Another post about the Open Gaming License (OGL) that nobody needs to read

TL;DR: Wizards of the Coast is planning on releasing an update to the Open Gaming License (OGL), a license that was adopted by the Role Playing Game community as the standard for releasing D&D compatible material. It was also used with a number of games that have no lineage to D&D. The updated license from Wizards of the Coast tried to harmonize Hasbro's business plans for the D&D brand into the new license. It went as well as you'd expect. But with the death of the OGL opens new opportunities.

I'm not going to try to wax poetic about the history of the OGL or the history of D&D here. For that I can recommend Shannon Applecline's articles "Is the OGL Era Over? Part two. Many hours of video and megabytes of text have been written about what this means for the RPG industry, enthusiasts, and players.

Wizards (through their D&D Beyond program) announced their OGL Playtest. In it they announced that the "core mechanics" part of the System Reference Document (SRD) will be released under a Creative Commons BY Attribution license. "Great!" you say! Not so fast. The parts that were carved out are little more than mechanics. And, as every internet "I Am Not A Lawyer" (IANAL) will tell you, you can't copyright mechanics. So this olive-branch-nee-fig-leaf is little more than getting the "D&D released under the Creative Commons" headlines that, frankly, are insulting to someone who's hobby is caring about licenses, especially the Creative Commons.

Yes, I have weird hobbies. What did you expect? Stamp collecting?

From there it gets worse. The OGL 1.0a version of the license was crafted in such a way that it was considered "irrevvocable". That word, funnily enough, isn't in the OGL 1.0a license (the internet checked). What is in there is section 9 of the license. I'll quote it here:

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.

Up until January 2023 nobody paid this section of text much attention. It seems pretty innocuous. You can't just publish your own version of the OGL and say that it's valid unless you get Wizards permission. Makes sense.

That word "authorized" is what current Wizards of the Coast's lawyers found. Much like the exhaust port of the Death Star that some pesky rebel named Luke Skywalker shoved a torpedo into (spoilers?) they found their way to blow up a license that for 20+ years was the bedrock of the RPG industry.

They say it themselves:

Deauthorizing OGL 1.0a. We know this is a big concern. The Creative Commons license and the open terms of 1.2 are intended to help with that. One key reason why we have to deauthorize: We can't use the protective options in 1.2 if someone can just choose to publish harmful, discriminatory, or illegal content under 1.0a. And again, any content you have already published under OGL 1.0a will still always be licensed under OGL 1.0a.

Needless to say the RPG industry did not appreciate learning of this flaw in the license. Worse, they also realized there was little they could do to patch the flaw. Best case someone sues. Worst case someone gets sued. In the end only the lawyers get to have their say. In an industry where having sales in the hundreds is considered a success there's very little money to throw at lawyers to try to patch a hole that Hasbro intends to exploit.

Now, to their credit, Wizards of the Coast did backtrack on a previous attempt to outright destroy the OGL 1.0a license. If you've already printed up stacks of books using the OGL 1.0a you can still sell them. Fantastic.

What gets called into question, though, is whether or not you can still make new material with the OGL 1.0a or adapt a work that was previously released under the OGL 1.0a. Short answer: I'd highly recommend against it.

Also note that they're using the "harmful content" as the guise in which they're deauthorizing the OGL. This is a facade. The CC-BY license they're using for the core mechanics does nothing to protect from releasing harmful content (that's part of the joys and frustrations of the CC-BY license, but I'll leave that for someone else to discuss), nor does the 1.2 license really protect folks making content that some folks consider objectionable (see our current culture wars for references). No, the main reason for deauthorizing the OGL 1.0a license is because if they don't it's business as usual. Folks can ignore the provisions of the 1.2 license and continue doing what they were doing before: printing D&D 5e-compatible material, making games for other systems, and essentially ignoring Wizards' business plans.

"You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common: they don't alter their views to fit the facts; they alter the facts to fit their views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering." -- The Fourth Doctor (Doctor Who, "The Face of Evil, part four")

One of the "facts" in the RPG industry was that the OGL 1.0a was irrevocable. That fact has been altered. It needed to be altered for Wizards of the Coast to be able to enact their new business model for D&D. The 1.0a license made for a rich commons where anyone could make a D&D-compatible product without having to ask permission from Wizards. Wizards wants more control; both for their One D&D re-launch, and for how creators interact with their brand. And that's perfectly fine: they are well within their rights to do so. Just be plain about your intentions. Suffer the blowback with dignity, knowing that you made a conscious choice to plant this stake.

The OGL is dead. Period. D&D is going hard into trying to monetize its fanbase much in the same way that it monetized Magic the Gathering (another Wizards product). Fine. Let them. It's time to move on.

Numerous publishers have banded together to create the "ORC" license. Their plan is to create a license that works for everyone involved and isn't controlled by one company. Wizards of the Coast was the benevolent shepherd for the OGL. No more. They decided to abdicate this role. Now it's up to the community to fill the void.

Many publishers are scrambling to figure out what this new world will be. I've had conversations with several folks about how to license their material under Creative Commons licenses. I hope to have more. I think it's a conversation worth having.

The last 20+ years have been a lesson for the RPG industry. It showed that having a common framework for allowing folks to share and share-alike can build wondrous things. There's so much creativity out there that can be augmented by sharing what we've learned together. I'm hopeful that wit the demise of the OGL that we learn that we don't need to rely on one company and one system. We contain multitudes. Let's use that to build something greater.

Wizards of the Coast put out a survey. I won't share my answers because pithy words pointed at a company I no longer trust or need isn't going to help anyone. But I did leave them with this:

You've made it clear you want the whole cake. That's fine. We've moved on to pie. Enjoy your cake.