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How OPEN is D&D OGL 1.1?

Last week I posted about the changes coming to the Wizards of the Coast Open Gaming License for One D&D.  At the very end of the article, I wrote very confidently that the OGL wasn’t going anywhere.

It now appears that I was very wrong.  New leaked information indicates that the OGL as we know it is being completely cast aside and overwritten.

I have yet to get my hands on the actual content of OGL 1.1, but after spending the better part of the last two days sifting through social media, fan sites and TTRPG industry news, these are the major takeaways:

OGL 1.1 overrides all previous open licensing agreements

Statements from WotC regarding One D&D and the fate of the OGL have said that everything will be backwards compatible.  That is, anything you did or used before can be used with the new system, and vice versa.  These leaks, however, reveal that this new licensing agreement expressly revokes the authorization of previous versions of the OGL.  This goes directly counter to both the spirit and the letter of the existing OGL, which states:

WotC Open Gaming License 1.0(a), paragraph 4

As a reminder, OGL 1.0 came out with D&D 3E.  It’s been a part of TTRPG culture for over twenty years.  People have built companies up around this promise from WotC that they would have an open and perpetual worldwide license to certain parts of D&D and its mechanics.  Those businesses will have to agree to OGL1.1 and convert all of their products and operations to be compliant or face serious legal repercussions.

It gives Wizards of the Coast rights to YOUR content

Under the current version, OGL 1.0(a), creators retain ownership and all rights to their own creations.  If you create something very successful that Wizards later decides it wants to use, it has to purchase rights from you or otherwise license the content.  OGL 1.1, however, gives WotC a perpetual, irrevocable, and royalty free license to your content as a condition of use.  In other words…  If your content is successful, WotC can redistribute it without modification and they won’t have to pay you a cent.

Even more worryingly, the reuse rights WotC claims for itself in OGL1.1 are sub-licensable.  They can let other people use your content.  And they can charge other people for the right to use your content.  @MyLawyerFriend has a great writeup on the leaks from an attorney’s perspective that dives into the ownership implications of OGL1.1.  Swing over and give it a read.

The royalties are NO JOKE.

Creators will pay up to 25% royalty on gross revenue from content created under OGL1.1.  When I first wrote about the new OGL version requiring creators to pay royalties, I imagined it would be 7-10%.  Writers can typically expect about 10% royalties from their publishers, and I naively assumed WotC would keep in line with that.  Instead, under the new version of the OGL creators will lose a quarter of their takings right off the top.  That’s before expenses and costs.  Before crowdfunding fees.  Before creators are able to pay themselves.

What we have seen of OGL 1.1 so far is a BAD DEAL.

WotC says in the leaked portions of OGL 1.1 that the Open Gaming License wasn’t intended to “subsidize major competitors.”  Creators who agree to the new license, however, are being asked to subsidize Wizards itself.  They pay for the privilege of using elements of D&D to create a product that WotC can then turn around and distribute on a much larger scale with zero need to compensate the creator.  Imagine you make $750,000 on a project.  You pay WotC $187,500 in royalties.  Wizards, seeing how successful your project was just being marketed on whatever small platform you used to self-publish, turns around and reprints your supplement.  Now it’s in Barnes and Noble.  It’s on Amazon.  The official WotC-branded version is right next to yours on Roll20, and is available for purchase on D&D Beyond.  WotC continues to make money on your content, but you see steadily less and less as people pick up the “official” version rather than yours.

OGL 1.1 is NOT open.

Open Gaming License is a total misnomer for OGL1.1.  An open license does not demand so much of creators in exchange for its use.  In truth, it is another Game System License, like we had with D&D 4E.  The primary difference is that this time, Wizards is trying to revoke all previous agreements.

Hasbro has made it clear that they are going to push WotC brands as hard as they can to increase growth and profits.  Many parallels can be drawn between the OGL and Magic the Gathering’s Reserve List.  Both agreements have been touted as irrevocable by Wizards in the past.  I reserve my final judgment until the full text of OGL 1.1 becomes public, but this document and whatever legal battles follow will serve as clues to the future of other major promises WotC has made to its fan community.

About the Author
Silver has been playing Magic: The Gathering and other trading card games off and on since 1999, and is a lifelong roleplayer. They believe in Rule 0 and The Rule of Cool, and that the gaming table should be a safe space for everyone.

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