Wizards Slay The Dragon That Lays The Golden Egg

Hail, and well met adventurers! There’s rumors of dark dealings, and mysterious machinations from that group of Western mystics, Wizards of the Coast (WotC). If this pernicious plot is allowed to succeed, a wave of darkness will spread over this land of Open Source gaming, the vile legal fog sticking to and tainting everything it touches. Our quest today is to determine the truth of these words, and determine a defense for the world of open gaming, and indeed perhaps the entire free world! Beware, the following adventure will delve into the bleak magic of licensing, contract law, and litigation.

Ah, Dungeons and Dragons. The original creation of Gary Gygax, refined by countless others, this table-top role-playing game has brought entertainment and much more to millions of players for years. In 2000, WotC made a decision that opened the mechanics of that universe to everyone. The 3rd Edition of Dungeons and Dragons was released under the Open Gaming License, a very intentional port of Open Source licensing to table-top gaming — obviously inspired by the GNU Public License. Ryan Dancey was one of the drivers behind the new approach, and made this statement about it:

I think there’s a very, very strong business case that can be made for the idea of embracing the ideas at the heart of the Open Source movement and finding a place for them in gaming. […] One of my fundamental arguments is that by pursuing the Open Gaming concept, Wizards can establish a clear policy on what it will, and will not allow people to do with its copyrighted materials. Just that alone should spur a huge surge in independent content creation that will feed into the D&D network.

The Golden Era

3rd edition player's handbook

Open Source did for D&D much the same as what it’s done for software. Making the mechanics available to everyone, and setting forth clear rules about how even commercial products can use those rules, led to an explosion of popularity for D&D. Just an example, a little company called Paizo came along, and started publishing adventures that were compatible with “the world’s most popular fantasy roleplaying game.” These modules let adventurers take their Player’s Handbook, and play through a totally new adventure from professional writers. This expanded library of content made D&D a compelling system for gamers to use. There’s plenty more history we could cover, like the 3.5 update, and Paizo’s Pathfinder system, which was a friendly fork of D&D into a dedicated system.

So what exactly does the OGL say? First, it draws a distinction between Open Game Content, which is rules and mechanics of the game, and Product Identity. That is identified as proper names, product names, storylines, artwork, dialog, etc. The OGL “sticks” to any derivative works, with one of the terms being that any such works must include the OGL text in entirety. The license grants “a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license with the exact terms of this License to Use, the Open Game Content.” The restriction is that derivatives must not use any Product Identity. No beholders, no githyanki, and no adventures in Eberron. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an adventure with your local gaming group in that setting, just that you can’t publish the adventure that is set there.

For the topic at hand today, there’s another important section of the OGL to consider: “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.” This is very similar to the GPL’s variation, “or any later version“. The purpose seems to be the same — if a loophole or weakness in the license is eventually discovered, it can be patched right away, and end users get the benefits of the changes.

A Dark Spell is Being Cast

All seems well in paradise, right? D&D is more popular than ever, there’s an endless stream of content to enjoy, and virtual table top (VTT) technology has really taken remote gaming to the next level. WotC is developing One D&D, an incremental update that is intended to be backwards compatible with 5e, much like the 3.5e update. Any fiddling with a beloved system is going to be controversial, but a real horror has emerged in the form of a leaked update to the Open Game License (pdf).

OGL version 1.1 has a lot in it, mostly worrying, but the linchpin is VIII.A “This agreement is […] an update to the previously available OGL 1.0(a), which is no longer an authorized license agreement.” I can only imagine the teams of lawyers at Hasbro (WotC’s parent company) agonizing over the 1.0a version of the OGL, trying to figure out a loophole to claw all of the D20 system out of an open source style license. And this is their solution: If only authorized versions of the license can be used, and WotC does the authorizing, then simply unauthorize the old version.

Make sure you understand what exactly that means. Every bit of content published under the OGL is now a trap. Any D&D derivative work falls under the new license. According to the examples in the 1.1 text, third-party books based on 5e are fair game for WotC to come after. Anything that is a derivative of D&D fall under the purview of this new license. There is a vast world of content that is getting muscled into this altered deal.

The Spreading Darkness

And here we’ve reached the important point. If Wizards push forward with this new license, it will likely doom Dungeons and Dragons. But if this approach stands up to the test of law, it could jeopardize all of Open Source. Could the Free Software Foundation revoke version 2 of the GPL? Could Microsoft revoke the license grant of code they’ve written for the Linux kernel? Could Oracle revoke the license grant of MySQL?

The industry understanding of Open Source is that no, that’s not how it works. Once code has been released under a FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) license, there are no take-backs. So long as the license was added by someone with the right to do so, it’s forever available to everyone under that license. But would a court see it that way? This is a question that needs to be addressed, and some licenses may need to be updated to make the answer explicit. But there are legal weeds to wade through, and details vary based on the exact text of a given license, and even the legal jurisdiction in question.

