January 23, 2023 How D&D Could Change Open Source Forever-Here's What You Need to Know

By Samuel Ancer

By Sam Ancer

Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop role playing game where players group together to go on adventures and tell an amazing fantasy story.

Created in 1974 by Gary Gygax, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) has been a central part of the fantasy zeitgeist since.

Part of the growth of D&D has been the Open Game Licence (OGL) 1.0 which was created in the year 2000.

The OGL 1.0 allowed for people to create custom adventures under the banner of D&D. The original essentially created an open source licence for the creation of stories and game mechanics where the owners of D&D, Wizards of the Coast (WoC) could collect a share of the profits generated.

One D&D

There have been variations of the OGL with the various releases of different versions of D&D. The latest official release Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition reverted back to the original OGL. This helped the growth of the game, with the simpler rules of 5th edition, the player base of D&D has increased massively. There appears to be some concern with the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

One D&D is an even more streamlined version of Dungeons and Dragons that is designed to be backwards compatible with 5th edition. 

Concerns from the community emerged when a document leaked that was allegedly a plan by D&D creators to develop a new Open Game Licence.

The alleged new licence would mean that creators would have to adjust their products to fall in line with the new rules of WoC, and it could also lead them to have to give up 50% of their profits for any sales made.

D&D and Open Source

If you are familiar with Open Source practises the Dungeons and Dragons OGL might sound familiar to a number of Open Source Licences that exist in the tech space.

Much like the OGL, Open Source Licences allow developers to create, alter, and change products so long as they follow the established rules of the licence.

With Wizards of the Coast attempting to change the agreement within the OGL and render the old OGL moot, it could cause some concerns for the Open Source community.

If the creators associated with the OGL decided to take legal action against WoC for their new OGL, it could establish a legal precedent for revoking Open Licences, including Open Source Licences.

How D&D Could Change Open Source Forever

If legal precedent is established then Open Source Licences could be revoked by the owner of the copyright.

For example, Microsoft might decide that it's not worth their while to continue to have their Microsoft Public Licence (MS-PL) and decide to reverse access to their Open Source software.

This concern may not be particularly realistic as most practitioners of Open Source believe they gain more by having a community work towards improving and developing an application than an individual.

However, Wizards of the Coast benefited massively by having their Open Gaming Licence publicly available. Not only from the additional content it created for its community, but in free advertising that was done for its products by the Open Gaming community. 

Regardless, WoC allegedly decided to alter their product for the sake of their bottom line, which means that software development companies may start to think along the same lines.

However, with the public outcry that has come from the tabletop roleplaying community, it appears that Wizards of the Coast will be backtracking their changes for now.

But the question still remains, if WoC decides to continue along the lines of their alleged leaked document, what could happen to Open Source Licence agreements?

Well according to United States copyright law, copyright holders have the ability to revoke grants of copyright, provided that grant has been available for over 35 years. While this act is unlikely to affect any Open Source Licences that exist for quite some time, there does appear to be some concern around the status of Open Source Licences that are held by copyright holders.

Lovers of Open Source needn’t worry though. The reality is that organisations who provide Open Source Licences are either fundamentally tied into the ideals of Open Source, or realise the immense value in having communal development.

Either way, Wizards of the Coast’s decision to potentially change their Open Game Licence is something to keep an eye on, but it is unlikely that it could have any drastic impact on the way Open Source operates.

Let us know your thoughts on D&D’s potential impact on Open Source Licencing.