Sleazy proposed new Dungeons and Dragons license seeks to poison open gaming systems

Brian sez,
Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro, is releasing a new license with the upcoming fourth edition of Dungeons of Dragons. Publishers can create compatible D&D products, but only if the companies no longer publish any games which are distributed via the Open Gaming License.

This would be like saying that developers could not run programs on Vista if they publish -any- programs under a GNU license. Keeping up with the D&D 4th edition "GSL" license situation might be important, because it could very well be a precedent.

Update: The license itself has not been released, but the linked article below contains links to message-board postings from senior Wizards of the Coast employees that seem to validate this view of the license.

Link (Thanks, Brian!)


  1. I am 34 soon and been dicking with D&D since the original blue and white box set I found awaiting me in the closet around 3rd grade. can go suck it. We don’t care about 4th edition or anything else..there’s enough content out there (90 percent of which isn’t needed by anyone with an imagination) to keep legions of gamers happy forever.

    The King is Dead but The Kingdom shall live on.

  2. My favorite bit about the tuffle over the GSL and OGL?

    The only thing that the OGL did was add a license to something that you already could legally do. The OGL license allowed someone to use the game system (but not copyrighted or trademarked stuff)to publish their stuff. Why? Because you can’t copyright game rules. OGL just made having to write the rules out easier since you could copy/paste from the SRDs.

    I’m waiting for someone to rewrite the rules, sans WotC properties, and release it CC. So long as the process is reworded and all copywrited and trademarked things are removed, you’re good to go.

  3. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Sure, it’s more restrictive than the original OGL, but it’s still better than nothing, which is what most other RPG companies offer.


    If you made a successful game based on the OGL, then all WotC is asking you to do is stand behind your work, or dump it if you want to ride their coattails. Why should 3rd party publishers get free support from Wizards in the form or co-opting all the R&D and risk without being asked to give something in return?

    Have the people that complain about WotC ever heard of Palladium Books? The guy that runs that company has been known to send nasty/lawyer letters to anyone that attempts to post some fan material online. Does White Wolf have any sort of license that allows use of their IP?

    If you don’t like the license, write your own material, license it however you want, and let it stand on its merits.

  4. It’s a rumour, guys, at least according to the original article.

    The GSL license has not yet been made public, but there are rumors, speculations, and concerns, fueled by online posts made by the brand manager and licensing manager for Dungeons and Dragons, and relayed by the lead writer of third-party publisher Necromancer Games that the GSL will contain a “poison pill” clause – that is, in order to use the GSL, a game company must not publish anything under the OGL.

    Not that it’s not alarming, but we probably shouldn’t be putting [Oil of Impact] on our [Pitchforks of IP-Abuse-Poking] just yet.

  5. @JWB

    The sad thing is they don’t have to worry about that. The RPG “industry” is so small that the one or two companies that might be able to take them to court (even then) make their own games and won’t be bothered by this shifty move.

    The real damage is being done to the smaller companies run by fans and hobbyists who have no hope of defending themselves against WotC/Hasbro’s lawyers. Even if WotC and Hasbro are in the wrong.

  6. Interesting about how the information from the actual WOTC people isn’t near as dire as what was reported third hand.

    There are a few threads over on WOTC’s boards ( discussing this as it was posted on /. and enworld with an effort to clear up what is actually being stated.

    The actual statements from WOTC people are here:

    The original links to enworld were posted in this thread and has some additional information clarifying how things may not be as dire as they are being misreported.

  7. An open-source, GPLed and well directed RPG would probably put them out of business. WOTC is just getting greedy.

  8. There’s no way that those terms would survive in a license agreement. That would constitute a clear restraint of trade.

    Just as Apple can’t tell me not to buy computers from Dell, WotC can’t tell me not to develop additional IP under any other license I choose.

  9. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Sure, it’s more restrictive than the original OGL, but it’s still better than nothing, which is what most other RPG companies offer.

    There’s a number of companies that allow people to publish content for their stuff pretty hassle free.

    d6 (which the old West End and far superior to WotC Star Wars game was based on) should going SRD soon as well, iirc.

  10. There already is an attempt to make an open-source D&D-derived game: OSRIC. It’s apparently based on 1st edition D&D (which, in this case, actually means 1st edition AD&D, not the little white or brown books).

  11. I, too, want to see this license before I get all hot n’ bothered. It occurs to me, though, that there may be a very simple way around it: games company FooGames agrees to comply by the GSL, produces GSL-licensed products for D&D4, and then turns around and creates a subsidiary BarRPG that then does as it pleases.

    I am not, however, a lawyer, so anyone who is can tell us whether or not this is a legal hack.


