D&D will change to defend against crypto and other forms of exploitation

In early 2023, Wizards of the Coast will announce a new licensing deal for the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons, called One D&D. This new framework will only cover written content, but its existence will affect creators of all kinds — including but not limited to authors, independent publishers, video producers and live actors.

The announcement, made in a Dec. 21 blog post, comes on the heels of a big year for publishers of alternative D&D content — including high-grossing crowdfunding campaigns and even a new startup trying to merge existing D&D content with cryptographic blockchain technologies.

The new licensing deal is still in the works, Wizards said, and is expected to go live in early 2023. Last week’s announcement, then, is an attempt to ease concerns among players and creators while lawyers sort things out behind the scenes.

“You are all important to us,” Wizards said on its newly acquired digital platform, D&D Beyond, promising to “provide transparency on how D&D will continue to support third-party creators.”

But the post, at just over 700 words, is painfully short on details. So let’s unpack what it says, and doesn’t say, about the future of D&D.

a massive five-headed dragon stands above the Dungeons & Dragons Book.

Photo: Charlie Hall/Poligon

Wizards currently maintains its relationship with game content creators through the System Reference Document (SRD), which is publicly licensed under the Open Gaming License (OGL). Think of the SRD as an abridged version of the larger 5th edition D&D content library — larger than what comes in your basic starter set, but far smaller than what’s available within core D&D rulebooks like Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. This content is legally exposed to the gaming public, through the terms set forth in the OGL, as a source for the creation of new content compatible with the D&D ruleset.

But according to Wizards, OGL is not specific enough as currently written.

“OGL needs an update to ensure it continues to do what it was intended to do,” Wizards said, which is to “allow the independent creators of the D&D community to build and play and develop the game we all love — without letting things like third-parties to mint D&D NFTs and big companies to exploit our intellectual property.”

Cover of the book The World of Critical Roles

Image: Gilmore’s Glorious Goods/Ten Speed ​​Press/Random House

The SRD and OGL are almost a decade old at this point, having been created prior to the launch of D&D 5th Edition in 2014. A lot has happened since then. D&D is more popular than ever before, of course, thanks in part to the resurgence of interest in tabletop roleplaying brought on by shows like Stranger Things and A critical role. Reality shows have grown from an oddity into a multi-million dollar segment of the entertainment industry. High-profile projects based on the 5th edition D&D rules, such as Blizzard CEO Chris Metzen Auroboros: Coils of the Serpent, are raising serious money through crowdfunding. Meanwhile, a startup called Gripnr aims to “build a 5e TTRPG on chain,” applying cryptographic blockchain technology – sort of – to D&D.

Given that landscape, you can easily imagine a Hasbro executive somewhere in a corner office closing the door to have a panic attack. Domestic competition of this type can have a significant impact on the future of a media brand. Look no further than Metzen’s own Warcraft, which helped give birth to video game MOBAs nearly 20 years ago. The globally popular MOBA genre, which includes league of legendshe started as Defense of the Ancients mod for Warcraft 3 — a mod that ultimately grew out of Blizzard’s control and became a major competitor to franchises like Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo.

Seen from that perspective, Wizards’ announcement makes a lot of sense. Hasbro has to guard against potential competition arising from its own community of players and fans, and that will mean some changes to the status quo — especially as D&D steps into the digital future.

Cover of Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition's Adventurer's Guide, an SRD-based book using OGL to create a more complex version of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

Image: EN Publishing

But D&D is a naturally creative pursuit. Hobbyists and small makers alike need to have access to something like the Systems Reference Document in order to develop the hobby. Therefore, Wizards said, changes to the Open Play License will only apply to “material created for use in or as [tabletop role-playing games].” Of course, that of course excludes… well… literally everything else.

“Other types of content, such as videos and video games, are only possible through the Wizards of the Coast Fan Content Policy or a custom agreement with us,” Wizards said. “To clarify: except for printed media and static electronic files, OGL does not cover this.”

Wizards continue to set some benchmarks for earning from that OGL-related content. Creators who earn more than $50,000 annually from SRD-related projects must report that income directly to Wizards of the Coast. Later, for anyone earning more than $750,000 a year, a new royalty scheme will be introduced from 2024.

What this means for the thousands of YouTubers, Etsy creators, 3D modelers, and small acting troupes who earn a modest income from D&D-based work remains unclear. The OGL is still being revised and regardless of what it says, the document is ultimately meaningless until Wizards backs it up with attempted legal action in the future. Will you have to pay Wizards every time you cast d20 resin and sell it to a customer? No, that’s absurd. But in the future, if your home campaign spawns an animated series on Amazon or your neat new setup ends up netting you millions on Kickstarter, you can expect to hear from Wizards of the Coast lawyers.

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