October 16, 2020 10 min read 39 Comments

Welcome to this primer on how to publish D&D material as a third-party writer while remaining lawful good. I hope I can help clarify some of this and make it much less painful, scary, and off-putting.

In this article, we'll talk about how to publish D&D adventures legally with the Open Game License (OGL) and 5E Systems Reference Document (SRD).

I’m focusing on those who want to publish 100% independent, third-party stuff for this primer. Just be forewarned that these rules don't apply to publishing on DMs Guild.

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer or anything official like that, so please know all of the following is not legal advice. You should absolutely consult with a lawyer if you have any questions, and you should not take this article as evergreen — laws can and do change, so make sure you do your due diligence if you have any doubts.

So! To start, all the third-party D&D material you publish must be OGL-compliant, meaning it only uses game material that's been released under the Open Game License (OGL). It also has to follow the rules set out in the OGL.

Already confused? Me too. I'm about to explain everything, so keep scrolling for the info drop. 

A quick note, I made a glossary of key terms at the end of this article. Refer to it if you get acronymed out of your mind — happens to the best of us.

Now, let the explanations begin!

The Open Game License is a short contract Wizards of the Coast created. It contains 15 provisions that explain the rules surrounding what D&D material you can use in your published work.

When you publish third-party D&D material, you must include a copy of the OGL in it, plus a few other things you add to the “legal stuff” page of your document (more on that later). You have to do this and abide by the rules in the OGL even if you publish something entirely free of cost.

You should absolutely read the Open Game License — it’s short. You can find a copy of it as the first page of the 5E Systems Reference Document (I'll explain what that is in a moment).

Next, let’s go into what Open Game Content (OGC) is. OGC is a "body of work" that many creators have contributed to over time. It's the open-source world of D&D material. Anything in the OGC is free to use as long as you properly credit and cite the original publisher and abide by the OGL’s rules.

An example of Open Game Content you can use in your writing is the all-important 5E Systems Reference Document (5E SRD). The 5E SRD is a subset of D&D rules that Wizards of the Coast has given anyone permission to use for free under the OGL.

The 5E SRD is the most important Open Game Content, in fact, since it's the core rules of D&D that would otherwise be WotC's sole copyright to use. With the 5E SRD, WotC is letting us use the backbone of D&D totally for free under the Open Game License. It’s an awesome resource! 

Note that while WotC has been very generous with what they included in the 5E SRD, they did NOT include permission to use their trademarks. That includes the words "Dungeons & Dragons," "D&D," or "Dungeon Master." So that's why you often see people saying "Game Master" or "the world's greatest roleplaying game" on third-party material instead.

If you look at the 5E SRD closely, you’ll find it’s missing some things from the core D&D books. Iconic monsters such as beholders aren’t in it. Spells with proper names like Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion aren’t in itEven some character races, magic items, class options, and feats aren’t in it. The 5E SRD is not a carbon copy of all the material in the core D&D books.

Be careful to check what you want to use in your writing against the 5E SRD. All D&D stuff is important to look up, whether it's rules about magic item attunement, races, feats, or sub-classes of the barbarian.

The 5E SRD is awesome and expansive, but it’s not the only place you can pull material from in your writing. Some third-party D&D writers do a thing called submitting their material as Open Game Content.

To do this, they publish something original and then make a statement in the back of the publication saying they’re allowing X, Y, and Z to be used under the Open Game License. Later on, we’ll look for real-world examples of how to phrase this statement.

Just be aware that submitting material you created as Open Game Content isn't required when you publish something. It’s totally optional, but certainly appreciated.

So far so good? To recap, you have the legal contract called the Open Game License. That contract allows third-party creators to use material that is Open Game Content, meaning its creator has submitted it as open source material to the D&D universe. The 5E SRD is the biggest and most important body of Open Game Content, but there are other creators who have written D&D material and have submitted it to be used by others, too.

Now, be aware that any D&D material you use outside of OGC stuff has to be something you created that isn’t riffing on someone else’s copyright. So don't slap extra eyes on someone's bird beast and call it a "googly-eyed bird beast." 

When I say “copyright," I mean material that is considered Product Identity — proper names, custom monsters, storylines, and more. The creator owns and has the sole right to use that material.

The creator owns that material because they wrote it; they don’t have to apply for any legal documentation, publish it, mail it to themself in a dated envelope, or pay anyone. Under copyright law, creators own their material the second they create it, and nobody else can use it without their permission.

