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D&D 5E – How to Publish D&D Content
July 16, 2021Posted by on
How to publish your own D&D 5E adventure (or any other D&D related content such as alternate rules or home-brew monsters).
If you just want to share your stuff.
If you are just a fan and only want to share your stuff for free with other fans (like I do on this blog) you could simply abide by the WotC’s (Wizards of the Coast) fan content policy.
What is WotC’s fan content policy?
WotC claims the IP (intellectual property) rights to everything they publish. I am a fan, and everything I share here is free and unofficial. To the best of my understanding, everything I make available here complies with their fan content policy. WotC’s fan content policy explains what you, as a fan, can and can’t do with their IP. Most of it is pretty simple. Don’t claim any of their stuff is yours and don’t try to sell it.
There is a little more to it than that. You should read their official fan content policy (HERE).
If you want to sell your stuff.
Then it gets a little more complicated. WotC does a good job explaining most of this (HERE). Below are my thoughts on the subject. (You should check with a lawyer. I am not a lawyer and nothing contained here should be taken as legal advice.)
Probably the safest way to avoid any legal hassles is to use the WotC’s OGL (Open Game License), OGC (Open Game Content), and SRD (System Reference Document). Abiding by these rules you can publish anything you want, any where you want. WotC also provides an easy way to publish your stuff on-line with the Dungeon Masters Guild.
What is the OGL (Open Game License)?
The OGL is a short contract Wizards of the Coast created. It contains provisions that explain the rules surrounding what D&D material you can use in your published work.
What is OGC (Open Game Content)?
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.
What is the SRD (System Reference Document)?
The SRD is an example of OGC you can use in your writing if you use the OGL. The SRD contains most of the basic D&D 5E rules and guidelines for publishing content under the OGL.
What is the Dungeon Masters Guild?
The Dungeon Masters Guild is an officially supported website that allows you to create content using Wizards of the Coast intellectual property (IP) and sell it on their site. You can charge whatever you want, you get 50% of your sales. The other 50% goes to Wizards of the Coast and OneBookShelf, which runs the DMs Guild marketplace. They have their own set of somewhat more flexible rules (HERE).
Another, riskier, option
You could ignore all of the above and use your own common sense (and a good copyright lawyer wouldn’t hurt).
Why some people choose NOT to use the “Open Gaming License”.
If you agree to the terms and conditions in the OGL, you are bound by it. That means that WotC doesn’t need specific legal backing to go after things – they can leverage their license itself to enforce things.
Many things that WotC wants to protect by the OGL are already covered by existing copyright and trademark laws. The primary things in 5e that you are not allowed to use in your work because they are protected under these laws are:
- Product identity – terms like Dungeons and Dragons, 5e, Dungeon Master, etc.
- Lore, settings, adventures, and characters. This includes places like the Faerun, the Underdark, specific monsters like Beholders and races like Githyanki. This also includes the proper names referenced by spells and items. Spell names like Bigby’s Hand are protected, though spell names like Fireball are not (too generic).
- Actual wording and expression of the rules. This includes the specific text that describes spells, items, and features.
If you agree to the OGL, it does allow you to use a bunch of their stuff exactly as they worded it. But the OGL gives you very few other rights you do not already have, and by agreeing to it you are giving up the right to do a lot of stuff you could have done otherwise.
- For one thing, no one can copyright, trademark, or patent the rules of a game.
- For another, take the phrase “world’s greatest role-playing game”. That’s required by the OGL, but under normal conditions, having never signed on to the OGL, you could just say “Compatible with D&D 5e rules” as much as you like. The only thing stopping you from doing that is the OGL.
- No one can claim mythical creatures, literary archetypes, or that kind of thing as their intellectual property. That includes the overwhelming majority of the names of all D&D classes, races, and monsters. You can already use those names. The stuff you can’t use are names like beholder or Illithid that were invented by WotC. But they are not available in the OGL anyway. As long as you never agreed to the OGL, you can create generic versions with different names and you’re okay. For any creature, pact, effect, etc., as long as you don’t copy the WotC descriptions word for word you should still be okay. Any one of these names in and of itself can’t be copyrighted, but the paragraph of description can. So, just be careful. Or, better still, just create your own stuff from scratch.
I hope this helps. Good luck writing your own D&D 5E Adventure.
P.S. If you are interested, you can purchase and download a copy of the adventure whose cover I show above (HERE).