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The Open Game License (OGL) is a copyright license first released by Wizards of the Coast in 2000.


The Open Game License v1.0a grants a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license to use Open Game Content. Open Game Content refers to any content released under the license, which notably includes the System Reference Document for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition, 3.5, and 5th edition, which comprise most of the core rules of those editions. Several third parties have released content under the license.

The license allows anyone to distribute, copy, edit, format, modify, translate, and create derivative works from Open Game Content. The primary use of the OGL is the production of third-party Dungeons & Dragons content for 3rd and 5th edition. A stipulation of the OGL is that the user may not declare their product compatible with a trademark such as Dungeons & Dragons, although some publishers avoided this by describing them as compatible with "third edition" or "3.5". The publisher must also include the full text of the license in their work.



In the 1980s, the free software movement promoted the idea that users of a computer program should have the right to modify and distribute it. Various free software licenses were written to support this right, such as the GNU General Public license (GPL) in 1989.

In 1998, the Open Content Project released the Open Content License, a similar license intended for non-software material such as books. In 2002, this project was succeeded by Creative Commons, a set of licnses which, by 2019, was used to release nearly two billion works, including this wiki.

In roleplaying games, the 1990s saw the proliferation of a great number of competitors to Dungeons & Dragons, with many publishers each having their own incompatible rules system. The years 1993 to 1996 saw a collapse in the commercial roleplaying game market, followed by TSR's bankruptcy in 1997. D&D brand manager Ryan Dancey would ultimately blame the collapse on the variety of systems, and argued that rules standardization would help to stabilize the market.[1]

Dungeons & Dragons original publisher TSR historically tightly controlled publication of D&D-related content by third parties, including fan websites. Following their bankruptcy and acquisition by Wizards of the Coast in 1997, TSR's internet policy allowed fans to produce D&D content for non-profit purposes, but forbade use of copyrighted text or commercial use. The policy was also not legally binding.[2]


During the development of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition, D&D brand manager Ryan Dancey came up with a proposal to release the new rules under an open content license. Inspired by such licenses as the GPL, Dancey envisioned that the core mechanics of D&D third edition, known as the d20 System, would be made available to publishers free of charge.[3]

The concept was pitched to Hasbro CEO in 1999 as part of an overview of work conducted by Wizards of the Coast's Research & Development department. Wizards of the Coast's roleplaying games division represented a minority of its sale figures at this point, and Hasbro was unconcerned with the financial effect of the Open Game License.[1] Based on copyright dates in an early draft of the OGL, the text of the license was being worked on in 1999.

To support the concept, Dancey founded the Open Gaming Foundation. The web domain opengamingfoundation.org was registered on January 31, 2000. A mailing list was also established.

The OGL was based on two philosophies. First, that the license must allow content to be freely copied, modified, and distributed. This in turn means that it cannot prohibit commercial distribution, cannot require review or approval from the copyright holder, and cannot require a fee to be paid. The second feature was that the license cannot be revoked in future, and content released as open cannot be withdrawn.[4][5]

Dancey believed that open-sourcing D&D would ultimately benefit the success of Dungeons & Dragons, for several reasons. Firstly, the theory of network effect states that the value of a product rises with the number of users. Dancey had been skeptical of this theory for many years, but came to believe that giving away the rules would maximize the number of people who knew how to play it, which would make it harder for rival rules systems to compete with D&D.[3]

Secondly, Dancey believed in something called the "Skaff Effect", named for Wizards of the Coast game designer Skaff Elias, who stated that "All marketing and sales activity in a hobby gaming genre eventually contributes to the overall success of the market share leader in that genre." Historically, D&D had usually been the market leader in roleplaying games. By this theory, then, supporting rival RPG publishers would actually help to popularize D&D.[3]

Dancey predicted that the OGL would make it easier for publishers to produce products which supported D&D, with the ultimate goal being to funnel sales towards the Player's Handbook, the most successful D&D book in any game edition. The ubiquity of d20-based systems would also create market resistance to non-d20 rule systems. Additionally, he envisioned that, as with free and open source software, publishers including Wizards of the Coast could benefit from improvements and innovations in their products. It would also provide an opportunity for Wizards of the Coast to define a clear acceptable use policy for its content, which would support the industry in general.[3]

Prior to the release of D&D third edition, Dancey stated that the OGL would specifically allow third-party D&D adventure modules, fan-made campaign settings published online, homebrew races and classes, third-party sourcebooks of spells, magic items and monsters, and even entire original roleplaying games.[3] This attitude was a radical departure from Wizards of the Coast's predecessor TSR, who had in the past sued and issued cease and desist orders to fan websites and threatened rival RPG publishers with lawsuits.

