Night of the Living Dead was an impressive testament to independent filmmaking. Made on a shoestring budget in 1968 using non-actors, the film’s rough edges and guerilla filmmaking contributed to the feeling that the audience was watching a zombie outbreak on the local news.
That film would end up making millions of dollars but due to an error from the distributor, the filmmakers wouldn’t see a dime. Evidently, when the distributor changed the name of the film from “Night of the Flesh Eaters” to “Night of the Living Dead”, they forgot to add a copyright statement. The lack of such a statement meant the film was classified as public domain. Thus the film was distributed without royalties. It would go on to make millions of dollars.
It wasn’t the first time that a creative was screwed over due to licensing issues and with the start of 2023, Wizards of the Coast has shown it certainly won’t be the last.
“They Sue Regularly”
Dungeons and Dragons was released in 1973 when Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published the very first edition from their new company, Tactical Studies Rules or TSR.
Dungeons and Dragon proved to be a massive hit which resulted in scores of imitators. TSR was quick to sue anybody and everybody. People joked that TSR meant “they sue regularly”.
TSR would later be purchased by Wizards of the Coast (WOTC). With the release of D&D’s third edition, WOTC called for a legal “ceasefire” by publishing the Open Gaming License. The license was modeled after the open-source GNU Public License (GPL) that was used by projects like Linux. The OGL defined what could be used and more importantly, what WOTC considered legally safe.
With the OGL in place, WOTC then released a core set of the D&D rules under the OGL. This was known as the Systems Reference Document (SRD). The SRD meant any writer or publisher could reference those core rules in their own content so long as their content was also published under the OGL. This resulted in a rich ecosystem that allowed the game to thrive.
When D&D switched licenses for their fourth edition, the community continued to use the OGL. This resulted in the game system called Pathfinder which was considered a better version of D&D.
With the fifth edition, D&D returned back to the OGL. 5e was an excellent system that gained widespread applause. It favored simplicity over “crunchy” stat-heavy mechanics. Shows like Critical Role showcased the game to a new generation of fans, exploding the game’s popularity.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.
At the end of 2022, WOTC released a simple blog post titled, “OGLs, SRDs, & One D&D”. It described some upcoming changes to the OGL. The post mentioned that the once simple OGL would now contain language about royalties, virtual tabletops (VTT), and platforms.
One of the biggest changes was the license aimed to “de-authorize” the previous version. That is, no new content would be allowed to be published using the OGL version 1.0a. It also defined an aggressive royalty structure as well as attempted to avoid the situation where companies like Paizo (the creator of Pathfinder) could use the OGL to create a competing product to D&D.
Like the creators of Night of the Living Dead, third-party publishers now faced losing all their hard work because of a slight change of language.
WOTC did walk back some of their language such as the royalty structure, but in doing so, they made clear their ultimate intentions. They no longer want to abide by the original OGL.
VTT creators have it worse when it comes to playing D&D online. With the new OGL, WOTC released a VTT policy that prevents a VTT from doing anything that can’t be accomplished at a real table. Things such as animation and line-of-sight calculations are now prohibited from using D&D content. Of course, if you require such features, you’ll need to use D&D’s official VTT which aims to be released in 2024.
On top of all this, websites, apps, or anything digital can only print static OGL content. Anything considered dynamic — such as searching and filtering — is prohibited. Six months ago, I could create a simple app to record my character progression. Now, I can’t.
The days of an open D&D are over.
A New Hope
The future isn’t so bleak. Paizo, in response to WOTC, indicated they would create their own license called the Open RPG Creative license or the ORC license. The ORC is meant to replace the OGL as well as be a perpetual and irrevocable license.
Paizo aims to fund the development of the license. This is an open development process with full buy-in from the community. Once it has been approved, Paizo intends to release it to a foundation so that no single company can control it. No one wants to repeat the OGL fiasco.
As a long-time D&D player, I can only say that the future of D&D is dim, but I don’t play D&D for the brand. I play it to tell collaborative stories with my friends and I can do that with any tabletop system. A lot of other players feel the same resulting in a huge influx of new Pathfinder players and other tabletop games.
So yes, the future of D&D may be waning, but the future tabletop gaming as a whole is shining brighter than it ever has been as former D&D players find new worlds to explore.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.