What's All This About The OGL Going Away?

This last week I've seen videos, tweets, and articles all repeating an unsourced rumour that the...

This last week I've seen videos, tweets, and articles all repeating an unsourced rumour that the OGL (Open Gaming License) will be going away with the advent of OneD&D, and that third party publishers would have no way of legally creating compatible material. I wanted to write an article clarifying some of these terms.

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I've seen articles claiming (and I quote) that "players would be unable to legally publish homebrew content" and that WotC may be "outlawing third-party homebrew content". These claims need clarification.

What's the Open Gaming License? It was created by WotC about 20 years ago; it's analagous to various 'open source' licenses. There isn't a '5E OGL' or a '3E OGL' and there won't be a 'OneD&D OGL' -- there's just the OGL (technically there are two versions, but that's by-the-by). The OGL is non-rescindable -- it can't be cancelled or revoked. Any content released as Open Gaming Content (OGC) under that license -- which includes the D&D 3E SRD, the 5E SRD, Pathfinder's SRD, Level Up's SRD, and thousands and thousands of third party books -- remains OGC forever, available for use under the license. Genie, bottle, and all that.

So, the OGL can't 'go away'. It's been here for 20 years and it's here to stay. This was WotC's (and OGL architect Ryan Dancey's) intention when they created it 20 years ago, to ensure that D&D would forever be available no matter what happened to its parent company.


What's an SRD? A System Reference Document (SRD) contains Open Gaming Content (OGC). Anything in the 3E SRD, the 3.5 SRD, or the 5E SRD, etc., is designated forever as OGC (Open Gaming Content). Each of those SRDs contains large quantities of material, including the core rules of the respective games, and encompasses all the core terminology of the ruleset(s).

When people say 'the OGL is going away' what they probably mean to say is that there won't be a new OneD&D System Reference Document.


Does That Matter? OneD&D will be -- allegedly -- fully compatible with 5E. That means it uses all the same terminology. Armor Class, Hit Points, Warlock, Pit Fiend, and so on. All this terminology has been OGC for 20 years, and anybody can use it under the terms of the OGL. The only way it could be difficult for third parties to make compatible material for OneD&D is if OneD&D substantially changed the core terminology of the game, but at that point OneD&D would no longer be compatible with 5E (or, arguably, would even be recognizable as D&D). So the ability to create compatible third party material won't be going away.

However! There is one exception -- if your use of OneD&D material needs you to replicate OneD&D content, as opposed to simply be compatible with it (say you're making an app which has all the spell descriptions in it) and if there is no new SRD, then you won't be able to do that. You can make compatible stuff ("The evil necromancer can cast magic missile" -- the term magic missile has been OGL for two decades) but you wouldn't be able to replicate the full descriptive text of the OneD&D version of the spell. That's a big if -- if there's no new SRD.

So you'd still be able to make compatible adventures and settings and new spells and new monsters and new magic items and new feats and new rules and stuff. All the stuff 3PPs commonly do. You just wouldn't be able to reproduce the core rules content itself. However, I've been publishing material for 3E, 3.5, 4E, 5E, and Pathfinder 1E for 20 years, and the need to reproduce core rules content hasn't often come up for us -- we produce new compatible content. But if you're making an app, or spell cards, or something which needs to reproduce content from the rulebooks, you'd need an SRD to do that.

So yep. If no SRD, compatible = yes, directly reproduce = no (of course, you can indirectly reproduce stuff by rewriting it in your own words).

Branding! Using the OGL you can't use the term "Dungeons & Dragons" (you never could). Most third parties say something like "compatible with the world's most popular roleplaying game" and have some sort of '5E' logo of their own making on the cover. Something similar will no doubt happen with OneD&D -- the third party market will create terminology to indicate compatibility. (Back in the 3E days, WotC provided a logo for this use called the 'd20 System Trademark Logo' but they don't do that any more).

What if WotC didn't 'support' third party material? As discussed, nobody can take the OGL or any existing OGC away. However, WotC does have control over DMs Guild and integration with D&D Beyond or the virtual tabletop app they're making. So while they can't stop folks from making and publishing compatible stuff, they could make it harder to distribute simply by not allowing it on those three platforms. If OneD&D becomes heavily reliant on a specific platform we might find ourselves in the same situation we had in 4E, where it was harder to sell player options simply because they weren't on the official character builder app. It's not that you couldn't publish 4E player options, it's just that many players weren't interested in them if they couldn't use them in the app.

But copyright! Yes, yes, you can't copyright rules, you can't do this, you can't do that. The OGL is not relevant to copyright law -- it is a license, an agreement, a contract. By using it you agree to its terms. Sure WotC might not be able to copyright X, but you can certainly contractually agree not to use X (which is a selection of material designated as 'Product Identity') by using the license. There are arguments on the validity of this from actual real lawyers which I won't get into, but I just wanted to note that this is about a license, not copyright law.

