4 min read

How to Destroy a Dungeons and Dragons Community

Explore the uproar in the Dungeons and Dragons community over the change in Open Game License, potentially jeopardizing the rights of creators and the future of DnD.
How to Destroy a Dungeons and Dragons Community
Photo by Jack B / Unsplash

I think a lot about open source software because I work in that industry. I’ve often wondered what would happen if the developer of that open source software decided to close the source or change the license to be more restrictive and steal your content, what would happen to the community? The answer is simple, revolt and anger. That’s exactly what’s happening in the Dungeons and Dragons community, it’s imploding.

The license that governs Dungeon and Dragons (DnD) is called the Open Game License (OGL), which was created by Wizards of the Coast (WotC). In a nutshell that license allowed the DnD ecosystem to thrive. Many third-party creators built their livelihoods around this license.

Now, WotC wants to change that license from OGL v1a to OGL v1.1 and it’s causing a major uproar with everyone. WotC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, wants to change the last OGL license to a new one.

“This agreement is, along with the OGL: Non-Commercial, an update to the previously available OGL 1.0(a), which is no longer an authorized license agreement.”

On the surface, that makes sense. The old licenses are superseded. So what’s the uproar? It’s the next clause:

“You own the new and original content You create. You agree to give Us a nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, royalty-free license to use that content for any purpose.”

They want access to the content you created, so they can use it and sell it without giving you a penny. How’s that for fucking over your community?

Playing Dungeons and Dragons

I played Dungeons and Dragons when I was a teenager and loved every minute of it. Playing these games is a low-cost and fun way to spend an evening with friends. I recently got back into it when an offshoot game system called Castles and Crusades and we had a great time playing until COVID killed our regular game sessions.

I will admit, I never paid much attention to the licensing of DnD and all the ancillary things but licensing is where game developers make their money. The right licensing that satisfies the needs of the creators and their respective communities is always a good thing.

I would argue that there’s even a tacit social contract between both parties to do the right thing, to grow the community, and let everyone share in the bounty that the creation can generate.

To do a metaphorical “land grab” and lay claim to other people’s creations without compensating their work is a typical corporate move. This is not new, we see this happen all the time with open source exploited by large mega-corporations.

What’s going to happen in this case? What’s going to happen to a smart and loyal community with decent disposable cash? While my lizard brain says they’re going to run, my rational brain says “Let’s wait and see.”

I expect lawyers to get involved but I think it’s all a moot point. Once you create something and follow all the OGL rules, it’s your copyright. You own it per the original license. You can’t claw your way back to the beginning like Calvin Ball, it doesn’t work that way.

Besides, many game players are now realizing that you can’t copyright and protect elves, game mechanics, math, and among other things.

“You cannot protect a game system, you cannot copyright dice or mats or rules or math. The only thing you can protect is the story and lore behind your IP, and that is fragile at best. Doubly so in a fantasy setting, where things like orcs and elves cannot be copyrighted. As Paizo showed, all you really have to do is give the “world” a fresh coat of paint, the rules a once-over, and you’re rolling with your own game at that point.”

So what’s going to happen? Either WotC backpedals and all this goes away or they stick to their guns and decimate all the goodwill and community they built over the years.

Logic would say to rescind the draconian rules for OGL v1.1, but then again it’s corporate America, and money talks, so I’m not going to hold my breath.

Stronger Community

The DnD gaming community has always been strong and I believe it will grow stronger from this. If OGL v1.1 goes into effect I suspect we’ll see creators writing adventures and building around a DnD-like clone or open source tabletop role-playing game system (ttrpg).

I believe this uproar will strengthen the community as the creators who built this place write new adventures and new fantasy worlds in an open way. Imagination can run wild again without the worry that some large corporation will exploit your hard work and take food from your mouth.

Stay strong my companions and fight the good fight! I raise my tankard of ale to you.