The fallout from the OGL 1.1 leak as been snowballing from a serious gaffe into a full-blown avalanche of bad press and burnt bridges over the last week. Companies like Kobold Press and MCDM, among the heaviest hitters in the 5e OGL third party publishing world have announced that they’re moving forward with their own proprietary systems after completing their scheduled 5e contents. Other publishers are taking this opportunity to expand their community content programs, such as Pinnacle Entertainment Group (Savage Worlds) and Modiphius (2d20), or are expanding their OGL and SRD documents like Monty Cook Games. So what’s an OGL, what’s Open Source, and what’s available to creators and end users alike in terms of finding new systems to work with?
NOTICE: All of this is based on my limited and no legal knowledge or training having information. Thoroughly research everything before you launch an endeavour. Nothing in this article should be construed or accepted as legal advice. We good? Good.
OGL vs Open Source
This can be confusing. But, to my mind, an OGL generally references components of a larger game that are available for use by you or others, and how you can use them. OGL’s are usually paired with an SRD (system reference document) that directly gives you all or nearly all that you can use directly. There’s also usually some instructions about use, labelling, crediting and so on. After that it’s up to you to fill in the blanks, expand things, and if needs be develop new rules and mechanics if you need them. An Open Source game, in my experience, is a game and licence wrapped in one. You get the whole game to work with, and there’s usually some instructions on who to credit, and possibly some other use limitations. Many open source games are released under Creative Commons licences, with the least restrictive being “CC BY” where you only have to credit the original creator, and the most restrictive being “CC BY NC SA” where you must credit the original creator, cannot use the content commercially, and must let others use your content under the same restrictions.
Basically, they’re different licence and use instructions because few is any games are released for use by other creators without something attached. This also serves to protect the original creator(s) legally in the unlikely but possible event that someone tries to publish content using their imprint or publishes material in violation of the licence scheme.
A simple reality is that licences can change and that creators and companies can choose which if any of their products have licences. In a perfect world, things are irrevocable and/or perpetual and come out with ever new edition of a game. But as we’re seeing with OGL 1.1 and have seen in the past with 4e’s hated GSL, this isn’t always the case. Community can come second to the bottom line or perceived gains, and the larger the company, the more likely this will be the case. But overall, most companies who establish a licence regime will keep it going. But be aware that they’re not obligated to, and that you can potentially be trapped working in a previous edition.
An increasingly popular option used by companies is a community content program. These are, in my opinion, a mixed bag, because depending on the stipulations of the agreement, you as a creator may own none or only some of the content you create, and there’s usually royalties. For example, on some DriveThru RPG community content programs, creators get 50% of a sale price paid to them, and share ownership of their creations with the company that owns the game. In others, the company may own everything made. There’s also the challenge of balancing the benefits of being able to have brand recognition from the game, but also having to do your own publicity and advertising work. But if this all works and you’re comfortable with the agreement, this can become a great additional income source or even a primary one if the game fandom and community are large enough.
Alternate Games to Work With
A lot of people have been clear that they’re looking to jump ship and are looking for other game systems to work in. So what’s available? Please realize this list is not exhaustive and reflects things I pulled off the top of my head while writing this.
Fari Games is a Canadian independent game creator who has created multiple open systems under CC BY, Charge, Dash, and Breathless.
Modiphius has launched its community content program for the 2d20 system, with a very specific clause that states that creators maintain full ownership of any IP they create and may move to other media or systems.
Open Legend is a robust open-source game with a thriving community and solid community licence. Some people have also converted almost all the D&D monsters to it.
There’s also a literal raft of amazing systems available on the indie scene, some of my faves like 24XX and Caltrop Core EX are here in this list. These have more legs than many people think, and are gaining and growing large fanbases.
These are turbulent times, especially for the 5e fanbase and creator community who are going through their first big shake up. It’s rough, and that roughness is a big part of why so many other creators and myself are always talking about trying other systems and having a plurality of games as a norm. It makes things like this pass much more easily and gives you leverage as a consumer and as a creator to protest decisions that hurt the hobby as a whole.