D&D OGL controversy explained - all the drama explained and why you should care (2023)

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Here's what everyone has been raving about about the D&D OGL changes

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  • OGL explained
  • The update
  • Why was everyone upset?
  • Why it mattered

The new D&D OGL has the community in turmoil, but why? And what is an 'OGL' anyway? More importantly, how does it affect you?

If you're feeling confused about the controversy being blown up on social media, below is a breakdown of the drama. There's certainly enough to keep us rushing into the following updates to the D&D OGL (the acronym for "Open Game License"); although the publisher has Wizards of the Coastall these changes are reversedIn an unprecedented move, the whole affair had a huge impact on some of theThe best tabletop roleplaying games. To be precise, some third-party providers have moved away from itDungeons and Dragons booksforever.

There was also a big domino effect for the players. Confidence in the brand has been thoroughly shaken after some very poorly received decisions, and while Wizards has since worked hard to make amends, it may take a while to regain that goodwill.

So, let's get into that. Here's everything you need to know about the turmoil at D&D OGL.

What is the D&D OGL?

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The Open Game License (called OGL 1.0a, which you can findHere(opens in new tab)) allows third parties to create written products such as adventures or rulebooks using Wizards of the Coast's D&D system. Although there are some restrictions preventing you from using trademarked ideas like Baldur's Gate, it has remained largely unchanged since it first appeared in 2000. Basically, it allows games like Pathfinder, which emulates previous editions of D&D, to exist.

However, that has all changed recently. Wizards has been talking about overhauling the OGLsince December(opens in new tab), stating that the license "requires an update" to work as originally intended, but "without allowing third parties to develop D&D NFTs and large corporations to exploit our intellectual property."

What did the D&D OGL update do?

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At the beginning of January 2023, Linda Codega was apparently leaked a revised version of the OGLat io9(opens in new tab). A full overview of everything that should be in this document is in Linda's description, but here are the broad strokes.

At the time of the leak, the new OGL was:

  • Debased the original OGL, she opinedcould no longer be used
  • Explained that D&D publisher Wizards of the Coastmust be notifiedBe notified of all monetized content and receive a report on earnings
  • Said that products using the OGL and making over $750,000 per year must pay Wizards a 25% (or 20% if funded through Kickstarter) royaltyall incomeover and beyond
  • Claimed the right toUse all OGL contentin any way that Wizards of the Coast saw fit
  • D&D-related stoppedNFTs and blockchain
  • PermittedTermination of Licensefor content that is "blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, bigoted or otherwise discriminatory".

This caused widespread controversy, with industry insiders lamenting the change, and over 60,000 peoplesigned an open letter condemning these changesshortly thereafter. A major developer then decided to break away from D&DBuild your own tabletop RPG system, and Pathfinder editor Paizoannounced its own licenseas well as. The group behind The One Ring RPGfollowed.

This outcry did not only come from companies. In fact, so many fans. It seemed like the entire industry was united against these changes, and many questioned whether it was even legal to disable the Open Game License.

Changes after the backlash

After days of silence, Wizards of the Coast finally responded with a blog post addressing the turmoil that undid many of the proposed changes, calling the leaked version a "draft." A modified version of the D&D OGLsoon followed.

The new OGL:

  • Wouldno license structure included, or royalties
  • Not includedAccounting or Registration Requirements
  • Made that clearCreators own their content
  • Stated that everything that was already released under the original OGLuntouched
  • Said that live streams, virtual tabletops and actual gamesare not affected

However, the updated OGL didn't only include these optimizations. In addition, it promised to reveal the core mechanics of the game. In fact, the Creative Commons license we've chosen allows us to give everyone these core mechanics. Forever. Because we don't control the license, releasing the core D&D rules under Creative Commons will be a decision we can never change.”

Users had until February 3rd to provide feedback on the license via a survey. Wizards of the Coast would then respond on or before February 17.

So,We spoke to a gaming advocate about this, and they said that despite the great progress, there is still work to be done. For example, the update didn't specifically say royalties were going out the window. (A concern that Wizards of the Coast later had to clarify in a Twitterthread.) Likewise, there were concerns that his definition of harmful content could be misused.

Give up

The public reaction to these concessions was overwhelming. Before January was over, Wizards released anew blog(opens in new tab)88% of respondents did not want to use the new D&D OGL, 89% were unhappy with the abolition of the old one, and the "results of the live poll are clear. They want [the original OGL]. They want irrevocability." It then announced that Unthinkable: that Wizards of the Coast backed out and left the OGL alone. It would also make the entire Systems Reference Document (which includes classes, races, and mechanics) freely available under Creative Commons.