  12. Pretty woefully misinformed. The OGL was written and published by WotC!

    This is like any licensor offering a license under the condition that you not produce works under the old version. Publish 4.0-compatible books, not 3.0-compatible books.

    And, of course, this doesn’t stop any canny publisher from creating a separate, parallel company and thereby producing both kinds of work.

  13. Sadly, not surprising. I viewed their 3rd ed. license as a ploy to expand the popularity of the “D&D” brand, and this is the result.

    I haven’t played D&D since the 1st edition back in high school (via some friends). I prefer the SF Traveller RPG (which has its own issues). But I do have a fondness for D&D as the first RPG, so this bothers me a bit.

    If only Gary had known…

  14. This headline is loaded and the comparison drawn is (to my knowledge) very incorrect. I believe the actual rule is that you can’t publish, say, “Book of Super Awesome Dragons” for 3.5 and 4.0 at the same time. It has to be one or the other. It’s not that, say, Green Ronin can’t publish a book in the 4.0 ruleset just because they publish for other systems (like true20) as well. They just can’t publish the same material for both systems.

  15. I’m not sure of the impact of this any way. There are a lot of companies that are using such heavilly modified versions of the OGL as to be hardly identifiable as D20. A few companies have said flat out they aren’t going to 4E (Paizo for example, one of WOTC’s former staunch supporters). I think people have already picked their sides, I’d be surprised if there was a single lawsuit.

  16. Seriously, I ask this in as completely a non-combative tone of voice as possible — Mister Doctorow, did you even read the article you linked to?

    Just before the bit you quoted is a statement that this is all conjecture and rumor based on a single comment by a single executive, and in no way reflects an actual move on Hasbo/Wizards behalf. The writer follows it up with an inaccurate comparison to software publishing, which seems to have been the bit that really lit you on fire.

    You seem to have gone for an easy sensational headline, and incited some readers to shake with rage over… well, nothing at all, really.

  17. Wait until there are some facts before we start slamming it. This is all we officially know from Wizards at the moment:

    Wizards of the Coast is pleased to announce that third-party publishers will be allowed to publish products compatible with the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition game system under the new Dungeons & Dragons 4E Game System License (D&D 4E GSL). This royalty-free license will replace the former d20 System Trademark License (STL), and will have a System Reference Document (SRD) available for referencing permissible content.

    The D&D 4E GSL will allow third-party publishers to create roleplaying game products in fantasy settings with the D&D 4th Edition rules, and publishers who register with WotC will be granted the right to use a version of the D&D logo that denotes the product as compatible with the D&D 4th Edition Roleplaying Game, in accordance with WotC’s terms and conditions. The effective start date for sales of D&D 4E GSL publications will be October 1, 2008.

    The license associated SRD will be available on June 6, 2008, at no cost. A small group of publishers received advanced notice and will receive these documents prior to June 6, at no cost, in order to prepare for publication of compatible materials by the effective start date. If you haven’t already been contacted by WotC, you will be able to access the documents on the Wizards website beginning on June 6, 2008.

    Wizards is also working on the details of a second royalty-free license, the d20 Game System License (d20 GSL). This license will allow third-party publishers to create roleplaying game products in non-fantasy settings with the 4E rules. The exact details for the d20 GSL will be released as they become available.”

    That’s it.

    There are a ton of people who are simply anti-4th edition and will jump on any rumor or bit of speculation and run wild with it without backing it up.

    Wait until they actually suck before we call suck.

  18. I’ve looked at the comments from the WotC guys, and while there’s a little word-mincing, there’s a pretty clear indication that the intent is to poison the previous edition and the open license that went with it.

  19. Maybe, Cory, but it doesn’t seek to poison “open gaming systems“, plural. Both the title and the quote make it seem as if WotC’s trying to prevent people from publishing work based on licenses that WotC doesn’t own, which isn’t the case.

    This post is inflammatory and misleading, and frankly, I expect better of both you and this site.

  20. So far, the exec releasing the rumor known to be working with Wizards has reportedly been told the no double OGL/GSL provision will likely be a company-wide blackout by Wizards themselves.

    Furthermore, the OGL is a GPL-like license. Wizards does not have claim to the legal text of the OGL anymore even if it could be argued that it was copyrightable; they released ownership to a non-profit foundation. So I can publish under the OGL without giving up title to the game to Wizards. So if I start from a non-d20 base, or have a game so substantially modified that for all intents and purposes it’s not anywhere close to WotC’s implementation, it is my system and no one else’s.

