D&D senior brand manager confirms: no D20 License for D&D 4

This news is a few days old, but as OC’s Senior Licensing Analyst (I will kidneypunch anyone who takes that seriously), I should weigh in. D&D brand manager Scott Rouse has confirmed at ENworld that the D20 System phenomenon as we know it (by which I mean the D20 System Trademark License) will be a thing of the past as of D&D 4E. There will be the OGL and there will be Wizards’ own official D&D projects, and that will be it. To be perfectly clear, this won’t take away any options as far as what mechanics third-party designers have access to (4E will have a System Reference Document that is available under the OGL, just like 3E, so far as I know), nor will it impact existing products with the D20 logo… I think. I’ll have to reread the D20 STL, but it may even remain legal for publishers to keep putting the D20 label on 3E material. (Also, in case it isn’t obvious, I am not a lawyer.)

So how does this change the landscape for third-party publishers in the 4E era? As a poster in the ENworld thread notes, there will be no easy way for third parties to quickly and clearly identify their products as D&D-compatible. This will have no real effect on the cognoscenti, who know to look for codewords like “world’s most popular fantasy RPG,” which leaves the mass market – people who go to Barnes and Noble and such – and those two dozen or so independent retailers who still care about being able to move third-party D&D supplements to non-initiates. Those markets just got virtually impossible for indie publishers, excepting the three or four biggest fish. Of course, given the hardships of distribution if you aren’t the size of Green Ronin or Mongoose, these markets and most others were already virtually closed to you.

I look forward to seeing what happens with this. In essence, publishers are being kicked out of the nest: maybe a few will fly with the OGL the way a few of us hoped back at the very beginning. Maybe original independent systems will start coming back as a mainstream-RPGs factor. Hell, maybe Evil Hat will make a FATE System Trademark License and everyone will jump on that, I dunno. But it’s the definitive end for the D20 market as we know it, as opposed to the actual end, which was a while back for most meaningful senses of the word.

13 comments

  1. I have a feeling that once the new OGL is out — along with the new 4e SRD — WotC will no longer support the d20 System Trademark License.

    That means no new product — other than WotC and exclusively paid licensees — will use the logo. Existing products can still use the logo until they are sold out.

    I’m not really looking forward with excitement.

  2. Upon review, it looks like the D20STL these days A) just refers right to the D20 System Guide, a much longer document that I don’t have time to process right now, and B) contains those quality-control clauses that basically mean they can do whatever they want. So yeah, I guess the only safe option for someone who doesn’t at least want their time wasted is to steer clear of that logo.

  3. Fate System Trademark License…

    I don’t honestly know how much we *need* to do that. Fate itself has been a sufficiently free thing that I don’t know what we’d need to do to get things any more “official”.

    We *have* arranged a few ‘Spirit of the Century trademark’ licenses with some publishers, where Evil Hat basically gets a small cut of the net profits of the sales in exchange for being able to use the SOTC logo etc, but for Fate itself — well, I won’t rule it out, folks might like the idea of some sort of established brand.

    I’d welcome thoughts on the subject. 🙂

  4. “So yeah, I guess the only safe option for someone who doesn’t at least want their time wasted is to steer clear of that logo.” —Mike Sugarbaker

    Perhaps but those who have the patience and savvy to understand the trademark use license can reap benefit from using the compatibility claim with trademarked “Dungeons & Dragons.” Especially for startup businesses like Green Ronin Publishing in the beginning.

  5. “Actually, I thought I read that third party publishers will be able to say ‘compatible with 4th edition dungeons and dragons'” — Aldo Ghiozzi

    The new OGL will combine both content use license of the existing OGL as well as trademark use license of the d20STL in one package. My concern is whether the trademark use is mandatory or optional.

    If it is mandatory, then you won’t see future [standalone] game products that spawn from the SRD-based ruleset, like Mutants & Masterminds or True20.

  6. Dai (and Aldo for that matter, now that it’s been a little bit), do you have a source for those claims? Because claiming compatibility by name with D&D is exactly what the D20 STL was created to prevent unless certain conditions were met. Unless we’ve got sources, can we please not do more speculation?

  7. Aren’t we all ‘cognoscenti’ now?

    I would hope people buying stuff could figure out what they can and can’t use.

    Is grandma really going to buy junior a book for BRP when he likes D&D?

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