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
I really wish this guy would stop doing analysis videos about this.

At 2:48, in response to the news that the OGL v1.1 is coming out, he says, "So the [OGL] that everyone's been operating under thus far will change."

NO, IT WON'T! You can keep using the prior versions of the OGL in perpetuity! Nothing is forcing you to use the new version of the license! :rant:
 

I really wish this guy would stop doing analysis videos about this.

At 2:48, in response to the news that the OGL v1.1 is coming out, he says, "So the [OGL] that everyone's been operating under thus far will change."

NO, IT WON'T! You can keep using the prior versions of the OGL in perpetuity! Nothing is forcing you to use the new version of the license! :rant:
I must of missed that one I tend to tune out stuff like that but his wrap up at the end had more of that... including "we don't know if" and then going on to say they can remove the ogl or the srd
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
So the OGL 1.1 seems to be completely ignorable? Why would anyone sign onto it then?

I think that will depend on what goes into the OneD&D SRD, that isn't in the 5e SRD.

They say in their note - folks who just want to be generally compatible won't have to. The core of the system isn't changing enough to be a problem. If you want to access the stuff that is only in the OneD&D game, though, dealing with the v1.1 license will be necessary.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I think that will depend on what goes into the OneD&D SRD, that isn't in the 5e SRD.

They say in their note - folks who just want to be generally compatible won't have to. The core of the system isn't changing enough to be a problem. If you want to access the stuff that is only in the OneD&D game, though, dealing with the v1.1 license will be necessary.
There's a very good chance that won't be the case, as per Section 9 of the OGL v1.0 and v1.0a. Presuming that the 1D&D SRD is released as Open Game Content under the OGL v1.1, then it will be usable under older versions of the license.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
that is a good point. My understanding is that nobody makes that much... so they must mean revenue, and that is a major issue.

How big an issue it is will depend on how large the royalties are.

This provision seems largely targeted at the million-dollar kickstarter types. If the royalty rates are known beforehand, though, that can be calculated into the kickstarter plan.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
There's a very good chance that won't be the case, as per Section 9 of the OGL v1.0 and v1.0a. Presuming that the 1D&D SRD is released as Open Game Content under the OGL v1.1, then it will be usable under older versions of the license.

Yeah, when I read that with a layman's eye, that's the conclusion I first came to. But, that makes revising the license so irrelevant that I assume that interpretation is incorrect. I'd want an IP lawyer who knows contract/license construction to tell me that before I believed it.
 
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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I think that will depend on what goes into the OneD&D SRD, that isn't in the 5e SRD.

They say in their note - folks who just want to be generally compatible won't have to. The core of the system isn't changing enough to be a problem. If you want to access the stuff that is only in the OneD&D game, though, dealing with the v1.1 license will be necessary.
But you copy material released under any version of the OGL in products released under any version of the OGL, so it still shouldn't matter.
 

How big an issue it is will depend on how large the royalties are.

This provision seems largely targeted at the million-dollar kickstarter types. If the royalty rates are known beforehand, though, that can be calculated into the kickstarter plan.
yes it can, but again not knowing gaming costs specifically but understanding business' in general I can guarantee you this will change some peoples equations on what is and is not worth it.
 


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