d&d dms guild ogl srd title

Understanding the D&D DMs Guild & 5th Edition SRD / OGL

We Begin

D&D has been busy the past few days! How do they love us? Let us count the ways…

  1. Dungeon Master’s Guild (DMs Guild)
  2. 5th Edition Open Gaming License (OGL) / System Reference Document (SRD)
  3. Adventurer’s League changes
  4. The Curse of Strahd (new 5E Ravenloft adventure)

This article will cover the first three and leave Curse of Strahd for another, soon to come post.

Video & Audio Versions

Although this post is more comprehensive, you can also get the gist from the following video and podcast version of the video:

Podcast version:

Before I neglect to mention, in addition to doing my own research the following links were very helpful in understanding all of this:

What is the DM’s Guild:

D&D Podcast Jan 14, 2016:

D&D 5th Edition System Reference Document (SRD)

Searchable 5th Edition SRD with hyperlinked Table of Contents

Reddit AMA: D&D AMA with Mike Mearls and Chris Lindsay 1/15

ENWorld: A Million Answers From Mearls & Lindsay About DM’s Guild, DDAL, and the OGL (Compiled AMA)

First Things First

It’s very important to be clear… the DM’s Guild is NOT the OGL / SRD and the OGL / SRD is NOT the DM’s Guild.

They are TWO SEPARATE THINGS. Ya gotta understand this to get the rest of it.

So what’s the difference?

DM’s Guild:

Per the DM’s Guild website, the Dungeon Masters Guild is a new program that allows you to create content (adventures, monsters, backgrounds, etc.) using Wizards of the Coast intellectual property (IP) and to make some money while you’re at it. In other words, publish through WotC using their copyrighted content and characters. To my knowledge, this is the first time that copyrighted D&D material has been opened up to the huddled masses to officially design with.

5th Edition SRD / OGL:

The System Reference Document (SRD), on the other hand, contains guidelines for publishing role playing game content under the Open Gaming License (OGL) that does not use WotC IP. You also do not publish through their site in a revenue sharing model.

DM's guild vs 5th edition ogl chart

Overview of the programs from D&D website (http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/systems-reference-document-srd)

So, got that?

If you want to create adventures, classes, feats, etc. using the Wizards of the Coast IP, you can do so in the DM’s Guild in a 50/50 revenue sharing agreement with WotC and OneBookShelf.com. You can play directly in D&D’s IP playground and make money doing so.

If you want to self-publish content using the basic 5th Edition engine but not a lot of the extras (such as subclasses and feats), as well as be responsible for all of the publishing but reap all of the reward, then the OGL / SRD is for you.

Or as the recent D&D podcast on the subject put it, “If you want to start your own publishing company, OGL is for you. If you want pushbutton D&D publishing, DM’s guide is for you.”

I’ll give several examples and notes on the DM’s Guild and OGL / SRD below to help. But first… 

D&D Adventurer’s League

Regarding the Adventurer’s League there are some big changes the main biggy of which is that AL sessions can now be held anywhere… your home, the library, the laundromat, whatever *in addition* to your friendly local game store (where they could only be held previously). There does seem there will be some store exclusive content, but not the entire program.

I’ve also seen some grumbling about volunteers now having to pay to support the program (although I also heear that DMs that have been given season pass access to AL content have been sharing the credentials around so the problem may be solving itself in a… creative way).

Since the DM’s Guild and 5th Edition OGL is a pretty large topic to tackle, I won’t go into more here about the AL but will try to do a follow up on just the Adventurer’s League in a separate post.

So, on with the DM’s Guild and the SRD / OGL…

What’s the OGL, again?

The Open Gaming License (OGL) allows individuals and publishers to create content and products using D&D’s game engine (but not intellectual property or trademarks, etc), provided those rules are in the SRD (see below).

A copy of the OGL must be included in any product created using the OGL, and product created using the OGL is evidently open to be used in a “share alike” manner by other OGL publishers assuming all copyright information is updated and maintained in the chain.

Pathfinder and Castles & Crusades are both successful product lines using the original OGL and SRD from D&D 3rd Edition (released in 2000). In addition many other modules and supplements for D&D have been produced via the OGL, as well as other derivative systems and works. For instance, you could create an espionage or science fiction game using the OGL and SRD, it doesn’t have to be a fantasy setting.

This article is not intended to be a comprehensive legal resource on what can and can’t be done with the OGL. As Wizards of the Coast employees are currently saying, “if you’re not sure, ask a lawyer!”

What’s available in the SRD?

The System Reference Document (SRD) is the list of rules, classes, races, monsters, spells, weapons, armor, equipment, etc. that are available to be used under the Open Gaming License (OGL). It’s more than the D&D Basic Rules, but less than everything in the core rulebooks (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual). All D&D IP has been removed. You can think of the SRD as the generic 5th Edition rules engine with all flavor and extras removed.

The official D&D SRD can be found here.

A searchable, third party version of the SRD with a table of contents is online at 5esrd.com.