The rest of the updated OGL deals with the division between commercial and non-commercial use. Of particular note are the sections that specify that derivative works must not be used in a “harmful, discriminatory […], or harassing purposes”, and “You will not do anything that could harm Our reputation.” Oh boy. Let’s talk about morality clauses. It seems so straightforward, doesn’t it? I don’t want my code to be used for evil, so let’s put a clause in the license that prevents evil uses. What could go wrong?

Up first is the Free Software Foundation’s zeroeth freedom, “The freedom to run the program as you wish”. It’s one of the essentially things that make a program Free. The Open Source Initiative has a similar restriction, that the license itself may not discriminate against people or fields of endeavor, even if you find a person or field to be “evil”. There’s a legal argument to be made that most morality clauses are unenforceable, but even more important is the concern that evil will at some point be defined by the person you least want to be responsible for the definition. In this license, the combined effect is that WotC (and Hasbro) can mount a legal attack at any creator, claiming these morality and reputation clauses. A court might eventually rule in favor of the creator, but only after a long and expensive legal fight.

Light Breaking Through the Clouds

So does WotC’s legal loophole hold(leak) any water? Or is a license that is explicitly “perpetual” also “irrevocable” automatically? Can they de-authorize an old license? Is it actually true that “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”? While I might count as something of an expert regarding Open Source, I am not a lawyer. I did what you should do, if you have these same questions: I asked an Intellectual Property Attorney. Our very own Joseph Long happens to be such an attorney. So here’s the takeaway.

The attempt to de-authorize the OGL 1.0a “likely has no retroactive teeth”. Open Game Content that was covered by the OGL is still bound by the Grant and Consideration, which grants a perpetual license for use. The existence of “Consideration” means that the OGL would likely be interpreted as a contract by a court of law. But in either case, “perpetual” leaves little room for revocation. Also of note is the idea of promissory estoppel, a fancy term that just means that promises can be enforced by law, even without a formal contract, if another party reasonably relied on the promise. Then there’s also WotC’s published FAQ about the OGL 1.0a. Regarding changes to the license: “even if Wizards made a change you disagreed with, you could continue to use an earlier, acceptable version at your option.”

What about a new derivative work, published after the OGl 1.1 takes affect? If it only uses material released under the old license, “most signs seem to point to the previous license still binding on the respective (previous) open game content.” In other words, so long as you never agree to the new license, your standing doesn’t change. You still have the same license as granted by all of WotC’s previous published works. Dancey, the originator of the OGL, has agreed with this take:

Yeah, my public opinion is that Hasbro does not have the power to deauthorize a version of the OGL. If that had been a power that we wanted to reserve for Hasbro, we would have enumerated it in the license. I am on record in numerous places in email and blogs and interviews saying that the license could never be revoked.

But be careful. It’s far too easy to enter the updated license agreement. From the new license text: “Any non-commercial use of Licensed Content (defined below) is subject to this agreement; by using Licensed Content in this manner, You agree to the terms of this agreement.” As I am intentionally not going to enter into this license agreement, I will not be interacting with any D&D content. Careful reading of the updated license suggests that even rolling a character using the new 5.1e rules could constitute an acceptance of the new license. Update: the EFF has published a great post addressing this and other issues.

So, assuming this new license does get released as has been leaked: Can you still write an adventure for Pathfinder, which is based on D&D 3.5e, and charge 99 cents for the PDF, without filing paperwork with WotC? If you go really viral, and raise more than $750,000 in crowdfunding for your module, do you really need to pay 25% of the income over that threshold? My legal advice informs me that we can collectively tell WotC to go pound sand.

Darkness May Fall

However, if you’re big enough to catch their attention, and not big enough to mount a serious legal fight against the new license, then it might not matter. The legal costs make the situation untenable. And that means that WotC will have squandered every bit of their most valuable resource: trust. That’s what makes Open Source work. I owe Simon Phipps of the Open Source Initiative a tip-of-the-hat (35 minutes in) for his point that licenses don’t compile, and don’t have any real bearing until they’re brought before a judge, which is always prohibitively expensive. Open Source is really about the community, and that community is based on trust. WotC has spooked their community, and has lost trust through this leaked update.

If WotC does publish the 1.1 update of the OGL as it has been leaked, the only outcome I can imagine is the slow, painful death of the brand, as the community abandons it. The uproar has already been deafening. Imagine the outcry if WotC actually launches legal actions against publishers. And any new content that third-party creators were planning to produce just got more complicated. Want to do an actual-play podcast of a D&D game? Sorry, you’re not licensed to do so. Unfortunately that puts everyone that enjoys the game into a very prickly position.

