The return of the OGL

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In the last ten days there was a big fuss, on various forums and social networks, about the new OGL issued by Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro regarding Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

As it was for the previous version (the one done for the Third Edition), this was a step sought by all players and publisher alike. But (in this kind of writing there is always a but, I know) there were some important changes and developments that brought confusion to all the D&D fandom.

Let me say, first, that I think that all the changes are logical and correct, since it’s more than legit for WOTC/Hasbro to pursue this kind of process, because their business is to gain money (yes, your hard-earned money, that’s it!) by publishing material entertaining and worth your bucks. Their behaviour is beside good or evil, in game terms I’d say it’s true neutral bordering on NG.

DMsGuild-LogoThat said, this time, they offered two distinct ways to people or publishers planning to produce something compatible with 5th Edition. They set up an e-commerce site (called DMGuild dmsguild.com hosted by the fine folks at drivethrurpg.com) in which everyone can publish their material, with just two catches: first, half of the money gained goes to the site, and second, all the material must be Forgotten Realms related or neutral in setting. Wait, there is also a third catch: the material therein published can be used in the future by Wotc/Hasbro for publication.


The other way is more canonical and deals with anyone not willing to use the site or wanting to write something in another setting. It works like before, you can use the SRD (Standard Reference Document, the basic handbook privy of all the Forgotten Realms elements, find it at systems-reference-document-srd) as a base, and you have to print the OGL in the manual itself.

OGL-DMs Guild

The second way is more troublesome to everyone, let’s see why:

  1. what if someone would want to publish something related to the older TSR or Wotc material (let’s say Spelljammer or Maztica….) would this be done between the limits of the OGL or not?
  2. will this setup means that Wotc has no intention to publish in the future other settings (like Eberron or Mystara)?
  3. what if I write up a very successful adventure (set in my own setting, in a world where music is magic and all the wizards are, in fact, musicians, do not copy!) will Wizards come after me because one of the Deities in my pantheon has the same name of a Forgotten Realms character?

So, I’ve read the OGL and various opinions about these restrictions placed on the document, and this is my opinion: the future has not been any brighter than this.

Ok, that was the short version, let me elaborate. I do not think WotC is or will be against any kind of exploitation of her older products. Let’s say I’m a publisher and prepare a new edition of Dark Sun (a beloved setting), using the OGL and underlining the derivative nature of my work. For any manual I happen to sell, there will be at least one WotC Player Manual sold as well. Everybody wins. More, WotC wins because gets some revenue as a result for somebody else’s job. Were I in WotC’s shoes I sure as hell do not want to spend any lawyer money on a “cease and desist” toward someone who is actually helping me selling my own products. And if the new edition of Dark Sun (just to follow up on my example) is not good enough for the Wotc standards, well no harm done beside that publisher losing money, and the chance to write something good in the near future for WotC.

This is how I see the situation.

And this is more true because we are in 2016 instead of being at the time in which the 3rd Edition OGL was published.

Sixteen years ago there was not a kickstarting culture. Oh well, there was but someone who needed money to do something could ask perhaps only to his nearest relatives (some old aunt, maybe), now I can reach and ask to the whole world.

It’s a golden age for niche products. If I want to develop a setting based on wizards’ music (mind you all, I said it first here, no copying, I see you!) I have several instruments to reach people willing to see that done, and moreover, willing to pay to see that done. In WotC’s point of view, I will have lots of people talking about my products, buying my products to play with someone else’s, sponsoring my products for the sake of theirs. Where is the harm in this?

That said, for us players there will be more power, the power of trying new adventures and settings and evaluating what is good and what is not. We’ll have choices and means to spend our money to get something we really like. It will give us the power to choose. And that is important.

On the other side if one of us wishes to create something new, something that has never been written before (we all have the awesome idea that we would have designed and written the most beautiful adventure in the world, if only….) he has the power to publish it and make it available for everyone to enjoy, even after a quick exchange of bucks between the interested parties (you know what I mean!).

Finally I think the new OGL is a gust of fresh air to breath for players and writers alike, the first can find an unlimited source of materials to play, the latter can find a sort of X-Men “Danger Room” (the comics, not the movies, you bunch of fools!) where try their hands at creating something. As I wrote before: the future cannot be any brighter, don’t you think?

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4 Comments

  1. David 'Big Mac' Shepheard

    Re: “Let’s say I’m a publisher and prepare a new edition of Dark Sun (a beloved setting), using the OGL and underlining the derivative nature of my work.”

    This is not actually possible. Section 7 of the OGL specifically states: “You agree not to indicate compatibility or co-adaptability with any Trademark or Registered Trademark in conjunction with a work containing Open Game Content except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of such Trademark or Registered Trademark.”

    That means that using the “Dark Sun” name and elements of “Dark Sun” would be a breech of Section 7. Section 13 would then kick in and would automatically terminate the OGL for your would-be Dark Sun OGL product if you didn’t remove the Dark Sun elements within 30 days of being notified that you can’t do this.

    In other words, 30 days notice takes down the OGL and the document then looses the right to include Open Game Content and becomes an even bigger breech of copyright. WotC could then issue a DMCA notice (not a Cease and Desist) to get the product removed from online stores and could order you to pulp any printed books you had in storage.

    One interesting agreement, that does allow conversions of Dark Sun material, is the “ESD Conversion Agreement”:
    http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/ESDpolicy.rtf

    However the ESD Conversion Agreement has the following restriction: “Furthermore, you may not charge a fee for the distribution of any document licensed using this agreement. You may not impose any additional restrictions on the redistribution of this document. The Open Game Content in the conversion is, of course, not affected by these restrictions, but any portion of the work containing Wizards Product Identity is so restricted.”

    So, WotC already have this covered. People were allowed to convert campaign setting material from every TSR product line to 3e, but were never allowed to sell it.

    If Dungeon Masters Guild comes to Dark Sun (which hopefully it will) it will go over and above what WotC offered with the ESD Conversion Agreement, because DMs Guild offers sales via their own chosen publishing outlet. The percentage they take is their royalty payment for using their IP.

  2. Elentar - Barber

    Thank you David for your very interesting comment: it expands and deepen the original scope of our post. I hope other readers appreciate it as much as we do.

  3. srampazzo

    First, thanks David for your comment. As I said before, on fb, your point is right. But (there is always a but) especially in America, laws and definitions are shifty and ever changing. So, I would be sued if Wotc feels like it’s worth sueing me. That said, the definition of derivative works is going to change in my opinion. I’m following “Axanar vs Paramount”, and I believe this will change something. First, it will change the definition of “gain” for crowd founding projects, and second it will define the leeway possible to use contents covered by copyright. Then I still firmly believe that if you create something in Dark Sun and you start to sell it outside Dmguild, signalling all the rights and the derivations, it will be not automatic for wotc to go after you. It’s bad rep they do not need, it may be money they do not want to spend alienating players… Thanks again. Stefano

  4. Dark Naga

    If for no other reason, they would take action when notified to preserve their trademarks. They are compelled by practice and law to demonstrate rigorous defense of their trademarks, or they lose them. For an example, google “Jack Daniels and the nicest Cease and Desist Letter ever”

    The decision to go with OGL or DM’s Guild is a personal one for most would be writers. This was a great overview of the trade offs from each choice.

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