Tabletop RPGs in 2023

First, let’s start by reviewing the issue with Wizards of the Coast changing the Open Game License for D&D. (Details here.) This is the bit that has everyone in an uproar:

We’re updating the OGL to offer different terms to creators who choose to make free, share-alike content and creators who want to sell their products.

What does this mean for you as a creator? If you’re making share-alike content, very little is going to change from what you’re already used to.

If you’re making commercial content, relatively little is going to change for most creators. For most of you who are selling custom content, here are the new things you’ll need to do:

Accept the license terms and let us know what you’re offering for sale
Report OGL-related revenue annually (if you make more than $50,000 in a year)
Include a Creator Product badge on your work

Lots of hand-wringing and doom-saying in the RPG community, including from video content creators that stream games for money, despite this from WotC:

For the fewer than 20 creators worldwide who make more than $750,000 in income in a year, we will add a royalty starting in 2024. So, even for the creators making significant money selling D&D supplements and games, no royalties will be due for 2023 and all revenue below $750,000 in future years will be royalty-free.

The reactions seem nutty to me, but as a player/DM not living off D&D, I have no stakes in the issue.

As for new stuff, I just got a copy of the excellent OZ: A Fantasy Role-Playing Setting hardback book by Andrew Kolb, who also created a similar book for Peter Pan’s Neverland.

I don’t know lawyer-talk, but are they saying they will pay the authors a royalty if they’re bringing in some big bucks? Or is Wizards going to earn a royalty from the big-buck authors?

Also, who is making three-quarters of a million bucks or more writing D&D supplements? Maybe Keith Baker with his unofficial-official Eberron stuff, or are they talking about little cottage industries like Monte Cook’s Monte Cook Games?

The latter. WotC wants to get paid!

As for who makes more than $750K a year from D&D, the big category would be streaming content creators, so Critical Role, for one.

Wow, so WOTC want to kill the golden goose? Content creators like Critical Role have been probably the best free advertising WOTC has ever had for D&D, and now they want to tax it? Honestly, greedy fuckers.

I don’t really begrudge Critical Role et al for the markets they have managed to carve out for themselves, compared, to say, other insta-tok influencers. At least they have enough money for their own lawyers to have a close look at these new WOTC terms. They also have a big enough following to potentially tell WOTC to fuck off and move to a different system.

I imagine whatever they’d pay in royalties is more than made up for by the D&D Beyond sponsorship. I think “playing D&D” is just too much a part of the Critical Role brand, even if it’s a spectator sport for the vast majority of their audience. I can’t see them dumping that in protest unless the royalty percentage cut is something onerous.

Critical Role was my example only because I can be sure most people have heard of them. In reality, I’m sure WotC would work out a sweetheart deal with them outside of the OGL. They’ve already worked together on official tie-in supplements.

At least, I’d hope WotC isn’t so dumb as to let Mercer walk to another RPG system.

What does this mean for Pathfinder, and Paizo?

Not much I wouldn’t think. I don’t think they use any stuff from D&D past 3.5ed.

Uh…

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.”

Paizo Inc., publisher of the Pathfinder RPG, one of D&D’s largest competitors, declined to comment on the changes for this article, stating that the rules update was a complicated and ongoing situation.

No, it sounds like it is going to effect them in some way. The update to the OGL 1.1 specifically states it is making OGL 1.0 unathorized, which likely means the free publishing aspect of it is dead.

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.

Literally every published Paizo work references OGL 1.0a as their license, which was free.

Go fuck yourself WOTC

Welp. Hahaha

It sounds like we are getting the most exciting battle out of this, a court battle.

I think the legality of ending a formerly universally opened license is… suspect.

They certainly can update the terms for OGL 1.1, but to say that retroactively anyone using OGL 1.0 is “unauthorized” is something.

Is there a clause in the 1.0 license that says “if we come out with a new license, this license automatically becomes that one?”

IANAL and I have no idea if such a thing is enforceable.

I think that is why Paizo has said no comment, and they are lawyering up.

All legal discussions around this are… muddy at best.