    Thus, I’m fairly sure that it is a poison pill clause, as there are non-WotC derived systems licensed under the OGL, (Spirit of the Century, for example, uses the open source FUDGE ruleset as a base, which is sort of based off of d6s and pool mechanics)and as Wizards does not own those games, to say that companies cannot publish material for SotC while at the same time publishing for 4th ed. sounds pretty anti-competitive, as they’re the biggest fish in the hobby games pond by an order of magnitude at least, with the exception of White Wolf/CCP.

  21. -Mshea-
    There are factual errors in Cory’s post. That said, according to some strong comments from the brand manager, the new license in its current manifestation is pretty sleazy.

  22. -cory-
    If the view you are talking abut is the sleaziness of the license, I agree with you 100%. But the interpretation in the post is way off base. According to the posts you reference, you will still be free to publish OGl and GSL material, just not the same material in OGL and GSL editions. If I wanted to publish a 3.5 Steampunk Espionage game called “Clockwork Spies” and a 4.0 Romantic Fantasy game called “Telepathic Comapnion Animals That Make my Unbearable Teenage Life Magically Perfect” that would be fine by the contents of that thread. If CS failed, and I decided that TCATMUTLMP was the way to go, I would not be able to release a 3.5 edition of the rules to try to get my 3.5 Steampunk fans to turn over a new leaf.

  23. Oh gods, I screwed up. There are factual errors in the post that Cory quotes. I am sorry for my lazy wording.

  24. For all I know they may end up screwing this up. I just think its early to call foul.

    I read through the posts of the senior WOTC guys and I’m not seeing a clear distinction that a company can’t produce both old and new content.

    Again, I can be wrong, but I would rather wait for a real statement on the clearly hot issue than assume.

  25. After reading some of the links I can take a couple of guesses as to what is going on.

    The intent is probably really to poison the previous edition, but I do not see any indication that the new license is any more restrictive than the old license.

    The comments are almost certainly a response to Paizo’s Pathfinder game, which is basically a remixed D&D 3.5 that Paizo is launching in beta with some fanfare, and promising to support and run their own products.

    The comparisons with open source and GPL are not entirely correct because derived products in the RPG world are rarely available for free download. It is as if Wizards created D&D 3.5, and Paizo is trying to take on the job and profits of maintaining and extending 3.5.

    This will cut into sales of 4.0, so Wizards doesn’t want to allow that. It would split D&D into two camps with differing products and fanbases.

  26. Well as long I know most companies that were creating d20 OGL products are changing some basic characteristics in the system to make it stand alone and be free from the recurrent changes in the OGL that every year WoTC do.

    Paizo, the formers publishers of Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine,have reshaped it enough and are releasing now a free beta of their own system: Pathfinder RPG. It´s easier to learn to latter editions players and have enough changes in the classes to make it look and feel new.

  27. Mordion
    Just as soon as I get to work on it. That means you should see TCATUMTLMP any day now. I think the field has a persistent need for more games of this type.
    (If you are actually looking for a Romantic Fantasy setting, I hear that Blue Rose is supposed to be good, and since it cites Mercedes Lackey, I suspect that there are rules for telepathic companion animals that make the characters unbearable teenage lives magically better. No guarantee as I’ve not read the book.

  28. @3 (and others)

    I’m curious, if you feel like spending your time explaining stuff to someone too lazy to look it up, what parts of the rules are copyrightable? Feat names? Spell names? Deity names? The specific wording of feat/spell descriptions?

  29. Oh, disclosure: I like most of Mercedes Lackey’s writing; her magical talking horsies only annoy me a little. I’m talking less about her work and more about what her fans do when they create things in her work. While there are a lot of GMs out there who can tell a story with verve, skill, and originality, there are even more who run games that are like very bad fan fic. There is something awesome about role playing. It can often elevate very bad fan fic to the level of an evening’s worth of great fun for the participants.

  30. Roninkakuhito, If you’re doing pre-orders, I’m standing by with my credit card ready.

    Seriously though, I’m happy with my generic fantasy settings, but that title was just too good. And as far as disclosure, I must admit I’ve never heard of Mercedes Lackey.

  31. Mordion
    IANAL, but the mechanics can not be copyrighted. Beyond that, a lot of terms are generic or descriptive, so they wouldn’t lend the plaintiff any support in a copyright case.

    Fluff and flavor text, the specific presentation of the rules, pieces that come out of a company’s IP (notice the SRD genericizes all of the Bigby’s and other spells)

    Here’s a nice rundown of the issue:

  32. Sadly, Ronin Labs is not at this time able to take credit cards. Our accounting system is currently configured to handle exchange in Gunsmith Cats Watches and bottle caps. Unfortunately our software guy is in the middle of a bender somewhere in South America. He’s been gone since 1999 when our startup crashed and burned. Still trying to figure out why that one collapsed. It was a glorious couple of weeks.

