OGL The Washington Post is reporting on the situation now

Solauren

Explorer
Washington Post

The D&D Open Game License controversy, explained
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell
10–12 minutes

The tabletop gaming industry has fallen into crisis. As is often the case in fantasy stories, that crisis involves a king and a magic artifact. The king is Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro-owned, billion-dollar publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, the nearly 50-year-old game that has become synonymous with pen-and-paper role-playing. The magic artifact is the company’s Open Game License, or OGL, written long, long ago (in 2000), which permits players to craft and monetize their own tabletop experiences using D&D rules and mechanics, as long as they avoid reproducing official characters, settings, stories and art.

Many tabletop designers portray the OGL as a kind of book of creation — the basis for a vast and noisy empire of artworks and experiences, from full-blown tabletop competitors with their own fantasy settings to what’s known as “actual play” projects like Critical Role, in which professional voice actors broadcast their D&D campaigns. This single document from Wizards of the Coast, often shortened to WotC or simply Wizards, helped transform D&D into a “cottage industry,” said Matt Jarvis, editor in chief of tabletop news outlet Dicebreaker.

But the once-benevolent king appeared to have succumbed to avarice and begun meddling with the book of creation. In a leaked draft of “OGL 1.1” dated mid-December and obtained by the pop culture news outlet i09, WotC proposed some drastic changes: a 25 percent royalty on revenue from any OGL creator earning above $750,000 per year in sales; the right for WotC to use any content created under the license for any purpose; an apparent ban on the virtual tabletop simulators that helped kindle a tabletop gaming boom during pandemic lockdowns; and the de-authorization of anything made according to the previous OGL.

Now, two weeks after that initial leak, WotC have executed a dramatic pivot: “We’re giving the core D&D mechanics to the community through a Creative Commons license, which means that they are fully in your hands,” reads a Thursday update from D&D Executive Producer Kyle Brink.

Since 2000, a number of D&D-based projects have turned into highly profitable enterprises. A 2021 leak of data from the live-streaming site Twitch listed Critical Role as the single highest-paid channel on the platform, earning more than $9.6 million since 2019. Publishers like Kobold Press and DriveThruRPG have built huge followings around their third-party D&D campaigns and other tabletop materials.

Since the leaked draft of the updated OGL was published in early January, WotC’s devoted subjects have rebelled. Over 60,000 creators and publishers have signed an open letter under the name #OpenDnD demanding the retraction of OGL 1.1. Online campaigns encouraging players to cancel their D&D Beyond subscriptions — WotC’s official digital D&D toolset — went viral. Rival game publishers like Pathfinder creator Paizo have announced plans for new “irrevocable” open tabletop systems and licenses, seeking to fill the breach.

The original OGL was “a masterstroke of community support,” Jarvis said. “It allowed Wizards to thrive, because people were making stuff for D&D, and it allowed creators to thrive, because they were able to say ‘this is compatible with D&D.’”

The leaked changes to the OGL, Jarvis and other critics argue, seem designed simply to monetize and extend control over the sprawling network of creators the OGL once empowered — part of a consolidation of the D&D brand under the One D&D label, a project WotC is calling “the future of D&D” that includes an updated ruleset, the D&D Beyond subscription service and a forthcoming official virtual tabletop app.

The OGL’s magic wasn’t just about money. According to designer, writer and disability consultant Sara Thompson, it made space for dialogue between WotC and the community, allowing designers to essentially offer playable critiques of problems such as D&D’s heritage of racial stereotypes, using D&D’s own mechanics. Take Thompson’s own Combat Wheelchair add-on, a set of rules for using wheelchairs as adventuring equipment that “allows disabled people to be empowered and see themselves as a hero in the story, because D&D didn’t allow for that.”

Faced with such comprehensive blowback, WotC eventually gave way. On Jan. 13, the company announced plans to discard the royalty scheme and promised that creators will retain exclusive ownership of their own work, while also defending the OGL 1.1 as a means of shutting down “hateful and discriminatory products” and quashing third-party NFTs. The post, which was not attributed to any specific individual at WotC, ended by hailing the situation as a victory for both sides, insisting that the company had always intended to solicit the community’s input: “You’re going to hear people say that they won, and we lost because making your voices heard forced us to change our plans. Those people will only be half right. They won — and so did we.”

Pushback from fans, who criticized WotC’s response as far from an apology and a dismissal of their legitimate concerns, led WotC to backpedal further. A second bulletin Wednesday included more details about the path forward, along with a mea culpa from Brink, the executive producer, on behalf of his team.

“We are sorry. We got it wrong,” Brink said. “Our language and requirements in the draft OGL were disruptive to creators and not in support of our core goals of protecting and cultivating an inclusive play environment and limiting the OGL to TTRPGs. Then we compounded things by being silent for too long. We hurt fans and creators, when more frequent and clear communications could have prevented so much of this.”

A new draft of the OGL was shared Thursday for players to review, along with a survey to provide feedback, which will remain available for two weeks.

“The Creative Commons license we picked lets us give everyone those core mechanics. Forever. Because we don’t control the license, releasing the D&D core rules under the Creative Commons will be a decision we can never change,” Brink wrote in the Thursday update.