I found this summary helpful on what you can find in the SRD, from Fantasy Grounds’s press release on how the new OGL / SRD affects their virtual tabletop offerings:

I’m very impressed with the amount of content that is available. If people had any concerns about their ability to play D&D with only the 4 races and 4 classes from the D&D Basic Rules, I can bet that those concerns are now a thing of the past. Every single class and race are present in the SRD content. With the included modules, you can build characters just like you can with the official products. As a DM, you can build encounters full of D&D monsters and build treasure parcels full of equipment and magic items to award your players.

What’s the catch though?

Well, there are some small ones, but they are very minor. For each of the races that have subtypes, they will only give you a single option instead of a choice of options. For classes, you’ll get a single archetype instead of selection here, or a single domain instead of your pick from a wide range of options. The spell list is pretty robust and all but a select handful of spells is included. The same is true for magic items and the entire equipment list is included. A few items and spells have been renamed and descriptions have been altered to remove IP that belongs to Wizards of the Coast, but it is super usable as-is. The Bestiary is full of a few hundred monsters, but the descriptions and images are removed, along with some of my favorite monsters from D&D history.

Notes & Answers

Dungeon Masters Guild Notes & Answers

What kinds of content can be submitted to the DM’s Guild?

There are five featured categories of content. For example, “Background Check” for backgrounds, “Monstrous Compendium” for monsters, “Side Treks” for shorter (one evening) adventures. etc. This was stated during the podcast linked above but I don’t actually see those categories reflected in the DMs Guild right now.

It was said in both the podcast and on the Reddit AMA that they are really interested in seeing shorter adventures created for the DMs Guild.

Will submitting to the DMs guild get you “noticed” by WotC / D&D staff?

The DMs Guild is a place where WotC is actively reviewing submissions to hunt for hot new talent. Based on several things I have heard directly from D&D staff it almost sounds like it is the main (exlusive?) place to get recruited by D&D.

In some (rare) cases they may buy something directly from an author instead of hiring someone.

DMs Guild exclusivity

If you publish something on the DMs Guild, you cannot publish it anywhere else.

Is Kickstarted content okay to submit to DMs Guild?

Yes. However make sure you understand the terms of use for both Kickstarter and the DMs Guild before doing so, that is your responsibility.

DMs Guild content format

Content published on the DMs guild is electronic (PDF) only by default. There is an avenue for print on demand via OneBookShelf, but the burden of preparing the print files is on you, and you must contact DriveThruRPG.com and ask about next steps if you have a print ready file.

So basically, it’s digital PDF only for the vast majority of us.

What D&D rule books, source books, and adventures can be referenced in the DMs Guild?

5th Edition Player’s Handbook
5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide
5th Edition Monster Manual
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
Out of the Abyss*

*Note that any Forgotten Realms RPG product can be used in the DMs Guild, but the list above shows all current 5E products that have been specifically stated to be fair game.

What settings can be used in the DMs guild?

Although it appears this might change in the future, at the present time (and probably likely to stay this way for a while) only Forgotten Realms RPG products and non-setting specific RPG material are fair game. This includes iconic Forgotten Realms characters such as Drizz’t and Elminster.

That being said, continents within the Forgotten Realms include Kara-tur, Al-Qadim and Maztica, Zhakara, Malatra, etc. If it is an area definitely known to be in the Realms, it’s fair game.

Per Mike Mearls when asked what can be considered Forgotten Realms for purposes of use in the DMs Guild: “A good rule of thumb – it’s in play if it is a RPG product with a Forgotten Realms logo on the cover.”

Forgotten Realms novels, comic books, games, etc. are not considered okay for the DMs Guild content at this time.

Converting older material and adventures for DMs Guild?

You may convert pre-5th Edition Forgotten Realms and non-setting specific RPG material such as NPCs, monsters, spells, etc. for use in the DMs Guild.

Several Reddit AMA answers indicated yes, you can do 5E versions of older adventures provided that IP falls under the DM’s Guild license*. However it was recommended you put a new spin on things rather than just copying and updating to get attention.

*Man, I would totally double check that before doing so. That’s just me.

Is the DMs Guild content considered canon?

Yes and no. WotC intends the DMs Guild to let everyone play in their IP playground. However, they have stated they are the ultimate gatekeepers of canon so I am sure they will step in if needed. I seriously doubt they would allow, for example, an adventure where a Terrasque eats Drizz’t and Elminster as the intro plot hook to be canon.

What D&D IP artwork and fonts, etc. can be used in the DMs Guild? 

Only art assets that are posted to the DMs Guild are available for use. Artwork in general from D&D products is not fair game (this includes maps).

Available art assets are posted to the DMs Guild Creator Resource page. If it is not posted in that section, again, it’s not fair game.

The only fonts that are usable without having to get a license are in the DM’s Guild Adventure Template. The fonts are Andada Small Caps, Gyre-Bonum, and Junction and are all free for commercial use.

Can allowed DMs Guild art be modified?

Yes, art assets provided on the DMs Guild are free to be cropped, edited, manipulated, etc.