And the follow-on ramifications for other realms of Open Source aren’t pleasant, either. A legal precedent won by Hasbro here could really shake the legal foundation of Open Source as a whole, as unlikely as that seems to be. But even the threat of legal action has a damping effect. So I’ll simply end by calling on Wizards of the Coast, to not squander the last 23 years. There are multiple elements of the 1.1 license I’m not excited about, but the unauthorization of the previous OGL is a community killer. We could never trust you again.

And, sadly, it seems that this may be the death of the Open Gaming License. Regardless of what happens next, the mere existence of this document is proof positive that WotC is no longer a trustworthy steward of Open Gaming, and the OGL is no longer a reliable tool for permissive licensing. It’s unclear whether an existing license, such as the array of Creative Commons licenses, will be sufficient to fill the void. It may be that Paizo or another large player will need to draft a new license with similar terms, and stronger protections against abuse. And then the arduous task of rebuilding the world of open table-top gaming — a world without any Wizards.

77 thoughts on “Wizards Slay The Dragon That Lays The Golden Egg

  1. If the brand dies, the game will not. WoTC’s value is as a content creator. The game rules (and hundreds of derivatives thereof) are out in the world, and no one can prevent people from using them. WoTC’s only value is their inventory of copyrighted written content and artwork. They can pay lawyers to throw legal threats all over the place, but it won’t save the company. They’ve cast the die, and now they can either change their strategy or watch their business slowly shrivel up, while their competitors divide up the market amongst themselves. WoTC’s viability has always been standing on thin ice. Now they’ve poked through the ice and the cracks are spreading….

        1. First, Wizards has profited plenty from third parties writing material for their rules — it was a good business decision to publish with the OGL. And second, check out the EFF link for a reality check for what happens without an OGL.

        2. Really? The D20 system they made OGL was a modification of the Palladium system where you only added numbers, not do arcane algebra to figure out if you hit a barn with a rock.
          Wizards didn’t really invent anything. The basically took the hard rubber tire and made it a tubeless tire.
          They just had a better marketing program, and as the article states, the OGL was what got them here. The collaboration and good will it fostered is what made a typical ‘nerd’ hobby a mainstream thing.

    1. WotC’s value is not as a content creator. Their boxed adventures are increasingly poor.

      WotC’s value is as the holder of the brand names. And they’re leveraging that to try to get a slice of everyone’s pie.

      1. The one and only boxed adventure I’ve ever run is WOTC and has been great, and its not an old one. Maybe that has more to do with the quality of the FantasyGrounds convertor than the OG material, but its been really enjoyable for the players and has so much more scope to play out in many many ways than most boxed adventures I’ve skimmed through.

        Though I do agree in general the value of D&D as a whole is the core rules and classes type stuff that let you and your players perhaps with the help of other content creators tell your own stories with a working framework to build off. Can’t exactly say they make a perfectly balanced rulebooks, but its consistent enough to stay fun – so that everyone can make a contribution and each class has something it can do really well or poorly. Thus creating good fun co-operative gameplay.

        1. I’ve been running D&D boxed adventures for years, and the latest 5e ones just suck. Decent into Avernus was particularly poor, with maps that were just literal black and white grid paper drawings, tons of filler content with no direction or impact, and not enough to even make it past level 13. Oh and did I mention plot holes big enough that I had to write whole sections of play to string the chapters together?

          1. I don’t see not going beyond lower levels as a problem at all – high level characters can be fun sure, but an adventure starting at level 1 going all the way to 20 is either going to be one long slog of an adventure or such a rapid levelling up experience that only really experienced players have any hope of keeping up with their charecters ability growth… To me the most fun tends to be after level 6 but before the real jumps in player power that tends to happen somewhere around level 15 anyway.

            As for the plot can’t speak to that on this adventure, but some degree of DM invention is I would say to be expected in any adventure allowing more than hack’n’slash dungeon crawl gameplay – if the players can choose to do their own thing derailing the expected plot lines at all they will…

          2. Also looking at the shear scale of that adventure it would be really really easy to miss details, that is alot of pages on which plot points you should have used may have been missed…

            Not saying you did, but running somebodyelse’s adventure it would be really easy to miss details you should have used and so you then had to invent bits to replace that which did actually exist…

          3. I usually see instances where the scenario writer assumes the party will take a given action. And when your party does something totally different, bits of the plot and details no longer make sense. There are many ways a written adventure can jump off the rails and make a GM scramble.

          4. Nah I mean, I’ve read the adventure thoroughly, and there are just major plot holes in the name of making it a “sandbox” adventure. Not to mention, the first 3 levels have literally nothing to do with the rest of the adventure.

            In isolation, this is not really anything I’d be mad about. But in the context of the other D&D adventures, particularly those from 3.5 and even 4th edition, the decline in quality (while the raise in prices) are enough to make me want to move to Pathfinder. Then this crap with OGL comes along and just solidifies that decision. So, byeeeee WotC.

