by Bryce Benson
Dungeons and Dragons, owned by publisher Wizards of the Coast, has long been the most popular tabletop role-playing game. Succinctly described, it is a way for people to tell stories by rolling dice. Dungeons and Dragons is home to a passionate community that was able to thrive thanks to the Open Games License, a public copyright license written by Wizards of the Coast to let the community create and publish Dungeons and Dragons content using official rules terms and a limited amount of copyrighted text without royalty licensing agreements. Under the license, live-play Dungeons and Dragons shows like Critical Role and offshoot role-playing systems like Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder have thrived independently. Even publishers as big as Disney currently use the license for the video game series Knights of the Old Republic that they inherited from Lucasfilm Licensing. The Open Gaming License has been vital for keeping the game active since its third edition, but especially since the latest edition came out in 2014.
In 2022, Wizards of the Coast announced that, after nearly a decade, they would be making a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons under the playtest title “OneDnD”; combined with the fact that a Dungeons and Dragons movie was on the horizon, the excitement surrounding Dungeons and Dragons was at an all-time high. All of that changed in January of 2023 when Wizards of the Coast, to accompany the new edition, sent a new OGL - “Version 1.1” - to content creators, who subsequently leaked it to the public. Some changes that were made included:
Giving Wizards of the Coast an irrevocable royalty-free license to any content created, allowing them to sell your content freely without licensed permission or royalties.
Any company using the OGL to make $750,000 a year or more would have to give 25% of all profits to WotC.
The revocation of original OGL. They would then give creators a one-week deadline to sign the new OGL before their contracts were terminated..
Complete control to veto any content, and waiving the ability to use any legal action against Wizards of the Coast. This gives them legal power to take away the livelihoods of people who speak out against WotC.
Wizards of the Coast could change the contract at any time and the community would have to accept it. All they need to do is give a 30-day notice.
Outrage began to permeate the Dungeons and Dragons community. A contract as restrictive as the new OGL, combined with such a short time limit to agree to it or have your livelihood taken away, seemed a cartoonishly evil thing to do. In response to this, the Dungeons and Dragons community united to prevent Wizards of the Coast from publishing the new license. Dungeons and Dragons social media influencers used their voice to spread awareness on the issue. The hashtag #OPENDND trended several times across social media platforms, resulting in mass press backlash towards Wizards of the Coast.
The new OGL was forged solely by corporate greed, trying to squeeze more money out of the community. Fans of Dungeons and Dragons began to believe that Wizards of the Coast would not pay attention to the backlash if there was no financial incentive. A mass movement started for people to cancel the official Dungeons and Dragons subscription service, DnDBeyond. This protest reportedly caused Wizards of the Coast to lose out on $119,000 in subscription fees per month.
On January 13th, Wizards of the Coast released an official statement on the OGL situation. They stated that the OGL solely exists for the benefit of the fans of the games. They also claimed that the OGL version being circulated was only a draft and that in their next OGL version, they will strive to support the community and only focus on tabletop role-playing games. However, there were still problems with this statement. It’s difficult to claim something is merely a draft when it was being sent to publishers. Also, the backlash wasn’t because non-tabletop role-playing products were at risk, it was because of how Wizards of the Coast would gain total control over independent publishers’ content.
Wizards of the Coast finally admitted defeat on January 27th with a tweet stating that they would leave the original OGL untouched. It’s an incredible feat that the Dungeons and Dragons community was able to unite and prevent corporate greed from ruining a beloved game. But what does this mean for the future of DnD?
Though Wizards of the Coast eventually backed down, the trust built between the community and publisher over decades has been broken. Knowing that Wizards of the Coast was and is still willing to ruin people’s livelihoods just so they can make more money has severely damaged their reputation. Wizards of the Coast has been reaching out to content creators and is beginning to make amends, but it will be a long road to rebuild the bridges they burned.
If there’s any positive to the situation, it’s that during this time, interest in Dungeons and Dragons alternatives have gained massive popularity. The most popular alternative system is Pathfinder 2E, Paizo’s system published under the original OGL. In response to the new OGL, they created an alternative called the Open RPG Creative License, or ORC for short. Kobold Press, a company that made Dungeons and Dragons supplements, announced their own tabletop role-playing game, nicknamed project Black Flag. Smaller table top role playing games have been given more attention thanks to the controversy as well. Wizards of the Coast finally exposed the extent to which they had a monopoly on the market, and the fans responded by decentralizing their consumption.
Thanks to a passionate community, Wizards of the Coast was forced to revoke the changes that they would have made to their copyright license, which would have ruined thousands of livelihoods. It’s inspiring to see people actively working to save the hobby that they love.