As Wizards of the Coast scrambles to try and restore its reputation and brand trust, the rest of us are left trying to figure out our next steps. We wanted to offer an explanation and suggestions for folks who want to support the #opendnd movement and independent content creators.
What in the world is going on?
If you got sucked into a pocket dimension or were perhaps frozen in ice for the last month, you might not be up to date on the latest news regarding Wizards of the Coast and the Dungeons & Dragons Open Gaming License Fiasco. For those of you already familiar with the story, bear with me while I summarize for the rest of the class.
There are many people who have provided histories of the Open Gaming License (or OGL) that are more detailed and more accurate than I can hope to be. For a deep dive, I highly recommend A Brief History of the Open Gaming License by J.R. Zambrano. However, the short version is that the Open Gaming License v1.0a is a license that has enabled third-party gaming content to be published by giving creators access to basic elements of D&D and promising Wizards of the Coast won’t sue if you publish a new subclass or adventure — or even a whole new campaign setting.
Without the OGL v1.0a there is no Critical Role Campaign Setting Book. There is no Necromancer Games. There is no Pathfinder. There is no Mutants & Masterminds.
There is no Eventyr Games without the OGL v1.0a. No Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic and no Milando’s Guide to Magical Marvels.
So what’s everyone upset about?
Well, after 20 years, Wizards of the Coast is trying to eradicate the Open Gaming License. After news leaked of a v1.1 license that would have instituted royalties, destroyed VTTs, stolen work from third-party creators, and prevented the continued printing of v1.0a content, the community — understandably — had… concerns. Wizards of the Coast first tried to wait us out by not making any public statement. They were hoping that the story would just die so that they could push the changes through without consequence.
We know this for a fact thanks to a source from inside Wizards of the Coast telling us so.
We also know that one of the only metrics that they consider valid is the number of DNDBeyond subscriptions. Enter the #opendnd social media movement.
What are #openDND and #DNDBegone?
Alright, so the problem is a very large corporation is trying to stomp on a bunch of tiny independent publishers, right? What kind of recourse do we have in the modern age to spread awareness? That’s right: social media.
As much as we all love to hate it, social media plays an integral part in most activism these days thanks to the ability for instantaneous transfer of information. Which is why at every turn for the last several weeks the community has been able to publicly combat lies and attempts at PR recovery by Wizards of the Coast and draw more and more attention to the issue.
#openDND started in December when the first whispers of the v1.1 leak started going around, but it picked up momentum once the leak went public. It has been trending on and off since the beginning of the year due exclusively to the efforts of people trying to support third-party creators.
#DNDBegone was brought about specifically to promote the boycott of DNDBeyond subscriptions. This hashtag resulted in nearly 40,000 DNDBeyond subscriptions being canceled in 48 hours and is probably the primary reason that Wizards of the Coast is at least giving the appearance of backpedaling.
Part of the faux-backpedaling (you’ll understand my qualifier in a moment) was the release of OGL v1.2, which dropped the royalty structure and many of the VTT stipulations from the OGL language.
So what's wrong with OGL v1.2?
The short answer to that question is: A lot.
There are actual lawyers who have weighed in on the potential pitfalls of this license, such as Noah Downs over on Medium and Tyler Thompson on his Twitch channel. As such, I would like to make the disclaimer that I am not a lawyer and that anything said here is a layperson’s interpretation. That said, I am going to try to provide a brief (I promise) summary of the key issues in the document and then go into what I consider to be the most concerning part of the license.
In no particular order, here are some things you will find in OGL v1.2:
- From the start, an attempt is made to de-authorize OGL v1.0a — removing the ability for anyone to continue publishing under this license in the future. This is in direct opposition to the intended purpose of the OGL. By Wizards’ own admission, which used to be on an FAQ page, if a new version of the OGL were ever published that the community disagreed with, publishers would be able to continue to produce content under the old license. This is exactly what happened when 4th Edition was released under the Game System License (GSL) and attempted to circumvent the OGL. What happened was that the third-party publishing ecosystem that enabled 3rd Edition to flourish dried up, but new games continuing to use the v1.0a license were able to develop — specifically the 1st Edition of Pathfinder.
- There is an attempt to buy back good will by releasing the core mechanics of the game under the Creative Commons license. The problem with this is that you cannot copyright game mechanics anyway, so this gesture means very little. Especially when the things that aren’t being released to Creative Commons are things like player races, subclasses, spells, how to create a character, and all of the building blocks used by third-party content creators to make new things in an accessible format for players and DMs. (You can read more about everything not included under the Creative Commons License here.)
- Wizards of the Coast is attempting to retain the right to modify two sections of the license. The issue? The two sections that they retain the right to modify are the sections pertaining to who controls the content you produce (the ability to market it and where you can market it) and the section related to notifying licensees of changes to the license. If Wizards of the Coast has the ability to change these areas they can easily make it so that they don’t have to notify anyone of changes made, and they can change the conditions under which you are able to produce and sell the content you make. Which defeats the entire purpose of having an Open Gaming License.