          5. @HaHa >They clarified too much, didn’t leave anything for the DM to just make up.

            I’d argue 5E at least is among the most clear and loose guideline style rules for tabletop with the tactical combat RNG die type elements – I’ve never had any trouble making stuff up when needed, and being a relatively simple rulebook compared to some others everyone I’ve ever played with can understand and easily accept when the rules don’t cover some edge case or crazy idea the need to be inventive. Which is in many ways more important than leaving it all to the DM – the players have to be able to feel like they have some agency and a consistent frame around which to act, which if the rules are always whatever the DM decides of the moment…

            @Jack >in the name of making it a “sandbox” adventure

            Hmm I guess I could just about see that complaint in the one I’ve done, but at the same time the sandbox nature I personally liked as a DM – nothing less satisfying than a railroading story you must get inventive to force players down with little reason beyond its what is in the book, or get more inventive still to let them do what they want to. It might suit some, but that style of adventure has never thrilled me as a player or DM.

            Plus at least in the Fey carnival one (the one I’ve run) there is more than enough detail on the key important characters, their motivations and the state of things to create a good fill in the blanks when it happens. Definitely a different style to some of the other adventures I’ve read through, but I’d not call the “sandbox” nature a bad thing myself. Still not sure I’ll ever want to run somebody else’s pre tinned adventure again, as to me at least it feels like more work trying to stick roughly to a script and play all the characters you didn’t create/choose yourself – you just don’t know the world the same way as if you created it. But the Carnival one has been a barrel full of laughs – Enough that I might actually end up running it again with some of my other players (and even the same players) as its so open and somewhat randomised the odds of them even having useful insider info from the first play through for the second is kinda low, and they are neither arseholes or overly assertive players anyway, so they wouldn’t abuse such knowledge and spoil it for the others anyway…

            >raise in prices
            Not sure that is really true either – yes the books are pricey in numbers terms compared to the old stuff, but they were never cheap when new – one of the reasons younger me never owned any of the rulebooks… And 20+ years of inflation does that to the value of the currency.

    2. This was definitely as roll to disadvantage. I guess they were hoping their high charisma and high strength stat would cover for a low wisdom stat except their intelligence stat was also low. They could have been farming so much gold right now just by playing chaotic neutral: support other PCs as a DM by being a DMPC where needed and being a full DM explicitly when there’s a dispute amongst PCs and DMs in the community.

      In other words…

      They were taking a very high risk to get greater control without taking into account that the very community they’re trying to control would want no parts of being locked down in the very same manner that spur the very creation and popularity of D&D. Using legal muscle to make that happen is gonna be their undoing because being popular doesn’t mean a product is good enough to stay with when it goes bad. They really could have just kept a position of being a regulatory agency of the game and arbitrate when people are being taken advantage of by unsavory entities while leaving everyone else to go about enjoying the game like they should.

    3. Ask Sega how that worked out for them … They survive by licensed IP. WOTC is not going to fade into obscurity without kicking and screaming the whole way, and that pit is deep. It’s going to be long after this decision that their fate is decided — there is too much money. Who knows this might be the first of a generations worth of bad ideas before the money train stops. Hasbro doesn’t care at this point if the product is successful, enjoyable or popular — money is still coming in. Not just games; there’s movies books and digital IP. Let’s also not forget about litigious profits. The brand can’t “die” because what they own is beyond control at this point. They just have to figure out how they get more of the money than everyone else to stay relevant, because at this point it’s the only thing that matters to Hasbro.

  2. I would think the community would jump to something like Pathfinder like they did last time they wrecked D&D. It would then just be a legal question of how much does Pathfinder owe to D&D, or is it a completely independent system.

    Hasboro doesn’t understand what they have – D&D is a content company whose merchandizing you can easily play with. Not a gaming company that has content. Think Star Wars – the toys are popular because the content is popular, not the other way around. If they kill the content, people will just play with other toys. Their whole business model is upside-down which is the real reason they aren’t making money. But their management doesn’t get it because they are a toy company. If they don’t sell the D&D franchise to a media company like Disney, it will probably be doomed.

    1. I’ve seen a statement from a Paizo dev that they are pretty confident Pathfinder 2e doesn’t have any WotC IP in it. Since Paizo has the copyright ownership of all of that system, a relicense should be possible, if it becomes necessary.

      1. It’s an open and shut case really. Numerous reports that show that the OGL 1.1 doesn’t retroactively apply to already published material. It’s stated that way in the license and lawyers from all sides interpret it that way. And there is no legal precedent to a copyright holder revoking a license capriciously, without cause and without prior agreement.
        Pathfinder is totally safe in a court. It’s out of court where the SLAPP-like shenanigans can take place. Paizo should be prepared for legal shenanigans, either a war chest or a good idea of how much they can afford to pay to settle. Hasbro should be prepared to lose to anyone that takes them all the way to court, and this will likely temper any shenanigans they may be considering.

