD, so I feel like there's more to it than just a lack of time or hands.)

Good post. I'm two sessions in to a 5e Basic campaign using the 2014 Basic rules (print copy from Lulu) as primary resource, set in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, Threshold from the 1983 red and blue boxes. Excellent ruleset! It avoids all the broken bits of 5e, clearly these were the spells and classes that had the most play testing. It's even simple to create most NPCs as PC class characters. Play balance is great, the encounter building rules and CR seem pretty accurate! No more money to WoTC feels like a plus after the events of last year.

Friend!
 

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Azzy

ᚳᚣᚾᛖᚹᚢᛚᚠ
WotC fans won’t ever shut up about how “amazing” WotC’s mediocre-at-best products are. Their heads would explode like in Scanners if they got ahold of something like Stygian Library, Pirate Borg, DCC, or any one of hundreds of other games and supplements

“What?! You can do that?!”

tenor.gif


Boom.
Not so much, if I'm going to play an RPG that's not D&D, I'm going to go with some other genre rather than a D&D-alike. As far as the fantasy genre, I actively like 5e D&D.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I tend to run OSR stuff with 5e, which works a lot better than WotC 5e published adventures. I'm not sure how WotC manage to be so bad at it but I've not really seen a good adventure from them since Forge of Fury. Some of the mini adventures in the Essentials Kit are ok. For 5e rules adventures, Kobold Press are mostly good. The Primeval Thule adventures from Sasquatch were great.
The core of 5E is fine, but the balance is wildly off. The default assumptions of how the game is played and the PCs' assumed power level is not something I want to deal with ever again. I vastly prefer straight OSR games. I'm fine with PCs gaining power, I just want it mitigated through something like DCC's Quest For It framework rather than something they just pick from a menu at a buffet.
 

Nellisir

Hero
Not so much, if I'm going to play an RPG that's not D&D, I'm going to go with some other genre rather than a D&D-alike. As far as the fantasy genre, I actively like 5e D&D.
I see it like getting a cola. Coca-cola is the clear market leader, but Pepsi-cola does pretty well and I like it fine. And then there are all the little house brands that someone loves. And at the end of the day, I'm only there for the caffeine anyway. :)

The best way, though, is to play what you like.
 

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