Thoughts on the D&D OGL controversy

The last week and a half has been quite turbulent for tans of Table Top Role Playing Games. Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Dungeons & Dragons, had a massive leak hit the internet. This leak consisted of proposed changes to their Open Gaming License (also known as the OGL). To understand why these changes were so controversial, let me take a moment to clarify what the OGL is.

The OGL was originally released to the public back in 2000, during the start of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition. It was a document that allowed third-party companies and hobbyists to create content that would be compatible with D&D. Creators would be able to profit off of their creations without owing royalties to WotC. The idea behind this license was that WotC would ultimately profit from all of the “trickle down” interest that third-party creators would be generating. The plan worked better than anyone expected. Whole publishing companies were founded with the sole purpose of creating D&D-compatible content. Fan-made contributions to the game (like Critical Role) led to an explosion in popularity to the likes of which the hobby had never seen.

Fast-forward to January, 2023. WotC is preparing the next version of D&D. This new version has already proved to be somewhat controversial with fans. But for the most part, the community was accepting of the proposed changes. Then all of a sudden, a leaked update to the OGL hit the internet. This updated version would require third-party publishers to pay royalties to WotC, it would regulate what type of content could be used with D&D, and it would also negate and replace the original OGL. These proposed changes sparked an immediate backlash among fans that quickly turned into an outright revolt.

In the days that followed, publishers like Kobold Press announced they would begin work on a competing RPG system. Paizo announced they would begin work on an OGL of Pathfinder, in hopes to lure players away from D&D. But it was a massive organized effort of D&D Beyond Subscription cancellations that actually got WotC’s attention in the end.

Yesterday, WotC finally addressed the controversy by announcing that they would be take a step back and re-analyze their plans. They promised to eliminate the new royalty policy altogether and loosen their grip on regulating content. But is it too little, too late?

If anything, this whole debacle has opened the eyes of fans to the fact that D&D as it exists is largely a closed system. All these great third-party products only existed because WotC allowed them to. And just as easily as they allowed it, they can change their minds and shut it down. Ok, they’ve backed off this time. But what about next time? Fans started asking themselves these questions and it led to the discussion of an “open source” alternative to Dungeons & Dragons. One that would be owned by nobody but useable by everyone.

In the US, game rules cannot be copywritten. With this in mind, it is entirely possible to create a TTRPG framework that can used for any type of gaming. You can’t call it D&D, of course – that’s an intellectual product. But you can virtually replicate the rules and mechanics of D&D.  We’ve already seen things like this in the hobby with OSR-style games. But I think now you’re going to see an organized effort at a modern D&D 5E clone. And in my humble opinion, it is quite possible that this new system could easily become the sword the slays the dragon.

Would you play this “Dragonslayer” system?  I know that I’m certainly interested in seeing what becomes of all this.

As far as this site goes, I’m going to continue to play and support D&D 5E. But before migrating into this new “One D&D” system, I’m going to see what happens with this new community effort.

Its exciting times for RPG players!

Old Game Hermit

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