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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Remathilis

Legend
At the very least, I appreciate that this whole fiasco is a wake-up call for many in the community that neither WotC nor Hasbro are their friends.
Any large sized corporation isn't. However, that does place people into a lot of awkward positions. Deciding you aren't going to support them anymore? Well, start by never buying another D&D product. And MTG. And maybe Hasbro, avoiding GI Joe, MLP, and Transformers. And Star Wars and Marvel figures. And all the board games owned by them. And that's an attempt to avoid just Hasbro directly. What about all the companies that do business with them? Either companies that directly make licenced merch or who will still support WotC under the new license? What about UltraPro, WizKids, GF9, or Beadles and Grimm? Paramount and the movie? Larian Studios and BG3? What IF Paizo, or Kobold Press or CR throw in the towel and support WotC (better to live on your knees than die on your feet?). How far are you (editorial you) willing to go?

The downside to lifestyle brands is that they are selling you a lifestyle on their terms, not yours.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
For folks questioning whether Wizards has any nefarious intent with this:
For at least a few days, the official Wizards of the Coast Discord server was deleting all discussion of "O"GL 1.1:

This policy was later reversed, and such discussions were allowed in the "D&D Next" channel.

Allegedly, the excuse given for this was that any discussion of "O"GL 1.1 was a "bad-faith argument," and that because all bad-faith arguments are trolling, and trolling is forbidden, discussion of "O"GL 1.1 was forbidden. Curious that that changed after only a day....
 

Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
I have the bad feeling that most if not all of the big 3PPs are privately being offered a much lower licensing fee rate than the 20%/25% in the standard OGL 1.1, and they will see that as the safer course to keep themselves in business. I don't think any of them have the funds to support a drawn out legal case against Hasbro's massive coffers. Even as big as Paizo is, I do not think they are in the same league as Hasbro. :-(
 

Aldarc

Legend
Any large sized corporation isn't. However, that does place people into a lot of awkward positions. Deciding you aren't going to support them anymore? Well, start by never buying another D&D product. And MTG. And maybe Hasbro, avoiding GI Joe, MLP, and Transformers. And Star Wars and Marvel figures. And all the board games owned by them. And that's an attempt to avoid just Hasbro directly. What about all the companies that do business with them? Either companies that directly make licenced merch or who will still support WotC under the new license? What about UltraPro, WizKids, GF9, or Beadles and Grimm? Paramount and the movie? Larian Studios and BG3?
No disagreement here. I'm not advocating boycotting WotC. Right now I'm just taking this all in and reading reactions from the community. Even with the leaks, I expect that we will not hear as much until this Friday or whenever the NDA ends.

What IF Paizo, or Kobold Press or CR throw in the towel and support WotC (better to live on your knees than die on your feet?). How far are you (editorial you) willing to go?
This is my big question. Or maybe Paizo doesn't but Critical Role does. What happens then? Some of the heavy weights are in positions where they can negotiate customized deals, but a lot of people assume that everyone will fight WotC on this.
 

I have the bad feeling that most if not all of the big 3PPs are privately being offered a much lower licensing fee rate than the 20%/25% in the standard OGL 1.1, and they will see that as the safer course to keep themselves in business. I don't think any of them have the funds to support a drawn out legal case against Hasbro's massive coffers. Even as big as Paizo is, I do not think they are in the same league as Hasbro. :-(
If wotc gets Piazo and green ronin and maybe 1 other to sign on not to argue or oppose that is pretty much a super win for them... and again even if Piazo was 95% sure they would win if it came to court... taking an easy contract might make more sense.
 


Thomas Shey

Legend
I have the bad feeling that most if not all of the big 3PPs are privately being offered a much lower licensing fee rate than the 20%/25% in the standard OGL 1.1, and they will see that as the safer course to keep themselves in business. I don't think any of them have the funds to support a drawn out legal case against Hasbro's massive coffers. Even as big as Paizo is, I do not think they are in the same league as Hasbro. :-(

I think some people are overstating how big Hasbro's legal coffers are here. They're a well known corporation, but they didn't even have that big a footprint before their recent financial issues. It also only matters how much you have if you find a judge that will let you stall above a certain point.

I'm not saying a minor player wants to get into that, but its not as beyond reasonable for a company the size of Paizo as some people seem to think.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I also want to point out as I have in other places that the whole "de-authorization" thing is not a thing that is clearly legal (and has implications if allowed that many players in other areas where open licenses are important well beyond the RPG industry would have strong reasons to fight--as a simple case, I suspect it would attract the glaring eye of Alphabet, and if you want to see a corporation that really can throw an 800-lb gorilla into the room, that's a good place to start).
 


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