So what falls under the umbrella of Product Identity? Well, a ton of stuff, actually. Everything in a product that isn’t Open Game Content is Product Identity. Because of that, declaring your Product Identity in the legal section of your publication is actually optional! It's considered to be "everything else" in your work that isn't Open Game Content. But many creators (including myself) still declare our Product Identity just to be clear.

Be aware that Product Identity isn't just original names, places, monsters, storylines, etc. — it's also trade dress (the "look and feel" of the published work), logos, and even special words and phrases.  

 

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Now, technically, there are some ways to use copyrighted material without permission under a doctrine called fair use. But that's way outside our scope for now. You want to be at least a 12th-level publisher before you enter that dungeon.

Next, we’ll talk about the specifics of what you need to actually include in the legal section of OGL work you publish.

It’s important to know that just slapping the OGL in the back of a product isn’t enough. The OGL calls for you to do a few more things besides that. Here’s the additional stuff you need:

  1. According to section 2 of the OGL, you must include a statement in your work outside the body of the OGL saying that your product contains Open Game Content. This is called a Notice of Open Game Content. People usually put this just before the OGL itself in the legal section of their document.
  2. Outside the body of the OGL, you must also include a Designation of Open Game Content where you explain what material you are drawing from OGC sources in your work. Some publishers go somewhat broad on this, and others describe item-by-item exactly what they’re using from the OGC.
  3. You must include a copyright statement in section 15 of the OGL for your work.

This is a good moment to look at some real-world examples of all of this! Doing this can help you find ways to word your own legal statements.

Grab a few reputable third-party D&D publications, flip to their legal sections (usually in the back), and do the following:

  • Check their Notice of Open Game Content statements.
  • Check what they added to section 15 of the OGL.
  • Check whether they declared their Product Identity and, if they did, what they included in it (remember, it’s optional).
  • Find what, if anything, they submitted as Open Game Content (also optional). Take note of how they declared that.
  • Look at how they explained what OGC they used in their Designation of Open Game Content.

You’ll find that no two publishers are identical, but many of them cover the same ground in one way or another.

Last, we’re going to go over how you want to apply all this to your own work. This will be a mixture of a recap and a reminder.

1. You must include a copy of the Open Game License in anything you publish using D&D rules. Even if the product you’re publishing is free!

2. Within section 15 of the OGL, you must create a copyright statement for yourself. For example, “Product Name, © YEAR Your Name.” You must also include citations for any other publisher’s work you used in your material. Note that the 5E SRD is already included here as “boilerplate” in the generic version of the OGL.

3. Outside the body of the OGL (but often on the same page), you must include a statement called a Notice of Open Game Content that says you are using Open Game Content in your publication. This statement should contain some verbatim language copied from section 2 of the OGL.

4. Outside the body of the OGL, you must include a statement called a Designation of Open Game Content outlining what material you’re using that is Open Game Content. This must be reasonably specific.

5. Outside the body of the OGL, state what material you’re submitting as Open Game Content. Submitting material to the OGC is optional.

6. Optionally, include a statement specifying what your Product Identity is.

Now that we’ve covered the rules for using the OGL, it’s time for a quick quiz. Don’t cheat and look at the answers early!

  1. You want to write a third-party D&D adventure about a beholder. Can you?
  2. A writer published an adventure with a malevolent dragonborn paladin named Arkhan the Cruel. You want Arkhan to appear in your adventure. Dragonborn and paladins are in the 5E SRD, so that would be fine, right?
  3. Kobold Press has released a few really cool monster books. In the legal section of those books, they say they’re submitting all the monsters as Open Game Content. To whom do you write asking for permission to use those monsters in your own material?
  4. You made up all your own material in your 5E publication, including totally unique monsters, magic items, spells, and everything else. So you don't need to cite the 5E SRD in your OGL, right?