If you don't use the Open Gaming License, of course, it doesn't apply to you. You are only bound by a license you use. So then, sure, knock yourself out with copyright law!

So, bullet point summary:
  • The OGL can't go away, and any existing OGC can't go away
  • If (that's an if) there is no new SRD, you will be able to still make compatible material but not reproduce the OneD&D content
  • Most of the D&D terminology (save a few terms like 'beholder' etc.) has been OGC for 20 years and is freely available for use
  • To render that existing OGC unusable for OneD&D the basic terminology of the entire game would have to be changed, at which point it would no longer be compatible with 5E.
 

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Zardnaar

Legend
Given the explicit "D&D is under-monetized" statement, with WotC straight-up saying they need to squeeze more out of it, it does not even slightly seem "mustache-twirling" to me. I have a great deal of trust in the corporate ability to flagrantly abuse every possible loophole and every inch of leeway they are given (and often to use theoretically impossible ones too, only to then cover them up or settle out of court to avoid being nailed for wrongdoing.)

People forget Hasbro is a corporation. Not the worst but still.
 

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Remathilis

Legend
Given the explicit "D&D is under-monetized" statement, with WotC straight-up saying they need to squeeze more out of it, it does not even slightly seem "mustache-twirling" to me. I have a great deal of trust in the corporate ability to flagrantly abuse every possible loophole and every inch of leeway they are given (and often to use theoretically impossible ones too, only to then cover them up or settle out of court to avoid being nailed for wrongdoing.)
WotC hasn't even finished publishing the settings it already owns. I am not holding my breath for Seoni's Guide to Golarion any time soon...
 
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grixis.alon

Villager
So you stated that:
"The OGL is non-rescindable -- it can't be cancelled or revoked."
It can be, case and point.


To quote a copyright lawyer on the topic:
"There is nothing about the OGL that makes it so Wizards can never revoke it. Some language, at first glance, may appear to contradict this claim. But it doesn't. For instance, the license states that WotC grants the licensee "a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, nonexclusive license" to use the SRD. But "perpetual," in licensing law, does not mean "irrevocable." In fact, unless the word "irrevocable" appears in the license, the license can be revoked at any time, for any reason or for no reason. Even in cases where a party has had substantial reliance on the license, the revocation is usually upheld."

Source: Hello, I am lawyer with a PSA: almost everyone is wrong about the OGL and SRD. Clearing up confusion.
 

mamba

Legend
So you stated that:
"The OGL is non-rescindable -- it can't be cancelled or revoked."
It can be, case and point.


To quote a copyright lawyer on the topic:
yeah, give me three lawyers and I will have four opinions.... there probably is a slight chance it is revocable, 5% or so, but getting this to court will take a lot of effort / money, so we might never find out
 

grixis.alon

Villager
@darjr should you really be posting that nonsense in a thread designed to be factual? The mass hysteria thread is over there —->
I mean yea, the thread is designed to be based on fact. But if the OP was an actual copyright lawyer, they would have never said "The OGL is non-rescindable -- it can't be cancelled or revoked."
That statement is incorrect and there is no wording in the 1.0a OGL that stops it from being revoked.
 

grixis.alon

Villager
yeah, give me three lawyers and I will have four opinions.... there probably is a slight chance it is revocable, 5% or so, but getting this to court will take a lot of effort / money, so we might never find out
You are right, the court will firmly decide if the new OGL is the concrete one or not. But who is going to take WoTC and their dad Hasbro to court? Yea it'll take a LOT of effort and money, and i'm pretty sure that WoTC/Hasbro will gladly spend it to prove a point to anyone trying step up and prove them wrong.
MY question is this: What makes you think they can't revoke their own document?
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I mean yea, the thread is designed to be based on fact. But if the OP was an actual copyright lawyer, they would have never said "The OGL is non-rescindable -- it can't be cancelled or revoked."
That statement is incorrect and there is no wording in the 1.0a OGL that stops it from being revoked.

As discussed elsewhere in some thread in here, there apparently exists another licenses from the same time period that was held to be non-revokable in spite of lacking the magic word. If there is any ambiguity at all, the twenty years of representing it as non-revocable may apparently become relevant. Oh for the money to get the lawyers to find out.
 

mamba

Legend
MY question is this: What makes you think they can't revoke their own document?
the wording, the fact that the same turned out to be true for the GPL 2.0 (which also does not say that it isn't but that it is perpetual, just like the OGL) where this has been tried. The fact that everyone involved in this at WotC at the time said so, showing the intent for it to be unrevocable, which helps in the absence of the actual word to clarify the original intent.

Winning this is quite the uphill battle for WotC, their best strategy is to prevent anyone from getting in front of a judge.
 

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