- The new VTT Policy (now separate from the OGL but included with the OGL v1.2 document) is attempting to ban the use of SRD content/D&D content on anything that does more than roll your dice damage. So if you use dynamic lighting effects, fog of war, or any kind of animation? You’re no longer permitted to use SRD content according to this VTT policy. The argument being made is that these things too closely resemble a video game than a tabletop experience, but I am going to call bull on that. A computer doing my math for me doesn’t emulate the tabletop experience either, so why is that allowed but not fog of war? The logic is inconsistent because the actual reason for this policy is so that Wizards of the Coast can control the only VTT capable of running D&D — which they will undoubtedly charge you to use on a subscription basis.
There are more issues that have a lot of nuance to them, but these are some of the biggest points of concern for a lot of people — and justifiably so. These are the points that really make or break the ability of third-party publishers to produce and market content. If we can’t control where we’re permitted to market things, that means we could lose the ability to raise funds on Kickstarter. We could lose the ability to host content in our own stores. We could lose the ability to innovate for the hobby and create things like VTT systems, or mobile apps that help people manage their character sheets or track campaigns (or produce item cards for handouts or automatically generate NPCs…)
But that’s not the worst part. No, the most dangerous provision in OGL v1.2, in my opinion, is Section 6(f):
What’s so dangerous about this section? It seems pretty benign since Wizards of the Coast is a game company and wants to be family friendly. Right?
I direct your attention to the last sentence, and I am going to add bold and underline for emphasis:
Did you catch it that time? No? The key word in this sentence is “conduct.”
They aren’t just aiming to control the content you make, they’re aiming to control your behavior. This means they can decide that participating in a public critique of the company, like using #opendnd on Twitter, or engaging in a public boycott, a la #dndbegone, constitutes hateful/harassing behavior. And according to Section 7(b) they can terminate your right to publish content based on this behavior and you will have no recourse. No appeal. No ability to sue.
They are trying to prevent third-party publishers from exerting their influence like we have managed to do throughout this month. They want to have a right to silence any and all opposition.
While much of the motivation behind the new OGL language is clearly greed, this provision is evil.
However, its presence also gives me hope. Because they wouldn’t have this language and they wouldn’t be planning to silence people if our voices weren’t being heard and weren’t making a difference.
What can I do to help?
The best thing you can do if you are a D&D player or DM is to support third-party publishers directly.
Many publishers, Eventyr Games included, have websites and stores where you can get their content, and the majority of the proceeds go directly to the creator. You can join creator patreons or Kofi pages to provide regular, ongoing support, or you can take advantage of the dozens of #openDnD sales happening right now (including ours — save 15% off of everything currently in-stock with code OPENDND).
You can also follow the #dndbegone movement and cancel your subscription if you’re so inclined. We have. There are other things that Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro have coming up that you can choose to abstain from as well, such as seeing Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves or pre-ordering new publications from Wizards of the Coast.
The most immediate thing you can do, however, is fill out the DNDBeyond Survey for OGL v1.2 and tell them your complaints — and save your responses so that you have proof of your dissent in case Wizards of the Coast announces a suspicious amount of support for the new OGL.
What if I don’t play D&D?
If you don’t play D&D then withholding your patronage from Wizards of the Coast won’t do much, and you’re not likely to buy third-party content for a game you don’t play. However, there is something you can do.
You can talk to people you know about what’s going on. Spreading word of mouth helps to further deplete Wizards of the Coast’s brand reputation and helps third-party publishers be heard. What’s more, chances are good you know someone who does play D&D, and there’s a chance they’re not aware of what’s going on. It’s worth bringing up.
The parent company of Wizards of the Coast is Hasbro, and they’re chiefly responsible for what’s happening. If you can prevent yourself from buying anything else produced by Hasbro and be public about the reason why it helps to promote the problem to a wider audience.
I know that these sound like small things that won’t matter, but I promise you that they will. When 40,000 subscriptions for DNDBeyond were canceled over a 48 hour period we forced Wizards of the Coast to reconsider their position and abandon the draconian v1.1 language. Admittedly they came back with the sneakier v1.2, but the fact is that our voices were heard.
It kills me to tell people not to support official Dungeons & Dragons content. I have played this game for 25 years, I have been writing content for it privately for 15 years, and I’ve been working in this industry for the last 2 years. I love this game, and I want it to succeed.
Dungeons & Dragons is best when anyone and everyone can contribute to the game. Let’s keep it that way.
1 thought on “What is #openDND & What Can You Do to Support Indie Creators?”
This provided a really clear, concise explanation for what’s going on. All of the legal jargon was making my head spin but this helped boil it down to the basics of what these changes would mean.