Belated update

The OGL that shook the TTRPG world!

As many of you know I very recently got into playing RPGs and have even posted a couple of plays on this very blog. 

I've always been interested in RPGs but finding people to play with has always been the issue. Thanks to the lockdowns over the last couple of years and the rise of Zoom, suddenly doing things remotely wasn't a weird thing anymore and a friend of mine started a channel on Discord to play RPGs and I managed to play 2 sessions of Cyberpunk Red (I think it's called). It turned out to be heavy on combat, light on role playing but that’s not the fault of the game. 😁

So when we all couldn't meet up with our gaming groups, solo gaming became more than a thing. Solo board game rules proliferated. And imagine that the list of tabletop skirmish minis games has grown to 40+ on BGG! 

Needless to say, RPGs were not lagging behind and I discovered a wealth of resources to play RPGs solo, and I gave it a try last year with Blades in the Dark and Tiny Dungeon 2nd Edition.

So here's 2023, a new year where I was contemplating how to divide my time between boardgames, tabletop skirmish games, painting the minis for said skirmish games and playing RPGs (and which RPGs to play) when all of a sudden... The RPG world imploded. Or was that exploded? Blew up?

What happened? 

Essentially Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) the company that owns Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) decided to change something called the OGL (Open Game License) … specifically OGL 1.0a. What OGL 1.0a allowed publishers/creators of RPG content to do was use the common rules of DnD (in this case 5th edition or 5e) and create and publish content for it, whether it was new games based on the 5e rules or settings and adventures based on the fantasy 5e game. WOTC did not ask for any money or royalties to be laid to them and it was essentially them being a kind of benevolent landlord allowing people to play in their backyard for free.*  

“…at its core, the OGL is valued so highly by tabletop RPG fans because it allows them to create content for the most-widely understood and played TTRPG ruleset in the world, without having to go through Wizards at all.”

As a result (according to the long time role players) DnD 5e became the most popular RPG game system in the world. If you're talking about RPGs, you usually meant DnD ... much in the way Warhammer 40K is the face of tabletop minis gaming today. As more and more people played RPGs (again, usually DnD) or games based on DnD 5e, everyone benefited. A rising tide lifts all boats as it were. 

Suddenly everything changed early this year when someone leaked a new version of the OGL and it was now OGL version 1.1 (later changed to OGL 2.0). In it a lot of the benevolent terms of OGL 1.0a were negated. However, it seems that (according to an FAQ put out by WOTC a day or so ago) works published under OGL 1.0a will remain covered by the terms of that license and will remain so.

HOWEVER, going forward, all new works based on DnD 5e published after the new OGL 2.0 (or whatever WOTC ends up calling it) is made official will have to be covered under that new license. 

So what's the big deal?

As I understand it, the major changes are:

1. WOTC can now ask for royalty payments if your sales as a publisher/creator of a work published under the new OGL 2.0 exceeds a certain threshold. Right now according to the "draft" OGL 2.0, it's US$750,000 and the royalty payment is a (revised) mere 20% of sales (not profit) on amounts exceeding that threshold. (This is if I've understood that part correctly).

That not necessarily an issue. WOTC own the DnD IP and if they wanna monetise it... so be it. WotC is a billion dollar company and they in turn are owned by multi-billion dollar conglomerate Hasbro. So yes. Money money money. They have shareholders who demand results so they have to produce the profits aka money from somewhere.

“The changes to the OGL come as parent company Hasbro is under pressure to increase revenue. The CEO of Hasbro recently described D&D as “under monetized” and expressed interest in creating “recurring spending” similar to what is seen in digital games.”


(Apparently creators who offer their works for free don't need to worry about this so they can continue creating to their heart's content but wait! Not all is rosy in the WOTC universe.)

It's the other provisions of the OGL that seems to have the entire RPG community in an uproar. What are they?

2. Whereas before WOTC has kept a "hands off" approach to materials published under OGL 1.0a, they now reserve the right to pull any materials they deem offensive, racist etc. 

The question is: who decides what is racist and offensive and what isn't? Different people have different levels of tolerance. What's OK to me may not be OK to you and we can all be adults about it and just determine for ourselves where our lines are drawn and not cross it for ourselves. 

3. They also reserve the right to terminate a licensee’s contract with them with a mere 30 days notice. (Something that was not in OGL 1.0a). And suddenly from the iron clad certainty of OGL 1.0a comes this Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of all creators. 

