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What 5e in the Creative Commons Means to You

by Mike on 6 February 2023

On 27 January 2023 Wizards of the Coast released the 5.1 System Resource Document, a 400 page PDF of the core rules, races, classes, monsters, and magic items for D&D 5th edition, under a Creative Commons Attribution license. This means that, by simply crediting Wizards of the Coast in a product, you can legally use any of the material in that document, including making derivative works from the material in that document. Forever.

Download your own copy of the 5e SRD with the Creative Commons license. Save it to your computer. Back it up. And it's yours. Forever.

This is an incredible step in the Open Gaming License saga — one of the craziest months in the hobby of roleplaying games.

But what does the release of the 5e SRD into the Creative Commons mean for us dungeon masters and game masters?

A lot.

It means RPG publishers can use and build off of material in the 5e SRD to make anything they want and make it compatible with 5e. It means 5e became an RPG system separate from Wizards of the Coast. It means publishers can write 5e compatible systems, supplements, adventures, class options, monster books, and more — forever. And, unlike the attempted "deauthorization" of the Open Game License, WOTC can't take it back. The Creative Commons license isn't owned by Wizards of the Coast and it's been in use in various industries for decades. All of Wikipedia, for example, uses a Creative Commons license. It ensures content owners can share their work and know it can always be shared thereafter.

And now that's happened with 5e.

We've already seen tons of awesome 5e products over the past eight years. Huge adventures, awesome monster books, tons of character options, deep campaign worlds — there's more 5e material than we can ever use in our lifetimes and now far more to come.

An open 5e SRD means there's no limit to the amount of quality 5e material we may see in the future. No one company can stand in the way.

The 5e SRD in the Creative Commons means D&D is safe and secure. No matter what path Wizards of the Coast takes with D&D, we always have 5e. Not just because we have the physical books, which alone can last beyond our own lives, but because anyone can write, publish, and sell new 5e material — forever.

Whatever direction WOTC takes with One D&D, it's only one option we can choose to accept or not. Maybe we move to One D&D and keep using the rest of our 5e material. Maybe we take a few ideas from One D&D as house rules for our existing 5e games. We get to choose what we want based on the merits of those products.

And One D&D is only one path forward. Kobold Press announced their own 5e compatible RPG codenamed Project Black Flag as did Cubicle 7 with C7D20. We already have Level Up Advanced 5e which is likewise moving to an independent publishing license (I'm hoping it's Creative Commons as well!) and opening up their content to other 5e publishers.

This means we don't have to choose a single 5e system. We can treat each 5e system as extended sets of house rules from which to pluck our own preferred rules for our group and our game.

It also means should WOTC decide to pull their support for Roll 20, Fantasy Grounds, or Foundry; we'll have three other compatible 5e systems on those platforms.

There's also something extremely powerful about being able to write derivative works from the 5e SRD. It's this idea that let Necrotic Games write Old School Essentials — a classic D&D BX-compatible game written from the bones of the 3.5 SRD. They reverse engineered common D&D terms and concepts like the six attributes, armor class, and build an updated clone of the oldest version of the game without fear that WOTC might sue them. They did so under the original OGL but now anyone can do it with this CC-released SRD without fear that WOTC tries to "deauthorize" it again.

Being able to use the material in the SRD is great. Being able to write derivative works off of it is limitless.

5e is its own RPG now. It's own platform from which thousands of products can spring. It's an RPG independent of any one publisher.

What does the 5e SRD under a CC mean for us game masters? It means 5e is ours. Forever.

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This work is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. It allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, for noncommercial purposes only by including the following statement in the new work:

This work includes material taken from by Michael E. Shea available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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