On Friday the 13 of January 2023, Wizard of the Coast, the makers of Dungeon & Dragons, was supposed to announce changes of the Open Gaming License. OGL is the license which govern open use of the Dungeon & Dragons system, which allowed a thriving ecosystem of third party indie game designer to publish material compatible with D&D, or even derivative of it. These changes would be coming in anticipation of the next version of the game dubbed One D&D slated for 2025.
But, the announcement has been canceled:
Inside sources at Wizards of the Coast tell io9 that the company is scrambling to formulate a response to backlash against the new OGL that has occurred over the past week, following io9’s story about a leaked draft of the document.
What did cause D&D fans to cancel their Beyond D&D subscriptions in drove? Not drawing conclusions here, but I wouldn’t doubt that a dip in subscriptions and income triggered some OKR miss that would lead to other managers in the company to raise issues.
Detect Evil and Good
According to io9, WotC wanted to tighten its grip. All of this is based on a leaked draft document, and not an official release from Wizards. The intent of the change is understandable, as Wizards would want to increase their bottom line, but some of the means are quite unpopular:
Despite reassurances from Wizards of the Coast last month, the original OGL will become an “unauthorized” agreement, and it appears no new content will be permitted to be created under the original license.
This is the main problem. WotC believe that the can revoke the current OGL 1.0a with an update, making any content published using that license no longer publishable, requiring the use of the “updated” license. This goes into conflict with the irrevocable and perpetual nature of OGL. Paizo, Kobold Press and Green Ronin are among the publisher that would be tremendously impacted by this.
So what is this update supposed to provide:
Restriction about the use of the content associated with web3, blockchain and NFT.2
Conditions prohibiting material that would be “blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, trans-phobic, bigoted or otherwise discriminatory.”
These two things are not fundametally bad, just to be clear, even if they might also have their issues in term of implementation.
The new license was also supposed to introduce a split between commercial and non-commercial usage, including a tiered system for royalties.
Unless they are making over $750,000, licensees get to keep the money they earn. But the new OGL states that the Commercial Agreement “covers all commercial uses, whether they’re profitable or not.” So if you go into the red on a Kickstarter that earned $800K in backing money, you will still owe Wizards of the Coast, regardless of the fact that you did not profit from your venture.
Also a requirement to register and report would be introduced, and another clause would make Kickstarter the prefered crowdfunding platform with a lower royalty rate by 5 points.
These changes were supposed to take into effect Friday the 13 in January 2023:
“if you want to publish SRD-based content on or after January 13, 2023 and commercialize it, your only option is to agree to the OGL: Commercial.”
But the draft was apparently intended for an earlier release, while lot of industry insider did not expect the change to happen so quickly.
I think that whatever changes WotC make to the license for new content is fine. They own it and they can do what they want. It could have an impact on the popularity among indie publishers, ultimately it would be their own path. But voiding the old license, the action that matters, action that is contra to 1. the original license terms, and 2. to even the previous announcements, even though it is something legal experts seem to believe is not feasible.3
So, in lieu of the announcement DND Beyond published an update admitting they fumbled their dice roll:
However, it’s clear from the reaction that we rolled a 1. It has become clear that it is no longer possible to fully achieve all three goals while still staying true to our principles. So, here is what we are doing.
They clearly admit that one of the goal was to take aim at these unnamed publishers that have been successful with OGL content. Note that some of the popularity of these third-party publisher came from direct action of WotC, between cancelling the d20 license, and D%D 4th edition.4
The next OGL will contain the provisions that allow us to protect and cultivate the inclusive environment we are trying to build and specify that it covers only content for TTRPGs. That means that other expressions, such as educational and charitable campaigns, livestreams, cosplay, VTT-uses, etc., will remain unaffected by any OGL update. Content already released under 1.0a will also remain unaffected.
What it will not contain is any royalty structure. It also will not include the license back provision that some people were afraid was a means for us to steal work. That thought never crossed our minds.
We’ll see what the next iteration of the draft has to offer.
Our plan was always to solicit the input of our community before any update to the OGL;
To me it doesn’t appear that way. All of this look like somebody at WotC thought they could go do it, and they have failed their roll. Solliciting input would have meant publishing a draft ahead of time with some time to get feedback, and revise, before the change was forced.
Meanwhile, other publishers have taken note, and are working on distancing themselves from the OGL.
We believe that any interpretation that the OGL 1.0 or 1.0(a) were intended to be revocable or able to be deauthorized is incorrect, and with good reason.
A key element is that if OGL is revokable, they are truly in trouble. But they are not the only one to think it is irrevokable, including people that worked on the original license 20 years ago.
And so we invite gamers from around the world to join us as we begin the next great chapter of open gaming with the release of a new open, perpetual, and irrevocable Open RPG Creative License (ORC).
The good thing is that they want this to not be exclusively their license, but everyone’s, or at least a few other publishers, making it vendor neutral.
Ultimately, we plan to find a nonprofit with a history of open source values to own this license (such as the Linux Foundation).
Now here is a question. The Linux Foundation? I see two answers. 1. either they didn’t check what the Linux Foundation does because it surely doesn’t stewart a license nor the copyright of the kernel, or 2. maybe they want an industry consortium.
Let’s not get upset about this though. I really hope they’ll think of the stewardship seriously. We’ll see.
Chaosium, one of the oldest TTRPG publisher still active, anounced that they are part of Paizo Open RPG initiative.
They already used their own license for the Basic Roleplaying System that powers Call of Cthulhu and Runequest.
In response to Wizards of the Coast’s new version of the Open Game License, Paizo will spearhead the development of a system-neutral open RPG license that can be freely used across the tabletop RPG industry. Chaosium, Green Ronin, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, and Rogue Genius Games are already on board, and other companies are expected to join.
So while they did not use OGL for their products, they join forces with other publishers as a way to ensure the future of TTRPG.
We’ll definitely have to keep an eye on the development. I can’t wait to see how WotC will redraft their license and if they really will seek community feedback.
On the other hand I really have hope for the open RPG license effort. If anything, the success of standard open source software license is here as an example.
Any ressemblance between headers and D&D spells would be deliberate. ↩︎
NFT is pronounced in a way that rhyme with “theft”. This is all I can say about these. ↩︎
I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one in Call of Cthulhu (or a paladin in D&D). This is pure armchair understanding. Always consult a lawyer for legal advice. ↩︎
The d20 license termination, which is a trademark and branding license was mean to phase out D&D 3.5 compatible product. And the license for D&D 4 content, which was not OGL, was such that you couldn’t, as a publisher, make products compatible with D&D 3.5 if you made products under the new license for D&D 4. Since OGL was not revoked, it was still fine for D&D 3.5 content, which most publishers chose to do. Also D&D 4 as a version of Dungeon & Dragon was not well liked by D&D afficionados. Its rework aimed at attracting a new demographics of player, but the old grognard decided to move to Pathfinder which was a byproduct of all this licensing change, an evolution of the D&D 3.5 ruleset. D&D 4 would have been better if it wasn’t called D&D. Maybe. D&D 5 returned to have an OGL licensed system. ↩︎