I may not have a problem with the materials I'm publishing... But what if someone (not everyone) at WOTC doesn't like it and takes offense? Will my material be pulled and my license terminated?

All I know is, if I were a creator, this would certainly cast a chill over me. 

But that's not the worst of it. The worst is yet to come:

4. So on the one hand WOTC has very clearly and explicitly stated that the creators unequivocally maintain ownership of their works. That's clear. 

But on the other hand they also have this little piece of legalese in the new OGL 2.0 license that... I'll just post a screenshot of it for all to see:

So if I read that correctly, while I retain ownership of any works (free or paid) I may create under OGL 2.0... WOTC actually have the right to take and monetise my work WITHOUT needing to ask for my permission, and WITHOUT needing to pay me any compensation for using my work?!

If that’s the intent of the new OGL 2.0, that's... beyond scuzzy. Note that none of these four points above exist in the current OGL 1.0a. It truly was a love gift to the RPG community and apparently allowed RPGs to flourish to where they are today. 

All I'll say is this : if I were a content creator, it will be a cold day in you-know-where before I allow anything I create to be abused this way. And I'm sure many other creators will feel the same. 

Now why am I even writing all this when I don't even play DnD? Somehow while DnD sparked my initial interest in RPGs, I've had no interest in actually playing the thing. 

What I'm playing is Blades in the Dark, that uses a system called Powered By The Apocalypse which owes absolutely zilch to the DnD game mechanics and rules. For starters it uses between 1-3 (maybe one or two more) d6 dice. And the mechanics are as far away from DnD as it can get. Whereas a typical DnD session might devote some time to the players discussing how they will approach a certain scenario, Blades just drops you right in to the middle of it: You need to steal a valuable document and you start in the room where the document is located and suddenly the door handle to the room turns!

The other RPG I'm playing is a very rules light one using something called the Tiny d6 system where you roll anywhere between 1-3 d6's (never more) and there's nary a stat block in sight. Just maybe 1 or 2 traits for your foes that can be summarised in 1 short sentence and 4-5 traits for yourself as a PC. And off you go! If you play the fantasy version, the adventures are very similar to DnD... and even the way you might play it is similar... But the mechanics are different. Where DnD might give you a target number to beat ("roll a 15+ on Dexterity to dodge the rock that giant just threw at you") Tiny d6 just asks you to roll 2d6. You get an extra die if you have a trait that gives you an advantage (a "Stealth" trait when you are trying to sneak past a sleeping dragon is especially useful) and a 5 or 6 is a success and you only need 1 success. Conversely if you're trying to sneak past some alert goblin guards and get into the mines of Moria and you DON'T have 'stealth' or the One Ring... You might be rolling at a disadvantage and that has you looking for a success on just 1d6. And that's it! Talk about rules light. 

But to get back to where I was about : why am I poking my nose into this entire brouhaha? 

It's because I've found the solo RPG community (on BGG) to be very welcoming and friendly and I just wanted to alert folks about this entire mess. Maybe if what you’ve read above outrages you as well, perhaps you can let WOTC know in no uncertain terms. (Although from what I’ve seen so far the only metric WOTC seem to be evaluating is the hit on their coffers).

Now, OGL 2.0 has not been officially issued by WOTC yet. OGL 1.0a is still in effect and WOTC will apparently give a 6 month grace period to all works being currently published when 2.0 does drop. So the terms contained in 2.0 may yet change. Or better yet, don't even issue it and let 1.0a stand as it is and maybe revise it to 1.0b which has the pertinent clause of "this license if only meant for published paper works and PDFs" meaning people can't take the DnD IP and make movies or video games or NFTs out of it which is the only redeeming feature of this entire exercise that I can see because even the original drafters of the OGL 1.0 didn't mean for it to cover those media. 

So... here’s the hashtag for you to help publicise the movement against OGL 2.0 because WOTC as a huge company and part of a publicly traded conglomerate will only pay attention when their wallets take a hit.


And here are some videos that clearly explain what's going on and some links if you prefer to read about it.

(BTW, Ryan Dancy is apparently one of the folks who drafted OGL 1.0 and he unequivocally states it was never meant to be revoked.)

*This is directly from the folks who originally drafted the OGL 1.0 and 1.0a.