Quiz Answers:

  1. No, a beholder isn’t a monster included in the 5E SRD. You can’t use ‘em. Tempting as it is, don’t invent a monster that is super similar to a beholder just to get around this rule, either — that’s about as risky as hugging a gelatinous cube!
  2. No again! Hahahaha! I feel so malicious. Anyway, even though dragonborn and paladins are in the 5E SRD, Arkhan is a unique character with a storyline — two things that are considered Product Identity. You wouldn’t be able to use Arkhan specifically without express permission from the writer, although a generic dragonborn paladin would be fine. This was a setup!
  3. NOBODY! The monsters are Open Game Content, so all you have to do is include a mention of Kobold Press’s work and copyright in section 15 of the OGL in the back of your adventure. You’ll also need to mention that you’re using their material in your Open Game Content Declaration.
  4. NOOOOOOOOOOO! You used the basic game rules of D&D in your material, or else it’s not D&D. So you still must have a citation for the 5E SRD in section 15 of the OGL. It’s the one piece of OGC that everyone uses, every single time.

Hopefully you passed that quiz with flying colors. If not, you can retake it, and a hint is that the answer to every question is “no.” I have a terrible sense of humor, by the way!

All that aside, the OGL and its glorious gifts are much more about what you can do rather than what you can’t. It’s an amazing resource that allows you to write original D&D material that is completely your own to do with as you please.

This concludes our primer on how to use the OGL, OGC, and 5E SRD to publish third-party D&D material. Thanks for reading!

Glossary:

Open Game License (OGL): The legal contract Wizards of the Coast made that defines how you can use D&D material that has been submitted by its creators as Open Game Content (see below). You MUST include a copy of the OGL in any material you publish that uses D&D rules, and you must add a copyright statement for yourself in section 15.

You are only allowed to alter section 15 of the OGL to add citations for work. You can’t mess with any other parts of it.

Open Game Content (OGC): An open-source body of D&D material that anyone can use without having to pay a license fee, royalty, or otherwise. Any creator can state that they are submitting some or all of their published work as Open Game Content, which means any other creator can use it for free under the rules of the Open Game License (see above).

You are not required to make any of your original work Open Game Content; it’s optional.

Notice of Open Game Content: The required statement in the legal section of your product saying you are using Open Game Content in your work. You must quote the required statement from section 2 of the OGL, which is something along the lines of: “Open Game Content may only be Used under and in terms of the Open Game License version 1.0a.”

Designation of Open Game Content: The required statement in the legal section of your product describing what material you’re pulling from OGC sources. You have to be clear and specific about what OGC material you’re using.

5E Systems Reference Document (5E SRD): The most important piece of Open Game Content out there for D&D creators. It's all the core game rules for D&D that Wizards of the Coast has submitted as Open Game Content so you can use the rules of D&D to make third-party material.

Product Identity (PI): Original material that belongs to its creator. It identifies your brand and includes things such as proper names and places, original monsters, logos, trade dress, and other elements of a published work that are not drawn from Open Game Content. You do not have to state what material of yours is Product Identity (it’s assumed to be everything that isn’t OGC content), but some publishers do so just to be extra clear.

Header art by Liu Zishan / shutterstock.com 

39 Responses

Kelsey
Kelsey

December 03, 2022

@Noah – Possibly so! That gets into the complicated territory of fair use vs. infringement. I’m personally very cautious about all that, so I don’t do it (probably the only way to guarantee you’re not violating copyright or a trademark). But depending on the nature of the material, it could be acceptable as review/commentary, which falls under fair use. That’s a tough one! I might recommend getting familiar with fair use doctrine (which falls outside the scope of this article) and deciding if your material fits that criteria.

Noah Spotten
Noah Spotten

November 28, 2022

Question: If, in an author’s note, I mentioned, by name, an official race not included in the SRD, by way of commentary and recommendation, would that be legal?

Garrett
Garrett

October 15, 2022

@Kelsey Fantastic that answers my question exactly! Thank you so much thats a huge help!

Kelsey
Kelsey

October 13, 2022

@Alatosh (Markus) – Let me answer your questions in order, if that’s okay! Lack of experience is totally fine, and asking questions is always welcome.

1. To come out the gate being very blunt, no, it is not legal to do that. Publishing non-SRD material online taken directly from published Wizards of the Coast material is in violation of copyright law. I’d use extreme caution about linking to or reprinting that information. Also, there is a fair amount of stuff from the DMG in the SRD, but it tends to be all mixed together with everything else. My favorite source is https://5thsrd.org/search/ — everything on there is from the SRD, and it’s all sorted into categories. Try the search feature on there and see if you can find what you’re looking for!

