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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Faolyn

(she/her)
I HIGHLY doubt WotC doesn't like him. There may be someone there that doesn't prefer him over others, but I don't think the entire company views him badly. I think some may even be happy for his contributions to the RPG scene.

Overall, I think (IMO in otherwords) that WotC is by and large more of a neutral entity at this point towards others, except in the pursuit of advancing their own agenda.

As for a response by WotC...what would WotC even say in this? That they already have the OGL and SRD...it's up currently and can still be used and utilized?

What are people thinking, that the OGL will suddenly go away or be unable to be utilized at all?

Since when has that happened? Even with 4e there was still an OGL that was used, even if 4e wasn't the basis for it.

With ONE D&D being the same (relatively speaking, meaning the same in the eyes of some of those at Hasbro and being backwards compatible with the original 1 D&D...aka...5e) as it always was...I expect the OGL in effect today would still be fully compatible with what comes out in the future even if nothing changes.

So what are they to say in regards to that? What could they say?
I can't find the post he said that, so I could be misremembering, but I do recall him saying that WotC didn't like him.
 

FallenRX

Adventurer
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.
I dont think they are gonna fight it, they are simply not going to make content for One DnD lol
 

HAH. There we go.

Fascinating that they put this out through D&D Beyond. I guess it's WotC's official D&D mouthpiece now? That's kind of new.

Hmmm let's look through see what we can see:

1) Okay they're REALLY BIG MAD about Solasta and websites.

That's kind of surprising to me, but that change of the OGL is specifically to screw companies like Tactical Adventures and prevent there ever being another Solasta.

This is also really interestingly awful because it means it screws websites and apps. You can't have a nice website which is semi-automatic or has a character builder or whatever, you can't have an app like the old Beyond app, either. It's PDFs or Print or die in a fire from WotC's perspective. You couldn't even have a website that listed all the SRD materials like literally every game that has an SRD currently has. That's explicitly illegal here.

This is PRETTY RUDE in my opinion. Like rude-rude.

2) HMMMMM this "report yourself to the RPG cops if you want to sell things" stuff doesn't sound great.

You gotta tell your good buddy WotC what you're making, and if you're making a living from it?

They give no indication of why they need this, or what their purposes for gathering this info are, but it does smack of "The RPG police" lol (mostly joking but not 100% joking).

And if you make BIG MONEY (750k income) WotC wants a cut or I guess they'll break your knees?

I don't foresee this going super-great for WotC unless they're offering some concessions and/or what is in the SRD Is a whole lot more generous than currently, both of which doubt.

GSL 2.0 here we come. Especially as it sounds like they may want to flex the "OGL 1.1" further in future.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
s9 of the OGL addresses this.

Which, for those who haven't looked, says:

"9. Updating the License: Wizards or its designated Agents may publish updated versions of this License. You may use any authorized version of this License to copy, modify and distribute any Open Game Content originally distributed under any version of this License."

Which means, any content released under v1.0 or 1.0a may be perpetually used under those licenses. Basically, 3e and 5e are perpetually as open as they are today.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
HAH. There we go.

Fascinating that they put this out through D&D Beyond. I guess it's WotC's official D&D mouthpiece now? That's kind of new.

Hmmm let's look through see what we can see:

1) Okay they're REALLY BIG MAD about Solasta and websites.

That's kind of surprising to me, but that change of the OGL is specifically to screw companies like Tactical Adventures and prevent there ever being another Solasta.

Tactical Adventures clearly has some sort of licensing deal in place with WotC beyond just the SRD. Solasta has "Dungeons & Dragons" in the title, which under the OGL and the 5E SRD they couldn't have done.
 

Which, for those who haven't looked, says:

"9. Updating the License: Wizards or its designated Agents may publish updated versions of this License. You may use any authorized version of this License to copy, modify and distribute any Open Game Content originally distributed under any version of this License."

Which means, any content released under v1.0 or 1.0a may be perpetually used under those licenses. Basically, 3e and 5e are perpetually as open as they are today.
Honestly Ryan Dancey looking like a pretty great guy right now. I think I said some mean things about him back in the day, but his OGL/SRD was straight-up, so I take them back.
 

Tactical Adventures clearly has some sort of licensing deal in place with WotC beyond just the SRD. Solasta has "Dungeons & Dragons" in the title, which under the OGL and the 5E SRD they couldn't have done.
Interesting!

It definitely didn't when it started out, and they specifically explained early in development that they were reliant on the OGL and not officially licensed. I guess things changed.

EDIT - Can you point me to where that is? I can't see it on their website: Solasta: Crown of the Magister

The copyright notice makes no mention of Dungeons and Dragons, for example:

© 2022 Tactical Adventures. All Rights Reserved. All content is the property of Tactical Adventures protected under copyright or trademark laws. “Solasta”, “Solasta: Crown of the Magister” & “Tactical Adventures” are trademarks of Tactical Adventures.

You'd usually expect it to be mentioned there and affirmed to be WotC's.
 

glass

(he, him)
There's no telling, some are looking at the play test packets and somehow seeing a whole edition change.
Me, for example. I am frankly rather baffled how anyone is looking at the playtest packets and not seeing an edition change.

As a HUGE 4e fan (like it is my fav version of D&D todate by a large margin) I have to agree the marketing for it and the PR around it sucked (It was far from the only flaw).
While the extent to which they screwed up the marketing is often overstated (see all the complaints about non-existent insulting videos), I certainly agree it could have been a lot better.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
Which, for those who haven't looked, says:

"9. Updating the License: Wizards or its designated Agents may publish updated versions of this License. You may use any authorized version of this License to copy, modify and distribute any Open Game Content originally distributed under any version of this License."

Which means, any content released under v1.0 or 1.0a may be perpetually used under those licenses. Basically, 3e and 5e are perpetually as open as they are today.
It would seem to imply that you can also use 1.0 for material released under 1.1, no?
 

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