Talking to a D&D executive producer about their Open Game License debacle

Originally published at: Talking to a D&D executive producer about their Open Game License debacle | Boing Boing


Having been briefly involved in the game industry in the early eighties I still find the idea of there being executives at any the companies producing them weird and discordant


Somewhere between the extremes of “company goes out of business because it’s run by hobbyists that can’t manage to keep the lights on and the employees paid,” and “company goes out of business because it was looted by MBAs since that is really all they know how to do,” there just might be a sweet spot where there are both people that know what their customers want and people that know how to run a business in charge. If you’re REALLY lucky, they are the same people.

Edited to add: Keep in mind that the Avalon Hill company that many of us remember is not the original company. The original company went out of business after just a few years, and the name and stock were taken over by their largest creditor, Monarch Printing. THAT is the company that we are familiar with. Which had a reasonably successful run before their sideline in gaming was sold off to Hasbro.


I haven’t seen the video just yet but i like Bob, he’s generally pretty level headed when it comes to the minefield that is D&D. I’ll have to check it out later today.

As far as my D&D group we’ve pivoted to other TTRPGs. We’ll eventually come back to our usual D&D shenanigans but we’re currently doing a short game with Lancer (sci-fi setting with mechs), and the next game will be Pathfinder. I’m hoping to convince the group to do Shadowrun someday.


So this open game license - was it important in a legal sense, or more in the practical sense that even frivolous lawsuits would be super expensive to deal with? Because I was under the impression that the rules and mechanics of a game weren’t able to be protected under any kind of copyright or other IP protection.

The EFF did a fair job of explaining it.

Ryan Dancey also went into the pitfalls a bit in some interviews. I’ll try to find one of those.

ETA: Timestamps for Ryan Dancey exploring the questions “What is the OGL actually licensing you?” and “What does Wizards of the Coast win from this?” during an interview with Roll for Combat.


Thanks! As expected, looks like the OGL took away more rights than it granted, but was a reliable shield against lawsuits.


I linked to the EFF for their grasp of the legal terms. I disagree with their characterization of the OGL 1.0a as “Sauron’s rings of power.” Dancey, having been there, provides more nuance about the way the TTRPG industry uses the license (and how WotC used other licenses in conjunction with it).


As a process the proper form of IP would be a patent, but to get one, they’d have to prove novelty. And none of the mechanics are novel any more.

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I’m still trying to work through this interview. It’s so far down on the list of things that matter, but this stood out to me.

Kyle Brink:
And then also… we want to bring the older editions under the Creative Commons as well (3 and 3.5, the older SRDs) but we need to look those through with a fine-toothed comb and make sure that we’re not giving up a particular trademark or copyright that we need to hold onto, so we might pull one or two things out of that for responsibility reasons. But otherwise, our intent is yeah, bring those forward, as well.

They already did that job in 2000 and 2003, respectively. They declared everything in them was Open Game Content except for what they declared was Product Identity, and by the terms of the OGL the two groups exclude each other. The whole point of the OGL is that you can declare things like that without second-guessing it.

Maybe they got their copyright notices wrong. Perhaps they didn’t credit an author they should have, but they’ve had decades to make such corrections. There were even new printings of the 3.5 core rulebooks with the rules errata (determined during the product line’s life) incorporated, back in 2012. So why mention changing the old SRDs now? I doubt it’s just from a desire to run a find and replace on “race” to “species,” which should be fairly easy to do yourself on the original Rich Text Files for the 3.5 SRD (Internet Archive).

Looking over some old 3rd edition books, I do see one reason they might want to edit the 3rd edition SRD (Internet Archive). For the 3.5 SRD, they had made names of certain spells more generic. Drawmij’s Instant Summons, Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, Tenser’s Floating Disk, and so on would either have the name of the mage removed from the name or replaced by “Mage’s.” WotC’s own 3.5 books would still use the full names, but that’s because they felt they were on good enough footing they could use Jim Ward’s name spelled backwards, and such.

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Not much novelty, it would seem.


… or better yet, “genus”

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