2. Short-term madness does appear in the Systems Reference Document (see this link: https://5thsrd.org/gamemaster_rules/madness/). However, clarifying official rules is a tricky one — if you reprint those rules in full or in part in your work, and you’re selling that work, I think that’s very risky. In my opinion, that wouldn’t be good. But if you’re talking about those things in a blog article or a YouTube video, that probably falls under something called Fair Use Doctrine, which was outside the scope of what I covered in this blog post. Suffice to say, you can usually talk about copyrighted stuff and even share/show some of it, within reason, when your purpose is exclusively for commentary, education, or review. I’d encourage you to look more into Fair Use and Wizards of the Coast’s similar Fan Content Policy (https://company.wizards.com/en/legal/fancontentpolicy) for that sort of thing!

3. Imitation is an excellent way to learn, but I would not copy or too closely mimic any particular author’s layout style and presentation method in something you publish (even for free). Trade dress (the way an adventure “looks and feels”) is part of that author’s Product Identity. The best bet is to come up with your own unique way of designing and conveying your material! The good news is that once you settle on your own unique take on it, that trade dress you created is now your Product Identity, and protected as your own copyrighted material that nobody else can copy.

4. Art! I sometimes commission art (especially for maps), but a lot of what I use is stock art. You can find a lot of it on places like Shuterstock.com or the DriveThruRPG.com (search for some keywords + stock art). All websites or stock art creators include a license with their art that explains exactly how you can use it, and it’s all pretty straightforward and simple. In your case, if you’re publishing a product for sale, you’d want to look for stock art that allows you to use it with a commercial license. If you reach out to an artist and want to inquire about using their art for commercial use, ask them if you can pay a fee to license their art (AKA use their art) in your work in an exclusive way (only you can use it — expensive and usually not something artists like) or non-exclusive way (other people could use it — less expensive and artists like this more). I’d strongly encourage you to google up a basic contract that covers licensing artwork for you both to read over and sign, too.

I hope that helps! I’m really glad to hear you are out there in the community writing material and making the effort to keep all your legal ducks in a row! :)

Alatosh
Alatosh

October 12, 2022

Hi Kelsey,
I just looked through the 5eSRD and I found nothing from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I looked for a certain table I want to include in my work. But didn`t find it. So I think I can’t use it. But I read a few other adventures and they found a solution. They cited a website. That published that table. Word for word. So finally my questions. Firstly. Is it allowed to post/ show openly an excerpt of the rules not mentioned in the SRD on a website and then link it with my work?

Secondly. Is it allowed to reference Official Material? I worked on a series that clarified rules and their alternatives from the DMG. And I referenced and cited part of the DMG (e.g. short-term madness has a duration of 1d10 minutes, you’ll find the table on DMG S.259f.)

Thirdly. I used your adventure layout/structure to learn how to write my own adventures, imitating a master brings many gains, and used it to teach beginner DMs. I made the experience that new DMs who used your adventures, especially the Edgar-Allan-Poe-inspired ones, had a less nervous and more or less fear-free entry into their role as DM. And they had more courage to use special mechanics, and settings, or to challenge their groups with deadly encounters. Many groups they led had a great time. That’s why I am in love with it.
But back to my question. If I finally decide to publish my own adventures and use yours or anyone else’s layout/structure for that matter do I violate the copyright law?

Last but not least. About art use in ones work. Did you commission them or did you negotiate with an artist? What do I have to be aware of regarding that department?

Btw I wrote a few non-profit articles for the community on my discord server. And the feedback I got and the joy I experienced while writing led me to the idea of publishing. This article is the second one I read after deciding to make the idea reality. So pls excuse my lack of knowledge regarding this topic.

Thank you for your time
Markus

Kelsey
Kelsey

October 05, 2022

@Garrett – I should add, if you want to include a race that doesn’t have a base monster in the SRD, you can sort of “make your own” version. For example, I wanted yuan-ti (snake people) in my game world, but couldn’t use that word. So, I invented a race called viperians that are their own sort of snake people, and I made sure the lore wasn’t just a recreation of yuan-ti lore. They’re pretty different. But I use them much the same way I would have used yuan-ti.

There are no “exact rules” for how different your homebrewed version has to be from the inspiring source material (copyright law argues this endlessly and to great nuance) — so I think you’d want to err on the side of “very different” just to be safe.

