I know what you’re thinking. Is this finally it? Is Magic: the Gathering actually going to die this time? Or is it like the other ten thousand times someone has told me that this is the end of Magic only for the game to just continue growing and growing despite the removal of interrupts sixth edition rules change new borders commander products reprint sets un-sets weekly Secret Lair drops (nailed it)?

Fortunately (or unfortunately I suppose) the answer is still no. Magic is not dying. But I have good news for people who love bad news!

This is the cover art for the album Good News for People Who Love Bad News by the artist Modest Mouse. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, Epic, or the graphic artist(s).

The cover art for the album Good News for People Who Love Bad News by the artist Modest Mouse.

Should I have gone with a Professor Farnsworth “good news” gif? Maybe, but instead you can enjoy some early oughts alternative rock which might cheer you up a bit as we get back to the “bad news.”

It turns out that while they haven’t yet figured out a way to kill their golden goose, Wizards of the Coast has decided the time has come to put its other marquee product, Dungeons and Dragons, out to pasture. No, they’re not pulling the plug on the world’s most recognizable tabletop role-playing game, but based on some leaked information about changes to legal licensing rights, it certainly seems like Wizards, and their parent company Hasbro, may be putting their coming-soon-to-a-theater-near-you intellectual property on life support.

Alright let’s back up a moment. At this point if you’re still here I assume you have a few questions:

  1. What’s going on with Dungeons and Dragons?
  2. Is it actually going to be the end of D&D? That seems dumb, no?
  3. And, why should I care?

The Dungeons and Dragons OGL v1.0a

Here’s a real brief primer on the Dungeons and Dragons Open Game License version 1.0a. This is a pretty succinct legal document that, and I am not a lawyer so please forgive this journalist’s summary, allows third-party game studios to use the Dungeons and Dragons rules as the framework for their own game settings. This means you could build your own fantasy role-playing setting, and use D&D’s rules, so long as you include this license and make sure to credit Wizards for making Dungeons & Dragons.

If you are a member of the tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) community, then you might agree with me that it is an understatement to say that the Dungeons & Dragons OGL has had a profound impact on the industry since it was first introduced in the year 2000 alongside the 3rd Edition of D&D (the first edition to be released by Wizards of the Coast following their acquisition of TSR which published the first two editions of D&D).

Let me say that one more time for the folks in the back: this license is the backbone of the third-party TTRPG industry. Countless studios of various shapes and sizes have created derivative works that have flourished and built a huge community. A few short weeks ago I was strolling the halls of the Philadelphia Convention Center at PAX Unplugged looking at vendor after vendor hawking their own RPG systems, many of which were either built directly on top of D&D or were built on another rules system using the same OGL concept for sharing rules.

The Dungeons and Dragons OGL v1.1

Not too long ago it became common knowledge that a new license was coming with a new re-launch of Dungeons and Dragons, named somewhat ominously OneDnD. A few weeks ago details of the new license began to leak and they were not good. They involved reporting requirements, royalties being paid to Wizards of the Coast, and most egregiously perhaps the demand for irrevocable rights to 3rd-party content to be granted to Wizards.

Earlier this week the full document was published to http://ogl.battlezoo.com/. The first thing you might notice when you open that document is that it’s 15 pages long. Version 1.0a was contained on a single computer screen. It’s hard to imagine 14 more pages of legal clauses was going to improve anyone’s life. Part of the reason its so long is because its so complicated it includes a lot of “commentary” on the legal terms.

The first part of the document deals with non-commercial content. This is, essentially, stuff you don’t charge money for. You can get donations to support your work so long as you still offer it to anyone for free. This section is pretty straight-forward. Since you’re not making money, Wizards can’t try to skim off the top of your profits. This essentially works the same way as the old license. You just need to identify the parts you took from Wizards’ licensed content.

But, there’s a catch. Let’s take a look at Section X: OTHER PRODUCTS:

I understand why Wizards put this here. They’re afraid that if you make a game based on D&D, and then they make a product that looks like your product you’ll sue them for copyright infringement. So to protect themselves they’ve said that if you make a game based on D&D, you own it, but you give Wizards a nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, royalty-free license to use for whatever they want. Now, it’s likely not Wizards intent to just steal your work and do whatever they want, but if they did decide to do that, there’s nothing you could do to stop them.

This seems to me like a complete non-starter. Why would anyone start a business when a core part of the business model is you have to give your work away, for free, to a massive corporation like Hasbro. Especially if you’re giving your work away to your fans for free already!

The Money Makers

The commercial license is similar to the non-commercial version except for two key provisions. The first is REGISTRATION AND REPORTING. This section informs content creators that if they use the OGL for their content and they earn any commercial revenue they need to register their product with Wizards of the Coast. The second section is ROYALTIES. Here’s the basics:

The 20% vs 25% thing is clarified later and has to do with whether or not you use Kickstarter. Since they’re already fleecing you, Wizards is going to give you a break on the royalties you have to pay them. There’s also a clause that if you use another platform similar to Kickstarter you can contact them and try to negotiate a different rate. How sweet of them, right?

