Interesting Times, the OGL Rebellion

Interesting Times

For the last few months of 2022 there were growing rumblings in the Table Top Roll Playing community about the future of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and the rumored discontinuation of the Open Gaming License (OGL) under which many third party role playing games and books are published. What follows is a summary of the events which happened as Wizards of the Coast’s intentions were leaked on to the internet. I recognize it is not an exhaustive account, but I have done my best to compile some of the major events during this dust up. I’ve linked to the sources wherever possible, its well worth the time to read them.

In response to to the initial rumors, Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) put out a statement on December 21, 2022 reassuring people that their new version of D&D would be covered by the OGL—but the OGL was going to “evolve.” This statement didn’t do much to quell the concerns about what “evolve” meant, and those concerns exploded on January 5, 2023 when Gizmodo broke the story about what was in the OGL 1.1. This lead to numerous posts speculating about what this would mean for third party publishers, OSR game developers, Virtual Table Tops, “Actual Play” streams like Critical Role, and for Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG 1. It was apparent to people that the OGL 1.1 was how Wizards of the Coast was going to deal with the issue of Dungeons & Dragons being, as Wizards of the Coast President Cynthia Williams put it, “really under-monetized.” Once it was in effect it would cutting off certain media forms from those using the license and would demand excessive royalties while “deauthorizing” the original OGL.

Following the report on OGL 1.1 there appeared to be a pause as the industry took a collective breath. After which the floodgates opened.

Basic Fantasy RPG 4e — Basic and Free 4 Everyone

New dog-like kobold is in the logo.
The reimagined kobold artwork is by Gabe H Fua, the slogan is by Martín Serena.

It appears that Basic Fantasy RPG creator, Chris Gonnerman, jumped first. In a forum post published on January 7 entitled, “A Manifesto of Sorts, which is a Plan as well,” he declared that Hasbro 2 was a “an existential threat to our game” and then announced that the community-led project was going to undergo a review to excise every bit of System Reference Document (SRD) language 3 from the game. This new 4th Edition of Basic Fantasy RPG would be released under a Creative Commons license to ensure that no company could ever try to snatch the game away from the community again. Since that announcement Basic Fantasy RPG’s community has poured over the core rulebook and made significant changes, even creating unique new looks for classic monsters like kobolds.

Also on January 7th, Troll Lord Games issued a tweet which informed followers that future printings of the game would not include the OGL, and then further illuminated why they believed they could do this on a Twitch Stream.

On January 10 Kobold Press, one of the largest publishers of third party content for D&D 5th Edition (5e), announced they would not be moving forward with WOTC’s plans for a new OGL and would instead design their own game, code named Project Black Flag, which would be “available, open, and subscription-free for those who love it.” It would also be 5e compatible.

Also on January 10 Matthew Colville, head of MCDM productions, announced on a live stream that he was working on a new game system.

After Kobold Press released its plans Frog God Games issued an undated statment about its rejection of OGL 1.1 and issued a call for smaller publishers to “…band together to create a non-OGL and non-WOTC version of a System Reference Document (SRD) that can forever be used by anyone.”

Up to this point in the upheaval the only statement which was associated with Wizards of the Coast was a single tweet from the DnD Beyond twitter account, asking for patience. This did nothing to assuage people’s anger and anxiety.

On January 11 Matt Finch, creator of the Original D&D retro-clone Swords & Wizardry (S&W), hosted a live stream where he illuminated his plans to strip out the loopholes from the OGL 1.0a and publish his own games under that license moving forward. Like Basic Fantasy RPG, Matt Finch is also scrubbing any SRD language from S&W, and is anticipating running a kickstarter for the new edition of Swords & Wizardry in either late February or early March.

All these moves, however, were warning shots to Wizards of the Coast. It was on January 12 when the resistance began to escalate to the point where Wizards could no longer remain silent.

First, popular YouTube D&D figure Ginny Di joined a movement of fans who were cancelling their DnD Beyond accounts in protest of WOTC’s moves. In so doing she also shared a tweet with her 126,000 followers encouraging them to do the same. By the end of the day the cancellation feature for DnD Beyond was so flooded the system crashed. This same day Paizo, WOTC’s largest direct competitor, also decided they’d waited long enough for Wizards of the Coast to clean up their mess and declared their intention to release their own open gaming license called the “Open RPG Creative License,” or “ORC.” The stated purpose behind this license is to create an irrevocable license which was not owned by any company. In fact, Paizo’s goal is to turn the ORC over to the trust of a non-profit entity. At the time of its announcement Kobold Press had announced its intent to use the ORC license moving forward, along with several other major players in the TTRPG publishing space. Demand for Paizo’s announcement grew so great the company’s website crashed.

Another major player in TTRPG publishing, Goodman Games, also issued a statment on January 12 saying, “We have reviewed the possible changes and determined that they will not impact our line of roleplaying games.” I reached out to Goodman games to clarify if this statement meant that they are certain the OGL 1.0a cannot be deauthorized, or if they were charting another path forward. While my inquiries for clarification were only met with replies stating they could not make any further comments, a January 13th post on their website shows they are piling “into the ORC van.” As Goodman Games has a license with WOTC to publish a series of classic modules under the auspices of the “Original Adventures Reincarnated” series, this is a significant deal.

Unable to contain the damage any more DnD Beyond, which has somehow become the bag holder for the mess Wizards of the Coast unleashed, issued a statement on January 13 which amounts to little more than naked damage control. Most of the offending stipulations which appeared in the OGL 1.1 leaks have been walked back, which is good, but these concessions helped to obfuscate the actual point of the OGL 1.1 revision—WOTC/Hasbro regretted the deal it made twenty-three years ago and wanted to make sure “major corporations” could no longer use the OGL to make money. The statement also claimed that WOTC 4 had always intended to get feedback from people about their proposed updates. This statement makes little sense given the original deadline to sign on to the new OGL, as shown in the leaks, was January 13.

Wizards of the Coast may believe that their crisis is over following the statement on DnD Beyond, but they have managed to lose the trust of both partners and fans, and new ships are now being built in the industry. Ones on which both players and publishers can sail away from WOTC’s turbulent shores. For people who inhabit the Tabletop Role Play Game hobby space, it is interesting times.

  1. Paizo is the largest direct competitor to Wizard’s of the Coast and the first edition of Pathfinder was a continuation of the D&D 3.5 rules.  ↩

  2. Hasbro owns WOTC.  ↩

  3. The SRD is a publication of game language which anyone using the Open Gaming License is able to use in their own projects. The two, combined, are intended to create a safe harbor from copyright suits.  ↩

  4. Actually, DnD Beyond, since no one from Wizards signed the response and “DnD Beyond Staff” is the only author of record.  ↩

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