Kelsey
Kelsey

October 05, 2022

@Garrett – This is a really good question! If the base creature (such as goblin, kobold, minotaur) already exists in the SRD and you are not reprinting the official race rules for them that WotC created, then you’d be good. You can freely make your own sub-races and lore for these creatures. As an example, I’ve published a homebrewed minotaur race since the minotaur itself is in the SRD, and what I wrote was very different from WotC’s version. So that’s what I’d recommend if you decide to create race rules for SRD monsters.

What I would not do is make mention of races that are not in the SRD as a base creature. Things like githzerai, kuo-toa, yuan-ti, and illithids fall into this forbidden category since even those particular words are arguably Product Identity (in fact, in the SRD itself, several of those are explicitly called out as Product Identity).

To summarize, WotC owns the word-for-word stat block and design for their non-SRD races, as well as some special words, including races like githzerai and yuan-ti. I would not use or reprint any of that. Apart from that, you can refer to SRD creatures as races and even design your own racial rules for them. I hope that helps!

Garrett
Garrett

October 04, 2022

Question about race usage. If I wanted to create a setting using some of the non-SRD races (specifically classical ones like Goblins, Minotaurs, kobolds and the like) would it be considered infringement of product identity if they were only mentioned in the lore such as “This city is run by a council of goblins”and not specified as a selectable player race? either way would it require me to devise a sub-race? Or again for goblins would establishing just new lore for them work as long as I dont have their WotC owned stat block? I had world building plans and two or three subrace ideas but Im so confused as to how far away the line is aside from direct copy = bad.

Kelsey
Kelsey

August 02, 2022

@Tom – Thank you! :) I haven’t personally used any monsters I myself haven’t created, but the first example that springs to mind is Barrowmaze by Greg Gillespie. He has a very long Section 15 citation in there that’s a great example of what you can do with other OGL material.

Tom Phillips
Tom Phillips

August 01, 2022

A most excellent article! I’m interested in possibly using OGL monsters in a project I’m working on, but I’m not sure how to properly document it under the OGL Section 15. Have you used a monster from a 3rd party source (Tome of Monsters, etc.) in any of your published scenarios? If so, I’m interested in seeing how you documented it.

mike
mike

July 11, 2022

The 3.5e OGL monsters in the Tome of Horrors can be converted TOO They’re allowed to be used

Aristeia Aetos
Aristeia Aetos

June 09, 2022

Thank you so much for that clarification, especially for pointing out the 5e OGL is a different version, I didn’t notice that! I managed to dig through the deep underbelly of WotC’s FAQ page and found a page where they claim to link to the 3.5e SRD, but the link is broken (of course). I know there are a few people out there with websites that say they have the 3.5e SRD, but like you’re saying, I’d rather make sure everything I use is legitimate and on the up and up!

Kelsey
Kelsey

June 08, 2022

@Aristeia – This is a challenge! I looked for the d20 SRD, too (I think it was called that), and it’s very hard to find. Some third-party sources claim to have full copies of it available online, but I’m not sure those are legitimate — the only way to be 100% certain is to know the document came from WotC.

I know Paizo used it a lot before Pathfinder 2E, and there might be some better leads through their avenues.

It sounds like it might take some internet digging, but if you can find a legitimate copy of the d20 SRD, then you should be able to use it under the first (and non-expiring) version of the Open Game License, which is the OGL v1.0.

Just to note since some might ask, the OGL used for 5E material is the OGL v1.0a.

Aristeia Aetos
Aristeia Aetos

June 07, 2022

Hello! What if we are wanting to publish something that uses 3.5e DnD rules? The only SRD publicly available through WotC is for 5e, so how do we/can we/should we cite the 3.5 SRD?

Kelsey
Kelsey

May 12, 2022

@David S. – I still wouldn’t use WotC’s trademarks in a product regardless (that can get kind of risky to the point that major third party publishers don’t even do this). But you’re right that Article 7 in the OGL is the main factor here. It says: “You agree not to Use any Product Identity, including as an indication as to compatibility, except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of each element of that Product Identity.”

I’m not an expert in trademark law and won’t try to suss out which element of WotC’s ownership and licensing is the more weighty factor in why you can’t say “D&D” (is it the OGL, the trademark, Product Identity? They’re each their own legal barrier at the end of the day). So, I wouldn’t risk stating compatibility with D&D, even if people did that in the past and got away with it.