  33. I’d recommend Earthdawn as an alternative to D&D. It’s under copyright, but a couple of companies are making products for it (Red Brick in New Zealand and Living Room Games). IMO, the Earthdawn setting and mechanics are excellent. More nerds should know about it :-).

  34. Ok, take a deep breath, everybody, because things have gotten confused.

    This has nothing to do with the OGL (which is the GNU-like license).

    This has to do with trademarks. Game developers are allowed to use the Wizards-owned d20 trademark to signify that their product uses stuff derived from the 3.x Player’s Handbook, etc.

    The new license does not allow anyone to still manufacture d20 trademarked stuff while using the D&D4 STL – in other words, you are only allowed to use either one of Wizards licenses at a time.

    You can still make and sell OGL games while producing stuff under the D&D4 STL – in fact, you can still sell your old d20 stuff, as long as you remove the d20 trademark.

  35. No – don’t be decieved, that statement does NOT cover the issue at hand. You have to carefully read what he says and what he doesn’t say.

    Sure, he says the OGL is irrevocable. Of course it is, that’s never been in doubt. The question is whether the licensing terms of their new GSL will “poison pill” companies from producing OGL as well – not with the same product, but at all.

    The GSL/OGL per company poison pill clause was explicitly communicated to a game company owner (and lawyer) by WotC in a phone call specifically on the subject. It’s not “rumor”, it’s just not publicly confirmed or denied by Wizards – and that includes this interview. Note that Rouse immediately departs from any discussion of the OGL to discussion of the d20 STL. Nothing he says, if you’re fluent in corporate weasel-speak, says “We won’t require GSL licensees to stop producing OGL games.” He says that a company could keep producing OGL games – but later, they’ll say “well, of course you can *choose* to do that, you just have to *choose* to forgo any D&D 4e publishing.”

    If you are actually concerned about this issue, it’s best to read up on the specifics –

  36. Another thing to realize is that the GSL is revocable at any time at Wizards’ choice. The OGL is not. So unlike the OGL, Wizards can have their cake and eat it too; if they think that some upstart’s doing too well, they can call off the thing and force them to pay such high licensing fees in order to keep going with production that they basically force the new guy either out of business or to sell to Wizards.

    So it’s not really as open as the OGL is at all; it’s just saying “we won’t sue you… unless it looks like it’s good for our bottom line.” The OGL is revocable and says “we won’t sue you for using this material, and from now on, we never can.” That is a big difference there.

  37. I’m not particularly concerned about the OGL issue, altho I tend to agree with those above who are sceptical of WotC’s motives. As a buyer of rpg products and a downloader of free rpg material the thing that really annoys me is the tendency among larger companies to regurgitate glossier but more content-free versions of old product rather than investing in new ideas. Why the hell does anyone need a 4th edition of any game? Why are gamers given so little to choose from except expensive new editions of books they already own? Why do the game companies pretend that every gamer is a new gamer who doesn’t already own previous edition versions?
    Make more new campaign settings and genuinely new product content for a change rather than using copyright and licensing to intimidate those who prefer older editions!!

  38. Meanwhile, WotC’s still on info-lockdown mode on this. The Wizards managers who previously spoke on the subject, Scott and Linae, aren’t posting, and the promised clarification from Wizards was set for last Monday, then last week, now “Maybe this week – maybe not” according to a WotC community liasion.

    Three main logical options exist, none of them good.

    1. They’re stalling so that when they fess up to trying to kill off the OGL it’s after all the distributor orders and customer preorders for 4e ship, and ideally after all the people see it in stores and buy it (release date is June 6, only a month away).

    2. They are seeing the error of their ways and are quickly trying to get the license revamped internally. They aren’t saying that, but we can hope.

    3. They are so arrogant that they don’t think their customers or the third party publishers (who they stonewalled all last week at GAMA, the big game publisher’s conference in Vegas) deserve an answer. I would hope not, but it’s not like many big businesses don’t work this way still today.

    None of these are great – #3 is the only option in which they weren’t trying to poison the OGL – but #2 is a hopeful option at least.

  39. This just in from the D&D FAQ:

    Q. Do I have to give up my right to publish 3.5 OGL products in order to publish 4e compatible products?
    A. No. Publishers are free to print product lines under either the OGL or 4E GSL. We would love to see our industry colleagues convert their entire product offerings to 4E, as we are doing, but we do not expect or require entire companies to convert to the new edition.

  40. mshea speaks the truth; check out Wizards’ most recent News update for the whole scoop. Cory, you definitely need to update this post.

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