        1. It isn’t 1.1 that is revoking 1.0, it’s the clause in 1.0 revoking 1.0.
          If you’re using 1.0 then you already agreed to 1.0
          There is the exact same termination clause in both.

          There is no question that, moving forward from the date WotH nullifies 1.0, that future publications can’t use 1.0 for new things. Plenty of precedent for this.
          It is their claim that past already-published material being effected that is dubious and unsupported.

          Having used 1.0 before doesn’t force 1.1 upon you. You can still choose between 1.1 or nothing. Most of the debate now is what, if any, value 1.1 gives you for all the extra new costs. The “nothing” option is now looking more valuable to many.

          1. To which clause in 1.0 are you refering? In OGL1.1 they have a clause specifically stating they can terminate this license, but I didn’t find a similar clause in OGL1.0.

          2. It states in the 1.0 license that a publisher can use any previous version of the OGL and it doesn’t take the older version of the liscense away. Likewise, the FAQs from WOTC at the time of the OGL’s release specifically addresses all these matters coming up now. Those FAQs prove intention and leave Wotc looking like the asshole liars they’ve proven themselves to be. WOTC is 100% in the wrong here.

    2. >the real reason they aren’t making money…
      With billion in revenue… And really low costs as 90% of what makes D&D great they didn’t pay to make in the first place. They were raking it in.

      Now I expect they will in short order struggle to make any money – kill the creators and players trust we all find something else. The only question is can some of the other rulesets that used old reliable OGL but no WOTC IP fight the bastards that their game is theirs and the old OGL still applies or can be relicensed safely. Hasbro has the war chests deep enough it could be a very bad time to be a VTT or tabletopRPG gamer and creator for a very very long time…

  3. ISPs and Cellular providers had no problem redefining “Unlimited” to mean something other than the accepted definition, and so it stands to reason that the same lowlife lawyers can surely redefine “Perpetual” to mean anything they want; And if anyone objects, the same lowlife lawyers get paid extortionate sums to bankrupt the objector in protracted and expensive litigation.

    1. No one built thier entire business around a phone companies definition of “unlimited”. WotC isn’t going to get the chance to sue anyone. This will all be decided by the lawsuits against them. The first has already been filed.

    2. Part of the defence of Copyright law is examples of companies not being sued while others are. If you only target small creators, those small creators can countersue that the litigation is in bad faith, and secure legal fees, if it is shown that the law was intentionally applied selectively.

      The highly popular Knights of the Old Republic franchise uses a modified system bases on OGL 1.0. I don’t forsee Disney or EA turning over the rights to their highly successful franchise, and its derivatives (such as Star Wars MMO The Old Republic) without a massive legal battle. I also don’t think Hasbro is stupid enough to pick that fight.

      Ultimately, WotC and Hasbro are doomed to fail. Plenty of small creators are going to suffer for many years because of this, and when the dust settles WotC won’t be worth its staff to Hasbro because its community will have abandoned it… but it will fail.

      The fact all of the above can happen with zero consequences to those making the choice is the real f*Eed up part.

      1. I can see Disney just outright buying Hasbro instead of playing legal games over the OGL in KotOR, which would get them ALL the IP from their holdings, and would be infinitely worse.

    3. Back when I got my first cellphone, from Verizon, years before the first pre-iPhone smartphones, they had a limited number of daytime minutes, while after 7 PM and all day Saturday and Sunday unlimited.

      The fine print included this line about expiration of monthly minutes. “The unlimited minutes expire first.”.

      Please tell me exactly how something that is unlimited can “expire”?

      When it comes to OGL 1.0 which states within itself that it is irrevocable, how it can be revoked?

      This just needs one successful lawsuit where it’s decided that all content published under OGL 1.0 stays under the terms of OGL 1.0 and that neither Hasbro nor WOTC can alter that agreement.

      What Hasbro/WOTC is doing is like if IBM had attempted to alter their 1980-ish MS-DOS license with Microsoft in 1990 to disallow MS-DOS from being sold for any brands of PC other than IBM.

      Not only has that horse left the corral, the entire herd has left the corral and has birthed several generations of offspring for which there’s no possibility of putting into the corral.
      But Hasbro/WOTC is apparently going to try to do it.

      I guess they didn’t take a lesson from when Games Workshop got smacked down for trying to trademark the words “Space Marine” when “space marines” had long been in common use in all forms of science fiction and in the 1970’s Fan-Tac Games published an RPG titled “Space Marine”. GW was decades late to that party. Had anyone wanted to trademark “Space Marine” they would’ve had to have done it in the 1930’s (at least) and kept it in use often enough to to not lose it.

