Dungeons and Dragons OGL Situation

Introduction

So, what is going on? And what even is an OGL? Lets start with that second one as everything builds off that. OGL stands for Open Game License, and is a license/agreement Wizards of the Coast had with their community. The OGL laid out what could and could not be used by 3rd party creators in making D&D supplemental material. And ever since 3rd party creators have been making a combination of amazing, weird, terrible, and fun content for D&D. And under the OGL they could even charge for this content.

What Happened?

Recently Wizards of the Coast (most likely at the behest of Hasbro) announced they were going to revamp the OGL. They laid out some broad goals that seemed reasonable if unpopular. With easily the least popular being that they would now expect royalties from 3rd party creators that made more than a certain amount per year. Well… least popular if you discount changing the OGL at all, but we will get to that.

This all caused the community to grumble but generally agree to wait and see what would happen. Until a leak of the contract. Multiple sources are claiming that this leak comes from creators sent both a copy of the “OGL 1.1” (as opposed to the original OGL1.0) and a contract to sign agreeing to the terms. The language in this leaked version lit the community on fire.

I am not a lawyer. I do not pretend to be an expert on legal matters. But my layman’s reading of parts of this OGL 1.1 felt disgusting and greedy. Or at least rife for abuse. Clauses that could mean “You own what you made… until we decide you don’t and we do.” Suggestions that they could change any part of the agreement at any time. Or simply eliminate the entire thing with a simple 30 day notice.

Reactions

At Large

As I said, the D&D community was outraged at the language in OGL1.1. So many video essays explaining the situation. People trying to figure out what to do, wondering if they will still have a livelihood if this came to pass. And Wizards of the Coast largely remaining silent. That is of course… until another leak.

Wizards Employees

Not sure if “leak” is the right term. What happened is that a Wizards employee reached out to a community content creator, under the condition of anonymity, to expose some insider information. So I guess “leak” is appropriate. In this there were 4 main takeaways. First, that Wizards was hoping the community had a short attention span and they could just let all this “blow over” before trying again. Second, the rank and file employee only knew marginally more than the community at large. Third, and I quote “…they see customers as obstacles between them and their money…” And finally, that the only thing they care about is the bottom line, using subscriptions to an online service as a barometer for how well they were doing. So a large movement of people started unsubscribing from that service.

Other Companies

If you thought the reaction to this was limited to the community and small creators you underestimate the scope of these changes. Several well known companies that make 3rd party D&D content have announced that in response to these proposed changes they are moving away from D&D content. One such company (Kobold Press) even announced they would make their own system. This all seems to have culminated in the company Paizo (the creators of Pathfinder) announcing their own take on an OGL style license.

This announcement had several components, but the first one I will be focusing on is the new license. This new license will be called the Open RPG Creative License or ORC for short. This license has several big points. First is that it is intended to be irrevocable, no one can change or resend it ever. They seek to accomplish this through a combination of legal language and transferring ownership of the license to a non-profit. Next up is that this is a generic license that any company can apply to their game, so any company can opt in to using this license. And finally, they weren’t alone in this effort, they had several big names in the community on board for this plan.

But what about OGL1.0a?

That term “irrevocable” was not used by accident. The thing is, it was a term that, once upon a time, Wizards of the Coast had used in reference to the first version of the OGL. That’s right, Wizards (read Hasbro) was trying to alter an agreement designed, agreed, and understood to be unchangeable. And the people pointing this out have more standing than just “guy on the internet”. The leaders of Paizo are pointing this out. And they should know, they were higher ups at Wizards when the OGL was made. So a very real question has arisen: Can Wizards legally do any of this? And several companies are willing to fight them in court over it.

Finally Wizards Speaks

About an hour before I sat down to write this, Wizards¬†finally released an official statement. In it they paint themselves as “misunderstood” and “not trying to step on the little guy” but to “fight back against giant corporations” (completely missing that they are a giant corporation). And, if I assume they are speaking in good faith, they make a couple good points… If one assumes they are arguing in good faith. You see, there was one more leak I haven’t talked about. Partially because it is so recent, but mostly because of it’s contents. Because if this leak is true, and was actually intended to be released to the public… Oh boy. It would be some of the most “cartoonish evil corporation” nonsense in what lies they expected the public to swallow. I won’t get any further into it here, but just for context, most of the community is taking anything Wizards says with a handful of salt at minimum.

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