Some Steps In The Right Direction, But I Still Have My Reservations (OGL Updates)

An Update on the Open Gaming License

The day that I originally wrote my last post in regards to the leaked OGL from Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons & Dragons, they had actually broken their silence and released a statement - "An Update on the Open Game License". It rang as really off putting to myself and many others. Their opening statement cites revising the OGL for 3 key reasons.

  1. To prevent the use of D&D content in hateful and discriminatory products
  2. To prevent the use of D&D content in web3, blockchain games, and NFTs by restricting it's use
  3. To prevent the use of D&D content in major corporations' commercial and promotion material

When it comes to their statements 1 and 3, I really have to question their motives for this. The OGL has stood for over 20 years and the world isn't filled with hateful and discriminatory products using D&D. I'm aware of an issue in the last year or two where they went to court with one company over this, but it certainly isn't a thing happening every day, and their leaked draft, as well as the recently released 1.2 official draft go far beyond just preventing it's use in hateful content. I also pointed out in my statement last week that Paizo has been producing Pathfinder 1e for 13 years. Paizo is onto their second edition of their own rules system that they claim doesn't even need the OGL to exist. The time for them to prevent major competitors from using D&D content through the OGL was over a decade ago, why are they using that as an excuse now? As for their second point, they are trying to restrict the use of D&D for far more than the few things that they cited. In fact, I've yet to actually see any evidence that a company is using the OGL to create any of the types of content they are trying to prevent.

At this point, their statement is a week old and I don't feel warrants a full break down considering the statements they have released since, however there are a few more negative points made that have continued to come up that I feel are worth bringing up. This statement continues to call the leaked document a draft, though as I pointed out last week, Jon Ritter, the director of games at Kickstarter, confirmed that they had negotiated royalties down to 20%, which is an odd statement to make if things are still in the draft phase. They said that the reasoning for the revenue reporting and royalty agreement was designed for large corporations. I'm not sure how they can justify needing to know the earnings of creators making as little as $50,000 per year as large corporations. The same goes to the royalty agreement for people who make over $750,000 in revenue. $750,000 may seem like a lot of money to you or me, but they could look at some of the previous Kickstarters and see that even a small team can end up raising that money through crowd funding, and most of it is going to eaten by their costs. Even outside of Kickstarter, a company in their low end of $750,000 probably has a handful of employees at the most, definitely far from a major corporation. They also claim that they were always planning to solicit feedback on the changes before they went into effect, and the drafts were an attempt to do just that. Personally, I don't believe that for a second. If you believe some of the content creators from when the document first leaked, it was sent to them with a contract that was supposed to be signed a week ago. Even if you don't believe those statements, you can look at what they are doing now. Just today they have released a new draft for OGL1.2 that is open and freely accessible to the public, not hidden behind closed doors and NDAs.

And of course, to close things out on last week, we have the now infamous quote that everyone following the D&D scene right now knows: "Second, you’re going to hear people say that they won, and we lost because making your voices heard forced us to change our plans. Those people will only be half right."

They won—and so did we

Is that really how a company speaks to their rightfully upset community...?

A Working Conversation About the Open Gaming License

After that disaster of a public statement, things went quiet again, until yesterday. On January 18th, using D&D Beyond they released a statement titled "A Working Conversation About the Open Gaming License" which was actually signed by Kyle Brink, the executive producer of Dungeons & Dragons. 

Honesty, I was kind of shocked when I read it. After their previous statement so clearly painted us as two opposing sides on a battlefield, I didn't have many charitable thoughts when I saw they had released a new statement. It was better than I expected, but it may still be too little, too late and I do not think it covers some of the key points that have creators and community members so up in arms over the leaked version of the OGL 1.1. I will also preface this by stating that most of what I wrote about this letter to the community was written before they released the document for OGL 1.2.

Let's start with some of the good:

This is a huge point in their favor as far as I am concerned. In my last statement about the OGL leaks, I spoke a fair bit about third party content creators and how much we've come to support them and how disastrous the new terms would be for them. Walking that back at least allows those who already have a foot in the space to continue what they're doing. 

This is another big point in Wizards' favor. Before this was walked back, the license-back clause was outright scary to third party creators. If they made something that took off, the license-back technically allowed wizards to take that content and publish it themselves without any benefit to the original creator. Maintaining ownership of their content at least ensures that a contents creator remains in control of it. 