Internal opinion on the license was mixed. Third edition lead designer Monte Cook initially disliked the concept, but eventually came around on it, later crediting third-party support as key to D&D third edition's early success.[6]


A draft version v0.2 of the Open Game License was released early in 2000. The license was planned to be approved no later than April, although by August 2000 it was still not released on the site.

By October 8, 2000, the Open Game License Version 1.0 was released. The significant differences from the draft were:

  • The OGL now grants a "license", rather than a "copyright and trademark sublicense".
  • A clause forbids including "product identity", a broadly defined category including product names, trade dress, trademarks, and a broad category of descriptive or narrative content, other than that released under the OGL. The attached FAQ describes "product identity" as non-open, non-game rule content which may appear in an open product, but which is not intended to be released as open.
  • It also forbids indicating compatibility with a trademark, which would prevent a publisher from advertising works as "compatible with D&D".
  • Wizards of the Coast, rather than the Open Gaming Foundation, have the authority to release updated versions of the Open Game License.
  • An attached FAQ indicates that Wizards of the Coast's legal team had officially approved the Version 1.0 license. It also indicates that anyone can use the OGL, including to release content unrelated to Wizards of the Coast, and that it is necessary to include the entire text of the OGL in a product.

By January 8, 2001, an updated Version 1.0a of the OGL was released. The only difference was to change the text "Trademark" to "Trademark or Registered Trademark" regarding the prohibition on identifying product compatibility. As of February 2023, version 1.0a is still the most current version.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition[]

Wizards of the Coast used the Open Gaming License to release the System Reference Document (SRD), a publication consisting of most of the core rules of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. The SRD would notably omit copyrighted names of characters, certain monsters such as the mind flayer and beholder, and rules for gaining experience or leveling up.

Wizards would subsequently use the OGL to release an updated System Reference Document based on the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 revision. They would also release the epic level rules from the Epic Level Handbook (2002), psionics rules from the Expanded Psionics Handbook (2004), divine rules from Deities and Demigods (3e) (2002), variant rules from Unearthed Arcana (3e) (2004), and the razor boar and scorpionfolk from Monster Manual II (3e) (2002).

Uptake of the OGL by third-party publishers was initially huge, although there were early difficulties with license compliance, such as companies failing to include a copy of the license text. Some third-party publishers released their works under open licenses of their own invention, as an alternative to Wizards of the Coast's OGL. In 2002, Ryan Dancey criticized this pattern, suggesting that they should use the OGL to avoid creating artificial barriers to using content.[7]

The permissive OGL allowed the SRD to be adapted and published in hyperlinked web form, such as The Hypertext d20 SRD. It also allowed third parties to publish entire roleplaying games which were substantially similar to Dungeons & Dragons; notable among these were Arcana Unearthed by D&D 3rd edition lead designer Monte Cook, and the low-magic Iron Heroes by Mike Mearls, who would go on to be lead designer of D&D 4th and 5th editions.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition[]

In 2006, Monte Cook correctly predicted that Wizards of the Coast would release a new edition of D&D in 2008. He recommended making the game open, as had been done with third edition, but expressed skepticism that Wizards of the Coast would do so, due to the company's habit of annual layoffs which saw many of the original supporters of the OGL let go. He also correctly predicted that the OGL would allow third-party D&D 3.5 support to continue.[8]

With the release of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition in 2008, Wizards of the Coast chose not to release that edition under the OGL, instead creating a new non-open Game System License. This allowed publishers of D&D 4th edition compatible products to refer to D&D game terms, but not to include any rules text. A System Reference Document was made, but it consisted only of game terms and rules, and reprinting definitions of game terms or the entire SRD was forbidden by the GSL. Wizards of the Coast also reserved the right to terminate the GSL, which they had not done for the OGL.[9]

The GSL was unpopular with publishers, with many opting not to release 4th edition material at all. Since Wizards of the Coast had not revoked the OGL, it was still possible to release content for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5.

When D&D 4th edition proved less popular than expected, third-party publishers were able to use the OGL to publish new roleplaying games based partly on D&D 3.5. Especially notable among these was Pathfinder RPG, Paizo's fork of D&D 3.5, which allowed them to continue publishing the Pathfinder series of adventure modules. Pathfinder became a major competitor to D&D 4th edition, becoming more popular on gaming site Roll20 by 2014. Another major category of contenders were retro-clones such as OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord, which used game terms released under the OGL to reproduce older editions of D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition[]

On January 12, 2016, Wizards of the Coast released the D&D 5th edition SRD, referred to as the System Reference Document 5.0.[10][11] The SRD 5.0 was released under the OGL v1.0a, the same license which was used for D&D 3.5. A revised version, SRD v5.1, was released on May 4, 2016.

