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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Jadeite

Open Gaming Enthusiast
Cubicle 7 have issued this statement:
Screenshot 2023-01-09 at 18-19-35 Update 23 Uncharted Journeys and the OGL · Vault 5e Uncharte...png
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Might be the link, but quick not, the document linked it v1.0.

As there was a v0.2 that was put up on opengamingfoundation.org for community comment, there surely was a v0.1, and like v0.2 was never put into use.
There was a v1.0 and a v1.0a. That link is to the v1.0a.
 



Laura and Tracy Hickman posted an update on the Kickstarter they're currently working on for a 5e setting:

TL;DR they haven't seen the actual OGL 1.1 and their project will be produced according to the OGL 1.0a/SRD 5.1 they were planning on using. If they do another project down the road, it'll be under whatever OGL exists at the time.

Edit: they do mention it may be a good thing that the document was leaked because it allows WotC to gauge public response and adjust if needed before finalizing anything.
 

grixis.alon

Villager
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.
as stated from their leak:
"1.A. Modification: 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."
 

dbolack

Adventurer
Might be the link, but quick not, the document linked it v1.0a, the link text is "v0.1."

As there was a v0.2 that was put up on opengamingfoundation.org for community comment, there surely was a v0.1, and like v0.2 was never put into use.

Edited for clarity
That may have been on the mailing lists.
 

Jack Daniel

dice-universe.blogspot.com
as stated from their leak:
"1.A. Modification: 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."
And why do think that language applies to anyone who doesn't agree to that version of the license?
 

bmcdaniel

Adventurer
I'm still seeing a lot of confusion about OGL 1.1 and what it means. In order to create a digestible summary that can be easily referenced, in this post I'm going to reiterate the legal conclusion I reached above, with a very minimum of commentary. In particular, this post will not explain or analyze the legal conclusions. Of course, if anyone disagrees with my conclusions, I invite further discussion.
-------------
Based on the leaked version of OGL 1.1:
1. WOTC is not attempting to unilaterally revoke OGL 1.0(a).

2. WOTC is attempting to have OGL 1.0(a) users agree to revoke OGL 1.0(a) by assenting to OGL 1.1.

3. The method that WOTC has specified to assent to OGL 1.1 is likely to lead to many persons inadvertently and apparently assenting to OGL 1.1. In particular, WOTC asserts that persons can assent to OGL 1.1 by "use" of D&D content, including D&D content that appears in SRD 5.1 that has been licensed for use under OGL 1.0(a).

4. It is possible that courts will not treat "use" of D&D content as assenting to OGL 1.1. Persons who do not wish to assent to OGL 1.1, including users of OGL 1.0(a), can substantially increase their chances of prevailing in court if they unambiguously communicate to WOTC that they do not assent to OGL 1.1.
-------------
Commentary (keyed to the legal conclusions above):
0. As far as I am aware, as of the date of this post, the leaked version of OGL 1.1 has not been confirmed or issued by WOTC. It is quite possible that the leaked version of OGL 1.1 is not accurate and/or that WOTC never issues the leaked version of OGL 1.1.

1. Because WOTC is not purporting to unilaterally revoke OGL 1.0(a), discussions of whether licenses are revocable generally or because they lack specific words ("irrevocable") are purely academic. Similarly, discussions of Section 9 of OGL 1.0(a) and the meaning of "authorize" therein are purely academic. Of course, WOTC may attempt to unilaterally revoke OGL 1.0(a) in the future, in which case such matters will be relevant.

2. Nobody disputes that (as a general matter) WOTC and any particular user of OGL 1.0(a) may agree to revoke that user's rights under OGL 1.0(a).

3. Nothing more to say.

4. Whether any user of OGL 1.0(a) should communicate non-assent to WOTC, and the best form in which to do so, should be discussed by the user and their legal counsel.
-------------
In matters of law, there are complexities, nuance and exceptions to everything, including things said above. Don't expect a complete discussion in a forum post. Moreover, even if there are no complexities, nuance and exceptions that apply to your situation, there may be consequences that apply to you that you should consider. The fact that I don't know what complexities, nuance, exceptions and consequences apply to your specific situation is one reason (among many) that the things said above are not legal advice. So, I'll say what you hear so many lawyers say. The above is not legal advice. I am not your lawyer. You can rely on my legal advice only when we have discussed your specific situation after entering into an engagement letter with me or my law firm, and have agreed to pay me or my law firm for the provision of legal advice.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I'm still seeing a lot of confusion about OGL 1.1 and what it means. In order to create a digestible summary that can be easily referenced, in this post I'm going to reiterate the legal conclusion I reached above, with a very minimum of commentary. In particular, this post will not explain or analyze the legal conclusions. Of course, if anyone disagrees with my conclusions, I invite further discussion.
-------------
Based on the leaked version of OGL 1.1:
1. WOTC is not attempting to unilaterally revoke OGL 1.0(a).

2. WOTC is attempting to have OGL 1.0(a) users agree to revoke OGL 1.0(a) by assenting to OGL 1.1.

3. The method that WOTC has specified to assent to OGL 1.1 is likely to lead to many persons inadvertently and apparently assenting to OGL 1.1. In particular, WOTC asserts that persons can assent to OGL 1.1 by "use" of D&D content, including D&D content that appears in SRD 5.1 that has been licensed for use under OGL 1.0(a).

4. It is possible that courts will not treat "use" of D&D content as assenting to OGL 1.1. Persons who do not wish to assent to OGL 1.1, including users of OGL 1.0(a), can substantially increase their chances of prevailing in court if they unambiguously communicate to WOTC that they do not assent to OGL 1.1.
-------------
Commentary (keyed to the legal conclusions above):
0. As far as I am aware, as of the date of this post, the leaked version of OGL 1.1 has not been confirmed or issued by WOTC. It is quite possible that the leaked version of OGL 1.1 is not accurate and/or that WOTC never issues the leaked version of OGL 1.1.

1. Because WOTC is not purporting to unilaterally revoke OGL 1.0(a), discussions of whether licenses are revocable generally or because they lack specific words ("irrevocable") are purely academic. Similarly, discussions of Section 9 of OGL 1.0(a) and the meaning of "authorize" therein are purely academic. Of course, WOTC may attempt to unilaterally revoke OGL 1.0(a) in the future, in which case such matters will be relevant.

2. Nobody disputes that (as a general matter) WOTC and any particular user of OGL 1.0(a) may agree to revoke that user's rights under OGL 1.0(a).

3. Nothing more to say.

4. Whether any user of OGL 1.0(a) should communicate non-assent to WOTC, and the best form in which to do so, should be discussed by the user and their legal counsel.
-------------
In matters of law, there are complexities, nuance and exceptions to everything, including things said above. Don't expect a complete discussion in a forum post. Moreover, even if there are no complexities, nuance and exceptions that apply to your situation, there may be consequences that apply to you that you should consider. The fact that I don't know what complexities, nuance, exceptions and consequences apply to your specific situation is one reason (among many) that the things said above are not legal advice. So, I'll say what you hear so many lawyers say. The above is not legal advice. I am not your lawyer. You can rely on my legal advice only when we have discussed your specific situation after entering into an engagement letter with me or my law firm, and have agreed to pay me or my law firm for the provision of legal advice.
With respect of point 4, communicating non assent to OGL 1.1 would the expression of non assent in the section containing the OGL 1.0(a) be of use?
 

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