Reviewing the Rumor
The following was originally posted on social media, but I’m recording it here because who knows how long a certain site will be usable . . .
I was skeptical about the 1.1 document until the Kickstarter semi-confirmation came, but I just sat down and read it today, and I’m more upset now, not because there were things I didn’t know about, but because of how it was expressed. One thing that adds credence to this document is that some of the language is very similar to
what was published in the D&D Beyond article about this. Just with a lot more . . .
The pervasively annoying thing done throughout the document is regressing to “gamers talking to gamers” language, after slamming you with hard legal language about royalties and revoked licenses. There is a joke about how if you design something for your brother so they do your chores counts as using the commercial license. They refer to you entering a higher tier of paying royalties as leveling up. An example crowdfunding project is run by Bruenor Battleaxe.
Part of my problem with this document as a whole is that it adds the “non-commercial use” license into the same document as the “commercial use” license, and kind of frames everyone using either as hobbyists. It’s also pretty transparent that the 25% royalties tier exists to scare companies making a lot of money into cutting their own customized deals, as it mentions that as an option a few times.
One of the assertions in the document is that loopholes and contradictory clauses “slipped in” to the OGL “over time,” giving the impression of a living document that has become too unwieldy, instead of one that was painfully clear on what it was doing.
The biggest problem with this framing is that the only major change to the OGL was to add the 5e SRD to it. Nothing “slipped in,” it said what it was drafted to say. There is a section that contends that nobody at the time of the OGL could have known that PDFs would be a major way to produce RPG material, and no one at all would have
conceived of non-physical ways of referencing rules content.
The Mysterious Future
There are some problems with this interpretation of what people did and didn’t assume would be possible, regarding the presentation of game rules. TSR sold a CD-ROM version of their game rules for AD&D 2nd edition.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons CD-ROM Core Rules
The 3rd edition Players Handbook, the Players Handbook being developed at the same time as the OGL, included a CD for generating player characters. While PDFs may not have been used for game rules until a while later, they have existed since 1993.
Fantasy Grounds has been around since 2004. It’s funny, because the 1.1 document spends more time trying to make the case that no one would picture the existence of websites to display rules or Virtual Table Tops than it did that video games were intended under the OGL.
This is also a bit ironic, considering designers from WotC once lamented that Lucasfilm was short-sighted for claiming that PDFs were “electronic games” that needed to be covered by another license.
But despite arguing that PDFs blindsided them, only print, PDF, and ePubs can be made with the new OGL. The future ends now.
A Community of None
One thing I’ve not seen anyone else mention is that according to this document, there is no way to designate your own material as open-game content, meaning that you can only ever make SRD + Your Personal Creations.
If you want to talk about the intent of the original OGL, it was certainly that creators could share work that they produced with one another via the OGL. They don’t call it out, but it’s a stealth revision that’s pretty significant.
They mention that they can revoke your license if you impune their reputation, however, they also say you can criticize WotC. The problem is, where is that line? Can you say that an adventure is a mess and unplayable, but not say, for example, that some content in the book is harmful to marginalized communities? Is that too far, or does that still
count as criticism, and not damaging their reputation?
The “non-commercial license” gives WotC the exact same rights over your material that the commercial license gives, which you own your material, but they can use it whenever they like. The non-commercial license also says that you automatically agree to it if you produce something that falls within its purview. So if someone ever finds that Google doc with your alternate encumbrance rules after 2024, you agreed to this.
There is a line in this where they assert that if they never exercised their rights even when they could have, they still have the right to do so in the future, which I feel like is trying to put a bandaid on 22 years of the OGL being commonly understood and un-revokable.
Additionally, You waive any right to sue over Our decision on these issues. We’re aware that, if We somehow stretch Our decision of what is or is not objectionable under these clauses too far, We will receive community pushback and bad PR, and We’re more than open to being convinced that We made a wrong decision. But nobody gets to use the threat of a lawsuit as part of an attempt to convince Us.
I had to add this as a direct quote, because I can’t fully express how bad this sounds. I’m pretty sure you can’t pre-declare that your mistakes are immune to lawsuits.
I know some people mentioned that this document didn’t sound like a legal document, and that’s what helped foster skepticism. The way this is written, there is a preamble before the legal, statements and then language to “clarify” the legalese between sections.
I don’t do this very often, but if you want to see my notes as I was reading this document, you can see them here.
I really hope that WotC addresses this soon. Either to stand behind it and give people a clear view of the future or to refute it as the actual plan going forward, even if it was A plan that existed at one time.