But some say the damage is already done.

“They’ve lost quite a lot of faith that people had in them, and I don’t see how they can rebuild that trust anytime soon,” said Thompson, who was recently slated to work on an official D&D product. She ended up pulling out in protest.

The community’s mistrust of WotC has been simmering for a while, said Mike Holik, editor in chief of Mage Hand Press, a third-party D&D campaign publisher, who also organized the #OpenDnD letter. He points to the fourth edition of D&D, which shipped in 2008 with its own similarly controversial game license; WotC reverted to the previous OGL for the current fifth edition of the game, which debuted in 2014.

“Once they get big enough, they try to get greedy and capitalize on it,” Holik said, suggesting that WotC may be happy for some creators to walk away, “as long as they can monetize the remaining people more.”

D&D’s ubiquity makes it a safe source of revenue for third-party designers. The possibility of market fragmentation, Holik said, was cause for alarm, as waning support for D&D might impact more outlandish, niche games that rely on the title as an onboarding mechanism.

But disaster may bring opportunity. Austin Walker, IP director of game studio Possibility Space and Friends at the Table game master, described the reveal of OGL 1.1 as a potential “moment of rupture.” He noted that much innovation in the tabletop gaming space is already an attempt to break away from D&D, which promises imaginative scenarios but often boils down to “kicking down a door and fighting stuff.”

All of which speaks to the twist in this fairy story: The original OGL isn’t quite the magical enabler of indie creativity it’s cracked up to be. According to Thompson, a lot of what it covers isn’t strictly subject to copyright, and was never WotC’s to “give away.” Take the spell Aganazzar’s Scorcher. “That’s in official D&D, so if I put that in my own random game, yes, they could sue me,” Thompson said. “But if I made a spell with a similar fire effect but named it something else entirely, that’s not D&D anymore.”

Walker agreed, describing the original OGL as “an enclosure of the commons,” obfuscating the reality that creators are already free to adopt rules and mechanics from D&D under regular fair use doctrine. Skill checks, whereby players roll dice to determine an action’s success, are one example of a mechanic that is “too generic” to copyright, Walker said.

“You can trademark your logo, important characters, art and design aspects that indicate to consumers that they’re looking at an official product, but you can’t protect ‘roll 20 and add your attribute and skill modifier.’”

The only thing the OGL really offers, Walker said, is “the sense of safety that you will not be sued for something that you shouldn’t be able to be sued for to begin with.” Thanks to this purely “rhetorical” gambit, he said, WotC was able to “capture a lot of the creative energy” in the tabletop scene during the early 2000s, transforming up-and-coming designers into D&D satellite creators. Walker attributes this partly to creators being unversed in the legalities back in 2000 — and in particular, the option of publishing under then-emerging Creative Commons licenses — but it’s also a matter of money. Few publishers can afford a copyright battle with a company the size of WotC, even if they’re confident of victory.

Whether you view the original OGL as a mystic talisman or smoke-and-mirrors, WotC appears to have committed an irreversible act of self-sabotage in trying to replace it — squandering the prestige accumulated over 20 years in a matter of weeks.

“A king shouldn’t be grasping at all of your coins — that’s what a dragon does, right?” Walker joked. And as any group of D&D adventurers might tell you, in stories like this, the point of a dragon atop a treasure trove is for it to be slain.

If the mainstream media keeps picking this up with similiar opinions, WOTC is screwed.
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Looks like this is their 2nd article on it! They did this one too:


Edit -- oh, it's the same article. They've changed the title of it!
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Washington Post

If the mainstream media keeps picking this up with similiar opinions, WOTC is screwed.
I don't know. There's a lot of apologizing/smoothing over going on in this article. I wonder if there's a crisis management playbook somewhere that includes:

Step X: soften the blow.

Note that the first two paragraphs contain exactly zero negative comments, besides the word "crisis," which only refers to the "industry," not WotC.
 


I don't know. There's a lot of apologizing/smoothing over going on in this article. I wonder if there's a crisis management playbook somewhere that includes:

Step X: soften the blow.

Note that the first two paragraphs contain exactly zero negative comments, besides the word "crisis," which only refers to the "industry," not WotC.

Or something like: keep it civil and don't rage and ramble. This would be youtube or random guys on forums like this.

Serious journalism needs to be neutral in a way. Everyone can make up their own opinion.
 



xiphumor

Hero
Has it though?
So if D&D Shorts most recent video is to be believed, Cao was indirectly responsible for WotC’s purchase of D&D Beyond because of how strongly he advocated for the digital future of D&D. However, he actually didn’t want D&D Beyond, and already had a separate team working on the new VTT, and has been advocating for destroying it.

So my takeaways are as follows:

1. WotC executives are of the same mind as Cao, but don’t care so much about his exact vision to be taking his instructions as to how to achieve that goal.

2. They’ve already sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the digital platform, which is their main motive for deauthorizing 1.0a, and will try to make good on their investment, with or without Cao.