The OGL has existed since the publication of 3rd Edition (it’s gone through several versions since then, but they are all permanent, so someone could use any of the OGLs). However, while people did publish “D&D-compatible” material before that point, the legality of it was dubious. TSR was notorious for granting permission to publish compatible material and then later yanking it (Judge’s Guild ran into that, as one famous example). So the OGL is a big step forward in making sure the permission to publish granted under it is specific and can’t ever be “walked back.”

David S.
David S.

May 10, 2022

Not being able to mention compatibility with D&D is not trademark law; that’s a limitation of the OGL. You can label your product “for use with X” as long as you make it clear it’s not made by or endorsed by X’s owners. Historically, people did publish 3rd party material before the OGL and put “for use with D&D” on it.

I would point out that the 3.x SRDs are larger and more complete than the 5E SRD, and Paizo published way more OGL material than WotC ever has. They may not be mechanically simple to use with 5E, but they offer a lot of stuff to work with.

Kelsey
Kelsey

May 07, 2022

@Conor – An edit to my below post for clarity: “homebrew or SRD material” should say “homebrew or OGL material.”

Kelsey
Kelsey

May 07, 2022

@Conor – I’m really glad this article has been so helpful! :) And to answer your question, I think you’re totally okay from what I can see. I’m assuming your story won’t ask the participants to publish or distribute any material on their own part — it’s something they can follow along or do similar to a choose-your-own adventure, right?

As long as my above understanding is true, and the writing you publish only contains homebrew or SRD material, players can leverage that material for “personal use” and shouldn’t have any limitations. So, for example, someone could use one of my OGL-compliant adventures in their personal Forgotten Realms campaign with any class/race and cameos by all the Critical Role characters — as long as it’s a private, non-commercial, non-distributed use of the material (which is a broad definition for personal use).

You do not need to restrict the way people use the material in a “personal use” setting in order for your writing to be OGL-compliant. Only what you put into it as the publisher has to be square with the OGL.

Conor Webb
Conor Webb

May 04, 2022

Hi Kelsey,

Off the bat, this article’s incredibly useful. Mandatory reading for anyone hoping to create 5E-inspired content while navigating the legal waters safely. The comment section’s actually been equally useful in covering some fringe cases. Thanks for writing this and monitoring the responses !

My own weird case for your input, please : I’m writing an interactive non-linear story built around the 5e rules & a homebrew setting. The game’s content, it’s references, creatures, items, etc. are all either homebrew or SRD-compliant. However, players will be asked to create and manage their character sheet(s) outside of the game, with only broad guidelines. I have no way of policing what exact subclasses/races they choose to play, and whether they’ll be SRD-compliant or not. It’s hard to imagine that being an issue, but I’m curious to know what you think.

Thanks in advance for any insight.

Conor

Reonne
Reonne

April 23, 2022

Thanks for the answer, Kelsey. Really appreciated!

Kelsey
Kelsey

April 20, 2022

@Jamison and Satine — Aw shucks, thank you! :) Congratulations on your wedding at Gary Con XIV, I was wall-flowering in the back of the room with much shared joy for you both!

@Reonne — That’s an interesting question! I suspect that if you’re only using imagery in the coloring book, then you can draw pretty much anything and be okay (this is why people can draw and sell art of non-OGL monsters like beholders — because original art itself is not violating any trademarks or copyrights as long as you do not actually use the word “beholder” in it. Generally speaking, trademarks protect brand names and logos, and copyrights protect the specific wording and images/media in a published work).

Stuff starts to get dicey (harr harr) when you begin including words and/or game stats. At that point, saying something like “fire genasi” is using Product Identity since that race is not in the 5E SRD. Listing a fire genasi’s game statistics would also be using Product Identity for the same reason.

(As an aside, I don’t know who originally invented genasi, but WotC now appears to be the owner of that Product Identity, whether because they purchased the rights or for some other reason.)

There is no question that you could make a coloring book using all material found in the 5E SRD, so if you want to be extra safe, you could always defer to that option. Otherwise, using stuff like fire genasi is probably only safe if you use original art only and no words or game statistics along with it. As always, I am not a lawyer (my lawyer makes me say this), but if it were me, that’s how I’d handle it!

Reonne
Reonne

April 19, 2022

Hi Kelsey, thanks for this great article! I have a question for you. What about a D&D character coloring book? I’ve been researching and it seems very complicated regarding giving credit where credit is due. For example, a Fire Genasi Wizard. It seems Legendary Games created the Genasi race, so I guess I would have to contact them? Or just give them credit in the back of the book? I’m pretty sure Wizards are covered by 5ESRD, but from what you said in your article, each ability, skill, spell, etc. would have to be covered by the 5ESRD, right? Any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Jamison and Satine
Jamison and Satine

April 17, 2022

Thanks! Great job on this! Satine Phoenix and I say hello!

