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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. I've seen articles claiming (and I quote) that "players would be unable...

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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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Looks like chatter on this topic has been loud enough that we've got an official statement on it.


I don't know enough about the business side to parse everything, but some shots at Pathfinder with the royalty program, maybe? Or has PF2e diverged enough that it's clear of the OGL at this point?
Nothing is "clear" of the OGL if you publish under it, which Pathfinder does. That said, the royalty issue only seems to come in if you use the OGL v1.1, which Pathfinder doesn't, and I suspect won't need to; they're doing just fine with the existing version of the license.

The way I see it, the only reason anyone will want to use the OGL v1.1 is because that's the version that the 1D&D SRD will be released under, and even then I'm not sure you can't use that with the earlier versions of the OGL anyway.
 


Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter

Long story short, there will be updates to the OGL and there will be a ONE D&D SRD.

Here's the part that some folks will be upset about:

  1. "If you’re making commercial content, relatively little is going to change for most creators. For most of you who are selling custom content, here are the new things you’ll need to do:

    Accept the license terms and let us know what you’re offering for sale
    Report OGL-related revenue annually (if you make more than $50,000 in a year)
    Include a Creator Product badge on your work"

"For the fewer than 20 creators worldwide who make more than $750,000 in income in a year, we will add a royalty starting in 2024. So, even for the creators making significant money selling D&D supplements and games, no royalties will be due for 2023 and all revenue below $750,000 in future years will be royalty-free. "

So basically, WotC wants a piece of revenue from Kobold Press, Paizo, Critical Role, Ghostfire, and the other 3rd party heavy hitters. I wonder if any of them will fight this.
 

Voadam

Legend
Looks like chatter on this topic has been loud enough that we've got an official statement on it.


I don't know enough about the business side to parse everything, but some shots at Pathfinder with the royalty program, maybe? Or has PF2e diverged enough that it's clear of the OGL at this point?
Wow.

Continue using the existing irrevocable OGL as you have with 5e OGL stuff, or put out stuff under this proposed similar license where you have to submit yearly accounting and possibly pay royalties.

Very little incentive to switch so far. Maybe their 1.1 OGL SRD will have super useful stuff like all the Monsters of the Multiverse and other books monster stats the way Pathfinder 1e put out five bestiaries worth for free as OGC?

I am really surprised at this.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Long story short, there will be updates to the OGL and there will be a ONE D&D SRD.

Here's the part that some folks will be upset about:

  1. "If you’re making commercial content, relatively little is going to change for most creators. For most of you who are selling custom content, here are the new things you’ll need to do:

    Accept the license terms and let us know what you’re offering for sale
    Report OGL-related revenue annually (if you make more than $50,000 in a year)
    Include a Creator Product badge on your work"

"For the fewer than 20 creators worldwide who make more than $750,000 in income in a year, we will add a royalty starting in 2024. So, even for the creators making significant money selling D&D supplements and games, no royalties will be due for 2023 and all revenue below $750,000 in future years will be royalty-free. "

So basically, WotC wants a piece of revenue from Kobold Press, Paizo, Critical Role, Ghostfire, and the other 3rd party heavy hitters. I wonder if any of them will fight this.
It also doubles down on limiting the use of the SRD to only printed books and static files (ie PDFs). So things like character creators and Discord bots are in violation.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
Wow.

Continue using the existing irrevocable OGL as you have with 5e OGL stuff, or put out stuff under this proposed similar license where you have to submit yearly accounting and possibly pay royalties.

Very little incentive to switch so far. Maybe their 1.1 OGL SRD will have super useful stuff like all the Monsters of the Multiverse and other books monster stats the way Pathfinder 1e put out five bestiaries worth for free as OGC?

I am really surprised at this.
If they update the OGL, do you really have the option to just "keep using" the old version? Their statement reads like the OGL is the OGL, and they're going to update it, so that's the OGL that will exist.
 




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