Hey folks! You’ve probably heard that a draft of the OGL v1.1 from WotC has been leaked. We’ve heard what this means for publishers thanks to folks like The Rules Lawyer and Linda Codega. We haven’t heard much about the VTT side of things. As a VTT developer, we’ll be weighing in on this issue from the digital TTRPG side of things. We’ll be explaining how this is a clear attempt for WotC to consolidate power in the digital TTRPG space at the expense of independent (and some large) publishers.
If you aren’t sure what the OGL is, we’ll let Wikipedia do the work on this one.
Before we dive into how this will affect the VTT space, we need to look at the context for the OGL v1.1 release.
D&D Beyond is by far the most popular tool for character management in D&D5e. It contains a fully searchable and filterable repository of all game rules, classes, races, spells, etc. It also does character management, encounter building and dice rolls, and hosts a digital copy of all official 5e adventures. Essentially, if you’re using any official content from Wizards of the Coast, you can find it on D&D Beyond.
Last year D&D Beyond was purchased by Wizards of the Coast for $146.3 million. At the time of purchase they had amassed almost 10 million users (now ~13 million based on a recent investor call). We learnt recently that WotC is using D&D Beyond as the cornerstone of their new digital D&D offering. All of the content and automation that is needed to play 5e can be managed through D&D Beyond except for one key element – interactive maps. That’s where the recent announcement of Wizards’ new VTT, OneD&D, comes into the picture.
male models VTTs?
For those that haven’t heard of the term before, VTTs are virtual tabletops. They allow people to run their games digitally, either online or in person. VTTs tend to provide tools and/or automation to make running your games smoother and more immersive. They are also very useful for those who have party members in multiple locations.
VTT use is at its highest point ever. After two years of global isolation, players flocked to online VTTs such as Roll20, Foundry, Fantasy Grounds, and Owlbear Rodeo. This led to millions of players who typically play around the table to experience digital tabletop tools for the first time, and by far the most popular game they were playing was D&D.
Playing D&D online
Right now 5e is played everywhere, and could make up as much as half of all TTRPG games played globally based on information from last year’s Orr report. This is a huge market, and right now it’s spread over every VTT out there. Wouldn’t it be great for Wizards of the Coast if everyone was playing on a platform that they fully owned and controlled? GMs could buy all their content from WotC directly, without needing to revenue share with those other VTTs. The famously under-monetised players could customise and personalise their characters with purchaseable cosmetics or character sheets that are provided by WotC directly, not by independent artists.
Wizards of the Coast certainly seems to think that this is a great idea. Enter OneD&D.
OneD&D is a new VTT being built by Wizards, slated for a 2024 release. Early footage from the announcement trailer shows it as a highly detailed 3D platform that provides all the standard VTT features. However, with everyone already using all the other VTT platforms competition would be quite fierce. That is, unless they had a way to shut out others from the market.
We think that’s one of the primary purposes of OGL v1.1 – to deliberately remove the competition for digital D&D tools, leaving WotC with the monopoly on all future D&D content through D&D Beyond and OneD&D.
Consolidating Power – OGL v1.1
The primary thing we need to worry about in the VTT space is covered by the following excerpts. We’ve bolded the important bits:
- From the recent OGL post on DnDBeyond: “those materials are only ever permitted as printed media or static electronic files (like epubs and PDFs)”, and
- This section from Linda’s Gizmodo article: “[The updated license] only allows for creation of roleplaying games and supplements in printed media and static electronic file formats. It does not allow for anything else, including but not limited to things like … virtual tabletops or VTT campaigns … You may engage in these activities only to the extent allowed under the Wizards of the Coast Fan Content Policy or separately agreed between You and Us.”
The mostly overlooked takeaway from OGL v1.1 is that it only covers static electronic files. That is, content that can not be altered in any way, and content that is in transferrable file form. No websites. Even if you’re putting up a single static web page, if it’s got text from a 5e book it’s illegal.
Creating a form fillable PDF? Not allowed. Building your own 5e character manager? Illegal. A 5e compendium? Do not pass go, do not collect $200 (ironically also a reference to a Hasbro product). Nothing that is both digital and interactive can be published without a special ‘custom agreement’ with WotC.
The forbidden content
Here’s a few examples of things that are both digital and interactive that OGL v1.1 forbids:
- A fully searchable and filterable repository of any 5e content. If you can show or hide content based on a set of filters, it’s not static
- Character management
- Encounter building
I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty close to all the things that D&D Beyond does! What else could you consider digital and interactive I wonder?
- Interactive maps
- Automation of 5e rules and combat
That’s sounding quite a bit like the features a VTT might provide! How awfully convenient that WotC is releasing one in 2024!
“But VTTs already have agreements, so OGL v1.1 won’t affect them”
This is an argument that WotC has already made, and no doubt will continue making until the release of OneD&D. This is specifically what they’ve said:
“The top VTT platforms already have custom agreements with Wizards to do what they do.” (source). This is a handwaving a lot of issues.
