Dungeons & Dragons faces backlash after proposed licensing changes

Photo by: Jack B.

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is considering changing their licensing policies, but fans don’t approve.

D&D is the most successful tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG), but it is far from the only one. A number of other games have quite literally built off of D&D’s model. In 2000, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) published the third edition of D&D along with an agreement called the Open Gaming License (OGL). The OGL allows third-party publishers to use a variety of D&D’s content and rules for their own products without paying any royalties to WotC.

This had benefits for both parties: while third-party publishers still couldn’t use D&D’s settings or adventure plots, they were able to take the familiar creatures, spells, equipment and more to flesh out their games. More importantly, using D&D’s rules let new players understand their game more quickly, as either they or someone in their group could bring over their D&D knowledge to that game.

For WotC — as well as their parent company Hasbro — this helped to preserve D&D’s popularity among TTRPG fans. By making it easier for players to get into the D&D game model, more TTRPG games started adopting and building upon this model. And because D&D was the most popular game with this ruleset, it served as the best entry point for those looking to get into TTRPGs, creating a feedback loop of popularity. 

However, the OGL’s no royalties policy set would have changed with the proposed updated draft, which was leaked on Jan. 5 to Gizmodo writer Linda Codega. Codega detailed how the changes listed would have allowed WotC to monetize its competition: any licensee wanting to use the new OGL would have been required to pay WotC royalties at a rate of 25% for any profit beyond $750,000 (e.g., a product earning $750,001 would have owed WotC 25¢). 

Additionally, while those earning under $750,000 would not owe WotC any money, anyone creating TTRPG content that wasn’t rule books or PDFs — such as videos, music and apps — would have no longer been able to do so through the OGL, and was at risk of being classified as fan content, meaning the creator could not monetize it at all.

TTRPG fans did not take kindly to these proposed changes. There was a movement on Twitter, #StopTheSub, for fans to cancel their subscriptions to D&D Beyond, an online service provided by D&D allowing players to better host virtual games. One such fan was Ginny Di, a YouTuber specializing in TTRPGs.

“For those asking how they can help push back against OGL 1.1 — we now know that WotC is looking at DnD Beyond subscriptions as a relevant metric,” she posted on Twitter. “This is your chance to send them a message. Just sent mine.”

Following the backlash from this leak, Dungeons & Dragons issued a statement on Jan. 13 explaining their reasoning for the proposed changes to the OGL and a retraction of the proposed royalty structure.

“The next OGL will contain the provisions that allow us to protect and cultivate the inclusive environment we are trying to build and specify that it covers only content for TTRPGs… What it will not contain is any royalty structure,” said the D&D Beyond staff.

While some appreciate the update, other fans remain uneasy, such as TTRPG streamer Mark Hulmes.

“Let me be clear on one thing: until we see the actual legal document of the revised OGL, this is just PR,” he wrote on Twitter. “‘We would never’ means nothing if the contract says ‘We can’.”

Though Dungeons & Dragons have retracted their proposed changes, they still plan to update their OGL agreement. Whether they do so without alienating their audience remains to be seen. 

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