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D&D won’t change the OGL, handing fans and third-party publishers a massive victory

Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast place the game under Creative Commons

A party of adventurers poses for a... a painting?... next to their freshly captured red dragon. Image: Kieran Yanner/Wizards of the Coast
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast will abandon attempts to alter the Open Gaming License (OGL). The announcement, made Friday, comes after weeks of virulent anger from fans and third-party publishers caused the story to make international headlines — and on the eve of a high-profile movie starring Chris Pine.

The OGL was developed and refined in the lead-up to D&D’s 3rd edition, and a version of it has been in place for more than 20 years. It provides a legal framework by which people have been able to build their own tabletop RPGs alongside the Hasbro-owned brand. It has also buoyed the entire role-playing game industry, giving rise to popular products from Paizo, Kobold Press, and many individual creators. But proposed changes to the OGL, leaked to and first reported on by io9 on Jan. 5, seemed like they would create an adversarial relationship between Wizards and its community. The story has since made headlines around the world — including a nearly 10-minute segment this week on NPR’s All Things Considered and lengthy write-ups by organizations such as CNBC.

On Jan. 19, D&D’s new executive producer, Kyle Brink, issued a full-throated apology, a sharp contrast to the petulant response published in an unsigned post earlier this month. Brink also released a new, new OGL — dubbed OGL 1.2 — and a request for fan feedback. The feedback window was expected to close on Feb. 3, with rounds of revisions to follow. It appears that whatever feedback Wizards received in the last few days — from “more than 15,000” fans — was enough to short-circuit that process.

“When you give us playtest feedback, we take it seriously,” Brink wrote on Friday.

Going forward, the OGL 1.0a — the existing OGL that Wizards had sought to revoke — will not be changed. But the publisher is going even further, by making D&D more explicitly open than ever before. The Systems Reference Document — literally a subsection of the published rules and lore of D&D — will be moved to a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that, by its own description, “helps overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity to address the world’s most pressing challenges.”

“This Creative Commons license makes the content freely available for any use,” Brinks said. “We don’t control that license and cannot alter or revoke it. It’s open and irrevocable in a way that doesn’t require you to take our word for it. And its openness means there’s no need for a VTT policy. Placing the SRD under a Creative Commons license is a one-way door. There’s no going back.”

Unfortunately, the damage may already be done. People have taken to social media behind the #OpenDnD hashtag, with many publicly committing to no longer supporting what was once considered the world’s most popular tabletop role-playing game. Other publishers have also stepped forward, including a coalition of developers in Europe and others in the United States.

The sudden distaste for the brand may have a noticeable impact on the success of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, the movie starring Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez. The film — a major initiative for Hasbro’s eOne subsidiary, and a feather in the cap of CEO Chris Cocks — is due out in theaters on March 31.

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