OGL 1.0a has strong language about the perpetual nature of the liscence.

OGL 1.1 uses some “fun” language to try and backtrack the perpetual nature of OGL 1.0a.

Love to see a company that grew so much by opening up their platform to a vast sea of excellent 3rd party content, and then decide after 23 years it was time to revoke that freedom.

Big >750K 5e Kickstarters are not uncommon. I’d be curious of what companies like MCDM (Matt Colville) think of giving WotC 20% off the top, and whether that’s even viable given the usual margins.

Now that I’ve had some time after work to go through the article, these are some interesting wrinkles:

The original OGL granted “perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive license” to the Open Game Content (commonly called the System Resource Document) and directed that licensees “may use any authorized version of this License to copy, modify and distribute any Open Game Content originally distributed under any version of this License.” But the updated OGL says that “this agreement is…an update to the previously available OGL 1.0(a), which is no longer an authorized license agreement.”

The new document clarifies further in the “Warranties” section that “this agreement governs Your use of the Licensed Content and, unless otherwise stated in this agreement, any prior agreements between Us and You are no longer in force.”

The updated license “only allows for creation of roleplaying games and supplements in printed media and static electronic file formats. It does not allow for anything else, including but not limited to things like videos, virtual tabletops or VTT campaigns, computer games, novels, apps, graphics novels, music, songs, dances, and pantomimes. You may engage in these activities only to the extent allowed under the Wizards of the Coast Fan Content Policy or separately agreed between You and Us.”

The updated OGL says that “no matter what Tier You are in or how much money You believe Your product will make, You must register with Us any new Licensed Work You intend to offer for sale… including a description of the Licensed Work. We’ll also ask for Your contact information, information on where You intend to publish the Licensed Work, and its price, among other things.”

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.”

Edit: I imagine the Kickstarter preference is so “revenue” data is easier for WotC to get for those kinds of projects.

If this comes out as-is, I imagine a whole lot of folks will be migrating to friendlier systems.

I think that legally, WOTC won’t have much recourse to do anything with systems and creators using the original OGL agreement.

You can’t create a document saying something is in effect in perpetuity, allowing hundreds of companies to use it and then use creative legalese to try and void that previous 20 year precedent. They didn’t have the plan to use the “authorized” language in this way 20 years ago, but it is a convenient out that some lawyer cooked up in 2022.

Backtracking on “perpetual, worldwide, [and] non-exclusive license.” is gonna be hard. I would expect the EFF to get heavily involved here.

You send this to a jury trial and boy is that hard to defend.

I would expect them to let the competition (that can lawyer up) go their own way, and they go theirs. Anyone making content for DND next will require use of OGL 1.1. Why waste that money fighting legacy OGL users in court? 5E brought everyone back to WOTC.

Oh hey, someone found the FAQ from a previous version of the OGL:

Q: Can’t Wizards of the Coast change the License in a way that I wouldn’t like?

A: Yes, it could. However, the License already defines what will happen to content that has been previously distributed using an earlier version, in Section 9. As a result, even if Wizards made a change you disagreed with, you could continue to use an earlier, acceptable version at your option. In other words, there’s no reason for Wizards to ever make a change that the community of people using the Open Gaming License would object to, because the community would just ignore the change anyway.

Yeah, they really can’t go back on what was a universally understood irrevocable agreement because someone saw the word authorized as an out now.

I mean, they can, but it will be really hard to defend in court.

Thanks for sharing, that makes their proposed change even more ridiculous.

This is one of those “leaked on purpose” documents to gauge what the community reaction will be right?

The most charitable guess I can make is that this really is a very early draft kicked around by moneymen before the actual folks that understand the community relationships got their eyes on it. Like the draft wound up heavily redlined and attached to a memo that started with, “You gotta be kidding!”

Because if this goes out anywhere near what the report says, they’re going to lose so much of the community.

I’m honestly pretty impressed by how the leaked docs basically compile all of the worst imaginings of the eternally angry shouty dude cohort of D&D Youtubers. Something something broken clocks.