A photo of reading glasses resting upon a book.

The ORC has landed. It kinda sucks.

So Paizo has recently announced the release of their own open license, ORC, which was prompted by the OGL Fiasco. The license itself is a couple pages long and is accompanied by the an Answers & Explanations (“ORC AxE”) document to be referenced and used as evidence of intentions.

And it kinda sucks.

If you don’t know me, I’m a Law student in New Zealand and I have experience in fraud investigation for online payment gateways – a role that requires a lot of deciphering all kind of documents and regulations. I’m not a lawyer, I’m definitely not your lawyer – nothing in this is personalized legal advice or forms a client-lawyer relationship. Please do not get your personalized legal advice from blogs.


If you somehow missed it, in January 2023 there was a fiasco where various people reported receiving a leaked document. The leak proposed that Wizards of the Coast was in the process of repealing the sacrosanct Open Gaming License and replace it with a new one that came with content limitations and proposed to charge a fee to the top 1% of creators.

Eventually a copy made it’s way to Gizmodo journalist Linda Codega (they/them) and an objectively bad article (Gizmodo’s fault, not Linda’s, that’s how editorial responsibility works) was released. Opening Arguments summarized it as “a hit piece”, but I think that’s inaccurate – the simple fact is that Linda and the wider collection of Tabletop Role-Playing Games (“TTRPG”) commentators didn’t understand how contracts, intellectual property and business work. Gizmodo for it’s part, didn’t seem to care beyond making sure they were not likely to be sued – so didn’t provide their write who mostly does reviews any

Riots ensued. Platform after platform pivoted into talking about the OGL. A weird conspiracy theory that independent YouTuber Ginny Di was Wizards of the Coast executive insider. It was chaos.

During this mayhem, Paizo came forth, promising they would be creating a new open license, the Open RPG Creative (ORC), which would be irrevocable and perfect for all matters relating to gaming. It initially teased the idea of all kinds of over the top efforts, such as putting it in the hands of a non-profit, but ultimately was drafted by Azora Law (managed by Brian Lewis, who drafted the original OGL 1.0a) and a Discord server was set up for the “community”.

Eventually Wizards of the Coast abandoned all attempts to reform the Open Gaming License, and put all content currently covered under it into the Creative Commons – effectively washing their hands and moving on. But the development of ORC continued.

Paizo would release three drafts and now the final (interim) draft has been released to the public, with a promise that Paizo itself will start looking into how to apply it to their own products.


The license itself is five text-heavy pages with includes definitions, grants & limitations, specifics regarding notation, liability disclaimer and the conditions relating to the license itself.

Essentially it lays out a system by which some parts of work will be automatically covered under an open license (“Licensed Materials”), other parts will be excluded (“Reserved Material”) and opted in (“Expressly Designated Licensed Material”). The rules and mechanics will always be in the covered in the open license, and the creator decides whatever fluff they want to add to it.

(I should mention that all the stuff which is least likely to be able to attract copyright falls under Licensed Materials – the license doesn’t go into it but its a pretty universal stance that you cannot own a concept like rolling a die to decide an outcome in a game, tables of numbers, vague game concepts like having so many life/hit points, etc. )

The open license you grant will be perpetual and irrevocable, to use the material the is licensed (by default or expressly) provided they also put the ORC License on the product they create. Essentially if you make a game system under ORC, and someone wants to make an expansion with new combat rules or a manual of monsters – those rules/stat blocks/etc must be automatically included in the open licensed materials and become available to other creators. (ie “share alike”)

In the event that you breach the license, you have sixty days from the moment you become aware of it to become compliant (this won’t effect others using materials you’ve licensed) before you become potentially exposed to legal issues.


While created as a separate 9 page (spaciously formatted) document, the ORC AxE is essentially an FAQ which is cited within the license itself. The AxE includes a plain English version of license, a declaration of “definitions, philosophy, and background”, a summary of the ORC License Scope, and a Digital Applications of the ORC License FAQ.

It also explicitly restates that only the original ORC and ORC AxE are valid – no revised or edited version shall be admissible for discussion of the license or intentions.

It includes an FAQ which advises they wish it was less complicated, but they opted for precision because “slicing copyright in half is challenging. We want this to last for a very, very long time and resist all imaginable legal challenges.”

It also clarifies that nobody controls the ORC License, and so it becomes the task of the Upstream Lincensor (the person who’s work is being used) to enforce it – and it goes on to specifically state they’ve set it up in a way to discourage litigation.

It also specifies that they did not want to use Creative Commons because the CC BY SA 4.0 is a share alike but covers the entire work (we’ll get back to this) so ORC is necessary to allow you to cover some, but not all. It then cites Wizards of the Coast releasing the SRD 5.0 under CC BY 4.0 and points out this means there is no obligation by downstream creators to share anything they create (which is true, and kind of part of the point).

It clarifies that the license is irrevocable, perpetual, it can work for a board game, it can be translated (but the English version will always be supreme), doesn’t require the System Reference Document (SRD), you can’t move content that defaults as Licensed into Reserved, ORC only applies to the ORC parts where multi-system issues are released, and it also sort of attempts to address some of the complexities with Intellectual Property and the difficulty in drawing hard lines.

Finally it ends with some sections about issues with licensing/contracts such as why you can’t really use the OGL and ORC together.

So that’s 14 pages of legalese and translations of the legalese by the original writer, who wrote one the original open licenses, and is specialised in intellectual property. It’s got to be globally bulletproof right? Binding and perfect for international deals. Right?

The "Hahaha no" gif featuring a Decepticon from Transformers

That’s never how Law works.

(Continued on the following pages)

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