This one, gets half points. This is backed up in the 1.2 release, but I only see this as being good for third party publishers who are already established. This protects their current work so they don't have to pivot right away and can continue to earn a living with what they do, but there is still a key flaw that I see here… 

The biggest flaw that stands out to me is the wording around your OGL1.0a content being protected. Everything is past tense: "Nothing will impact any content you have published under OGL 1.0a. That will always be licensed under OGL 1.0a." (emphasis mine). Key word : published. And my thoughts here were correct. In the release statement for 1.2, the made sure to reiterate that they have to revoke OGL1.0a.

I will admit, however, that it was nice to see one of my previous thoughts officially confirmed. Kyle specifically made reference to podcasters being covered under the fan content policy. I stated that I wasn't worried about Adventures in Erylia as a whole because I believe that we fall under that policy instead of anything related to the OGL. However, this entire disaster has tainted my, and many others, opinions of being tied to Dungeons & Dragons or Wizards of the Coast. For Adventures in Erylia, we are very seriously looking at Pathfinder Second Edition. I was actually working on a draft talking about PF2E, Demiplane, and Pathfinder Nexus before this message dropped and I felt that responding to it in a timely manner was more important. I received an invite to the Pathfinder Nexus character builder alpha earlier this week and was able to invite the whole cast to use it as well. We are trying to come up with a day to get together and familiarize ourselves with the system in the next couple weeks. Early temperature tests suggest that things look good in that direction.

Starting the OGL 'Playtest'

This now gets us caught up to today. Afternoon on January 19th, Kyle Brink, the executive producer for Dungeons & Dragons, posted "Starting the OGL 'Playtest'" on D&DBeyond. The post started with a bit of a conversational message to the community about why they are making the changes that are making and included an actual draft version of the OGL1.2 document. Much like his opening conversation yesterday, his message today confirmed some good things about the change in direction that Wizards is taking in regards to the OGL, however, it is still failing the community on a few key points.

First and foremost, Kyle announced that they are making the core mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons available under the Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0 specifically). This is a big move for Wizards in regards to making D&D a more open system, however, it is not as big as it could be. The specifically are only making 55 out of the 403 pages of the SRD5.1 available under the Creative Commons license. At that, they are explicitly excluding the examples provided on those pages. That means less than 14% of the SRD will be released under the Creative Commons. This less than 14% includes the barebones of creating a character, the leveling system, equipment and other items, feats, ability scores, skills, saving throws, movement, the environment, resting, downtime, combat, spellcasting, the bare bones of creating a monster, and conditions. You might notice that it is carved very intentionally around including any of the base classes and their subclasses, any spells, and any creatures. If you wish to use anything quintessentially D&D, you will have to use it under OGL1.2 once it is finalized.

Kyle once again goes into the reasons why the OGL1.2 needs to exist and how it is different than OGL1.0a. These reasons are pretty much the same as before:

  1. It allows them to address hateful content
  2. It only applies to published TTRPG content (including VTTs)
  3. It includes the word "irrevocable"

As stated in response to the first time they talked about why this needs to happen, hateful content isn't exactly rampant in the third party publishing space for D&D. In fact, just last year, Wizards had their own internal issue with hateful content in regards to the Hadozee in their Spelljammer book. It sounds great that Wizards is trying to extend their policy to include Virtual Table Tops (VTTs), however their Virtual Tabletop Policy has some major issues as well. And although they make it a point to say that OGL1.2 includes the word "irrevocable" they have been avoiding that word when talking about the OGL1.0a in favor of using the word "deauthorize" so I don't think this promise means much coming from them. But it isn't all bad. Some of the points that I gave in their favor earlier have been reaffirmed. Kyle points out that OGL1.2 does not include anything about royalty payment, financial reporting, licensing content back to Wizards, registering your content with them, or any distinction between commercial and non-commercial use. This means that now and under OGL1.2, those third party publishers that myself and many others have come to support and that rely on the OGL to earn a living may continue to do so.

But let's back up a moment. OGL1.0a will no longer be authorized after OGL1.2 is released.

"NOTICE OF DEAUTHORIZATION OF OGL 1.0a. The Open Game License 1.0a is no longer an authorized license. This means that you may not use that version of the OGL, or any prior version, to publish SRD content after (effectivedate). It does not mean that any content previously published under that version needs to update to this license. Any previously published content remains licensed under whichever version of the OGL was in effect when you published that content."

