Is the new D&D license good enough? No, says lawyer - but you can fix it

Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit book and dice
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)
Update (Jan 27 2023)

It seems like the call-to-action over a new D&D OGL worked; since this article was published, the company has completely backed down from those controversial changes in a surprise heel-turn. More specifically, the license won't be changing anymore thanks to user feedback like the responses recommended here by lawyer Noah Downs.

The D&D license controversy proves that The Lord of the Rings wasn't talking crap when it said "even the smallest person can change the course of the future." You didn't need millions of followers or a legion of dedicated subscribers to make your voice heard; instead, the outcry from average fans was responsible for publisher Wizards of the Coast reversing many of its most unpopular changes.

Fast-forward a few weeks and things look very different following public apologies and the arrival of a revised D&D license (With attached feedback survey, no less.) But is it a victory? Not quite. According to gaming and entertainment lawyer Noah Downs (opens in new tab), partner at Premack Rogers P.C., there's still a fight ahead of us. In fact, how this all ends is down to what we say on that survey.

What needs to change

Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit promo image with book, dice, and DM screen

Royalty fees and ownership worries have been removed from the new D&D license, but other concerns have yet to be addressed (Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

While the most unpopular additions to the Open Game License (or 'OGL') have been removed thanks to public outcry, Downs says that we're not out of the woods yet.

"It is a massive leap forward [but] we still have a ways to go," he says when we catch up following the D&D controversy that's raged for most of January. "The message needs to be, 'this needs work.' The license section needs to state that this license is expressly royalty free and fully irrevocable... Then there's an argument to be made that the severability clause where Wizards can render the entire contract void needs to be changed. However, there are other things in this license that need to be changed first."

With enough directed, focused, and concentrated response over the next two weeks, we can make a difference

Noah Downs

Namely, there's concern over loopholes in D&D's stance on hateful content. Downs' overview on Medium (opens in new tab) points out that Wizards "has the sole right to decide what is hateful here, and the Third Party Creator gives up all rights to fight that decision. That’s too much power."

For instance, let's say Wizards had a sudden change in values and took a dim view of transgender rights, deeming promotion of it to be 'harmful.' If your content was seen to be promoting those rights, your license could then be revoked - and there's nothing you'd be able to do about it. It almost certainly won't happen, of course, and the current goal of shutting down hateful, bigoted, or discriminatory content is absolutely the right thing to do. But Downs uses this as an example of why the current license's wording is dangerous; it's too vague and can be abused in the future, largely because it's reliant on the opinion of whoever holds the keys.

"The revolt has already begun"

DnD

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

As pointed out by a Dark Souls RPG dev with years of experience using the old system, certain changes to the D&D license (like the addition of a 25% royalty fee) would "basically make a huge number of smaller companies financially unviable." We caught up with them earlier in January about the impact this will have on the community.

Similarly, Downs thinks that the license's virtual tabletop policy "needs to be amended immediately." Why? Because it "kinda bans immersive tabletop experiences." 

In essence, the new OGL only allows for experiences you could have at an in-person session - so special effects for something like a fireball spell (perhaps one that sends a magic missile across your screen) are out of the question. 

"There's no legal reason for them to say this," Downs points out. "It's purely to stop competition in the VTT space. They probably want to be the go-to, because they probably want to include that feature themselves."

It's certainly food for thought. After all, Wizards announced that it was developing a virtual tabletop of its own with the Unreal 5 engine back in 2022.

What you can do

One D&D digital

It might feel like your opinion will be lost in the D&D OGL shuffle, but you can make a huge difference (Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Still, there's hope. As Downs observes, the fact that the trimmed-down OGL 1.2 exists at all is "a testament to the power of this community. It's truly a David vs Goliath kinda thing, and so I think that this is definitely a step in the right direction."

There's still work to do, though - and Downs has advice on how you can make your voice heard.

Out of their hands

"The people who were handing down the rewrite requests were disconnected from the [D&D] community," Downs explains. "The people that we love at Wizards, the designers, the illustrators, the authors, the writers, the influencer team... they're just as affected by this as we are. It comes from higher than them, and is frankly out of their hands."

The key will be the survey that is live on D&D Beyond's site (opens in new tab) right now, which you can find near the bottom of the page. Specifically, "the community needs to have focused feedback on what needs to change. The community as a whole needs to rally together, [because] then we have a chance. With enough directed, focused, and concentrated response over the next two weeks, we can make a difference."

I asked Downs to summarize what you can do, and he advised fans to say the following when responding to the survey:

  • Don't revoke OGL 1.0a and/or offer an incentive to accept the new one
  • Make this expressly royalty free
  • Make it truly irrevocable. Give the community something they can build from
  • Make sure that creators have a right to contest WotC's bad-faith action (RE sections 3 and sections 6c, e, and f)
  • Have a standard severability clause
  • Don't limit what virtual tabletops can do, because that denies innovation in the space

The survey will remain open for two weeks, so you've got until February 3 to make your voice heard. (Just remember to be kind - the team behind Dungeons and Dragons books who will be reading our comments aren't to blame for this situation.) We'll then hear back from Wizards of the Coast on or before February 17.

Basically? What happens next is down to us. Much like the heroes of fantasy adventures ranging from the best tabletop RPGs to Tolkien, you - the reader - are responsible for the future of D&D.

Time to roll for initiative. 


Want a distraction from all the drama? Check out our guide to the best board games, essential board games for 2 players, and these must-have board games for adults.

Benjamin Abbott
Tabletop & Merch Editor

As the site's Tabletop & Merch Editor, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to Lego buying guides. I have been writing about games in one form or another since 2012 and can normally be found cackling over some evil plan I've cooked up for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.