Some Facts About the OGL (1.0 and 1.0a)

With the excellent article written by Linda Codega, and the video released by Roll For Combat that brought in a contract lawyer, there is a lot of news about WotC’s (Wizards of the Coast) plans for a “OGL 1.1” and why it is an act of bad faith on the part of WotC if they go forward with it.

So I’m not going over all that again here.

What I DO want to do is present some groundwork for what the OGL is, and isn’t, and what WotC have said about it in the past. This is an editorial by me, based in factual information, and is not itself part of the OGL content on this blog.

1. WotC themselves wrote an FAQ about how the OGL was to be used, back in 2004. This is important, because it shows (for example) that they were of the opinion if they changed the OGL publishers could ignore their new version, and that the OGL could be used for software. Obviously WotC doesn’t host that FAQ anymore, but the Wayback Machine has the original archived for us to all read and draw out own conclusions.

2. There is a huge difference between the OGL and the various SRDs (System Resource Documents). The OGL is not tied to any one game system or product release (see Point 3, below). For example, none of the D&D core rulebooks has ever been released under the OGL. Instead, pared-down versions of the rules for D&D 3.0. 35, D20 Modern, and 5e had SRDs released (and the Psionics handbooks back in 3.x days).

3. The OGL does not just cover products that are designed for use with D&D. For one thing, there are game systems that have been released under the OGL that were not created by WotC, and have no ties to any edition of D&D, including d6 Adventures, Fudge, and Fate.
There are also numerous complete RPGs that are their own things, separate from D&D, including Pathfinder, Starfinder, Mutants & Masterminds, and 13th Age, just to name a few.

4. It’s entirely up to WotC whether or not they release a One D&D SRD. If they don’t, those rules aren’t open. And they could release it under a totally separate license, unrelated to the OGL 1.0a. So, WotC is not under any threat from people using genuinely new rules from One D&D using the existing OGL. (Of course they have said One D&D will be compatible with 5e, so that raises a question if they are *new* rules, and if there aren’t, that might speak to motive on their part.)

5. The OGL does not allow anyone to mention D&D, WotC, the Forgotten Realms, or any other trademarks, or emulate any trade dress. So WotC does not need to worry about the OGL allowing people to associate repugnant material with D&D — all the brands trademarks, characters, and stories, of D&D are off-limits to OGL users, as are many even iconic creatures such as beholders and mind flayers.

6. WotC always knew the OGL would be used by their major competitors to make big profits. The OGL was shared with numerous representatives of various companies before it was made public. I was part of the email chain that was used by Ryan Dancey to do that. And it’s why Sword & Sorcery Studios (a newly-created division of White Wolf, a major ttRPG publisher at the time) was able to put out the Creature Collection in October of 2000, *before* the official 3.0 Monster Manual got published.

7. WotC benefitted from the existence of the OGL. They crafted it, with the knowing intent it would last forever, as part of their D&D relaunch business plan.

But don’t believe me. Believe Keith Strohm (and learn about why you care about his opinion on it in this fireside chat with Peter Adkison, president of WotC when the OGL was created). This is from a comment Keith made on Facebook, and is shared with his permission.

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About Owen K.C. Stephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is a full-time ttRPG Writer, designer, developer, publisher, and consultant. He's the publisher for Rogue Genius Games, and has served as the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the Editor-in-Chief for Evil Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps. He has a Pateon which supports his online work. You can find it at https://www.patreon.com/OwenKCStephens

Posted on January 6, 2023, in Business of Games, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This is a good reminder for both sides of the current ‘debate.’ The massive changes in OGL 1.1 aren’t necessary for a walled garden, nor to defend most IP related to D&D.

    There are plenty of ways to leave OGL 1.0(a) as it is and still open up a more enticing copublication that permits access to IP. We’ve seen it with the DMsGuild.

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