I would say that this sets a bit of a dangerous precedent if it stays in tact, and given that this has been one of the biggest issues the community has with the new OGL and they are continuing to double down on it, I don't think any amount of negative feedback will cause them to change course here. This is a dangerous precedent because, if they can just "deauthorize" the prior OGL versions, then what is there to stop them from "deauthorizing" this irrevocable OGL in the future? It is clear that the intent of the OGL was not to just "deauthorize" versions of the license because you want to force a new version. From the OGL1.0a, which Wizards has removed from their own website, even though a new version has not yet been released:

"9. Updating the License: Wizards or its designated Agents may publish updated versions of this License. You may use any authorized version of this License to copy, modify and distribute any Open Game Content originally distributed under any version of this License."

I'm sure the words "authorized versions" there is why Wizards has been so focused on using the term "deauthorize" when talking about revoking OGL1.0a. However, Wizards also had an FAQ on their website that offered some clarification on their intent behind section 9:

"Q: Can't Wizards of the Coast change the License in a way that I wouldn't like?

A: Yes, it could. However, the License already defines what will happen to content that has been previously distributed using an earlier version, in Section 9. As a result, even if Wizards made a change you disagreed with, you could continue to use an earlier, acceptable version at your option. In other words, there's no reason for Wizards to ever make a change that the community of people using the Open Gaming License would object to, because the community would just ignore the change anyway."

Unfortunately, like OGL1.0a, it seems that Wizards has removed this FAQ. However, if you use the WayBackMachine, you can find that the page was up from 2004 until late 2021 (the last version I can get to was saved November 27, 2021 and it was gone by May of 2022). It was decided 19 years ago, by Wizards, that if Wizards made a change to the OGL that the community did not like, the community could and would just ignore the change. It doesn't get much clearer that they are trying to go back on their promise by making a change that the community does not like and simply telling us, too bad, you have to use the new license terms.

When it comes to the actual text of the OGL1.2, a lot of the more positive claims in their course correction are backed up.

However, there are still numerous issues that I, personally, have with the new license, and many members of the community have voiced concerns upon as well.

The fact that they are reserving the full right to determine what is deemed as hateful and that you are not allowed to contest that decision, while also not outlining any guidelines on what would qualify is problematic. As I stated earlier, Wizards themselves have recently underwent controversy for content that they ended up deeming as harmful with the Hadozee. Now they are saying that if a third party were to do the same, they could revoke the license and the third party has no right to contest that decision or even take legal action against them.

There is a bit of a theme building here of Wizards basically making it impossible for people to build a case against them if they are using the new OGL. Wizards is a large company, most third party publishers are sole proprietors or very small businesses, yet Wizards wants to prevent them from coming together to form a class action lawsuit against Wizards or any other joint lawsuit.

In similar theme to the last statement. Wizards can certainly afford a better lawyer than most third party publishers. Waiving a jury trial puts the decision solely in the hands of a judge instead of a persons peers.

OGL1.2 also included a new policy - Wizards of the Coast Virtual Tabletop Policy. This new policy is a part of OGL1.2 and is their attempt to control the VTT market. It is expected that they will be creating their own VTT to be a part of One D&D, and if they can begin controlling other VTTs now, it will give them an massive edge when they launch their own and it includes things that other VTTs were expressly prohibited from including themselves. The part that immediately stands out to me as why this new VTT policy is not good for VTT creators is their insistence that it only replicates "the experience of sitting around the table playing D&D with your friends." They say that things like displaying licensed rules text is fine. Automating the math for die rolls is fine. What is explicitly not fine is "[replacing] your imagination with an animation of the Magic Missile streaking across the board to strike your target." They are explicitly banning animated spell effects, something that some popular VTTs already have implemented. This is also only one example, we do not yet know if they are suggesting that this would also apply to animating things like a weapon attack, or terrain movement, or environmental effects. I have seen discussion wondering if this means that things like dynamic lighting may even be forbidden under this rule.

And that, my friends, is where we are at today. Tomorrow, Friday January 20th, they are Kyle has said that they will be releasing a survey through D&DBeyond, just like for Unearthed Arcana or the OneD&D Playtest, for the community to provide their feedback on OGL1.2. I will officially be providing my feedback, beyond just making this post. And I will ask them the same question I have asked myself while reading all of this. Why do we need a new OGL? Why do we need this new OGL. If their mission is, as they stated, to address hateful content, restrict it to only published TTRPG content, and make it irrevocable, why are they adding in all of these other clauses that take power away from the community that has built D&D to being the household name for Tabletop Roleplaying Games?

Written By : 
Damian the DM
Originally Published : 
January 20, 2023
January 19, 2023
Updated On : 
March 21, 2023