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License to thrill

Written by Phil - Published on February 21, 2008

Guest post by Phil of Musings of the Chatty DM

When D&D 3e came out in the early 2000s, it was accompanied by something that was pretty daring and innovative for the Tabletop RPG world: The Open Gaming License (OGL).

This legalese-heavy document (and its sister the d20 System Trademark License) allowed 3rd party publisher to create material for the game without having to purchase a license from wizard of the coast, nor getting permission from them to do so. Additionally, it defined the a good chunk of D&D rules as ‘Open Content’, published as the System Rules Document (SRD) that made it available for use by 3rd parties to create their own
adventures and even complete games.

How did the OGL change the RPG business?

The OGL generated some impressive games and adventure series that made their
mark on the RPG world.

For Example:

  • Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics recreated the 1es edition feel of adventure module, complete with blue maps and art by Erol Otus!
  • Necromancer Games’ Tome of Horrors that was actually published before the D&D Monster Handbook.
  • Mutants and Mastermind, by Green Ronin, one of the most popular Superheroes games currently out.
  • Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved, a high Magic alternate D&D compatible fantasy game with new classes, spells and monsters.
  • Fiery Dragon Production’s Iron Heroes, another D&D variant game focusing on low-magic and high action.
  • The Hypertext SRD, probably the best online rules reference available online.

The OGL was revolutionary in the sense that it allowed the creation of numerous adventures, gaming tools and even complete games that WotC couldn’t publish in order not to compete with its own lines (D&D and its 3 campaign settings, d20 Modern and Star Wars).

The downside of the OGL

However, while some excellent material was made by companies like Necromancer Games, Malhavoc Press, Goodman Games, Green Ronin, Paizo and others, a lot of mediocre and downright bad products were published that led to a series of gluts in the RPG market that hurt game stores who had to keep or severely discount unsold inventory (Heck I bought OGL Horror for 5$).

These gluts created backlash effects that made a significant number of consumers turn their back on 3rd party products and keep to the official D&D line. This combined with the fact that a large part of D&D players never buy or play with 3rd party products, the OGL was both a blessing for players and a curse for the industry.

D&D 4th edition and the OGL

Now with the advent of D&D’s 4th edition in June 2008, citing quality issues related to the above, WotC informed the community that changes are being brought to the OGL. Chief among those, the SRD will no longer be a stripped down version of the game and more of a developper’s tool to point out how to make a D&D compatible product. Also, licensed gaming product will need to use the Player’s Handbook as a base.

Finally, taking its cue from operating system software companies, WotC sold developers kits (the new license and SRD) to any third party that could afford the 5000$ buy-in. The idea is to allow the publishers who can afford it the possibility of having D&D compatible products ready for Gen Con (Mid August 2008) one of the main gaming convention of the US.

All other parties, including online communities like D&D bloggers and d20 indie imprints will have access to the SRD at the game’s release in the summer of 2008. However, publishing of 4e material will be only be allowed from January 2009 onwards. This will give WotC and the 3rd party publishers who paid up, 1st wave access to the market.

What does this mean for the average gamer?

If you are a D&D-only customer, nothing, everything stays as before.

If you love shopping for 3rd party products, especially the PDF market, expect quality products from the big players who made the jump to 4e like Necromancer Games, Goodman Games, Paizo and the like.

However, also expect smaller presses to close down, stick with the shrinking 3.5 market or go dormant until 2009.

Time will tell how it turns out and which system was the best for us gamers.

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Written by Phil

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 Comments

24 Responses to “License to thrill”
  1. Roleplay says:

    Ah, good post. You should come back and guest blog more often!

  2. Thanks! Much appreciated. This is actually my first move to take over here… just don’t tell Expy yet as I also plan to move in an Adamantine Dragon here…

    I’m kiniding!

    Or am I?

  3. Arghhhh Yax you need to install the Edit Comment plugin!

  4. Yax says:

    what? I don’t mind if you’re kiniding…

  5. Vanir says:

    Hey! What are YOU doing here? What have you done with Yax???!! TELL ME OR FACE MY STEEL!! :-D

    Seriously though, great post. I feel like maybe the OGL as it was before was a great idea but it didn’t turn out quite as planned. I think the OGL put a lot of weird subpar stuff out there.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about people creating their own stuff — but it’s not easy and I don’t want to pay $20 for some half-baked massively unbalanced new rulebook. I’d much rather download something like that from a community website where people can mess with it and playtest – after which time it (hopefully) gets revised.