It was a big turnaround - and nobody saw it coming. Essentially, Wizards admitted defeat and scrapped the plans it had fought so hard to bring about.

With this new approach, we're putting that aside and counting on your decisions to determine the future of the game

"We wanted to protect the D&D gaming experience for the future," the blog post reads. “We still want to do this with your help. We are grateful that this community is passionate and active because we need your help to protect the inclusive and welcoming nature of the game. We wanted to limit the OGL to TTRPGs. With this new approach, we're putting that aside and counting on your decisions to determine the future of the game."

The decision was met with much acclaim online, and the controversy appears to be over - for now. Even if we're back where we started (or better off), it's likely to be a long and arduous road to regaining the fans' trust.

Why was everyone upset about the D&D OGL?

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Though Wizards of the Coast rolled back the OGL changes, it's too late for some - as aThe Dark Souls RPG developer said when we interviewed her, "The revolt has already begun."If you delve into the update's legal spaghetti, that anger was understandable. Livelihoods were at stake.

First off, products made with the first OGL were suddenly being questioned. As I gathered from the leaked document, publishers would have to agree to this new system if they wanted to continue selling their products. If they had refused, would books that were years old be pulled off the shelves? It was a real possibility.

Then why shouldn't the creators just agree? Well, suddenly being forced to give up 25% of their $750,000+ earnings each year would take a massive toll on the publisher's bottom line. Actually, it would destroy a lot of smaller teams. Profits aside, this is money that is used to pay writers, artists, designers, and more. A cut in revenue would therefore put the companies in question under pressure, making it likely that cuts of some kind (whether in content or jobs) would follow. This may result in a decrease in volume, quality or frequency of products.

Free products—like community builds or adventures that you don't charge for—are unaffected

It would have hit smaller creators as well, albeit less dramatically. It's all well and good not having to pay royalties if you don't make more than $750,000 from your product, but having to register it with Wizards and report annual sales of over $50,000 was an added faff, which made the process less attractive. Mainly because, as io9 pointed out in the first leak, there was "no mention of perpetual, worldwide rights for creators (which were included in Section 4 of the original OGL)". Worse, "Wizards will [also] have a 'nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, sublicensable, royalty-free license to use this content for any purpose.'

This isn't an uncommon piece of legal jargon, but it's easy to see why it would confuse so many in the community.

Yes, free products - like community builds or adventures that you don't charge for - remain untouched then as now. Real plays like Critical Role would be fine too, since you don't have to pay to watch the show. But it's clear why there was, and still is, such concern about the new OGL.

What did the D&D OGL have to do with me?

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While this might at first seem like a corporate conflict over property rights (and the waters were murky after Wizards' response), it created significant ripple effects that would have gotten you sooner or later.

First of all, many publishers and game systems may not have been able to produce content for D&D anymore; After this controversy, many of the largest third parties signed Paizo's alternative license. As such, the library of resources, adventures, and homebrew tweaks available to D&D players would have dwindled dramatically in the coming months.

In addition, the number of people actuallysoughtcreating new content for the D&D OGL dwindled due to their dwindling trust. (And because they didn't want to sign these revised terms.)

It could have meant a talent drain for future D&D products

Sure, you might not mind if you only use official books. (Or the free rules, by the way.) Not at first. But this series of third-party creations served as a talent poolforthese official books. Many of the writers, designers, and artists responsible for them were freelancers who've had a hard time with D&D OGL content, so their jump could be derailed, which could mean a talent drain for future D&D products.

Additionally, a lot of cool upcoming projects that use D&D as a base - like Free League's Lord of the Rings system - would also go away. It's always easier to try a different game if it uses the rules you already know, but that would be less of an option as many third-party providers have been burned by the new OGL.

In short, it was a rough decision that wouldn't have helped anyone in the end...not even Wizards of the Coast.

Will we still feel the sharpness of this controversy in the years to come? Most likely. The cat is now out of the bag and some publishers are continuing with their own game systems despite Wizards' about-face. Therefore, the long-term impact is likely to be a more fragmented industry with multiple competing systems. Whether that's good or bad depends on your perspective.

In any case, time will tell how much damage this has done. For better or for worse, the D&D OGL controversy has left an indelible mark on tabletop RPGs.

It's been a busy few days for the industry, but not all has been bad; along with the firstJanuary has given us too. On the other hand, want to take a break with some tabletop recommendations? Visit thebest board games, thisBoard games for adults, or must haveBoard games for 2 players.

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Benjamin Abt

Tabletop and merch editor

As the site's tabletop and merch editor, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to Lego buying guides. I've been writing about games in one form or another since 2012 and can usually be found cackling at an evil plan I hatched for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

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