Beyond OGL – what are the options?

So, Wizards of the Coast appear not to be materially backing down on the Open Gaming License fiasco, which is causing lots of reaction from their customers and the third party ecosystem which has made the brand into the force it is, and threatens the livelihood of many people.

Many people are moving away from THAT GAME as a result and refusing to pay anything more to Wizards – there is a move for people to cancel their D&D Beyond subscriptions, as apparently this is the only thing they are caring about and might make them realise what a huge financial mistake they are making. An open letter to WotC at OpenDND.games as part of the #OpenDND movement has over 60,000 signatures, and you can sign too (you’ll find me on page 1). M.T.Black has also put out a series of Tweets listing ways you can help.

Wizard of the Coast have now put out an update trying to appear to row back enough to appease the idle viewer, but they still have not shared any version of the text publicly (all we have so far is from leaks, despite what they try to imply with their second post) and the trust has gone. They say “Content already released under 1.0a will … remain unaffected” but make no statement about the OGL 1.0a itself going forward.

So until they publicly release a final version, many questions remain, and unless that version respects the 2016 5e SRD and OGL 1.0a or (better still) updates it with just the word “irrevocable” after “permanent” in the OGL, they will have lost many people, myself included. And even in the best case, they will need to spend years re-earning the community’s trust.

If you want to move away from games published under the WotC OGL, what are your options?

I’m looking at three different strands here:

  • Various people are proposing alternative licences to replace the OGL with something irrevocable which does not contain the “authorized” backdoor
  • Various fantasy roleplaying systems are not published under the WotC OGL, and so are unaffected
  • Other systems are planning to move away from the OGL

Note: I am just looking at licences and systems suitable for fantasy role-playing. I know there are other sorts of story out there, but my passion came from the original D&D Mentzer boxed sets in the 80s, and the associated Mystara gazetteers which developed that world. That’s the world I like to tell my stories in, that’s the world I “get” intuitively, and so that’s the world I want to continue to play in, and that means fantasy. However, some of these systems do claim to support other types of story as well.

Also, at this point in time, I haven’t had the chance to play in any of the other systems, and I don’t know how much opportunity I will get to actually try them out in anger. I will review them from a read-through, and will follow up this post with a series of more detailed posts trying to summarize some of the different systems. But at the moment this is just a pointer to allow you to explore for yourself.

Alternative Gaming Licences

There have been several initiatives to develop a replacement genuinely open licence for gaming but, thank goodness, they seem to be coalescing around one. Paizo is working with Azora Law to develop the Open RPG Creative (ORC) licence, and list Kobold Press, Chaosium, Green Ronin, Legendary Games and Rogue Genius Games as partners already. Publishers can sign up to get involved in drafts here (I have already).

Alternative Fantasy Gaming Systems out now

There are alternative gaming systems out there, some of which haven’t been published under WotC’s OGL, others are moving away. Here are ones I’m looking at at the moment.

  • Troll Lord Games’ Castles and Crusades. An older PDF version of The Players Handbook is currently available for free (the only changes are apparently cosmetic), and an older version of The Monsters and Treasure GM’s manual is also available for free. Currently still OGL 1.0a, but they are part of ORC.
  • Open Legend. The core rules are available for free on their web site, and they have a link to a free introductory adventure. They publish their core rules under their Open Legend Community Licence (which is very similar to my understanding of the OGL 1.0a, without any reference to licence term).
  • Bruce Heard’s Calidar setting uses its own system. Bruce was the main mover behind Mystara, and Calidar is a fully fleshed-out world (in fact, multiple worlds) with some very interesting mechanics
  • Necrotic Gnome’s Old School Essentials. Inspired by the original Basic/Expert boxed sets. The Basic Rules are available for free.
  • Mörk Borg is an old-school rules interpretation. The bare bones basic rules are available to download for free from their web site.
  • While Pathfinder and Pathfinder 2 are published under the OGL 1.0a, Paizo have said both they are prepared to challenge Wizards’ right to deauthorize the OGL 1.0 in court and that they will be moving their publications off OGL to ORC. They are currently offering their Lost Omens World Guide for free and the print versions of their core rulebooks at 25% off with the code OPENGAMING.
  • There are probably plenty more – let me know what else you suggest.

Pending Gaming Systems

There are various people talking of developing alternative (replacement?) systems.

  • Kobold Press have said they’re working on a new Core Fantasy tabletop ruleset codenamed Project Black Flag
  • En Publishing have said that Level Up A5E was been written from the ground up with new text and doesn’t actually use any WotC text except names (spells, classes), so although they do include the OGL 1.0a at the end of each book, they “have begun investigating the possibility of ‘de-OGL-ifying’”.
  • MCDM has just started work on a new system, and they’re putting their brainstorming and experimentation up on their Patreon
  • DMDave published an “Endless Journeys” system earlier this week, which I was starting to look at and looked interesting, but he has now said this is cancelled, so while I got the link to the rules a couple of days ago, I won’t share it. This is a situation which is changing rapidly…

Conclusion

This is a rapidly changing situation – as the DM Dave situation perfectly illustrates…

My hope is to continue to play and publish under some sort of fantasy rules system which isn’t too far from the system I am used to, and which doesn’t rely on WotC. I also intend to rewrite Ragnar’s Keep to move away from the OGL once the dust settles and we have a new standard. However, the dust is still very much flying…

I really hope there will be some sort of consensus, or at a minimum a sort of standard system-neutral description format. I don’t have the time to adapt for many different systems, and the more systems there are, the smaller the market for each (and the greater the risk of backing the wrong horse…). On the other hand, going system neutral means that anyone wanting to use my content has to translate to their system in order to do so. For primarily descriptive publications like Ragnar’s Keep, that is less of an issue, but for modules like The Cabaret at the Watchtower which I have been working on, that is significant.

Update: just before I went to publish, this very similar post came out from Deeper in the Game. Enjoy!

Updated 17-Jan-2023 to add Calidar, Old School Essentials and MCDM

2 thoughts on “Beyond OGL – what are the options?

  1. Everything is still in flux, and one can’t make a decision at this point on what to do. I’m a grognard Pathfinder 1E GM that switched after D&D 4E came out and I didn’t much like what I saw. I haven’t fiddled much with Pathfinder 2E but I’m now more interested in digging into the mechanics with everything that’s going on.

    I’m also very interested in seeing what Paizo comes up with their Open RPG Creative (ORC) licence initiative but I’ve been reading that you may not even need a licence at all for most of what people are creating.

    I have two references that might interest you:

    1. “Good riddance to the Open Gaming License” by Cory Doctorow (https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/12/beg-forgiveness-ask-permission/#whats-a-copyright-exception)

    2. “Beware the Gifts of Dragons: How D&D’s Open Gaming License May Have Become a Trap for Creators” by Kit Walsh, EFF Senior Staff Attorney (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2023/01/beware-gifts-dragons-how-dds-open-gaming-license-may-have-become-trap-creators)

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