Firing Cao may feel right from the perspective of punitive justice (which I think there is a place for, but it should be a top-down movement as the board realizes his idea was bad), but it’s not going to solve the problem. Also, I’m worried that WotC might try something like that as a way of placating the fans and distracting from the larger issue.
 

Haplo781

Legend
So if D&D Shorts most recent video is to be believed, Cao was indirectly responsible for WotC’s purchase of D&D Beyond because of how strongly he advocated for the digital future of D&D. However, he actually didn’t want D&D Beyond, and already had a separate team working on the new VTT, and has been advocating for destroying it.

So my takeaways are as follows:

1. WotC executives are of the same mind as Cao, but don’t care so much about his exact vision to be taking his instructions as to how to achieve that goal.

2. They’ve already sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the digital platform, which is their main motive for deauthorizing 1.0a, and will try to make good on their investment, with or without Cao.

Firing Cao may feel right from the perspective of punitive justice (which I think there is a place for, but it should be a top-down movement as the board realizes his idea was bad), but it’s not going to solve the problem. Also, I’m worried that WotC might try something like that as a way of placating the fans and distracting from the larger issue.
My feeling on it is that:

1. Cao is abusive and getting rid of him will make the environment inside WotC less hostile.
2. While the company may be committed to a digital strategy, Cao's specific vision isn't necessarily something that anybody but Cao cares about. So deauthorization and other harmful ideas might actually come off the table with him gone.
3. It would serve as a head on a stick for the next guy who starts getting similar ideas.
 

xiphumor

Hero
My feeling on it is that:

1. Cao is abusive and getting rid of him will make the environment inside WotC less hostile.
2. While the company may be committed to a digital strategy, Cao's specific vision isn't necessarily something that anybody but Cao cares about. So deauthorization and other harmful ideas might actually come off the table with him gone.
3. It would serve as a head on a stick for the next guy who starts getting similar ideas.
I’m willing to see this! I just don’t want to pin our hopes to it or make it non-negotiable.
 

Enrahim2

Adventurer
(Back to the article) I find it quite nice! Didn't see anything obviously wrong the way I am used to experiencing with mainstream media coverage of issues I am deeply familiar with. I might have liked to see some mention about how what wizards is doing might be illegitimate, or the links between open source and the original OGL offering (Making it apparent that the CC offering is not a "new" offer, but rather still a restriction of what we had before wizards started misbehaving). But then I see how this could actually muddle the message they are conveying. Thank you for sharing!
 

SAVeira

Adventurer
Depending on how things go I would not be surprised if we do see Chris Cao terminated with a public reason given due his abuse. A quick PR win and public reason to really reverse course. Sure it will be a topic on the table Monday at Hasbro.
 

2. They’ve already sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the digital platform, which is their main motive for deauthorizing 1.0a, and will try to make good on their investment, with or without Cao.
It would be easier to believe that was the

They emphasize TWO changes to the OGL they're demanding.

1. Making the OGL void for electronic products, by restricting it to print gaming products only.

2. The "hate speech" clause giving them an open-ended blanket authority to revoke the use of the OGL for anyone, or any product.

If it was what you said, they'd only be digging in on #1. That #2 part there, the poison pill that makes their new OGL worthless, seems to point to a deeper agenda.
 

Steel_Wind

Legend
Looks like this is their 2nd article on it! They did this one too:


Edit -- oh, it's the same article. They've changed the title of it!
The point of the "dragon atop a treasure trove is for it to be slain" is a great line though!

Investors read WashPo. This isn't a good thing. James Dallas Egbert III media stories made AD&D a sensation and it's still "top of mind" 43 years later when it comes to RPGs.

This, otoh, is not a good thing. There is nothing to win, it's only degrees of losing here.
 

Staffan

Legend
The point of the "dragon atop a treasure trove is for it to be slain" is a great line though!
"As a knight," the king said, "it is your duty to kill dragons."
"Very well, my liege," the knight said. "Um. May I ask why?"
"Because they hoard wealth without sharing, and people live in fear of their capricious moods."
"Very well, my liege," the knight said and drew his sword.
 



Clint_L

Hero
Care to elaborate? Did DnDShorts cite those same sources to spread the since discredited claim that WotC does not even read survey comments and that survey comments are just a PR ploy, or did he not?

You don't have to answer: he did. Then in this latest video he dropped that particular charge but continued to rely on those sources for other claims, which cannot be verified as they are basically gossip. It's shoddy reporting and smearing Cao or anyone else based on them is unfair. I don't know Cao, I don't know the situation inside WotC, and for all I know he is the root of the problem. But this is a real human being and attacking him based on hearsay from a very dubious source is deeply unfair.
 

Haplo781

Legend
Care to elaborate? Did DnDShorts cite those same sources to spread the since discredited claim that WotC does not even read survey comments and that survey comments are just a PR ploy, or did he not?

You don't have to answer: he did. Then in this latest video he dropped that particular charge but continued to rely on those sources for other claims, which cannot be verified as they are basically gossip. It's shoddy reporting and smearing Cao or anyone else based on them is unfair. I don't know Cao, I don't know the situation inside WotC, and for all I know he is the root of the problem. But this is a real human being and attacking him based on hearsay from a very dubious source is deeply unfair.
False.
 

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