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.

audit-3929140_960_720.jpg

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.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

gban007

Adventurer
Wondering if it may be first step in either reducing content in something like DMs Guild (You can only publish stuff here if under 1.1 or the like) - or opening up DND Beyond to more parties, but only if using 1.1 OGL or the like.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
It would seem to imply that you can also use 1.0 for material released under 1.1, no?

Well, you cannot change the license under which WotC offers content. If they release content under v1.1, it is under v1.1. You probably can take their v1.1 content, mix it up, and release your own part of that work under v1.0.
 


Roadie

Explorer
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.
There are quite a lot of things that they would never be able to actually make anybody pay up for, because game mechanics (as distinct from the specific creative expression of them) can't be copyrighted.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Well, you cannot change the license under which WotC offers content. If they release content under v1.1, it is under v1.1. You probably can take their v1.1 content, mix it up, and release your own part of that work under v1.0.
This came up in the other thread, but Section 9 of the OGL looks like it was made specifically to address concerns of using Open Game Content from newer versions of the license under older versions of the License:

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.
 

The emotionally loaded language isn't helping here.
Let me be really honest with you @Umbran, I personally think that utterly sanitizing the language as you're doing when you're using terms like "under-monetized" entirely unironically is even more unhelpful in reaching a genuine understanding of what is going on.

But that's like, just my opinion man. I could be dead wrong. As for not ascribing emotions to corporations, I work at a pretty big corporation (bigger than WotC) and I'm just going to go ahead and disagree that they don't ever have effective emotions because of the feelings/behaviour of the corporate leadership.

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.
I guess we'll see, when we see the actual document. But I don't think your opinion is entirely solid here.

Certainly it bans any character builder, calculator, or actual app that relies on SRD material.

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.
Sure, and those agreements probably allow WotC to terminate them in ways that the OGL 1.0 does not. It also means WotC can just not sign agreements with any future VTTs.

This isn't really an OGL anymore. This more of a community content licence or something similar. You actually have to sign this and send documents to WotC (seemingly annually). That's not open. This is a GSL, just less outright stupid than the GSL.

As for "Well WotC are just being sensible", I don't entirely disagree, but given that this stuff ain't great, I think it's okay to poke at it.
 

glass

(he, him)
Historically new editions of the game are not compatible with the books of previous editions.
100% backwards compatible? No. At least as backwards compatible as 2024 from 2014 is shaping up to be? Plenty of precedent: Definitely 1e => 2e and 3e => 3.5, probably B/X = > BECMI, although I am less familiar with those last two.

The designers have stated over and over again that 1D&D will be backward compatible with 5E adventures and supplements will be.
Designers say one thing and do another all the time. EDIT: Especially nearly two years out.
 

Yeah I just found that.

So the difference is more like this. With Solasta, they were able to start work on the game, plan the game, and launch a KS for the game, because they had the OGL to fall back on.

In the end, WotC signed an agreement with them after their KS succeeded. But WotC kind of had to (imho) because it seems like the alternative would be to either ignore the project, or try and sue, neither of them great looks.

Now, you couldn't really get that far without being grossly irresponsible, because WotC could just say no, and you'd be out.
 

100% backwards compatible? No. At least as backwards compatible as 2024 from 2014 is shaping up to be? Plenty of precedent: Definitely 1e => 2e and 3e => 3.5, probably B/X = > BECMI, although I am less familiar with those last two.


Designers say one thing and do another all the time. EDIT: Especially nearly two years out.
Yeah I think 1D&D is looking pretty much exactly like what I expected re: backwards compatibility. It's not looking awful or anything.
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
Yeah I just found that.

So the difference is more like this. With Solasta, they were able to start work on the game, plan the game, and launch a KS for the game, because they had the OGL to fall back on.

In the end, WotC signed an agreement with them after their KS succeeded. But WotC kind of had to (imho) because it seems like the alternative would be to either ignore the project, or try and sue, neither of them great looks.

Now, you couldn't really get that far without being grossly irresponsible, because WotC could just say no, and you'd be out.
You know, I still don't understand how Solasta wasn't covered by the OGL?

Was it just that nobody want to fight it out in court to prove it?
 

Remove ads

Latest threads

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top