Wizards Get Creative, Maybe Save The World

While it’s not normal Hackaday fare, we’ve covered the Dungeons & Dragons licensing kerfuffle, partially because we’re all nerds at heart, and also because it’s worrying that an Open Source styled license could be “deauthorized”. I did touch base with the Open Source Initiative, and got a telling comment that this issue was outside their purview, as the OGL 1.0a didn’t rise to the definition of an OSI approved license, and the update looked to be a disaster.

Since our coverage was published, Wizards of the Coast released part of the Fifth Edition System reference Document (SRD) under a Creative Commons license, removed the profit sharing language from the OGL update, but notably left the language in place about deauthorizing the 1.0a version of the license. As you can imagine, fans were still unamused, and we informed WotC of our displeasure when they launched a survey, asking fans their thoughts on the new license.

And the outpouring was overwhelming, with over 15,000 survey responses in just over a week. The vast majority (90% for some questions) informed WotC that they had lost their collective minds. That response, combined with a plummeting subscription count on DND Beyond, Paizo’s explosion of popularity and new ORC license announcement, and the plethora of publishers jumping ship, has finally shone the light of reason upon management at WotC.

The latest announcement is a win in basically every regard. The OGL 1.0a will not be deauthorized, and the entire 5e SRD has been released under the Creative Commons 4.0 By Attribution license. That’s an interesting choice, as CC-BY-4.0 is a very permissive license. It’s not “viral”, as it does not place any licensing restrictions on derivative works, and there are no restrictions on commercial use. The only restriction is that attribution must be included. The latest SRD is now available under both licenses, you pick your preference. So as a reward for going through the trauma, we get a sizable chunk of the game under an even less restrictive license. Bravo.

I’ve seen some complaints that WotC have not made the OGL 1.0a irrevocable, and I think that’s a misunderstanding of how licensing works. Wizards cannot change the text of the 1.0a OGL to include an irrevocability clause. The one action they could take to accomplish this would be to authorize a 1.0b revision of the license, and explicitly make that version irrevocable. While they’re at it, I’d suggest they clean up the language about authorization works, to remove the loophole the draft OGL license abused. I won’t hold my breath.

We should mention that this announcement doesn’t put any restriction on WotC for how they license the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragons. One D&D may very well ship with an updated license that contains some features of the leaked draft — and that’s OK. So long as it doesn’t include a measure to force the migration of already published content to the new license, updated terms are squarely within their rights as content creators. And now we wait to see, is this enough to save the sinking ship?

One of the other points we made in our previous coverage was that the Open Source software world would need to watch this situation carefully, and check its licenses for similar problems and loopholes. Interestingly enough, the Free Software Foundation, the arbiter of the GPL family of licenses, just announced a bylaws change. Any new or updated license will now require the approval of a supermajority of the FSF’s directors to sign-off on it. It’s hard not to see this as a response to, and protection against, the OGL drama. This means that a future GPL v4 has a higher hurdle to approval, giving us a bit more protection against a similar malicious license update.

12 thoughts on “Wizards Get Creative, Maybe Save The World

  1. Good to see WoTC stupidity and greed has at least rung a few alarm bells and lead to better protections in other areas of open source. And now they have backed down on the historical changes we don’t have to see if the law when bribed heavily by Hasbro’s deep pockets will support ripping up Open Source licenses. As that would set a dangerous precedent for everything open.

    Don’t think these changes to their plan are enough to really save WoTC though – great 5E is now in CC so the current system should stay safe from their money grubbing natures and go on to lead a long healthy retirement as some of the earlier editions did. But the future ‘OneD&D’ isn’t, and by the looks of their previous behaviour and lack of upfront promises it isn’t likely to be under a good license. So why would any publisher or GM want to pick that system knowing this crap could get pulled again. The trust has been lost, and D&D hasn’t yet anyway come up with anything to really make it special over all the other game systems.