The System Reference Document was prepared, which included most of the core rules, though not all. For example, the SRD v5.1 included only one background, one feat, one subrace for each race, one archetype for each class, and one artifact. It omitted many spells or magic items that had not appeared in the 3.5 SRD, and as before omitted "product identity" monsters such as the mind flayer. However, unlike the 3.5 SRD, it did include rules for experience points and leveling up.

Separately, a fan content policy allowed fans to use Wizards of the Coast's material in produce fan works such as fanart, fan websites, YouTube videos, livestreams, and podcasts, provided that they were free of charge and clearly unofficial. However, it forbade republishing verbatim D&D rules content or trademarks.[12]

2023 OGL controversy[]

On November 11, 2022, YouTuber Indestructoboy reported a rumor that the upcoming revision of D&D would not be released under the OGL.[13] On November 21, Wizards of the Coast responded that D&D would continue supporting third-party content, but suggested upcoming changes to the OGL.[14]

On December 21, 2022, Wizards announced plans to release a new OGL 1.1 in early 2023. Major changes included requirements for publishers to sign a license agreement, report product releases to Wizards of the Coast, report revenue over $50,000, and pay royalties over $750,000. The license would also only authorize books and ebooks, not other forms of media.[15]

On January 9, 2023, a draft of an OGL v1.1 was leaked to the internet, along with commentary.[16] It proposed radical changes to the functioning of the OGL, and was extremely controversial in the D&D community. It would have applied to the SRD v5.1, which had previously been released under the original OGL 1.0a. Notable changes included:

  • The original OGL v1.0a would be no longer authorized, while the new OGL v1.1 is itself revokable and can be modified at any time. Section 9 of the original OGL v1.0a had established that while Wizards of the Coast reserved the right to publish new versions of the OGL, publishers were free to use any version of the OGL. In 2001, the OGL FAQ asserted that even if Wizards made a more restrictive version of the OGL, the community would legally be free to use old OGL.[17]
  • Commercial publishers must register their products with Wizards of the Coast. The Open Gaming Foundation's original policy was that registration requirements or signed agreements were harmful to the OGL, since they allowed Wizards of the Coast to forbid books.
  • Commercial publishers making over $50,000 gross per year would have to report earnings to Wizards of the Coast, while those earning over $750,000 per year would have to pay a 25% licensing fee, or 20% if funded by Kickstarter.
  • Non-commercial creators must release their work under a Share-Alike license.
  • Only print books and ebooks are covered, not apps, websites, music or videos. Further, only roleplaying games and roleplaying game supplements are covered. The 2001 OGL FAQ previously stated that the OGL v1.0a allowed websites and software.
  • Wizards of the Coast receives a royalty-free license to use your content. This clause appears to have been added to indemnify Wizards of the Coast against claims that their content is too similar to an OGL v1.1 licensed work due to a coincidence.
  • A clause forbids hateful content, such as racism or sexism.

In response to poor reception of the leaked OGL v1.1, Wizards released a draft OGL v1.2 to address these issues. This would have released parts of the SRD v5.1 under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY 4.0), removed the non-commercial Share-Alike clause, removed the commercial registration and royalty requirements, limited Wizards' ability to modify the agreement, removed Wizards' license to licensee's content. However, OGL v1.2 would still de-authorize OGL v1.0a, and still only applied to books and ebooks.

The OGL v1.2 was also poorly received. Following a survey, 90% of respondents reacted negatively.

In response, on January 27, 2023, Wizards of the Coast announced that they would not move foward with the OGL update, and that OGL v1.0a would not be revoked. Additionally, the entire SRD v5.1 was released under the Creative Commons (CC-BY 4.0) license. Notably, the CC-BY 4.0 license is explicitly irrevocable.[18]

The OGL change was reportedly instigated by Chris Cocks,[19] Cocks was CEO of Wizards of the Coast until February 2022, when he was promoted to CEO of parent company Hasbro. Cocks would go on to cut 20% of Hasbro's workforce across all divisions.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition revised[]

On May 6, 2024, it was announced that the upcoming revised version of D&D 5th edition would also receive a System Reference Document, titled SRD 5.2. The release was scheduled to follow the Monster Manual (5e revised) (2025) in February 2025. However, the SRD 5.2 would be released under the Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0), and likely not use the OGL. The SRD 5.1 would remain available.[20]

External links[]