A new Dungeons & Dragons Open Game License was apparently leaked, revealing severe restrictions, causing negative reactions from fans and third party creators.
The Open Gaming License (often called the OGL), released in 2000, was the brainchild of Ryan Dancey and worked with the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It opened up the floodgates for third-party creators and businesses to develop products that were compatible with the most popular tabletop roleplaying game in the world. But it seems that era is coming to an end with an updated OGL 1.1.
The news broke as Gizmodo apparently acquired a leaked version and has revealed details of the new Wizards of the Coast (WotC) OGL (essentially the 1.1 version, with the original being referred to as 1.0a).
@CriticalRole isn't separate from what's going on right now with OGL 1.1. CR has bargaining power and WOTC is delaying 1.1 for a reason. CR must say they won't negotiate when 1.1 isn't even out. A separate license leaves others out to dry, and concedes the principle of #OpenDND pic.twitter.com/lyNutFWf36
— The Rules Lawyer (@TheRulesLawyer1) January 7, 2023
Thanks to the original OGL issued by Wizards of the Coast in 2000, amateur and professional creators were able to create and benefit from developing new material for D&D.
These products ranged from from printed content in the form of books, magazines, and other supplements to video games and video content that can be found on YouTube and other platforms. Without the OGL, things like the Pathfinder RPG published by Paizo, D&D MMOs like Dungeons & Dragons Online and Neverwinter, and the popular show Critical Role would never have seen the light of day.
The OGL 1.0 had gone through many updates and tweaks since its release, but WotC announced that it would be making a 1.1 version when it announced One D&D last year. This came after parent company Hasbro bought the popular digital toolset D&D Beyond from Fandom for $146.3 million in preparation for the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
However, the new OGL will rescind any previous agreements made under the original and will require content creators to sign new contracts if they plan to publish "after January 13, 2023". Moreover, according to the wording of the new OGL:
the Open Game License was always intended to allow the community to help grow D&D and expand it creatively. It wasn't intended to subsidize major competitors, especially now that PDF is by far the most common form of distribution.
The new version of the OGL functionally overturns the previous one, greatly reducing the possibilities for content creators and forcing those profiting from their creation to report directly to WotC. Furthermore, the OGL 1.1 states it:
…only allows for creation of roleplaying games and supplements in printed media and static electronic file formats. It does not allow for anything else, including but not limited to things like videos, virtual tabletops or VTT campaigns, computer games, novels, apps, graphics novels, music, songs, dances, and pantomimes.
The new WotC OGL also explicitly prohibits bigotry, racism, homophobia, transphobic or discriminatory content.
It should be noted that this does not include fan content, which is under a separate Fan Content Policy. Wizards of the Coast defines fan content as including "fan art, videos, podcasts, blogs, websites, streaming content, tattoos, priestly altars to your cleric’s deity, etc."
But the big question is: how does this affect such fan content which actually profits from its association with Dungeons & Dragons? As mentioned, a notable example is Critical Role. The gaming troupe, which has Matt Mercer and a slew of voice actors playing their D&D campaigns on camera, has been instrumental in bringing the hobby to the mainstream. Critical Role started as a fan project, but has now become a lucrative brand in its own right, even having its own animated show The Legend of Vox Machina on Amazon Prime.
To answer that question, it appears WoTC will be separating third party creators that profit from the OGL into three separate tiers that will be required to pay WotC royalties. Most creators will probably not need to be concerned, as WotC estimates that only about 20 unofficial content publishers would meet the standards set for these tiers.
The Entry level tier under the OGL 1.1 includes someone who has at least one licensed product that earns $50,000 or less. The Intermediate level ranges from above to $750,000 of revenue. Finally, those earning more fall into the Expert tier. Those who fall under this tier have to pay 20% or 25% royalties if their revenues exceed $750,000. This includes those who use crowdfunding.
Plus, Expert tier members using Kickstarter pay 20% of royalties above the $750,000 threshold, while members using other crowdfunding platforms have to pay the company 25% of royalties.
Understandably, the details of the new OGL WoTC is going to roll out is causing an uproar. Many fans of D&D, including those who have some knowledge of legal matters, have questioned how this can be enforced retroactively.
D&D fans on Reddit have called this the end of the renaissance of Dungeons & Dragons in the current era, as the original OGL made it possible for the brand to expand beyond what it was before. And some fans have stated this just adds to the financial problems WoTC and Hasbro are already facing with their other key franchise, Magic: The Gathering.