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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Zaukrie

New Publisher
Even after it barely changes, it's the end of the world. It's not great for the big companies. But it's also not the end of the world.
The Solasta issue is a bummer.
 

codo

Hero
Me, for example. I am frankly rather baffled how anyone is looking at the playtest packets and not seeing an edition change.


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.
Historically new editions of the game are not compatible with the books of previous editions. The designers have stated over and over again that 1D&D will be backward compatible with 5E adventures and supplements will be. Calling it a new edition would actually cause more confusion.
 

darjr

I crit!
From their website and posted in the other thread note someone posted another part of thier site that seems to counter this.
See the next post quotes.
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
From their website and posted in the other thread note someone posted another part of thier site that seems to counter this.
See the next post quotes.
It's worth noting that there's no reason you can't use the OGL and have another license with WotC. Technically, that's what the old d20 STL was, and a lot of people used that!
 

Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
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.
As @Ruin Explorer points out, they have never mentioned D&D by name in any official pronouncement. They have been very clear they were using just the SRD.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
1) Okay they're REALLY BIG MAD about Solasta and websites.

WotC is a corporation. Don't ascribe emotions to corporations.

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.

It shouldn't be surprising if you've been following WotC. The brand is under-monetized - they intend to go into videogames. Videogames can be big money, so they don't want folks making that big money and cutting them out of it. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take.

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.

You can have it - but not under the OGL. You need a separate licensing agreement with WotC to do them - like Roll20 and other VTTs already have, and will continue to have.

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.

I think that is incorrect. I can very easily produce the SRD in "static electronic files" in html format. You download and access them with a web browser rather than adobe reader. In other words, a website. By extension, I don't think having the content be in database format, like in a Drupal site, is a problem so long as the content itself is static.

What you can't do under this license is automate the rules - like having a tool that knows your character stats, class abilities, and feats, and does calculations for you. That's not static files, that's dynamic content.

So, you can still do a static copy of the SRD online, but you can't copy D&D Beyond's character sheets.

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...

Oh, that's easy. It isn't about "are you making a living from it?" They need it to know this information to know if you are violating the $750K royalty provision.

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

No. They'll send you a C&D, and if you don't C&D, they'll take you to court, and make you pay up.

The emotionally loaded language isn't helping here.
 

Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
It's worth noting that there's no reason you can't use the OGL and have another license with WotC. Technically, that's what the old d20 STL was, and a lot of people used that!
Very true, unless it has some poison pill like clause like the GSL did, but I don't see that happening.

And I think (?) a specific piece of content can only be released under one license? Is that right?
 


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