2012-04-26 OGL vs CC BY SA

Recently, Mark posted something interesting on Facebook:

Forget about a “big tent” when what you really need to unite the fractured D&D community is a solid foundation and a big house with lots of rooms, something the OGL is ideally suited to help accomplish. – Mark CMG on Facebook

I’m not happy with the Open Gaming License (OGL). What frustrates me the most are greedy publishers who declare everything important to be Product Identity.

I wanted to set up a wiki for fan generated content based on Necromancer Games’ book Bard’s Gate. To my surprise, I found the exact wording of the license precluded the reuse of anything important. That’s when I realized that the OGL can be cool, but it often isn’t. Unfortunately, the D&D 3.5 SRD came with the OGL and that’s why we are stuck with it.

No wonder the Bard’s Gate fan site promised in the book never materialized. The lock down certainly worked. The book has basically disappeared from our memory. I still have an archive of the wiki I started back then. Maybe I’ll get to use it in ninety years. Right.

Another example of how things are needlessly complicated by the OGL: The wiki Campaign:Monsters collects monsters for old school games. Making sure that the right OGL is linked is a major pain compared my fantasy alternative where the license says: “chapters bla bla and bla as well as all the magic items and feats are are in the public domain”.

When I wanted to import the Tome of Horrors with Swords & Wizardry stats into the Monsters wiki, I realized that I would basically have to rewrite all the monster descriptions because nothing but the name and the stat block were Open Content. Disappointing, again.

Unfortunately, the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC BY SA) alternative could be used to the same effect: requiring the listing of all the previous authors. The only thing that we would save is a page of legalese.

What I want is a viral license that “infects” the other parts of the works. No derivatives where all the new stuff is proprietary. I guess if you argued that importing monsters from a CC BY SA source into your book constitutes an adaptation and not a collection, then the CC BY SA does in fact “infect” your entire derived work.

This is a different trade-off. Perhaps no company would have jumped on the band-wagon back in the days of D&D 3.0. These days, however, as a consumer that is active online, that acts as an independent publisher like most of us do and wants to distribute derivative works in campaign wikis, blog posts, PDF documents, etc. – these days I find the CC BY SA license or the public domain to be much preferable to the OGL.

For a different perspective, check out Stuart Robertson’s Why I'm Not Using the OGL.



I’ve always thought the OGL easy to work with, it has allowed me to create derivitive works done by others and still protect the things I’ve created myself, plus there is literally a lifetimes worth of material that the OGL created based on the 3.x rules.

I checked my Tome of Horrors and it states on page 449 that monster descriptions are open game content. (I’ve been hoping to use the Tome for my own material) About the only headache is listing each monster taken from the Tome in the OGL of the content created.

Crose87420 2012-04-26 12:43 UTC

It’s true that page 669 (”Legal Appendix”) of the Swords & Wizardry edition of the _Tome of Horrors Complete_ says:

Designation of Open Game Content: […] including monster names, stats, and description

But below it also says:

Designation of Product Identity: […] proper names, personality, descriptions

When I mentioned this on the Necromancer Games forum, Matt Finch felt the designation of Product Identity took precedence over the designation of Open Game Content:

My opinion only, but I think it is the definition of Product Identity which trumps. The definition of Open Game Content includes: ‘“Open Game Content” means the game mechanic and includes the methods, procedures, processes and routines to the extent such content does not embody the Product Identity...’

I think the way it’s worded means that if you’ve got a specific designation of Product Identity, then whatever your definition of Open Game Content is, it’s still limited by the way that Product Identity was defined, rather than the other way around.

– Matt Finch (thread)

He’s referring to this part of the OGL:

Definitions: […] “Open Game Content” […] to the extent that such content does not embody the Product Identity […] “Product Identity” […] clearly identified as Product Identity by the owner of the Product Identity, and which specifically excludes the Open Game Content

As for the use of the OGL: I’m sure some uses are made much easier than they used to be in earlier days. My problem is exactly the use of derivative works: they mix the Open Content available to all and protect the things they created themselves (or do so at least partially). It makes it harder for me to distinguish what I can take as soon as I’m looking at works other than the main System Reference Document.

I’d like it better if those that benefit from the Open Content available were to give back as well.

I’d love to import the S&W ed. Tome of Horrors monsters into the wiki. I had practically everything ready to go before getting this reply. I was frustrated, and I still am.

AlexSchroeder 2012-04-26 22:05 UTC

Webmention: https://takeonrules.com/2020/12/30/discussing-the-open-gaming-license/

Jeremy Friesen 2020-12-30 16:56 UTC

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