The Alphastream Game Design Blog

How to Use the Creative Commons!

Welcome to Episode 11 of Success in RPGs! We look at how to use the Creative Commons license to create RPG products!

This is the third video in the series, following how to use Fan Content Policies and how to use Open Gaming Licenses such as the D&D OGL.

The Creative Commons received a lot of notoriety after the OGL fiasco, where Wizards of the Coast attempted to deauthorize the Open Gaming License. After pressure, WotC placed their SRD (the document containing a subset of the D&D 5E rules) in the Creative Commons. This now gives creators two options for publishing commercial D&D products.

The Creative Commons or CC license is a fantastic way to create for D&D and some other RPGs. We look at the steps to follow to use another company’s CC material in your product. Then, we look at how you could publish your material under the CC so that other creators can use your material.

There are six or seven variations to the CC license. I walk through each variant and discuss which to use for specific scenarios. I compare the OGL and the CC options for D&D and why you generally want to use the CC license but could have a few reasons to still use the OGL.

Click any of the images or the embedded video to watch this episode.

CC License Types

A Patreon supporter requested some written information in addition to the video, so this blog has been updated to collect some of the more vital information.

Here are the license types: (complete details on the site)

CC-BY: Attribution Required. Credit must be given to the original creator (see below for how). This is the most common license variant. All variants containing BY below must provide attribution.

CC-BY-SA: Share-Alike. A person using material under this license must also use the same license for what they created. This promotes sharing, but means creators need to consider carefully whether they are okay with sharing everything.

CC-BY-NC: Non-Commercial. A person using material under this license cannot charge for what they create. An RPG company could profit from their product, put it under CC-BY-NC, and then others can remix it and create for it but can’t charge. It works similar to fan content programs.

CC-BY-ND: No Derivatives. A person using material under this license can’t change the original material. You could provide an audiobook version or a pocket-sized version, but you can’t modify the original material. You could provide your favorite spells from a spell sourcebook, but not modify those spells. This license is often also non-commercial, as CC-BY-NC-ND.

CC0: Public Domain. The material becomes public domain and can be used in any way desired. Seldom used for RPGs.

Comparing the OGL and CC-BY

For most creators and RPG companies, the CC-BY is a superior option. You no longer need to follow the steps I reviewed in the OGL video, such as declaring product identity vs open content or copying the license into the back of your product. You also no longer are prohibited from using the terms Dungeons & Dragons. You do still have to work solely within the confines of the SRD, and can’t use things not within it, such as specific settings, NPCs, or material found in other sources.

One reason to use the OGL is if you want to use material someone else made available under the OGL. For example, Kobold Press has many monsters they have chosen to make open content under the OGL, and using them requires the OGL. A company such as EN World has made their Level Up A5E content available under both OGL and CC, so you can use their CC license without using the OGL license.

Using Someone’s CC Material in Your Product

There are five steps to using material someone else released under a CC license.

1. Attribution. You must give credit by including the attribution statement the licensor provided. The original product usually has a clear attribution statement you copy in, such as what Wizards of the Coast requires:

“This work includes material taken from the System Reference Document 5.1 (“SRD 5.1”) by Wizards of the Coast LLC and available at The SRD 5.1 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License available at”

Typically, attribution will involve the name of the product, a link to the product, the name of the author, the license type (CC-BY, etc.) and a link to the license, and the version of the license (4.0). You can see examples in the video.

2. Modification Statement. You must say if you modified the original. So, if you turned fireball into iceball, you must let people know that you made changes. It isn’t clear how thorough you have to be, but if you think about what the company would want you to say so that folks know what is theirs vs yours, you will be in good shape.

3. Only Use CC. The CC license will generally be for a specific document or web page. You can’t then pull in other material. For example, the D&D SRD is what is in CC-BY, and doesn’t include material in Eberron or Tasha’s books. You can’t use that material in your product through the CC license.

4. Positive Use. The CC license expects that your creation is not problematic, such as containing harmful/offensive content. The idea is, your use should not harm the original company or paint them in negative light.

5. License Types. Note whether the license is SA or NC or ND and act accordingly. You can’t charge a fee if it is non-commercial and must share all of your creation if it is using SA material.

Publishing Work as CC

If you are creating a product and want to designate it as CC for others to use, follow these steps.

1. Choose the License. Carefully choose which license type, such as CC-BY, works for you. If you use anyone else’s material in your product, make sure their license doesn’t limit your license. I discuss in the video why some types may work in specific situations. There is also a chooser on the CC website.

2. Include the license statement. You can use the language provided on the CC website. For example, for CC-BY, “This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.” You could also add the appropriate logo for the license. Make it very clear which license you are using, so I recommend also including the initials, such as CC-BY.” Make sure the link is there so people can follow it and read about the license.

3. Attribution. Add a very clear statement indicating how someone using your material should provide attribution. You can see the examples in the video and also the information in the previous section on Attribution.

4. Disclaimer. It is a good idea to add a simple disclaimer reminding others that you are not liable for the work they are choosing to use. An easy statement: “Section 5 of CC-BY-4.0 includes a Disclaimer of Warranties and Limitation of Liability that limits our liability to you.”

5. Note Regarding Modification. Under version 4.0, anyone modifying your work must make that clear. You may wish to add language such as, “In accordance with the license, if you modify our/my material in any way, please make that clear in your product.”

6. Note any CC You Are Using. If your CC product contains CC material from someone else, you of course need to make that clear and provide attribution. This way, those using your product can provide proper attribution to both if they use both. It also preserves the chain of information, so someone can go to the original source when desired.

7. No Other Stipulations. You can’t add other legal requirements to the license. You can make requests, but the license prevents your adding more to it. So, you can’t publish your product as CC-BY and require anyone using it to send you money or print that material in highlighted text. Any requests, such as “if you use my material, please send me an e-mail at this address to let me know,” should be clearly optional.


The video contains many useful links to resources and examples, all in the video’s information section. Some of the more useful links:

The A5E site has a nice walkthrough of using the CC.

Evil Hat is a great example of a publisher making it really clear how to use their CC products

Wizards of the Coast has on their site the SRD with attribution text.

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This entry was posted on July 18, 2023 by and tagged , , , , .


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