This is the clause that is going to kill Dungeons and Dragons.

Wait, For Real?

Like I said earlier, the existing OGL is the backbone of an entire industry. Wizards of the Coast has expressed, through their CEO’s recent fireside chat and past quarterly earnings, that they believe they could be making more money off of Dungeons and Dragons. While that’s possibly true, it seems that trying to juice the rest of the industry for 20~25% of its revenue isn’t necessarily the best way to go about things.

Many creators have shared their thoughts on social media and the sentiment seems unanimous. The combination of having to give up exclusive ownership rights and also pay royalties is going to be a non-starter for many businesses, and the vast majority of them are simply going to abandon using Wizards’ licensed products (namely the Dungeons and Dragons SRD).

One of the reasons Dungeons and Dragons has become so popular is that the OGL has proliferated third-party games that are built on top of Dungeons and Dragons. However, unlike Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons is not without major competition in the world of tabletop RPGs. Systems like World of Darkness, Mutants and Masterminds, Fate, and others have been around for many years and given D&D plenty of competition. It is easy to imagine, and many creators have already speculated, that the industry will simply shift from using the D&D SRD to using one or several other SRDs that will still use a license similar or identical to OGL 1.0a.

As this happens, the name Dungeons and Dragons will appear less in the community, and much of the goodwill the brand has established will be lost. It seems that this is a risk Wizards and Hasbro are willing to take on, perhaps hoping that the upcoming movie and recently announced show coming to Paramount+ along with relevant cultural zeitgeist events like Stranger Things will keep the D&D brand healthy.

What About Magic?

Magic doesn’t have the kind of third-party creator community that Dungeons and Dragons has. There’s no OGL for the core rules of Magic that allows people to create derivative games. So there’s no direct impact on Magic. However, there is the indirect impact which is this: Hasbro has made it clear, with the release of the OGL v1.1, that they have very little regard for the livelihood of the communities built around their games, and their concerns are strictly tied to their profitability.

Uh, duh?

But, hear me out. I think there are two things to consider when it comes to how this affects Magic going forwards.

First, if this does have a tangible monetary impact on the profitability of Dungeons and Dragons (which I suspect it will), then it’s likely Hasbro will try to recoup those losses through Magic, it’s golden goose. That might mean increasing product releases (even though they said they were going to slow down) or it could even mean creating more products like the 30th Anniversary Edition to try to juice more money from their Magic consumers to offset D&D.

Secondly, the potential downfall of D&D as the foundation of TTRPG community is only viable because there are legitimate competitors to the throne. Since D&D came into existence there have been many game systems that have been just as good if not better than D&D’s core rules. It should not be a massive shake-up to the community to simply switch to one or several other systems.

Magic has no such competitor. While many have tried, all have failed. Think about the only other card games that are even spoken in the same breath: Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, both of which survive more on their incredibly strong IP than on their gameplay value. But what if there was a successor to Magic’s throne? Could continued community burnout, loss of goodwill, and an overall desire to move on from Magic lead their consumers and fans to another game?

Lorcana (and Flesh and Blood, I guess?)

While Flesh and Blood has been around for some time now and has successfully siphoned a decent segment of Magic’s players, it hasn’t yet shown that it is a true “successor to the throne” that Magic has occupied for three decades now. But Lorcana? Has there ever been more hype for an upcoming card game? Probably not since the Warcraft card game which, as you can see from it no longer existing, was also not the successor to Magic’s throne.

Lorcana on its own perhaps does not pose any real threat to Magic no more than Pathfinder or World of Darkness pose threats to Dungeons and Dragons. However, when Hasbro manages to pull the rug out from under itself, either by creating an oppressive OGL for Dungeons and Dragons, or creating even more product burnout for Magic, then fans will inevitably look elsewhere.

This is the very model that Flesh and Blood is built on. The idea that instead of chasing the endless profits of reprint sets, boxed sets, and so on, just creating a playable game and releasing a reasonable slate of expansions should be good enough to keep the community engaged. Now imagine that concept but with the game design reputation of Ravensburger and the marketing machinery behind Disney.

I don’t know if Lorcana is the successor to Magic’s throne. But I can assure you, reader, if Hasbro wants to continue to fuck around they’re definitely going to find out.

Rich Stein (he/him) has been playing Magic since 1995 when he and his brother opened their first packs of Ice Age and thought Jester’s Cap was the coolest thing ever. Since then his greatest accomplishments in Magic have been the one time he beat Darwin Kastle at a Time Spiral sealed Grand Prix and the time Jon Finkel blocked him on Twitter.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.