Is custom artwork submitted to the DMs Guild protected? 

There have been a lot of questions about this. Evidently the terms of use at the present time don’t clearly indicate that any artwork assets you create or pay to have created for your DMs Guild content are protected from becoming DMs Guild community IP (“given away”).

Mike Mearls stated during the Reddit AMA that “OneBookShelf, the company behind the Guild, is addressing exactly this issue. They should have an update shortly.” The gist is that, yes, there is a solution but we are waiting for details.

DMs Guild Logo

The logo included in the DM’s Guild Adventure Template is the logo expected to be used on DMs Guild products.

dms guild logo from adventure template

DMs Guild Logo expected for use on Guild products (from their provided template)

I’m unclear on whether the logo is required on DMs Guild submissions, but I would assume it is.

Can Adventurer’s League content be submitted to the DMs Guild?

No. However, DMs Guild authors may be recruited to create Adventurer’s League content.

Reselling existing DMs Guild content as “compendiums” and compendium style documents.

This is absolutely not allowed. Not only will their partners at OneBookShelf be on the lookout for this kind of thing in order to pull it down, there may be other repercussions.

DMs Guild age restrictions?

Age restrictions for the DMs Guild are based on existing laws on who can legally sign a contract. The DMs Guild does not add to or try to circumvent existing contract law;

Why is the DM’s Guild a 50/50 revenue sharing model? Isn’t that a bit high compared to other similar services?

Here’s the answer from Mike Mearls, straight from the Reddit AMA: “The big thing comes down to the use of Forgotten Realms, which we feel has some real value. However, that percentage also allows us to fund new content for the Guild, host events, and so on. We don’t have anything to announce yet, but building the community is definitely part of our thinking.”

DMs Guild payments

DMs Guild contributors receive their payments via PayPal. You can withdraw royalty payments 60 days after the date of sell. There is a $2 fee for each withdrawal but there are no other fees (PayPal or otherwise) on top of that.

5th Edition OGL / SRD Notes & Answers

Let’s get the big one out of the way. Can the 5th Edition OGL be used to create another Pathfinder RPG game?

This of course has already been asked a lot. The stock answer from every WotC employee on this is “we’re the wrong people to ask, consult a lawyer.” They’re not going anywhere near this question, and honestly that’s probably a pretty good idea. If you want to engage in a venture on the level of what Paizo has done with Pathfinder, you really should be talking with an IP lawyer at some point anyway.

For my personal (not legal) opinion, I don’t see why not. You can definitely create a “D&D-like” game with a straight up Tolkien-derived fantasy setting as long as you don’t infringe on D&D‘s IP. Using the SRD, you can even use a lot of the same races, classes, monsters and spells. Heck, you can use key rules like level advancement, armor class, advantage, disadvantage, and ability based saving throws.

But, uh, I wouldn’t call it Pathfinder or you’re really missing the point of all of this IP law stuff.

What’s in the 5th Edition OGL / SRD?

The 5th Edition OGL / SRD is not the entirety of the core rulebooks like the 3rd Edition OGL / SRD was. That being said, they gave us a heck of a lot of to work with. Some folks had speculated that the SRD would be just the 5th Edition D&D Basic rules, but the SRD actually comprises more.

Mike Mearls had this to say in the Reddit AMA: “The idea is to encourage people to create new stuff, not just copy the material found in 5e. My hope is that we’ll see people do cool, new stuff with the core, like new settings, new genres, and so on.”

All of the core “game engine” rules are available. The mechanics of the game are all there (character creation and advancement, combat, movement, advantage, disadvantage, saving throws, hit points, armor class, abilities, ability checks, etc.).

All races and classes are included. Not all subclasses are included. Most iconic subclasses are, but not the entire range. Champion for Fighter, Life Domain for cleric, etc.

Only one example feat is provided, designers will need to create their own feats in OGL content.

Almost all spells made the SRD, plus and magic items and a full equipment list.

The monsters are there (unless it is D&D IP like the beholder) but without descriptions or images.

Really, the SRD itself is the best list of what “made it.”

What’s not in the 5th Edition OGL / SRD?

Any D&D IP content is not in the OGL / SRD.

You will not get “proper name” content in OGL. For example, you don’t get Drizz’t Do’urden. You will need to use DM’s Guild to create that kind of content.

Additionally, some rules content such as subclasses and feats is very limited. This is an off the cuff remark, but I would say you get about 70-80% of the core rulebook content, and all of the game engine rules.

5th Edition compatibility with 3rd Edition OGL / SRD. 

If it was available previously in OGL, it will be available in 5th Edition OGL provided that material  is part of 5th Edition. For example, if a monster was in 3rd Edition but not in 5th Edition, it is not available.

Is there a “5th Edition Compatible” logo?

No official logo is being provided by WotC. There is, however, a logo for DMs Guild content (see above).

This is intended to be a changing document as new information comes to light, announcements are made and corrections are pointed out, etc. Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me if you would like to add anything. Thanks!



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