Kelsey
Kelsey

April 09, 2022

@Borvax, yes, you can! :) You can make original material using the core 5E rules listed in the OGL. Just be careful not to pull elements from classes, sub-classes, feats, etc. that are not part of the OGL — it must all be 100% original.

Borvax
Borvax

April 07, 2022

Thank you for the article, it’s helpful. however Can I with the OGL make my own classes, races, archetypes, skills ?

Kelsey
Kelsey

March 16, 2022

@Aspen – DMs Guild does allow you to publish material that is totally unique and not aligned with any established worlds or canon! So I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t publish your campaign guide on there. That said, if you’re going to publish outside of DMs Guild, I would not use the word Clockwork Soul sorcerer since that is an element of Product Identity from Tasha’s (as much as that stinks since it probably is important to what you’re writing). This is just my (non-lawyer) interpretation, but I personally would not take that risk since there is a strong argument the class name is Product Identity. This is similar to why I would never say “beholder” in a third party product, even without printing the monster’s stats. Just remember that WotC doesn’t care if you give an attribution to the original product or not — they only care if you use their copyrighted material in a way they don’t want. Directing people to Tasha’s would not remove your liability.

@Garnet – Not being able to say “compatible with Dungeons & Dragons” is indeed a marketing challenge! But it’s the case that we can’t use the name since it’s trademarked. Most folks prominently place a 5E mark on the product (“5E” is not actually a term or logo owned by WotC), and they’ll say something like “for use with the world’s greatest/oldest/original roleplaying game.” Saying “DnD” instead of D&D is also very popular and acceptable.

@R. Gunnar – Thank you so much!

Aspen
Aspen

March 14, 2022

Hey Kelsey, I have a question. I’m looking to make my own DND campaign book, this means that I can’t publish on dms guild because they only allow things within the established canon. I was wondering if there was a way to still reference things that aren’t in the ogc.
For example one of my towns has a large ruling class that are made up of Clockwork Soul sorcerers. Would I be able to use that if I directly credited the book that it’s from

[The ruling class is made up of “Clockwork Soul sorcerers”. (See Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything for more details) ]

Or something to that affect where I’m telling the reader where to go to fill in the gaps because of copyright.

Garnet
Garnet

March 08, 2022

Thank you so much for writing this exceedingly helpful article, Kelsey!

However, I have one question. If we cannot use any material that is considered product identity, such as the name of the game, how do we advertise that the module, path, rules, etc. are compatible with Dungeons and Dragons?

From what I can see, people just … don’t. They seem to rely on proper tagging through the distributer to have their work appear in searches.

Do you have any advice for making sure potential readers know that the work is compatible with “the world’s greatest roleplaying game” before purchase?

R. Gunnar
R. Gunnar

March 07, 2022

Thank you! I printed a copy of your 6 things to keep in mind and have been reading the Shadowdark Beta pdf. Thank you for sharing all of your learning! I’m in the middle of two other campaigns, but would love to try a Shadowdark crawl soon too!! Your response to Thomas’ comment was particularly helpful to me too since I am considering something similar. I will be coming back to this blog more for sure. :)

Kelsey
Kelsey

February 21, 2022

@Theo – Hello! :) I’d be careful about this. I suspect that since Wizards of the Coast published that book, it’s almost guaranteed they used Intellectual Property in it that is not available to the general public to use under the Open Game License. That could even include names and places, like Tharizdun or locations specific to the Forgotten Realms (none of that is Open Game Content). I’d err on the side of caution and only publish that material on DMs Guild.

@Joshua – Sorry I missed your comment! I don’t know much about making money by running games, although there are plenty of people who do it successfully. I’ve never dived too deeply into that side of the industry!

Theodore B
Theodore B

February 19, 2022

Hi Kelsey,
If I include content from the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion in a module, am I able to publish that outside of DMs Guild? I’m guessing that it should be okay, since EEPC is a free expansion, but I can’t find anything online to confirm that

Cheers,
Theo

Joshua s
Joshua s

December 17, 2021

I have a lateral question… do you know anything about people who make money off D&D in other ways, for example being a professional DM or streaming a popular show?

