It looks like Dungeons & Dragons just performed a death roll. After weeks of backlash and protests from fans and content creators, Wizards of the Coast – the Hasbro publisher of Dungeons & Dragons – announced that it will now license the core mechanics of the tabletop roleplaying game under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International permit. This gives the community “a worldwide, royalty-free, non-sublicensable, non-exclusive, irrevocable license” to publish and sell works based on Dungeons & Dragons.
“Overall, we’re going here to give good faith creators the same freedom (or more, for the things in Creative Commons) to create TTRPG content that has been so great for everyone, while giving us the tools to make sure ensure the game becomes more inclusive and welcoming,” Kyle Brink, executive producer of Dungeons & Dragons, wrote in a blog post.
This is a huge change of heart for the gaming giant. Earlier this month, Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) sent a document containing a new open gaming license (OGL) to the creators of Dungeons & Dragons content, asking them to sign what they dubbed “OGL 1.1”. Some creators leaked the document in protest, revealing the predatory terms that would stifle the prolific fan community and cause some creators’ businesses to collapse. The now-withdrawn OGL 1.1 would require any Dungeons & Dragons creator making more than $50,000 to write reports to WoTC, and anyone making more than $750,000 to pay 25% royalties. While these numbers may seem high, these numbers refer to gross revenue, not revenue – and the Dungeons & Dragons third-party content industry is so large that the impact would be serious. Other creators were concerned about a clause in the contract that might allow WoTC to publish their work without credit or payment.
More than 77,000 creators and fans signed an open letter opposing these changes, with some going so far as to cancel their subscriptions to D&D Beyond, an online platform for the game. Finally, WoTC admitted that they “rolled a 1” – for those uninitiated in TTRPG parlance, that means they really, really screwed up.
“There is no royalty payment, no financial reporting, no license back, no registration, no distinction between commercial and non-commercial. Nothing will affect content you’ve already published under OGL 1.0a. That will always be licensed under OGL 1.0a. Your stuff is your stuff,” Brink wrote in today’s blog post. Later in the post, he reaffirms: “You own your content. You do not give Wizards back any license, and for property disputes you can sue for breach of contract and monetary damages.”
The design of the new OGL under Creative Commons — known as OGL 1.2 — is a major improvement over the last document. But some fans remain concerned about terms affecting virtual tabletops and works already licensed under the original OGL, which dates back to 2000. Virtual tabletop software (VTT) helps people play games like Dungeons & Dragons when they’re not in being the same room, and of course these products exploded during the pandemic. However, Dungeons & Dragons does not currently have its own VTT. As part of the new OGL, WoTC wrote a draft of a brand new VTT policy.
VTT policy allows developers to display content from the Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks. But WoTC is wary of content that “looks more like a video game” than a TTRPG.
“What’s not allowed are functions that don’t match storytelling at the dinner table,” the document says. “If you replace your fantasy with an animation of the Magic Missile blasting across the board to hit your target, or if you VTT integrate our content into an NFT, that’s not the table experience.”
As for content published under the original OGL, WoTC says that content already published will remain licensed, but the old license will be revoked in the future.
Tomorrow, WoTC will update the blog post with a link for fans to provide feedback – this poll will remain open until February 3rd. WoTC will then release another update within two weeks.
“The process takes as long as it takes. We will keep iterating and receiving your feedback until we get it right,” Brink wrote.
This is a promising first step for Dungeons & Dragons to regain the trust of its fans. But if you make a death roll, you must hit three times before your character can rejoin the fray. Hopefully WoTC leadership continues to roll good dice.