      But get a Whomever VS Hasbro/WOTC case before the wrong court and it could end up like the ludicrous case of World Wildlife Fund VS World Wrestling Federation over who got to use the abbreviation/acronym “WWF”. If any case deserved to be thrown out of court at warp speed, it was that one.

      Side note: How the bleep can Peloton trademark that word as a name for their company when it’s a common dictionary word with one definition? Any cyclist who competes in races knows exactly what peloton means and it’s *not* “A company that sells exercise equipment with remote training and will sue any competitor who dares to try selling anything similar.”

  4. I’d recommend reading The Alexandrian’s multi-part run through of the old OGL, D&D’s history or being open/closed, and what the new OGL means.


    The OGL 1.0 is still valid, and you can continue to release material under it for 5e. There’s also plenty of stuff you can do with DBox One without going near their new OGL.

    The other real kicker of the new OGL is that they can prevent you selling stuff you’ve published. They can ruin companies by waiting until they’ve invested their capital in production then changing the terms; demanding more, or preventing sales. It’s laughable, and makes the big green tractor company look open-source in comparison.

    But the implications this might have for other licences is horrific, thanks for bringing that up.

  5. > Careful reading of the updated license suggests that even rolling a character using the new 5.1e rules could constitute an acceptance of the new license.

    My physical copy of the D&D 5E does not contain OGL 1.1. I don’t have to agree to squat to roll a character using the book I own that doesn’t make me agree to any license at all to play.

    The SRD as available for download on WOTC’s website right now (https://dnd.wizards.com/resources/systems-reference-document) includes OGL 1.0a. I can download that SRD and use it as the basis for anything I want today or in the future; because I agreed to the license terms of the OGL as presented in the document I agreed to. Courts have ruled that you cannot retroactively change a license without consent of both parties.

    Also “All sublicenses shall survive the termination of this License.” is the second-to-last item in the OGL 1.0. So even if WOTC tries to terminate the license of “first-order” commercial entities, anyone who got the license from *them* still ha a valid 1.0 license.

    Just last year, a company that released their software under an open source license long ago decided to change their license to closed-source. https://www.lightbend.com/blog/why-we-are-changing-the-license-for-akka

    A fork of the last open-source build was quickly made: https://www.reddit.com/r/scala/comments/xrv5eu/pekko_open_source_akka_fork_has_been_submitted_to/

    Because Lightbend can’t retroactively close the existing open licenses. WOTC is in the same boat. Sure, if you want to make new content based on a new 5.2 SRD that is based on OGL 1.1, you have to abide by the rules – but right now, there is OGL 1.0a 5.1 SRD that anyone can make a fork of. The 5E “d20srd.com” is already technically a fork. As long as they don’t add any new OGL 1.1-only content to it, it remains a fixed OGL 1.0a source. And derivatives of it may, by the OGL 1.0a’s own section 9, continue to use OGL 1.0a.

    1. Hasbro’s army of lawyers obviously disagree. They obviously think they have a chance of winning in court. Anyone claiming this is cut and dried is talking out their back side…

      1. Large parts of what WOTC SEEM* to be after are by the letters on the paper cut and dry impossible… Just because somebody with lots and lots and lots and lots of money to throw around thinks they can bribe, bully, and set their PR+marketing departments to attack mode to grab even more money and power against the letters on the paper and get away with it doesn’t change that.

        Though the sad part is too many times in history the bully does win, or at get that least settle out of court in a way that works out to look very similar to winning, at least for a while… Not sure it will be the case this time though – this cuts close enough to the open software licenses validity even folks with no interest in D&D type games will be wanting to fight this corner again for their own self-interest, on top of the rather large community backlash – the war chest at Hasbro may be huge, but I suspect they will find the community actually has rather more power and money than they hoped to fight this corner, quite possibly more than they do.

        *Really must stress that SEEM at this point, until its all out there officially released AND WOTC define or demonstrate just how draconian they intend to be with actually implementing it all we can really say is the leaked new version of OGL is rather horrific so nobody will ever choose to use it.

        1. Indeed, but it’s a strategy that worked pretty well for the owners of D&D in the 80s and 90s.

          To me, that’s the significance of this move.

          D&D’s history was 20 years of nasty lawsuits, then a 20 year period of relative calm under the OGL 1.0a’s terms (which weren’t generous, but WotC not suing everyone into the ground was nice).

          Now Hasbro/WotC wants to go back to the era of ugly lawsuits. I’m not going along for that ride and I’m not funding them to do it.

    2. The bittorrent client BiglyBT is a fork of Vuze. Vuze is open source but many features are locked unless you pay. BiglyBT has all of Vuze’s features available free, and has been diverging from Vuze and getting new stuff added.

      The people who maintain and sell Vuze cannot stop the people who maintain and give away (while asking for donations) BiglyBT from continuing to use the Vuze code base from the time of the fork, even if Vuze’s code license gets changed or is taken closed source.

