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 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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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.)
that "under monetized" scared me (and I have been making jokes about $0.99 micro transactions to get a free heal of 2d4 hps) but now I wonder what is NEXT... cause this is not the end
 

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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
that is the thing... (I think you under sell the chances of it being revocable but even if 5%) remember if Hasbro throws 3 million dollars at the lawsuit, the court put an injunction (I looked it up I am pretty sure that is teh word) on the plentiff to not use the OGL until the suit is over, and it drags out 1 and 1/2 years and that plantiff can't publish for that time, and has to have we say HALF the money Hasbro throws (so 1.5 mil) and they win... that win can feel awful.
Remember ever OTHER 3pp had to stop for that year and a half too. SO now all the 3rd parties can start up again... how many can keep payroll going and the lights on with a half a mil lawsuit let alone a 1.5 or 2 mil one that lasts 18 months and they can't publish during that time?!?!

And remember throwing those 18 months and that mil or so is NOT a guarantee of winning... they may get all the way and lose (you say only 5% chance but we are TTRPGers we know that 1s come up at the worst times)
 

mamba

Legend
that is the thing... (I think you under sell the chances of it being revocable but even if 5%) remember if Hasbro throws 3 million dollars at the lawsuit, the court put an injunction (I looked it up I am pretty sure that is teh word) on the plentiff to not use the OGL until the suit is over
they could do that, but I would expect them not to, as that basically means they are putting one party out of business while the trial goes on

Usually you get an injunction if there otherwise is irreparable (or at least very severe) harm to the other party. This is not the case here, if anything the injunction is what is causing the harm.

The rest remains true, it is still expensive, time consuming and ultimately uncertain (because esp. in the US there are a lot of moronic decisions).

Would be great if Peter Adkison funded this to defend his legacy, ironic too. Hasbro money fighting Hasbro's overreach.
 

they could do that, but I would expect them not to,
I don't know... if it didn't happen in LA law or Boston Legal or Suits, I don't really know it. My side of the business' deals with the lawyers but not in a direct use the law way. I only know such things are possible, and if you are being a bully (and that is what I FEEL, not prove feel, that WotC is going for) then that seems to me to be a way to use your legal team to win by bankrupting the other side.
 

mamba

Legend
I don't know... if it didn't happen in LA law or Boston Legal or Suits, I don't really know it. My side of the business' deals with the lawyers but not in a direct use the law way. I only know such things are possible, and if you are being a bully (and that is what I FEEL, not prove feel, that WotC is going for) then that seems to me to be a way to use your legal team to win by bankrupting the other side.
oh, I did not mean WitC would not try, I meant no reasonable judge would grant it. When I pegged them succeeding in court at 5%, I’d lower them getting an injunction to 0.1% ;)
 

oh, I did not mean WitC would not try, I meant no reasonable judge would grant it. When I pegged them succeeding in court at 5%, I’d lower them getting an injunction to 0.1% ;)
You may be right, this is very far from my expertise, but what I HAVE seen lawyers pull and get away with it because they could write a good summery brief and make a charismatic argument makes me personally think you under sell the odds.

Trying not to get into details that I can't give, I saw a lawyer get the owner of a company off, his and his wife's punishment was they had to sell the business' for over $100,000,000 and promise and sign they would never work or do business' in that field again. Mean while 7 employees got fined, and 2 of them did jail time for things that they were made to do under threat of firing and worse. Here comes the BIGGEST kick. they had 'hired' there kids (underage no less) and were giving them a hire salary then any other employee (other then there own) even though said kids never did a thing for the company, BUT they held titles that looked good. When the sentences came down some how even though these kids were 'in charge' and on paper the people doing some of these thing the other employees had to do and put the kids names on... the kids didn't get fined or any jail time... they got a warning.

So yeah, being right doesn't mean much in my book. One of the two that did jail time for stupid things (but they did have court appointed defenders) I ran into a few years later working overnight at a gas station, because that was the only job she could get. I tried to pull strings at one of the companies I work with to get her a job but that conviction was too much for me to get her past even when I pulled the hiring manager aside and told them (in much more detail) what happened.

There were these 2 kids (maybe 20 at the time maybe teens) that worked for a few months got pissed and quit... when the law finally caught up with the company and started all of this they didn't go back far enough to pick those two up... so I still today many years later imagine the two roads, the one where they had stayed and got hit by this and where they are now. I avoid looking them up I want to believe they are doing well.

edit: btw the company was in business doing this stuff since before I was born (not by much) and the owner and his wife were already talking about retirement before this started being in there 50's they felt they just needed a good win to leave on... then all of this and the over 100 mil sale I think they retired well... much better then anyone else.
 

glass

(he, him)
So, well, yes, WotC has always had the ability to take your OGC and use it themselves. They explicitly came out and said that more than two decades ago.
Not without reciprocity.

But they've never done it, to my knowledge. And certainly not for copywritten material marketed and sold. The fact that they're updating it in such an aggressive and overt manner, from the leak if it is true, indicates some sort of intention.
Them never having done it under the terms of the old OGL are not really evidence that they will not do it under differemt, much more favourable terms.

Sorry, maybe I missed it, but does 1.1 affect DMsGuild products, and if so how?
Directly? Not at all. DMsGuild uses its own separate licence. OTOH, if I were a DMsGuild publisher I would be a little nervous right now just because of the change in culture at WotC that it portents.

What uses are we envisaging WotC might use it for that they couldn't under v1.0a? The only thing I can think of is that they don't have to attach the OGL to the content. Which, honestly, isn't a big deal to me
Use the content in a non-OGL product. Under OGL 1.0A, they can of course use the content in the same way and under the same rules as everyone else. But AFAICT, this is in addition to that.

People seem to think WotC has a mighty need to own Golarion, Tal'dorei and any other setting ever released in an OGL book and rerelease them as 1D supplements. It borders on mustache-twirling-evil caricature.
They're a large corporation: Mustache-twirling evil is pretty-much their default state. The only thing that keeps them from acting on it, sometimes, is not wanting to be seen that way. And clearly WotC of early 2023 is less worried about being seen as evil than they have been in the past.
 

Staffan

Legend
MY question is this: What makes you think they can't revoke their own document?
  1. "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."
  2. '"Use", "Used" or "Using" means to use, Distribute, copy, edit, format, modify, translate and otherwise create Derivative Material of Open Game Content.'
  3. '"Distribute" means to reproduce, license, rent, lease, sell, broadcast, publicly display, transmit or otherwise distribute;'
  4. So even if Wizards decides not to offer the SRD anymore (assuming they even can do that), there are a number of other publishers who have copies of the SRD published, and who have a perpetual license to sublicense that content.
  5. Numerous statements from agents of the corporation saying they can't revoke or effectively alter it in ways not acceptable to the community, going back over 20 years.
 

delericho

Legend
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
Even if it does go to court, there's a distinct possibility we might never find out - if the case started looking like they'd lose, Hasbro would almost certainly seek to settle, in order to avoid the precedent being set.

Which has very distinct echoes of what TSR did to Gygax back in the day - it seemed every time he created a game system they sued, only to eventually settle (usually agreeing to purchase the entire company involved, only to drop the game into their Sphere of Annihilation).

So you'd need someone with very deep pockets to fight the case, and a great deal of determination to see it through to the end.
 

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