  6. Yax says:

    Don’t worry Vanir! He only has the impression he is taking over! There’s no way an adamantine dragon sneaks in here.

    I’m definitely winning my bet with Phil:
    http://www.dungeonmastering.com/news/chatty-dms-going-down

  7. Phil says:

    Thanks Vanir…. Also let’s not forget that the OGL allows us to post stuff on our website without having to ask lawyers!

    And Yax, in your dreams man!

    Even if we have to finish this with a foam sword duel at Gen Con, I guarantee that it is you who will be going down!

    Overlord beats Magnificent Bastard, everybody knows that!

  8. Yax says:

    … Double checking tropes …

    I don’t see that “Overlord pwn Magnificent Bastard” anywhere. Sorry.

  9. The temptation to change the wiki just to prove me right is very strong…. :)

    Errr… I meant to say this is well known in the very secret Overlord Codex found in the impenetrable vault of Overlordness.

    :)

  10. JOHNNAY says:

    Nice article! I want to be Phil’s minion!!!

  11. The DM says:

    Hey, Johnnay, who doesn’t?

  12. Yax says:

    It’s a mutiny!

  13. Phil says:

    Phil whistles innocently

  14. argokirby says:

    Yax for the Win, if it weren’t for Yax I would not even know who the Chatty DM is!!!!

  15. Yax says:

    Heard that Phil! I made you!

  16. dberg_usa says:

    Well, after reading this, it makes a lot more sense as to why they decided to set the price point so high. $5000 is awfully steep and it appeared as a means to gather additional revenue rather than spur 4E development outside of WOTC.

    What WOTC seems to be doing with the staggered release now appears to be buying their 4E product some time to grow and develop before the anticipated onslaught of potentially lower quality products entering the market. That does make sense from the perspective that you only want your product to be associated with something good, which would be very important with a new product release.

    As for the lack of 4E SRD rules, I’m obviously bummed. I really like the try it before you buy it concept. Being able to get a feel for the system prior to shelling out a ton of cash was a real selling point for me. It spurred me into buying all the core books and a couple others just for the full set of rules(I was steadfast to my older books before the 3E SRD). Previews also bring younger players, who never would have been able to come up with the cash for the books, into the genera. They will be the future buyers that WOTC will need to reel in. The 3E SRD was a solid investment in the future of D&D and WOTC. I’m eager to see what the 4E OGL will look like and if it will come close to living up to its predecessor.

  17. Yax: I wouldn’t dream of backstabbing the guy who made me…. :)

    dberg: I’m willing to bet the game is going amply previewed online… but I agree that the 3.x SRD was very convenient!

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  1. The DMs Blog at DnDReviews.com » Blog Archive » Of Markets, RPGs, and Third Parties says:

    […] Chatty DM has a guest column this morning over at dungeonmastering.com on the concept of the OGL and its effect on Dungeons and Dragons, both in terms of the effect it […]

  2. […] If you aren’t already a regular reader of Yax’ Dungeonmastering blog, I invite you to head over there for a guest post I wrote about the OGL license. […]

  3. […] If you aren’t already a regular reader of Yax’ Dungeonmastering blog, I invite you to head over there for a guest post I wrote about the OGL license. […]

  4. […] If you aren’t already a regular reader of Yax’ Dungeonmastering blog, I invite you to head over there for a guest post I wrote about the OGL license. […]

  5. […] also started doing some guest posting on other blogs (I did one for Dungeonmastering and I have a Chatty’s Tips monthly column starting soon with Johnn Four’s Roleplaying […]

  6. […] also started doing some guest posting on other blogs (I did one for Dungeonmastering and I have a Chatty’s Tips monthly column starting soon with Johnn Four’s Roleplaying […]

  7. […] If you aren’t already a regular reader of Yax’ Dungeonmastering blog, I invite you to head over there for a guest post I wrote about the OGL license. […]



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