Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Most Important Changes In D&D’s OGL 1.2 “Playtest”

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The tabletop RPG world continues to roil with controversy as Wizards of the Coast works to quell fears surrounding a leaked draft of a new Open Gaming License, as well as now-debunked rumors surrounding changes to the D&D Beyond platform. As promised in a post by Kyle Brink, a draft of OGL 1.2 has been put out for the public to comment on. There’s a lot to unpack here, and a lot of the areas under discussion are in the weeds legalese that I’m not qualified to comment on and most likely won’t actually affect the vast majority of D&D players and DM’s. However, there’s still some important things to be aware of.

Core D&D Mechanics Will Enter Creative Commons

The marquee item in the new draft is the fact that parts of the SRD (System Reference Document) are being put under Creative Commons License. These are the parts of the SRD that cover the “core” mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons: Ability scores, armor and weapons, movement, saving throws, etc.

“The core D&D mechanics, which are located at pages 56-104, 254-260, and 358-359 of this System Reference Document 5.1 (but not the examples used on those pages), are licensed to you under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). This means that Wizards is not placing any
limitations at all on how you use that content”

OGL 1.2 Draft Introduction

Entering the Creative Commons License means that this content can be used by anyone with no limitations on the part of Wizards and with no threat of royalties being demanded by Wizards as the licensor. So you can use the core mechanics in a new game and, if you stick to the specific elements authorized under the new OGL, you won’t get any flak from D&D. It’s a big change and the most positive one in the new document. It shows at least some commitment to the idea that the core of D&D can be in anyone’s hands.

OGL 1.0 Will Be Deauthorized

The now twenty year old OGL is going to be deauthorized by the new OGL, which is important only in the sense that you will no doubt see it brought up by publishers and creators as a point of contention with the new OGL. There’s two big details to this change to keep in mind.

First, any content published under the old license is still fine. It won’t have to change to fit the new OGL, and anything currently being developed under 1.0 won’t face any issues. Second, 1.0 will be deauthorized to fit in with new standards for content going forward. They intend to restrict the publishing of “harmful, discriminatory, or illegal content” going forward and, since that language doesn’t exist in 1.0, there could be a loophole provided by the retention of the old license.

New Rule Leaves Content And Conduct Of Creators At Discretion Of Wizards

The new content rule in OGL is an important one for Wizards:

“You will not include content in Your Licensed Works that is harmful,
discriminatory, illegal, obscene, or harassing, or engage in conduct that is harmful, discriminatory, illegal, obscene, or harassing. We have the sole right to decide what conduct or content is hateful, and you covenant that you will not contest any such determination via any suit or other legal action”

OGL 1.2 Draft Section Six, Subsection F

The stated intention of the rule is to maintain a safe environment throughout the D&D ecosystem, ensuring an “inclusive, safe play experience for everyone.” The key here is that the rule has been left open-ended and broad. While in the short term there’s no real worry about them cracking down on anything not openly hateful, there are fears that the broad rule could be misapplied to censor content. There’s a strong chance this rule gets edited or elaborated on as the process moves forward.

Animations, NFT’s And Other “Non Tabletop” Elements Banned From Virtual Tabletops

The idea of a Virtual Tabletop (Role, Roll20, etc.) wasn’t a thing when the first OGL was written, so rules for use of D&D assets in those systems were also important to Wizards.Per the new OGL, the company wants a Virtual Tabletop (VTT) to “replicate the experience of sitting around the table playing D&D with your friends.” As such, Wizards is fine with animated dice rolling, automated number generation, and the use of SRD text in the tabletop.

What they’re putting a restriction on is content that feels more like a “video game,” with their example being the animation of a magic missile streaking from the caster to its target. You also can’t use Wizards visual content under the OGL, nor can you use any of the content in the creation of NFT’s. These changes won’t affect the current VTT’s much, you may see changes in those and new ones nonetheless in order to make sure they’re playing it safe.

The OGL Is Perpetual, Irrevocable, And Non-Exclusive

This is a minor thing but could be one of the more impactful. There’s no end date to this and it’s not a rule that’s going to get yanked out from under people at random. Creators don’t need to worry about being sued or shaken down for royalties because of any sort of future change. They also only made two areas open to change: citation and communication with Wizards, which were left open by Wizards in order to allow for potential changes to technology.

Overall, this is pretty complicated process and you’re going to hear plenty of opinions about it going forward. My advice is to give Wizards genuine feedback on these and other changes, and keep up with the changes that are posted going forward.

As this is an ongoing story, we will continue to monitor and provide updates as needed.

Let me iterate one more time. I am not a lawyer. I failed out of Pre-Law in undergrad. This is not going to be anything you can quote as legal advice or expertise on IP Law or anything. I’m only trying to break it down for easier understanding.

Images via Wizards of the Coast

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