The Open Gaming License 1.0a and the 5e Ecosystem

It appears that OneD&D will be accompanied by a new “Open Gaming License 1.1” which has some significant changes. A leaked version of this has been analysed in an exclusive post by Linda Codega on Gizmodo yesterday.

Before I get into that, a look at the situation now, and the vibrant ecosystem of third-party publishers and tools creators that it has created. This is based on the situation at time of writing (i.e. 6th January 2023).


There are three options for publishing 5e content, unless you are large enough to interest Wizard’s legal team:

  • Publish under the Fan Content policy, which allows you to refer to their content as long as you don’t charge for your content, and don’t use any of their trademarks. You can accept donations and advertising, but the content itself must be free.
  • Publish under the Open Gaming License. This allows you to use the subset of their rules provided in the System Resources Document and designated Open Game Content, and/or the Open Game Content from any other publication published under the OGL. It does not allow the use of the trademarked name or any content not designated Open Game Content in the SRD.
  • Publish via the Dungeon Master’s Guild. This opens up use of large parts of their 5e publications, in return for exclusive distribution through the DM’s Guild and a 50% royalty.

I look at the three options in detail below.

The Fan Content Policy

The Fan Content Policy allows use of their IP as long as:

  • It’s free – the content can be accessed and reused, by the community and Wizards themselves, without having to pay anything.
  • It’s clearly marked as unofficial content, not endorsed or sponsored by Wizards – and they have a boilerplate text which much be included. You will see this at the bottom of every one of my posts.
  • It doesn’t use any of Wizard’s trademarks, doesn’t remove Wizard’s copyright notices, and doesn’t use Wizard’s IP with other games.
  • It isn’t inappropriate, offensive, damaging, or disparaging  to Wizard’s IP, and isn’t sponsored by their competitors.

This is how this blog is published – and I will happily accept one-off donations via Ko-Fi, and have a Patreon if you want to support me on an ongoing basis, with tiers starting at $1.

The Open Gaming License and the SRD

At time of writing, The System Resources Document v5.1 is still available via the D&D Beyond website, published under the Open Gaming License v1.0a from 2000. This contains the core mechanics of D&D, including the Races (as they were called then) Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human, Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-elf, Half-Orc and Tiefling, and the twelve base classes Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard, with one subclass each.

In the FAQ on the SRD page, it currently explains this as follows:

Why does the SRD only have one background and one feat? Why do the PC races not include all of the subraces?

The goal of the SRD is to allow users to create new content, not to replicate the text of the whole game. We encourage players, DMs, and publishers to come up with their own backgrounds and feats.

Why is the SRD missing some spells, magic items, and monsters?

In general, the criteria for what went into the SRD is if it (1) was in the 3E SRD, (2) has an equivalent in 5th edition D&D, and (3) is vital to how a class, magic item, or monster works. For example, the 3E SRD has the delay poison spell, but in 5th edition that’s handled by the protection from poison spell, so protection from poison is in the SRD.

SRD 5.1 FAQ, retrieved 6th January 2023

So what is the licence this all depends on? Here are key extracts from the OGL 1.0a:

1. …

(b) “Derivative Material” means copyrighted material including derivative works and translations (including into other computer languages), potation, modification, correction, addition, extension, upgrade, improvement, compilation, abridgment or other form in which an existing work may be recast, transformed or adapted;

(c) “Distribute” means to reproduce, license, rent, lease, sell, broadcast, publicly display, transmit or otherwise distribute;

(d) “Open Game Content” means the game mechanic and includes the methods, procedures, processes and routines to the extent such content does not embody the Product Identity and is an enhancement over the prior art and any additional content clearly identified as Open Game Content by the Contributor, and means any work covered by this License, including translations and derivative works under copyright law, but specifically excludes Product Identity.

(e) “Product Identity” means product and product line names, logos and identifying marks including [lots of things]; and any other trademark or registered trademark clearly identified as Product identity by the owner of the Product Identity, and which specifically excludes the Open Game Content;

(g) “Use”, “Used” or “Using” means to use, Distribute, copy, edit, format, modify, translate and otherwise create Derivative Material of Open Game Content.

2. The License: This License applies to any Open Game Content that contains a notice indicating that the Open Game Content may only be Used under and in terms of this License. …

4. Grant and Consideration: In consideration for agreeing to use this License, the Contributors grant You a perpetual, worldwide, royalty‑free, non-exclusive license with the exact terms of this License to Use, the Open Game Content.

9. Updating the License: Wizards or its designated Agents may publish updated versions of this License. You 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.

SRD 5.1, retrieved 6th January 2023

Translated into English (and note I am not a lawyer…), this allows creators to create and distribute derived content of the Open Game Content within a publication released under the OGL without having to pay royalty, as long as the derived content is also distributed under a version (any version) of the OGL.

Note that a few key items here are called out as Product Identity: Dungeons & Dragons, D&D, Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master and Monster Manual (as well as various names and a few monsters), which means they are not available for use under the OGL, hence the many publications which state they are “compatible with the foremost role-playing game” or similar wording.

Many, many publishers, mostly very small publishers (including myself) have taken advantage of the OGL to publish supplements, adventures and addons – a search on DriveThruRPG for D&D OGL content just now turned up 17610 products!

The Dungeon Master’s Guild

In order to use Wizard’s trademarked terms, or any content not available in the SRD, you need to come to a separate agreement with Wizards of the Coast. The easiest way to do this is to publish under the Dungeon Master’s Guild, which provides the following benefits:

  • You can build on any published content, including other DM’s Guild titles, as long as it isn’t based on other people’s IP (Acquisitions Incorporated is off limits for this reason, for example)
  • You can use any of the Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Eberron, Ravnica, Theros, Arcavios (Strixhaven), Radiant Citadel, and Spelljammer settings
  • Wizards will consider your content for additional publication and/or marketing by them

On the other hand, this also has various limitations, in particular:

  • Wizards take a royalty of 50%.
  • You cannot publish or distribute anywhere else – so no Kickstarter, no making it available through your own web site, no free copies for anyone.
  • There are only certain settings which you can use, which does not include Mystara. Not a problem for most people, but that’s my setting of choice…

It’s a tradeoff. One which many people think worth making, but which so far I have not taken advantage of. For what I’ve done, the benefits don’t outweigh the limitations.

The Ecosystem

Many, many publishers, mostly very small publishers (including myself) have taken advantage of the OGL to publish supplements, adventures and addons – a search on DriveThruRPG for D&D OGL content just now turned up 17610 products! There are also some major publishers of 5e content, including in particular Kobold Press and Paizo. And there are hundreds of Kickstarters which have developed or are developing content for 5e.

This creates a buzzing community and eco-system around the Wizards’ game, in particular fifth edition. In turn this establishes 5e as the system to use in order to use all this content, which drives players (in which I include GMs) to invest in the base rulebooks and settings from Wizards, and in D&D Beyond subscriptions and content (which is now owned by Wizards).

There are also assorted tools which have grown up which cater for 5e, in particular Virtual Tabletops like Roll20 and FoundryVTT. These make it easy to play 5e online as well, further expanding the community.

Up till now, I have been proud to be part of this ecosystem. It has brought me much pleasure over the years, and whets my creative appetite as well as giving me a social outlet on a regular basis.

I will look at the future in a separate post.

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