Very late to this party, and the first thing I’ll note is how wrong I was. I was expecting more stick, but what we got instead was a big, juicy carrot. I think that was the smarter path to take.
Which is not to say that there aren’t some thorns among the roses. But first, to sum up for those of you who haven’t already seen it, there’s an OGL for 5e and it looks pretty darn similar to the one for 3e. That, of course, makes how they differ all the more interesting, and 5e’s SRD has a few interesting wrinkles in it. For instance, while the SRD discusses the existence of things like subraces, backgrounds and feats, the SRD only actually lists one of each. This means you can’t just drop the SRD into a reskinned game where orcs are the heroes and elves are the villains, unless you’re willing to rebuild large chunks of character creation options from scratch. It also means you can’t play the game with just the SRD; combining the SRD with the Basic pdf will allow you to do things like add Warlocks to your Basic games, but only the flavor that is beholding to demons and devils; the Warlock flavors tied to the Fey or cthulhic monsters aren’t included in the SRD.
It may not seem that odd a choice (after all, it means that if you want to play the game, you still need to buy the books if the Basic free-taste leaves you wanting more), but it does indicate a very different strategy. 3e’s OGL was clearly about making the d20 system ubiquitous. Every game and setting was being translated into d20, and that was clearly by design.
Just as clearly, 5e’s SRD, while not preventing that sort of thing, isn’t encouraging it, either. You can still make your 5e version of Shadowrun or World of Darkness if you wish, but you won’t have a stack of backgrounds, feats, and character class options to just lift straight out of the game to drop into yours.
The other thing your 5e-version of another game won’t have is a fancy d20 logo. This lack of “a unified, consumer-friendly compatibility logo” means the only things that will come with a WotC imprimatur will be the stuff sold in their Dungeon Masters Guild web store, and that stuff has to be set in the Forgotten Realms.
(I wonder, as an aside, if this is part of how they hope to avoid rules-bloat: let all those barnacles afix themselves to the Forgotten Realms, then burn it all down as they announce the NEW official campaign setting is now Greyhawk, and start all over again.)
Again, I’m not seeing anything that prevents the release of a gazillion splatbooks and all the horrors that come in their wake. However, I’m not seeing anything that encourages that sort of behavior, either. They’re clearly hoping to encourage more Forgotten Realms-focused content.
I’m only seeing good news for the OSR/DIY crowd. If you’ve been enjoying 5e so far, but have been put off by a lack of a license allowing you to publish your homebrew mega-dungeon or zany science-fantasy setting, happy days are here again. If you’ve been hesitant to toss up your 5e campaign setting or adventures online for sale, you now have an umbrella agreement to use for legal cover. If you’ve got something that’s not for 5e but you want to include a conversion document with it, it looks like you’ve got cover for that as well. I anticipate we’ll be seeing a lot more 5e stuff popping up from the more creative and interesting corners of the online RPG community.