    Maybe their planned VTT will be great to use, slick as can be for their game rules, but if its micro payment and monthly fee filled rubbish where WoTC takes any content creator to the cleaners so every adventure and addon costs 5x more than it should so the creators don’t starve… I doubt anybody will move on to it from their current VTT of choice, Personally I like FantasyGround most as it allows the GM to share purchases with the players and players don’t even need to pay for the program if the GM has the top tier license – great for getting new players involved. You can get that top tier on a month sub if you want to or just buy it outright. It also supports lots of game systems, though I haven’t tried many of them myself to see how slick the execution is I’ve heard good things.

    1. I’m curious to know how much of this drama was initiated by Hasbro pushing WotC for the new OGL or if the decision to update the OGL derived from WotC. Currently, WotC and MTG are the only profitable sectors of Hasbro, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Hasbro had initiated all of this in effort to squeeze every cent they could get out of WotC.

      1. That really isn’t the question as it doesn’t matter which set of corporate money folks issued the decree. The question is did anybody in the bean counting departments actually ask the staff at the coal face about any of these changes, or take on board their responses to what it would mean to the player base and stock price. As I highly doubt most of the writers and game design type folks were blind to what happens when you make such a change – heck there is even a great historical precedent of the mess license changes made to 4th edition D&D’s popularity to draw from, and there they didn’t even try to rip up the historical stuff and claim it all for themselves… Just took away the openness and therefore drove off most of the 3rd party writers that actually made D&D great.

  2. If they release OneD&D under a much more restrictive license then the 3PP will just stick with 5e. The old edition will be the biggest competition for the new edition.
    Alternatively, if OneD&D is as compatible as they claim it will be, 3PP will release stuff under the CC license and call it “advanced” or “special” and it will just conveniently be balanced for the new edition.
    Obviously they can’t be trusted but they’ve backed themselves into a corner. Seemingly intentionally.

  3. Noticed Hasbro recently just axed 15% of their staff due to waning profits (among other cost-cutting strategies). I’m guessing this whole fiasco was triggered in part by a pitch in a boardroom about bringing in more revenue for an “under-monetised” product. Nice to see them put back in their box by showing them to be careful where they cash grab in the future.

  4. Starting in the late 90’s, WotC started hoovering up the rights to all of these RPG properties then proceeded to suck the life out of all of them by ruining the uniqueness of each system and making them all variations on the same theme, all having identical systems as far as dice, chargen, damage, etc. It was like they took GURPS(which was great for what it was), and extended it to the nth degree. You could literally have a campaign pitting D&D dragons vs Jedi’s vs vampires because all the games used the same rules. That might sound fun, but the appeal quickly wears off.

    The good news was that all of those books collected from before The Hoovering shot up in value because everyone despised the new stuff.

    1. I liked 3.5 as a version of D’n’D it through at a lot of the mess and streamlined the experience of gaming. Old school D’n’D was a bit lacking. 1st edition and 2nd edition were over stuffed with rules that bogged it down but had some of the best material published for it such as Dark Sun. I despise the players options books which were a Munchkins dream.

      Anyway back to my actual point D’n’D is a dungeon crawling game at heart and trying to squeeze things like the Jedi and to that didn’t work for me the restrictions of the classes limit the scope of the characters. It worked pretty well for Starship Troopers it’s a game based in the military so development restricted to your field feels right. Basically I don’t think a Jedi should have a level as part of their description.

      The difference with GURPS is that it’s a very open system so two 150 point characters can be very different develop in whatever manner the player likes. In fact the points system basically encourages characters with diverse skill sets.

      Anyway long live West End Games Star Wars

      1. My favorite was AD&D, personally.

        The nice thing about GURPS was it’s compatibility with Car Wars(my favorite game at the time) through the Autoduel book. Good times there. Once the CW: Tanks book came out, Ogre arrived :)

        I remember we hashed out the FASA Star Trek RPG and “Tactical Combat Simulator”… made up some slightly different rules and it was some of the best gaming fun we ever had.

        I liked the d6 Star Wars game. We had one game where we had the mission of taking the Falcon…. we managed to disable everybody, but we lost people and were almost goners – but we forgot about R2D2; little guy came out of a closet and killed us all with the shocker thing. It was great!

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.