Lots of chatter this past week about the potential impact of Wizards of the Coast (WotC) releasing a new version of the Open Game License (OGL). If reports are to be believed, then the publishing and fan-support world of Dungeons & Dragons has many changes in store. But what about me? I play Traveller or The Expanse or ALIEN or Twilight: 2000 or Blade Runner or, well most anything except D&D. This is a D&D problem, right?
As best I can tell, the answer is, “Maybe.”
OGL governs everything…
Looking over my collection of tabletop role-playing games, I first looked to see which ones are, or are not, governed by the current version of the OGL (aka OPEN GAME LICENSE v1.0a). I looked for games that have the OGL v1.0a in the product. Here is what I discovered:
- Code Warriors (Nerdburger Games, 2022) // Unnamed System // NO OGL
- Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game (Free League, 2022) // Year-Zero Engine Derivative // NO OGL
- War Stories Free Quickstart (Firelock Games, 2022) // Year-Zero Engine // USES OGL
- Cepheus Deluxe (Stallagama Publishing, 2021) // Cepheus Engine // USES OGL
- Five Parsecs from Home (Modiphius, 2021) // Unnamed System // NO OGL
- Twilight: 2000 4th Edition (Free League Publishing, 2021) // Year-Zero Engine Derivative // NO OGL
- ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game (Free League, 2020) //Year-Zero Engine Derivative // NO OGL
- Cortex Prime (Fandom, 2020) // Cortex Prime // NO OGL
- The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin, 2019) // Adventure Game Engine (AGE) // NO OGL
- Genesys (Fantasy Flight Games, 2017) // Genesys // NO OGL
- The Clement Sector Core Rulebook (Independence Games, 2016) // Cepheus Engine // USES OGL
- Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition (Mongoose Publishing 2016) // MgT // NO OGL
- Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Force & Destiny (Fantasy Flight Games, 2015) // Genesys // NO OGL
- Atomic Robo (Evil Hat Productions, 2014) // FATE // NO OGL
- Traveller 5 (Far Future Enterprises, 2014) // Traveller 5 // NO OGL
- FATE Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions, 2013) // FATE Accelerated // NO OGL
- A Song of Fire & Ice (Green Ronin, 2012) // Chronicle// NO OGL
- Doctor Who 11 (Cubicle 7, 2012 // Doctor Who // NO OGL
- Diaspora (VSCA, 2009) // FATE 3.0 // USES OGL
I thought the OGL was ubiquitous?
Apparently not! I mean, I always knew the OGL was not used by every game system, but my review highlighted to me how few actually use it. Well, sorta.
Year-Zero Engine: Free League’s Year-Zero Engine System Reference Document (SRD) is covered by OGL v1.0a (see here) but apparently the various implementations, especially in works related to licensed Intellectual Property (IP), are not covered. That said, it appears Free League prefers third-party publishers (like Firelock Games above) be governed by OGL v1.0a.
Twilight: 2000 4th Edition: While the setting is licensed, the game system is from Free League and this version is not declared Open Content.
FATE: Interestingly, Evil Hat Productions makes FATE available under two different licenses: OGL v1.0a or Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).
Mongoose Traveller: I was fully aware of the issues surrounding the publishing of Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition in 2016 where the game was declared No Open Content and therefore not subject to the OGL. I talked here about the impact that had on the Traveller RPG world and the subsequent rise of Cepheus Engine.
Save my Cepheus Engine?
Which brings me to Cepheus Engine (CE). Before Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition (MgT2e) players of Traveller had enjoyed being able to create products based not only on the rules of Traveller (found in the most basic distillation as the 1970’s 2d6 RETRO RULES from Zozer Games) but also the Third Imperium setting. MgT2e was a very explicit and deliberate attempt to make any material related to the Third Imperium setting exclusive to Mongoose (though you could join their content creation community, TAS, subject to their rules on controlling your IP). This sounds very much like WotC is trying to do…control use of their IP through more restrictions and access on yours. The difference between Mongoose Publishing in 2016 and WotC today is that WotC apparently wants to make the original OGL an “unauthorized” agreement which means not only their proprietary setting is off limits, but so are the game system rules. Here is the relevant section from the io9 article:
One of the biggest changes to the document is that it updates the previously available OGL 1.0 to state it is “no longer an authorized license agreement.” By ending the original OGL, many licensed publishers will have to completely overhaul their products and distribution in order to comply with the updated rules. Large publishers who focus almost exclusively on products based on the original OGL, including Paizo, Kobold Press, and Green Ronin, will be under pressure to update their business model incredibly fast.
This is no mistake. According to the document procured by io9, the new agreements states that “the Open Game License was always intended to allow the community to help grow D&D and expand it creatively. It wasn’t intended to subsidize major competitors, especially now that PDF is by far the most common form of distribution.”
This sentiment is reiterated later in the document: The “OGL wasn’t intended to fund major competitors and it wasn’t intended to allow people to make D&D apps, videos, or anything other than printed (or printable) materials for use while gaming. We are updating the OGL in part to make that very clear.”“Dungeons & Dragons’ New License Tightens Its Grip on Competition,” gizmodo.com, Jan 5, 2022
What are the impact of these changes? I mean, it specifically calls out D&D, not any other RPG, right. RIGHT?
According to attorneys consulted for this article, the new language may indicate that Wizards of the Coast is rendering any future use of the original OGL void, and asserting that if anyone wants to continue to use Open Game Content of any kind, they will need to abide by the terms of the updated OGL, which is a far more restrictive agreement than the original OGL.gizmodo.com
More dangerous to me is how the new OGL apparently gives WotC your IP; not unlike what Mongoose Publishing did with MgT2e:
WotC also gets the right to use any content that licensees create, whether commercial or non-commercial. Although this is couched in language to protect Wizards’ products from infringing on creators’ copyright, the document states that for any content created under the updated OGL, regardless of whether or not it is owned by the creator, Wizards will have a “nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, royalty-free license to use that content for any purpose.”gizmodo.com
Which makes any RPG that uses OGL v1.0a a victim, D&D or not. That includes Cepheus Engine.
It may sound like all Samardan Press or Stellagama Publishing or Independence Games or Zozer Games or Moon Toad Publishing or Zhodani Base or Frellance Traveller or any other publisher (big or small, for profit or not) need to do is get a new System Reference Document licensed (using CC-BY like FATE?) from Marc Miller…and Mongoose Publishing. I don’t think it’s going to be that easy, if for no other reason than Mongoose has already demonstrated a very WotC-like desire to control the IP in their favor.
There are some voices in the wilderness who think the “leak” of OGL v1.1 was a deliberate act by WotC to judge public reaction before it formally drops. A part of me wonders if WotC is so bore-sighted on protecting D&D that they “forgot” that the OGL covers more than just D&D. Supposedly, the new OGL drops this coming week. I guess we will find out sooner than later what the future of Cepheus Engine is…
Feature image courtesy Stellagama Publishing