If you follow behind-the-scenes information about Dungeons & Dragons, possibilities are you’ve heard the term OGL, which stands for Open Game License. Its overall reputation and prevalence have waxed and waned over the decades since it was first implemented, but the OGL has had a huge effect on D&D and on the tabletop RPG industry as an entirety.
Let’s bring a look at the history of the Open Game License. Why was it created in the first place? Read on to learn the answer to these questions and more.
What Is The Open Game License?
In wide terms, the Open Game License is a standing agreement by Wizards Of The Coast, who owns Dungeons & Dragons, to permit anyone to freely utilize parts of the D&D game system and setting to make their own content. This means that third parties can publish unofficial D&D happenings and settings, as well as generate new player choices that haven’t been covered in authorized material.
There are, of course, restrictions to the OGL’s purview. Generally, only the primary rules and options discovered in the Player’s Handbook are open for use under the license, for instance, and it doesn’t permit third parties to publish material based on authorized D&D settings like the Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft.
As long as designers and developers adhere to the rules in the Systems Reference Document – the authorized list of what you can and can’t use under the OGL – they can freely make D&D content to publish and sell.
When Was The Open Game License First Used?
The Open Game License was first executed with the release of Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition, in 2000. According to the book Designers & Dragons: A Record of the Roleplaying Game Industry, it was conceived as an instrument of leveraging Wizards’ newfound right of the property.
If 3rd parties were incentivized to make content for D&D, rather than developing their own game and becoming a possible competitor, that would guide to more players buying things like the core rulebooks and other authorized products. Since content made under the Open Game License was unofficial, Wizards would also be shielded from any liability that arose from the 3rd-party content.
The Open Game License was met with suspicion internally when it was first pitched, as it effectively waived a massive number of Wizards’ intellectual property rights worrying Dungeons & Dragons – potentially forever. In the end, though, the OGL had been created by the Vice President in charge of the D&D brand, Ryan Dancey, and Wizards founder and CEO Peter Adkison was on board with the idea it was planning.
The original incarnation of the OGL had precisely the intended effect on a huge scale. Designers and publishers across the enterprise raced to get their piece of the D&D pie, even going so far as to adjust their existing games for play with the D&D ruleset, the D20 System. 3rd-party D20 products became almost as universal as D&D itself, setting the system as the gold standard in tabletop roleplaying for the 1st several years of the 21st century.