Like many publishers in the tabletop RPG business, I’ve recently been stunned by the controversy surrounding the Open Gaming License (OGL). If you’re not familiar, the OGL is a license, originally created by Wizards of the Coast, that allows RPG publishers to use certain content in their games without seeking special permission first.
Many games use the OGL, including Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition (the game for which the OGL was originally designed), D&D 5e, Pathfinder 1st and 2nd edition, Fudge, Fate, and more.
Publishers big and small rely on the OGL to know what is safe to borrow for their own games and what’s off-limits.
If you’re not familiar with the controversy, here’s the short version. Wizards of the Coast is planning to revise the OGL and de-authorize the original license (version 1.0a) that publishers have been using for over 20 years now. Their aim is to restrict the OGL (making it arguably less open than before) which has far-reaching consequences for the tabletop games industry as a whole.
If you’re not already familiar with what’s happening, just search “D&D OGL controversy” on your favorite search engine and read a few of the top links.
Here’s one in particular that requires a little bit of background knowledge, but is well-stated once you’re familiar with what’s happening. Dale from Wyrmworks Publishing (publisher of accessibility tools and disabled character ideas for D&D 5e) has a well-stated response to the proposed OGL changes. Read Dale’s feedback to Wizards of the Coast here.
The rest of this post assumes familiarity with the issue.
How Accessible Games uses the OGL
Accessible Games doesn’t publish D&D content for any edition of the system (with the exception of this Large Print 3.5e character sheet). That doesn’t mean we don’t use the OGL though.
As I mentioned earlier, the Pathfinder and Fudge systems both rely on OGL 1.0a. Accessible Games publishes a handful of Pathfinder-compatible products. These games are compatible with Pathfinder 1st Edition, a D&D 3.5e derivitive from Paizo Publishing.
We also publish several games using the Fudge System™ by Grey Ghost Games. In fact, Fudge is our main dish around here.
You’ll find a copy of the Open Gaming License version 1.0a in the back of every one of these books.
Even though nothing we publish is directly related to D&D, our fate is still tied to its OGL.
What’s at stake
Wizards of the Coast (WotC) was originally planning to de-authorize OGL 1.0a completely. There was a lot of uproar in the gaming community over this, because thousands upon thousands of games — including many of our own — have been published using OGL 1.0a since its initial release. Nobody was quite sure at the time what that would mean for all this existing content.
Since initial news broke about the changes to the OGL, WoTC has walked back some of their most controversial updates. They’ve clarified now that any updates to future versions of the OGL won’t immediately strip the market of all past content. However, a anyone who chooses to use their new version of the OGL in the future would be required to cease using 1.0a.
Since we don’t publish D&D content, we have no reason to use WotC’s new version of the OGL. At least not at this time.
The tricky bit is our use of Fudge content.
Since Fudge uses OGL 1.0a, and we build many of our games based on Fudge, we must also use OGL 1.0a. Likewise for our Pathfinder content.
The good news is that WotC walked back their draconian attempt to kill every past 1.0a product in existence. We’re confident we can continue to sell our existing content without any revisions.
Going forward, we need to decide what to do.
Paizo Publishing announced their plan to create a new, truly open gaming license. They’;re working together with the law firm that designed the original OGL 1.0a and are going to make this license publicly available to anyone who wishes to use it. According to Paizo, they’re going to hand it off to a non-profit organization (similar to the Linux Foundation) to be stewards over this license so that no single entity controls its fate.
To date, over 1500 publishers have signed onto the Open RPG Creative License (ORC) Alliance, including Accessible Games. With this new license, we’re hopeful that we can produce truly open content for any game designer to use.
In a Facebook post, Grey Ghost Games signalled their intent to move the Fudge SRD to the ORC license as well (assuming it meets their needs).. It’s helpful that our intentions are aligned, because I would love to continue to produce Fudge content well into the future.
I’ll be keeping a close watch on the ORC license. I trust Paizo and the crew to do justice to open gaming, and I’m confident they’ll produce a license that I will be happy to use. Assuming it meets the needs of both Grey Ghost and Accessible Games, I anticipate moving our products to the ORC license in the future.
Why we’re not re-printing
It isn’t feasible to go back and re-print all our past OGL material with the new license. From the sounds of it, that won’t be necessary. Nothing is going to strip our ability to sell past products or continue to offer them under the OGL 1.0a.
Any new products will (likely) use the ORC license. To the extent that we can retain compatibility with OGL 1.0a products, we will do so. If we need to update anything in the future, we will re-release past content using digital System Reference Documents.
There won’t be any need to re-print physical books using the new license. Your current content isn’t going to become incompatible with anything we release in the future. I suspect they won’t automatically disintegrate either, but that’s not a promise I can make. 😉
Speaking of the future
The OGL 1.0a has been status quo for over two decades. It has done a lot for the RPG community as a whole.
This change marks the end of an era, but I’m excited by what the future holds. Thanks to Paizo’s initiative and financial backing, we may end up with a new license that is (for lack of a safer term) future-proof from the whims of a tyranical BBEG like WotC.
All this publicity has also led to a renewed vigor in the open gaming community. People are genuinely excited by what these changes might mean for D&D’s dominance and for the new games that other publishers have announced in response.
If you, like me, are exhausted by the glut of 5e-compatible content being churned out nowadays, then this may spell good news. If WotC makes their license untenible, then maybe all that creativity out there will be channeled toward other games and systems. That’s a good thing.
Stay tuned for future updates. Once we know more about the ORC License, we’ll be able to determine a path forward for Accessible Games. In the meantime, we’ll keep on with what we’re doing.