      BiglyBT should be able to use any Vuze code from all the time the license in effect at the time of the fork was in force, from before and after the time of the fork, up to when the license is changed, if it is changed.

      1. No wonder we’ve heard rumors of five dropped video game adaptations.
        Also, it came to my mind that could this “leak” be an insider move to drop WotC’s market value, so someone could buy it off from Hasbro and “save” the company from the evil corporation… After which, the value would immediately rise again.

  6. One of the most insidious implications for the average end user here is that this only applies to static products, not ongoing services… ie virtual tabletops. So now you can’t run D&D on Roll20 or Foundry, pushing everyone who wants to run D&D to Hasbro’s own VTT that they’re going to monetize to hell and back like Fortnite. Dice skins, virtual minis, battle passes, subscription services (buy Spelljammer for 40 bucks OR subscribe to D&D All Access for 10 bucks a month!), the whole thing.
    The OGL 1.0 invalidation clause is gonna be like warranty stickers. Legally, they can’t enforce it, but if any average person tries to take action on it, Hasbro’s lawyers will litigate em out of existence. I think the only entities that could bring a lawsuit against Hasbro are either Paizo or Critical Role Productions.
    I’ve been saying for years that there’s better systems out there than D&D, both for crunchy combat and heavy roleplay. Maybe this’ll finally get more people to explore how they play.

  7. I feel like the only sane way out of this for everyone is OGL 1.1 would cover a new SRD(6?, with all the ‘new/updated’ content since 2000 “5-OneDnD”), and OGL1.0a will continue covering existing SRD5.1 content from 20 years ago (it’s last update?).

    1. The most recent SRD is SRD 5.1, from 2016.

      If they put a new license on D&D 6e, then people would jump ship, but there would not have been this much backlash.

      BUT… that would be awful for their business. People would stick with 5e (or a fork of it) and not move to D&D One (or however they want to brand the new edition).

      That looks similar to the 3.5 -> 4e switch to them, when they lost some players to Pathfinder.

      And that’s probably why they didn’t use a new license for new material.

      It’s stupid, but they really think they deserve to own the whole market and tax every single D&D related business or accessory.

  8. I’m no lawyer, but my understanding that the process and mechanics of the game cannot be copyrighted, nor can the underlying features (the hero’s quest archetype, many of the classic monsters, etc). There is a lot of content enjoyed by the community that can and is copyrighted, including settings, specific monsters and creature races, etc. May be it is time for a common gaming system to rise? There are several major gaming conventions, it just takes one or two to work together to endorse an “approved” system to make it the new mainstream gaming system.

    1. There are already some big candidates out there and I’ve heard of some more publishers starting work on a common/open system. The problem is that none of them are D&D, so don’t have the market focus yet.

      There was a similar large backlash when WOTC came out with 4e. 4e was under a different restrictive license (GSL) that really soured the community, and that’s when Pathfinder made it big as a competitor. Paizo (Pathfinder’s publisher) was easier to work with and patched up some mechanical problems D&D 3.5. WOTC gave up on the license for 4e and put 5e back under the OGL. The community thought that WOTC has learned their lesson, but apparently not.

      I think there’s still time for WOTC to turn this around (if they really want to…). It’ll take a while for another system to gain the traction D&D has given it’s place in society. A lot of people only think of D&D when they hear RPG.

    1. GURPS is a fantastic concept and its published materials are great! It is just not as polished. Which isn’t as important to veteran gamers and seasoned GMs, but it puts a lot more onus on newer players and game runners to produce more of their own materials.

      You can’t just go out and by a GURPS box set and run a classical fantasy campaign with supporting art, maps, and visual aids one day. HOWEVER, with a bit of work you COULD play out a campaign set in the American Revolution with Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs representing the natives, redcoats, and French for example.

  9. Minor correction from what I’ve read (IANAL):
    “Actual Play” podcasts and other content creation is covered separately by WOTC’s fan content policy. The OGL 1.1, per the text, is only for printed works.
    If you wrote and distributed an adventure you would have to pay, but performances are separately licensed.

  10. Wizards has proven a lazy Sheppard of the IP. It’s no surprise that a massive company like WotC, like Games Workshop, prioritizes making a fast buck over longevity and player goodwill. I’ve barely played mainline D&D for years though, so it’s not as if this will matter much to me.

  11. This whole thing has been blown out of all proportion. gizmodo had a decent summary of what’s going on here, but the big thing people are up in arms about, the idea that this retroactively invalidates anything released under the 1.0 OGL is not all what this new language says, nor could it given how contract law works. all it says is that NEW products must abide by the 1.1 OGL. products that have already been released under the 1.0 OGL (pathfinder as a for instance) can still use it, but this would mean a new version of pathfinder would have to abide by the new 1.1 OGL.

