10 Biggest Changes To D&D’s Open Game License

A split image showing the DnD Beyond logo, and adventurers facing a giant in DnD

Dungeons & Dragons has the single biggest content base of any tabletop RPG. However, this isn’t solely due to its developers’ efforts at Wizards of the Coast. D&D has a huge third-party ecosphere of content. This is enabled and supported by a document called the Open Game License.

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The Open Game License originated in Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. It lets anyone use the core D&D rules to create and distribute their own related content. As well as allowing third-party content in D&D, the OGL has helped create countless other TTRPGs and video games. However, leaks and responses from Wizards of the Coast have revealed a controversial update to the Open Game License, known as OGL 1.1, with many changes to this bedrock document. The material in the OGL 1.1 is not yet official and Wizards of the Coast have already pledged to change parts of what was leaked.

10 The OGL 1.0a Is Deauthorized

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One of the biggest changes in the OGL 1.1 is that it attempts to deauthorize the current Open Game License. So far, OGL 1.1 has only been seen in leaks and has not been officially released. However, this fact alone has caused a stir in the community. The OGL 1.0a is designed to apply in perpetuity. Its looser terms aren’t meant to be repealed.

The current leaked draft of the OGL 1.1 specifically says that the OGL 1.0a is no longer valid and no longer applies. This move has faced opposition from both fans and developers in the TTRPG community and it looks like Wizards has already walked this requirement back.

9 Royalties Are In The Leaked Draft But May Be Removed

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A pile of gold and treasure in DnD

One of the earliest known details about the OGL 1.1 is also one of its most contentious. Under its commercial license, the OGL 1.1 demands royalties from successful creators. If a company’s products using the OGL earn over $750,000 in a year, Wizards of the Coast claim 25% of any further revenue.

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Wizards of the Coast state in the OGL 1.1 that this is to keep D&D‘s original spirit alive. They say that the OGL was meant for creatives and community members, not corporations. However, many have noted that 25% of a company’s revenue is enough to remove any profit margin from competitors. In response to the leaks and backlash, Wizards of the Coast have announced that they will be removing this provision from future versions. However, they haven’t yet released a document without this royalties clause.

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The player's handbook for Fifth Edition DnD.

The OGL 1.0a lets almost anyone use D&D‘s rules, since many of its core concepts are incorporated into traditional tabletop RPGs. However, D&D‘s mechanics have also been used in video games, podcasts, actual plays, and more. The OGL 1.1 specifically prohibits this. It only authorizes printed media or static electronic files, to be used as part of a TTRPG game, though it seems like this will be amended.

D&D video games have a long history, including games made by third parties. Should creators wish to make other types of content using OGL-licensed material, they will have to either abide by the Wizards of the Coast Fan Policy or come to their own agreement with the company.

7 Separate Commercial And Non-Commercial Licenses

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Tasha, a wizard from DnD, casting a spell

D&D‘s OGL 1.0a doesn’t distinguish its content for any reason. It is free for any creator to use. This applies to creators or companies that wish to give products away for free, or to those that wish to sell them. The OGL 1.1 is very different. It has two separate licenses, a commercial license and a noncommercial one.

D&D‘s noncommercial license only applies in situations where no money changes hands, like free D&D resources. The OGL 1.1 has wide-ranging definitions of payment, including any payment or service required to access the document. Bizarrely, it specifically highlights somebody’s siblings doing chores for them as a form of payment that requires a commercial license.

6 Wizards Of The Coast Can Unilaterally Remove The License

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A spellcaster casting protective magic in DnD

One of the OGL 1.1’s more contentious sections is in regards to Wizards ability to remove its license from a product. If they do, the creator has to stop selling that product immediately. However, the agreement’s termination in no way stops a creator from having to pay royalties to Wizards of the Coast if they have earned enough profit.

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In its comments, Wizards states that this is to prevent misuse of the D&D license. They highlight content that is racist, homophobic, or bigoted that has been published with D&D‘s name on it. However, fans have noted the unilateral and uncontestable nature of the termination, as well as Wizards’ sole right to decide. They also point to recent controversial D&D content, such as the initial depiction of the hazodee species in Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, as evidence of Wizards’ own struggles with sensitivity.

5 A Draft Gives Wizards A Royalty-Free License, Which May Be Removed In Later Versions

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A wizard pouring over a spellbook in DnD

The OGL 1.1 has another section that many fans picked up on. Under the terms of the 1.1 draft, anything published under the OGL gives Wizards of the Coast a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free license to that product. Wizards could use that content for any purpose, without creators having their say.

This is another section that Wizards’ response to the leaks highlights. In Wizards of the Coast’s response statement, they claim that this is to protect their own work from allegations of theft. They say that there was never any notion of using the license as a “means […] to steal work”.

4 Creators Cannot Use Lawsuits To Contest Wizards’ Decisions

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Wizards of the Coast's response to the OGL leaks on DnDBeyond.com

The provisions that allow Wizards of the Coast to unilaterally terminate its license are contentious for another reason. It explicitly notes that creators who sign the OGL 1.1 lose their right to sue in response to their decisions. Wizards says that community feedback and “bad PR” should let them know if they’ve made a mistake with D&D.

This loss of creator rights is coupled with a point above that creators waive any duty of good faith or fair dealing that Wizards would otherwise have in making such a decision. Many are wary about the situation these restrictions construct for creators trying to work with Wizards.

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A pile of treasure in DnD

One wholly new notion in the OGL 1.1 is the concept of financial ‘tiers’. These are the different levels that creators are considered to be in if they use the commercial license. The tiers, Initiate, Intermediate, and Expert, are tied to how much revenue a creator earns. At $50,000 in a year, creators move to the Intermediate tier.

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Moving into a higher tier doesn’t necessarily obligate anyone to pay royalties. However, a creator in the Intermediate tier does agree to give Wizards of the Coast annual financial records. According to the OGL 1.1 draft, this is to allow Wizards to see whether any royalties are due.

2 Commercial Creators Have To Register With DnDBeyond

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The logo for DnDBeyond.com

The OGL 1.0a contains no concept of registration. Creators are free to use it without identifying themselves to Wizards of the Coast in any way. This isn’t true of anyone using the OGL 1.1’s commercial license. Under 1.1, a creator has to register.

Creators register by creating an account on DnDBeyond.com, providing identifying information, a title and summary of their work, and then a copy of the work once it’s completed. Registering content on DnDBeyond.com means accepting the OGL 1.1’s commercial license.

1 The Commercial License Requires Creators To Add A Badge To Their Materials

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The Book Of Beautiful Horrors for DnD.

The OGL 1.0a has some legal requirements which help identify when it’s in use. A copy of the OGL has to be included in works that use it. In addition, a copyright notice for any Open Game material also must be added to the work.

The OGL 1.1 has stricter requirements associated with its commercial license. At any tier, a commercial license holder has to identify their OGL work with a Creator Product badge. The exact design for this badge isn’t yet known so it’s hard to know how this will affect third-party creators.

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