Firstly, note here that the top VTT platforms are specifically Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. FoundryVTT, who at this point we would very much consider a top VTT, does not have a custom agreement with WotC. Arkenforge (who we consider a pretty great VTT) does not have an agreement with WotC. The vast majority of VTTs don’t have an agreement with WotC.
As Foundry founder and developer Atropos himself said recently: “We’ve been actively monitoring this situation and we’re going to be proactively working on a path forward that will cover our use case and allow us to support One D&D. We are not, however, in a position to do so already under the terms of today’s post. There is work to do“.
This isn’t a surprise
We alluded to this in our previous article about the D&D Beyond purchase: “The bigger implication here though is the continuation of ‘unofficial’ D&D Beyond support. …there are a large number of tools out there that are currently skirting an incredibly grey area of licensing. Neither D&D Beyond or WotC have approved these tools…. Knowing WotC, it’s incredibly likely that as the release of the VTT draws near, the creators of these tools will start receiving Cease and Desist letters and takedown notices”. It’s why we’ve deliberately shied away for putting anything even remotely close to 5e into our software. We’d love to have functionality that allows us to pull D&D Beyond data, but it’s a dangerous area.
There’s a very long list of VTTs that have appeared in the last few years that primarily serve 5e content. Too many to list here. All of these VTTs are risking cease and desists under OGL v1.1. Tools that pull content from Beyond, or even tools that allow for easy browsing of the 5e ruleset are also illegal under OGL v1.1.
Independent releases on VTTs
The other elephant in the room with Wizards’ statement is that this agreement is with VTT platforms that release their own versions of 5e books. VTTs are also an excellent marketplace for independent creators. They can publish their content for people to play directly without needing to worry about printing and distribution. Many Patreons also offer VTT content for their higher tier patrons.
Content that independent creators create and sell on these platforms is not part of the VTT agreement. Most likely the OGL v1.1 will prevent them from creating interactive digital versions of their products to sell on VTT marketplaces. This is going to force anyone wanting to create online D&D content to OneD&D, who will more than likely provide plentiful tools to publish your content through their own platform.
The ability for WotC to revoke any license with only 30 days’ warning can put a strain on those VTTs with marketplaces. We could very well have a message from Wizards that we need to remove a certain product at once. Not only does this put stress on our the people managing our marketplace, it can also annoy users who could see any D&D-related purchased content vanish from their libraries with no warning.
OGL v1.1 overreach
As you read above, we expected the heavy-handed crackdown on 5e content. It’s only natural that WotC would try to reduce competition and move as many players as possible to their own platform. What we didn’t expect however, were the changes to OGL publishing.
Wizards is trying very hard to have OGL 1.1 be the only publishable license available. They’re already trying to claim that the existing OGL is now unauthorized, which would prevent anyone from publishing under it.
If you think this will only affect D&D, here’s just some of the popular Publishers and TTRPGs that are published under the previous OGL.
- Paizo – Pathfinder, Starfinder
- Evil Hat Productions – Fate, The Dresden Files RPG
- Pinnacle Entertainment – Pathfinder for Savage Worlds
- Green Ronin Publishing – Mutants and Masterminds
This leads to one big question for publishers and VTTs alike. Can these publishers publish VTT versions of their systems and adventures? The new OGL says no.
A digital graveyard
Under the new licensing, Mutants and Masterminds can’t decide to put their content on any VTT without consulting WotC first. We likely can’t get official Pathfinder or Starfinder content on our own Arkenforge store because those new products may violate OGL v1.1’s ‘no interactive digital content’ terms. Despite a publisher already having a deep library of content, converting an existing adventure module for a VTT can easily be classified as a ‘new product’ that OGL v1.1 covers. No third parties could create digital content for these systems either. Many people will likely try to continue releasing content for open VTTs such as Foundry under the Fan Content Policy, but that’s treading into an incredibly grey area and will most likely be forbidden.
If this interpretation is correct (and all signs so far point to WotC trying to push this as the correct interpretation) then there’s a lot more than D&D that will be affected by this change in the digital space. Several independent creators will be unable to keep up releases with new VTTs unless Wizards allows them to. This simple change in the OGL gives Wizards of the Coast complete control of the digital future of several popular roleplaying games. We sincerely hope that this isn’t the interpretation that they end up going with.
Wizards of the Coast strongly believes that online, digital tools are the future of tabletop roleplaying. They’ve structured OGL v1.1 to try and monopolise this space for all future D&D content. Both large and independent publishers can only release digital content on Wizards’ terms. These terms will likely come with either OneD&D exclusivity requirements or some level of royalties. They can also choose to shut people out of the digital market entirely. OGL v1.1 gives WotC the ability to stop Paizo releasing any future Starfinder content on any VTT. There’s a couple of other tricks that they have up their sleeve that we unfortunately can’t discuss for legal reasons.
OGL v1.1 in its current form will undoubtedly be disastrous for the future of independent creators for 5e content. Wizards is unhappy with the lack of control they’ve had over independent creators in the past, and they’re now tightening their grip too hard. We can only hope that enough people speak out to make these Wizards break concentration.