    The morality piece is in there because of a court case WOTC is involved in against this awful company trying to straight up steal old TSR IP and trademarks while publishing a vile anti-trans ‘game system.’

    there’s also all these ridiculous hot takes on social media that this means wotc is coming for live play groups like critical role, which is patently ridiculous for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that none of those lets play groups use the friggin OGL in the first place, they’re playing actual DND 5e using the sourcebooks. if WOTC had lost their heads and decided to start shutting down lets plays, they don’t need to make any changes to the OGL to do it, they could just start issuing DMCA takedowns on youtube and twitch to anyone using their IP (forgotten realms, the D&D logo, the book art, hell the DM screen art)*.

    These OGL changes are aimed squarely at WOTCs competitors, it has nothing to do with players / creators.

    *most lets play groups wouldn’t be at risk anyway, because unlike video game streamers, tabletop lets play groups tend to be playing their own home brew settings and characters, which dramatically reduces the amount of exposure they’d have to copyright infringement claims.

    1. I suggest you go read the OGL 1.1 document again, and particularly pay attention to the examples they give in that document. It specifically calls some things out. Like: “OGL wasn’t intended to fund major
      competitors and it wasn’t intended to allow people to make D&D apps, videos, or anything other than printed (or
      printable) materials for use while gaming. We are updating the OGL in part to make that very clear. ”

      Then look at the example of Bruenor Battleaxe, who wrote Throwing Blades and Blocking Blades, both of which based on 5e, and written in the past. Bruenor does another kickstarter, and guess what are now considered “Licensed Works”, counting towards that $750,000 revenue amount? Yep, those two old works based on 5e.

  12. Let me _google_ the word generification. Oh my, it looks like they may need a _kleenex_ for their tears. They may have been caught with their _zipper_ down while on the _elevator_. I’m going to put on my _loafers_, grab a _granola_ bar and download some copies archives of their work.

  13. As a newer player to the D&D franchise, I can also agree with everyone that this overreach, which is greed is a breach of trust against the community. However, it has to be noted that Hasbro like every other company seems to be beholden to shareholders that have an endless hunger for more. Even at the cost of the other stakeholders, such as employees, vendors, and customers.

    People should see this as a systemic issue and not just an isolated problem. Please take this as an opportunity to gain awareness of this wide spread cancerous business culture that has infected the world economy as a whole. Thank you for taking the time to read this and understand that I believe in what all of you are fighting for.

    1. Since you’re a new player, you wouldn’t know the history involved.

      Back in the 80s and 90s, the company that owned D&D was always involved in lawsuits to shut down competitors who published other games or to shut down companies that published adventures for D&D.

      They also stole copyrighted material and stuck it in their books and were regularly sued for that too.

      I know corporate greed in general is a phenomenon, but the D&D company (there have been a few owners) trying to sue everyone else out of existence is a more specific and relevant precedent.

  14. You should have spent more time talking to the lawyers before publishing this piece.

    Open source licenses are in no danger because they use the term “irrevocable” instead of “perpetual” which has a completely different legal meaning. The only licenses that are in any danger are the ones people might have written without consulting a lawyer… but that’s always the case.

    In addition, much of D&D isn’t copyrightable. Wizards and dragons aren’t owned by D&D, they’re public domain fantasy from centuries ago. You also can’t copyright rules, facts or statistics. Monster stat blocks, spells and rules can’t be copyrighted by Hasbro.

    The only real danger here is that the community fractures. There might no longer be “one true ruleset”, or a set of basic races or classes.

    1. Except they *don’t* all specify “irrevocable”. The EFF link does talk about the question of whether the rules themselves are copyrightable, which is really interesting. But unless you have a warchest of funds for a legal case to defend yourself against a Hasbro lawsuit, it doesn’t matter.

      1. Indeed, also ‘legal meaning’ is always arguable and can change. Take the recent RoeVWade change for instance, after decades its suddenly turned on its head. So past rulings are no certainty that future rulings will stay the same and the ‘accepted’ meaning of the law can’t be altered.

        So its quite correct to be concerned if WOTC go after this license, go against all their previously published stated intentions behind the OGL and get away with it. Just because the situation is slightly different doesn’t mean it can’t happen here.

  15. Welcome to the shit storm they have been doing to MTG. Packs are more expensive, singles are losing value daily, and we have been in constant spoiler season for 2 years now… it will get worse

    1. The only purpose of this announcement is to try and make us forget, forgive, and move on. More like as not the entire thing is a trap to make the news and backlash go away, and as such we cannot stop now! Unless they release a document preview that complies with the will of the community, we need to continue canceling subscriptions, denying them profit, and forcing them to acknowledge that none of their behavior is acceptable. Now or at any time in the future. They consider us a blockade to their profits, and we need to continue to show them just how well we can accomplish this. Spread the word, stop the OGL 2.0, DENY THEM PROFIT.

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