Game Makers Flee Dungeons & Dragons Amid Growing Licensing Concerns, Wizards of the Coast Responds
In the short time since a draft of Wizards of the Coast’s new Open Gaming License (called OGL 1.1) leaked, the tabletop gaming landscape has undergone incredible change.After overwhelming backlash online, several creators announced their intent to move away from the D&D ruleset, Fifth Edition (or 5E), in favor of open-source alternatives.
The leaked changes would do away with the game maker’s longstanding policy that empowers third-party Dungeons & Dragons creators to make and sell their own content to support the game, replacing it with a much more strict set of rules that would include a royalty and a controversial clause stating that Wizards has the right to use those creators’ content however it likes.
We believe that the OGL 1.0a cannot be deauthorized. Our resources are unchanged. #OpenRPG
However, the new Open RPG Creative License will be built. To join the effort and provide feedback on the drafts of this license, please sign up by using this form. https://t.co/AhkerJBLU1 https://t.co/FDWZL6e9Ma
— Paizo (@paizo) January 13, 2023
First Kobold Press, which makes products under OGL, announced their intent to “work on a new Core Fantasy tabletop ruleset: available, open, and subscription-free for those who love it – Code Name: Project Black Flag.” Though a move away from OGL and 5E is noteworthy, Kobold coupled this announcement with the news that none of their current OGL projects would be impacted by the new rules and would be proceeding as normal.
Other publishers weren’t so light-handed, as just two days later, Paizo, which makes Pathfinder, announced a similar initiative called Open RPG Creative License (or ORC), alongside some strong words directed at Wizards’ planned deauthorization of the original OGL.
“We believe that any interpretation that the OGL 1.0 or 1.0(a) were intended to be revocable or able to be deauthorized is incorrect, and with good reason. We were there… Paizo owner Lisa Stevens and Paizo president Jim Butler were leaders on the Dungeons & Dragons team at Wizards at the time. Brian Lewis, co-founder of Azora Law, the intellectual property law firm that Paizo uses, was the attorney at Wizards who came up with the legal framework for the OGL itself. Paizo has also worked very closely on OGL-related issues with Ryan Dancey, the visionary who conceived the OGL in the first place.”
The company added, “Paizo does not believe that the OGL 1.0a can be “deauthorized,” ever. While we are prepared to argue that point in a court of law if need be, we don’t want to have to do that, and we know that many of our fellow publishers are not in a position to do so. We have no interest whatsoever in Wizards’ new OGL. Instead, we have a plan that we believe will irrevocably and unquestionably keep alive the spirit of the Open Game License.”
The ORC announcement came alongside the news that fellow OGL publishers Kobold Press, Chaosium, Green Ronin, Legendary Games, Rogue Genius Games, and “a growing list of publishers” had already agreed to participate in ORC as an OGL alternative.
Chris Pramas, founder of Green Ronin Publishing told IGN: “The current leadership of WotC talks about the OGL only in terms of D&D but the reality is that many games that have nothing to do with D&D have been released under the OGL. The leaked OGL 1.1 took no account of this whatsoever. A revocation of the original OGL would create chaos in the tabletop gaming industry and put many small companies under existential threat.”
Over the past week we have witnessed an incredible outpour of passion and dedication from our community working together to protect and cultivate the inclusive environment of Dungeons & Dragons.
Please read our update on the Open Game License: https://t.co/9y4Z5MZpiq
— Dungeons & Dragons (@Wizards_DnD) January 13, 2023
That sentiment seems to be shared by others, like indie publisher The Rook & The Raven, who tweeted, “In light of recent events, cancelling our @DnDBeyond subscriptions didn’t feel sufficient. We have also formally withdrawn from all licensing negotiations with @Wizards / @Wizards_DnD / @Hasbro.” In reply to a commenter, the publisher also claimed that Wizards “had been issuing not-very-veiled threats us [sic] and our business every few months by video chat, phone, and email since 2019, and that’s a large part of the reason we decided to cut ties.”
Free League Publishing also announced over the weekend their own effort to move away from OGL and create two new open licenses of their own, citing OGL 1.1 directly. “It’s clear that it is high time for Free League to have an OGL that is fully our own,” Free League CEO Tomas Härenstam was quoted as saying in that press release.
Shortly after Paizo announced their OGL alternative, Wizards quietly cancelled their planned livestream to discuss OGL, before releasing an official statement the next day on their blog. In the statement, the publisher laid out their intent to make changes based on the community’s feedback, writing, “It’s clear from the reaction that we rolled a 1.” Notably, Wizards now says that the new version of OGL will not contain any royalty structure, and language that will allow content creators to own the content they create.
Wizards also seemed to push back against the narrative that they were changing course with OGL 1.1, adding, “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.”
Advocates for the newly-announced ORC though, don’t seem convinced, as Chris Pramas told IGN after Wizards’ comments that, “People thought the OGL was a safe haven for both D&D compatible material and original games. WotC decided to assert that it was no such thing. Many publishers, content creators, and fans felt this was a betrayal. Something like ORC then became an inevitability.”
Wizards’ decision to upend the 20+ year OGL policy has already made very large waves in the tabletop space in a short period of time. Here’s hoping creators across the board can avoid a full party wipe.
Travis Northup is a writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @TieGuyTravis and read his games coverage here.