Kelsey
Kelsey

December 07, 2021

Hi, Thomas! Wish I could reply directly, I have to see about updating my blog to make threaded discussions. I wanted to answer your question! First off, I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t take this as legal advice (always important to say that). But I’m facing a similar question right now as I’m writing the game Shadowdark RPG, which is based on many elements of D&D. To be safe, I have included the Open Game License and the SRD reference in the game because I haven’t found a lot of agreement across my sources about whether it’s truly required or not.

What I’m writing contains some similar language from the 5E SRD (for example, some similar wording of spells, the same names of classes and monsters, etc.). So even though it’s not a carbon copy of any wording from the SRD, it’s close enough that I felt WotC could perhaps stake a copyright claim.

However, if what you’re writing is completely from scratch and uses no recycled or based-upon language at all from the SRD or any prior D&D edition, then you might actually be safe not including the OGL. The OGL doesn’t protect the concepts in the work such as the idea of rolling 20-sided dice and adding a bonus to determine an outcome (which is not copywrite-able). The OGL simply protects the written language and presentation. Also, single words like “wizard” and “fighter” are not copywrite-able or trademark-able.

All that said, you still can’t use Product Identity that doesn’t belong to you. That is alway the case. Be careful not to venture into using concepts from D&D that are actually Product Identity, even if you re-skin them.

This is getting long, but suffice to say, you can probably get away with not including the OGL if you don’t use any recycled or similar language from the SRD. But I’d still check with a copyright lawyer if you’re looking to mass publish a game system, as I will be doing before publishing Shadowdark RPG!

Thomas Barclay
Thomas Barclay

November 30, 2021

Good article, thank you!

The SRD likely includes (I am not going to look just now) methods of character generation, some methods of gaining skills, and some class features for the included classes.

You’ve discussed what must be included to cover the legalities. But there’s a big question not addressed:

What if I only want part of the SRD rules and I want to rewrite the other half for my own product? For instance, let’s say I wanted to use the combat sections and the races and so on, but I don’t like classes and want to write a custom ‘professions’ model and use more skills or something like that (just pulling up an idea). I don’t just want to make a standard D&D product, I want to make a hybrid game system using some parts of the SRD.

Would I mention parts of the system which I’ve modified or changed in the legal sections? Would I not have to if I whole clothed a section (like profession replacing classes and being not like classes)? Or would I mention I’ve created a modified version of a class system or that I used the class system for an idea or two and then built my own very different approach?

If I wanted to use D&D SRD to develop something like Carbon 2185 (cyberpunk 5E with a lot of changes), would I just be looking at including citations of the SRD as you mentioned and then the parts I rewrote were mine?

To me, using the SRD and its rules then extending seems a clear case. Using parts of the SRD and modifying or overwriting some rules seems much less clear as to how I’d handle that.

Thanks for any thoughts/insights you may have.

Ellen Monteiro
Ellen Monteiro

October 17, 2021

This post is very helpful, I’m writting novels and I want to use somekind of rules to make it more reliable, it’s not a D&D adventure, I have my completely world with full of different stuff, but I need rules, and creating rules, as fun as it is, it takes to much time and i forgot it easy, so I wanted to use D&D basic rules, you know to have boundaries, we all know that stories without boundaries or rules are not so great.
This post helped me to understand if I could use without asking for permission and it seems yes, as long as I add the credits using OGL.

Stephen
Stephen

October 07, 2021

Thank you for writing this – it was really helpful in clarifying things.

Mark
Mark

September 22, 2021

Hi,

Great article. I found it helpful.

I am looking at creating a character creation and campaign journal for players. I am not planning to add any content explanations for people; ideally, they already have the rule book, players guide or are experienced in D&D. I want to use the stats page as a base. Would the terms such as “Armour Class”,, etc. be covered under the OGL?

Thanks

Mark

Kelsey
Kelsey

July 31, 2021

Hi James! I’m not totally sure on that one, but I might publish the OGL in there out of an abundance of caution. Especially if you refer to any game mechanics, monsters, or concepts that would otherwise have been the copyright of Wizards of the Coast if it weren’t for the Open Game License.

James Garofalo
James Garofalo

July 26, 2021

hello, thank you for this really interesting article. One question: I publish my manual of my setting invented with the OGL. If I write a novel about this setting, do I have to bring the OGL back to the end of the book as well?

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