Part of the reason Dungeons & Dragons has maintained its dominance in the tabletop gaming scene is not just because it was one of the first to arrive there but because it allowed anyone to use its ruleset and adapt their games to work with it. It’s part of a long-standing agreement called the Open Gaming License (OGL) that has spawned hundreds of third-party and independent TTRPG productions that run off the D&D engine.
But a document that leaked earlier this week signaled that D&D’s parent company Wizards of the Coast was thinking of changing that. A revised OGL, hardly worthy of the word “open,” tightened control by Wizards over the content of all products that used the OGL, required any third-party earnings to be reported directly to them, and established higher licensing fees. The worst of it was the implication that the new license would be applied retroactively to products already on the market. It was an unreasonable demand for companies that built themselves up on the OGL, like Paizo, Kobold Press and others. They immediately revolted against the letter, as did millions of tabletop game players.
With barely anyone happy, a firestorm of negative press has forced Wizards to publish an apologetic statement instead of the document (which was supposed to be officially made public Thursday). They say they’re now taking this back to the drawing board, but refuse to promise to leave the OGL untouched.
When we initially conceived of revising the OGL, it was with three major goals in mind. First, we wanted the ability to prevent the use of D&D content from being included in hateful and discriminatory products. Second, we wanted to address those attempting to use D&D in web3, blockchain games, and NFTs by making clear that OGL content is limited to tabletop roleplaying content like campaigns, modules, and supplements. And third, we wanted to ensure that the OGL is for the content creator, the homebrewer, the aspiring designer, our players, and the community — not major corporations to use for their own commercial and promotional purpose.
Driving these goals were two simple principles: (1) Our job is to be good stewards of the game, and (2) the OGL exists for the benefit of the fans. Nothing about those principles has wavered for a second.
That was why our early drafts of the new OGL included the provisions they did. That draft language was provided to content creators and publishers so their feedback could be considered before anything was finalized. In addition to language allowing us to address discriminatory and hateful conduct and clarifying what types of products the OGL covers, our drafts included royalty language designed to apply to large corporations attempting to use OGL content. It was never our intent to impact the vast majority of the community.
However, it’s clear from the reaction that we rolled a 1. It has become clear that it is no longer possible to fully achieve all three goals while still staying true to our principles.
What [the new OGL] will not contain is any royalty structure. It also will not include the license back provision that some people were afraid was a means for us to steal work. That thought never crossed our minds. Under any new OGL, you will own the content you create. We won’t. Any language we put down will be crystal clear and unequivocal on that point. The license back language was intended to protect us and our partners from creators who incorrectly allege that we steal their work simply because of coincidental similarities. As we continue to invest in the game that we love and move forward with partnerships in film, television, and digital games, that risk is simply too great to ignore. The new OGL will contain provisions to address that risk, but we will do it without a license back and without suggesting we have rights to the content you create. Your ideas and imagination are what makes this game special, and that belongs to you.
A couple of last thoughts. First, we won’t be able to release the new OGL today, because we need to make sure we get it right, but it is coming. Second, you’re going to hear people say that they won, and we lost because making your voices heard forced us to change our plans. Those people will only be half right. They won — and so did we.
Our plan was always to solicit the input of our community before any update to the OGL; the drafts you’ve seen were attempting to do just that. We want to always delight fans and create experiences together that everyone loves. We realize we did not do that this time and we are sorry for that. Our goal was to get exactly the type of feedback on which provisions worked and which did not — which we ultimately got from you. Any change this major could only have been done well if we were willing to take that feedback, no matter how it was provided — so we are. Thank you for caring enough to let us know what works and what doesn’t, what you need and what scares you. Without knowing that, we can’t do our part to make the new OGL match our principles. Finally, we’d appreciate the chance to make this right. We love D&D’s devoted players and the creators who take them on so many incredible adventures. We won’t let you down.
This response did not pacify Paizo, who says they are moving forward with plans to move Pathfinder and Starfinder off the OGL regardless of what Wizards ends up doing.