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The Dungeons and Dragons fan space is on fire

The owners of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), the best-selling tabletop RPG (TTRPG) of all time, have become the subject of a firestorm of criticism, cancelled subscriptions, general anger, and calls for the boycotting of their products. The PR backlash began after leaked documents showed that Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) intended to invalidate a document called the Open Gaming License (OGL) 1.0.

The OGL 1.0, which was first released in 2000, allowed other entities, including WOTC’s competitors, to use some of WOTC’s intellectual property (IP) in their own works, without owing anything to WOTC for doing so, and without requiring additional permission from WOTC. Whilst the terms of the OGL 1.0 are exceptionally generous, there was a business case for its release – one of the aims of the license was to position D&D as the default rules system of the TTRPG sector with the hope that this would pull players to use D&D itself over time.

The licence has become a foundational part of the TTRPG sector over the last 20 years and is widely used by third-party products all across the sector. The license also led directly to the creation and/or growth of a number of direct competitors to D&D, most notably Paizo, the creators of Pathfinder.

It was generally understood that the original OGL was irrevocable, as it promised a “perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license.” Various statements made at the time, by designers and by WOTC themselves, backed the idea that the OGL was irrevocable. However, in a move likely to cause chaos amongst third-party creators, the new OGL seeks to invalidate the original OGL by declaring it to no longer be an ‘authorised’ version; there appears to be considerable doubt as to the legality of such a move.

OGL 1.1, which was recently leaked to Gizmodo, is a stark departure from the terms of the OGL 1.0. Whilst there are a number of changes which have caused outrage the two most immediately noteworthy changes relate to royalties and the licensing of IP in works using the OGL.

The new OGL will require companies to pay WOTC royalties of 20-25% on any revenue, generated by material using the OGL, over €750,000. Section VI.C.ii of the OGL allows WOTC to charge a monthly interest rate of 1.5% per month on any royalties not paid to them promptly. It should be noted that OGL 1.1 contains a clause allowing it to be amended, for any reason, with 30 days’ notice, and so those figures may move at WOTC’s pleasure. The new OGL also expands the definition of commercial revenue to include monies raised through Patreon and Kickstarter.

Most of the conversation online has focused on this financial aspect of the OGL, and certainly a 20-25% hit to gross revenue is nothing to sneeze at, but the potentially more impactful sections of the new OGL are Section  X.A and Section X.B. These sections cover the IP of companies using the OGL.

Section X.A says that WOTC can create IP which is “substancially similar” to anything created in a work which used the OGL, and Section X.B says that WOTC has a “nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, royalty-free license” to make use of any new content created in a work using the OGL.

This means that any IP created by a third party in a work which uses the OGL can be fully exploited by WOTC. The creator will technically retain legal ownership of the IP, but that would seem to be largely meaningless given that WOTC can make full commercial use of the IP without paying anything for the right and will have no need to seek your permission to do whatever they want with it. These clauses, even disregarding the other difficult clauses of the license, create a situation in which any third-party, which agreed to this new license, would find itself entirely at the mercy of WOTC.

It’s unclear why the OGL is being updated as this time, but the move came shortly after it was reported by Dicebreaker that Cynthia Williams, the CEO of WOTC, had told investors that the D&D brand “is really under monetised.”

We reached out to Hasbro for comment, but have yet to receive a response. You can read the full OGL 1.1 document HERE.

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