Business of RPGs
What Is the Open Gaming License?
By Anthony Valterra
Business Manager, Roleplaying Games
lived in the worlds of our characters, the game designing wizards here
at Wizards of the Coast would use psionic abilities to know exactly what
customers want, employ spellcasting powers to create perfect products
overnight, and teleport the games directly to players who want them. But
until "game designer" becomes a new prestige class (hey, we're
working on it!), the process of planning, developing, marketing, and distributing
roleplaying products remains a little more complicated. This monthly feature
offers insight into the business side of fun and games.
me begin by clearly stating: I am not a lawyer. That seems to be everyone's
first question when the subject of the Open Gaming License or the d20
trademark arises. With that out of the way, I'll take a shot at explaining,
in layman's terms, what this whole open gaming/d20 thing is and how it
impacts the average Dungeons & Dragons player.
to understand why Wizards of the Coast would create the Open Gaming License
we need to start with primary principles. Marcus Aurelius said, "Of
all things ask, what does it intrinsically do?" Dungeons
& Dragons is a game, and in order for a game to fulfill its function
it must be played. Yet one of the primary reasons people report leaving
the hobby is because they can't find anyone to play with. To increase
the chance of finding someone to play the game with, you need to increase
the network of players. Previous D&D business strategy promoted
the use of aggressive legal strategies to keep anyone from publishing
work that might be compatible with Dungeons & Dragons. In
hindsight, this approach only encouraged players to create new game systems
for their genres. As a result, new players brought in through those game
systems were playing a game that was incompatible with the D&D
system, which fragmented the paper-based roleplaying game genre.
are those who've interpreted the Open Gaming License as a statement that
Wizards wants only one gaming system -- d20 -- but that logic is faulty.
In fact, even casual research of Wizard's D&D brand management
strategy reveals a consistently stated belief that there will always be
room for multiple game systems. But instead of a bunch of game systems
that are close to D&D, there would be a few systems that vary
gaming license (OGL) says, in a nutshell, that you can create any product
you want using the core D&D mechanic (what we call the d20
system). You can change any rule you want, you can add any rule you want,
you can cover any subject you want. The only thing that you can't do is
keep anyone else from using the D&D rules you used or anything
you derived from those rules. In other words, you can play with the blocks
but you can't tell someone else that they can't play with the blocks as
well. In exchange, you don't owe Wizards any money, and Wizards has no
approval over your product
does Wizards get out of this deal? In addition to expanding the network
of D&D players, we also created a little trademarked "bug"
(logo you can put on products) called "d20." We own this little
logo. We get to say who uses this logo and what they can and can't do
if they want to use this logo. What this logo means is, "This product
is made with the d20 rules system." Everyone in the gaming community
has seen this logo and can now identify it, so it has recognition value.
want to put this logo on your product, there are some basic ground rules,
a few things you must and must not do. You must point people to the Player's
must not present character creation rules, and you must use the basic
terms of the d20 rules system unchanged (for example, Strength, Dexterity,
Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma). Now, just to be clear:
You don't have to use the d20 logo on your product. You
can simply use the Open Gaming License and ignore the whole d20 logo issue.
But so far everyone who has produced a game has felt that the d20 logo
is valuable enough to adhere to the few d20 rules.
about original material that someone creates, like characters or even
whole worlds? The OGL and the d20 rules provide for this. Simply maintain
some sort of separation between the original material you wish to retain
control of (not make open content) and the d20 rules. You could put a
shaded box around it or use a different font. Then, when you create a
muck monster, the name of the monster and the description are owned by
you, but how it works using the d20 system is part of the Open Gaming
world. You can still write a story about your muck monster (and no one
else can), and you can import it to another rule system if you wish. You
own the muck monster 100%. The only part that is open for others to use
are the rules using the d20 system that determine its abilities (things
like it armor class or how many dice of damage it does). This means that
someone could create the yucky monster and give it the same d20 rules
as your muck monster. However, they can not use any of the descriptions
of the monster you created, or its history, place in the ecological chain,
been asked a number of times if, in my personal opinion, the "d20
strategy" has been a success. People point to all of the products
flooding the market and think that this must mean that Wizards will cancel
the license because surely we didn't intend for other companies to embrace
the system to this extent. Well the answer is: Yes, I think the d20 strategy
is a huge success, and yes, that is exactly what we hoped would happen.
to The d20 System home page
for more information about the d20 System.
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