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.

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.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

So... no one will use the new OGL and will just continue using the old one.

Good to know.
yeah but the video ends with some dumb stuff about how they can magically take away the old one again... I don't know what makes people think they would not take the one that made pathfinder possible away...

I do wonder if there will be rules about useing both licences...
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Vaalingrade

Legend
yeah but the video ends with some dumb stuff about how they can magically take away the old one again... I don't know what makes people think they would not take the one that made pathfinder possible away...
A ruse to keep smaller companies without the legal departments to beat them with their own spines in line, basically. That's Big Company 101, like how Disney has basically murdered Fair Use: not by actual legislation where they'll lose, but by threat of SLAPP suit that will ruin the target financially.
 

This is also useing 'income' when there are two types (well more but this is the barebones one) is that revenue/profit?
It is 100% unclear because they use the terms revenue and income seemingly interchangeably, but they're actually not interchangeable.

The fact that they use revenue at all, and never use profit (which is more interchangeable with income) suggests they mean revenue, but it's hard to say.

I will say that revenue would make it more straightforward as to whether a product was required to report/pay royalties and were I WotC I'd use revenue on that basis.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
It is 100% unclear because they use the terms revenue and income seemingly interchangeably, but they're actually not interchangeable.

The fact that they use revenue at all, and never use profit (which is more interchangeable with income) suggests they mean revenue, but it's hard to say.

I will say that revenue would make it more straightforward as to whether a product was required to report/pay royalties and were I WotC I'd use revenue on that basis.
Profit sounds more predatory than revenue or income. I suspect the word choice is public relations-based.
 


Profit sounds more predatory than revenue or income. I suspect the word choice is public relations-based.
I mean, maybe, profit is actually the least-threatening of the words here.

Wait though that does clarify it - they must mean revenue.

There's no way there are 20 companies which made a $750k PROFIT on OGL stuff, is there? I mean industry experts tell me if I'm wrong. But it's definitely possible to come up with over 10 companies that made over $750k REVENUE from OGL stuff.
 

Not sure what the rules are for talking about it here, but wotc is trying to crack down on pirates they are not doing a great job.
I guess we probably can't discuss it much but I'd say they're doing as good as you could expect for a company primarily selling static print media. I'm sure the push to digital includes some desire to move away from stuff people can just scan and put on the web or w/e.
 

I mean, maybe, profit is actually the least-threatening of the words here.

Wait though that does clarify it - they must mean revenue.

There's no way there are 20 companies which made a $750k PROFIT on OGL stuff, is there? I mean industry experts tell me if I'm wrong. But it's definitely possible to come up with over 10 companies that made over $750k REVENUE from OGL stuff.
that is a good point. My understanding is that nobody makes that much... so they must mean revenue, and that is a major issue.

Imagine again some magic world were I do a major kickstarter of one of my worlds/adventures and get $60,000 but that is for $100 per book where I will have to pay about $75 per book (spreading costs like art and editors over each book) that means that 3/4 of that money is gone day 1 just to get the books made (and that is before kickstarter takes a cut lets say that is included though) So I just made $15,000... but again that is just cost for book. If I put out any kind of stretch goal, lets say everyone gets a cute sticker... that eats into it too.

I have not run a kickstarter, but I have worked with numbers for companies that make millions and ones that are 'mom and pop' and I have had to break it to people at every level that they can't afford to keep going with the profits they are making, because they are hemorrhaging money.

The closest thing to TTRPG experience I have is a local gaming store (well 2 really and a comic shop that does it on the side) and both of the local gaming stores closed... both I tried to explain to the owners how little they were making and that income and profit are not even close to the same thing. I watched one of those ruin a marriage too. And on the books the one that did the worst was making 'income' of $50,000+ it just was also costing that much or more.

edit: totally outside of TTRPG I have a friend who has a micropress for novels... I have tried to help them with there books as favors (like 100% free not as my job) and they are okay with running at no profit or even minor losses some years as long as they can stay in print. It is 100% a side hustle and for reasons OTHER then profit, and they are selling there own novels to other publishers and they and there spouse work good paying jobs. I can't imagine having to explain the books to Hasbro (and make no mistake it's HASBRO) where I show "Yeah, we brought in $120,000 last year and $109,000 the year before that but we also had costs closer to $150,000 both years, and that was offset by the fact that the two years before that both had profit, and then the owner reinvested his own money and has never once taken a draw."
 
Last edited:

Not sure what the rules are for talking about it here, but wotc is trying to crack down on pirates they are not doing a great job.

They probably do as much as needs to be done. You need to consider the effort to try taking everything down.

Like with piracy on movies, offering a low entry legal alternative is usually way more effective way to convince people to not use pirated stuff.

So. Offer a subscription of 10 dollars per month for all the books of dndbeyond, and I'd probably buy in, even though I own about half of them.
 


Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top