Tag Archives: GSL

Wizards Fan Site Policy – What It’s Good For

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they turn.  At long last, some six months after a little spate of shutting down Web sites, and a year after they were supposed to come out with one, Wizards of the Coast has published an official fansite policy and you can see it here.  Here’s some analysis for you.

The Bottom Line

Basically, if you follow some guidelines you get to use some images they provide you in a zip file. That’s it.

Is/Is Not

The guidelines aren’t too bad (though you have to have long copyright stuff on every single page), but in the end the payoff is a little pointless – you just get to use some (38, mostly product covers) of their images to use while worshiping them online.  But what it most crucially does NOT allow is any kind of original work or use of the actual content of the D&D game (in my opinion, graphics are incidental content).  I quote:

Please note that this Fan Site Policy does not allow you to publish, distribute or sell your own free-to-use games, modules or applications for any of Wizards’ brands including, but not limited to, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. If you want to engage in any of these activities related to Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, such use is subject to the Game System License.

So all it lets you do is add graphics to your site, but not meaningfully develop content.  You can then use the GSL, which allows you to develop certain content as long as it’s in PDF (HTML and plaintext are NOT ok).  Here’s more analysis of the GSL to help navigate those waters.  Technically you have to use the GSL to refer to their trademarked terms, rules, etc.

From the GSL:

Licensee may reprint the proprietary 4E reference terms, tables, and templates (each, a “4E Reference”) described in the 4E System Reference Document…

If you want to make a D&D adventure, or new class/race, or variant rules, or whatnot and put it on your Web site, this fansite policy does not help you.  You have to either follow the GSL or do a really good job of knowing your rights to use their content under existing copyright/trademark/trade dress law, which is tricky.  (But doable – Kobold Quarterly and other products have published for 4e without a license.)

(NB: I am assuming that clause could be construed to “override” the GSL clause that “For the avoidance of doubt, and by way of
example only, no Licensed Product will (a) include web sites, interactive products,…”  Otherwise the fansite thing says “See the GSL” and the GSL says “see a cold day in hell.”)

Comparison – Pathfinder

Compare the Pathfinder fan site policy, which allows such use as part of itself -

• You may descriptively reference trademarks, proper names (characters, deities, artifacts, places, etc.), locations and characters from products listed in Section 1 of our Community Use Approved Product List at paizo.com/communityuse/products, provided it is clear that these are our marks.

• You may descriptively reference dialogue, plots, storylines, language, and incidents from products listed in Section 1 of our Community Use Approved Product List at paizo.com/communityuse/products in campaign journals and play-by-post or play-by-email games.

And of course the rules are OGL in the first place, which is why they don’t mention rules terms in that quote.

Comparison – White Wolf

Hmmm, even the quite objectionable White Wolf fansite policy allows  use of copyright/trademarked stuff:

White Wolf trademarked and copyrighted material may be used in the presentation of standard nonprofit, nonrevenue generating HTML World Wide Web Pages, non-graphical MUSHes, MUDs, MOOs, IRC and all similar Chat environments as per the Requirements and Restrictions listed below. If, for some reason, you do not wish to participate in Dark Pack, please understand and acknowledge that you and your site must still fulfill all of the other requirements listed on this page. The same goes for fan projects. They must be nonprofit and nonrevenue producing. No money. You cannot make any kind of money off of White Wolf intellectual property.

Your site should not have Google Adwords. Your site cannot be hosted by a company that inserts banner advertisements or Adwords, even if you do not get the revenue.

Of course that banner/AdWords stuff is pure hateful crap but at least in general you can use the material.


This new fansite policy doesn’t explicitly have any “evil” statements in it, which is a step up for WotC in their first passes at new licenses.  But it is telling in what it leaves out – any “safe” ability to use the 4e rules and content itself.  Is this deliberate?  Or do they think of D&D as a “brand” exclusively now so mentioning what us old timers think of as the “real” part of the game is passe?

Chasing the Dragon – Who’s Down With the New GSL?

With the release of Wizards of the Coast’s new Game System License for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, they’ve made a bunch of improvements, there’s no doubt.  So how are the third party publishers taking it?

The general summary is that even though the anti-OGL clause is gone and there’s some more favorable termination language, this experience has taught people with large, established businesses that they don’t want to be dependent on Wizards for their sustenance.  The remaining parts of the license, which still allow Wizards to terminate you without the six month sell off at their discretion – especially the hazy “morals clause” – spell out too much risk.  So people with a game of their own are going to go that way.  Which I think is fair.

If people still had trust in WotC that they would “behave well” and probably wouldn’t be in the arbitrary termination business, it might be different.  But everyone’s seen a lot of sadness go down over the last two years and there’s not a reasonable expectation of that.

In fact, reading between the lines, though it would be “safe” for Paizo or GR to just do a couple 4e products  without taking a major line over to it – they generally just don’t want to.  What we’ve heard of 4e sales doesn’t make the $$ too tempting and after spending so much time and effort and love and pain “chasing the dragon” for the last couple years, they’ve just had it.  (My interpretation.)

So the big boys are going to stay away, but it seems like it’s a compelling play for folks who are just starting up and have less to lose.

Pipe up down below if you hear about other folks getting on board or staying away.

Wizards Releases Revised GSL – Is It Better?

So first, a little history.  The first version of the new Wizards of the Coast license to let other people publish products for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, the Game System License (GSL), was poorly recieved, especially coming after the open and visionary Open Gaming License.  I covered its flaws from when details started to leak last April, in Wizards Declares War On Open Gaming.  They decided to back off of its most controversial “poison pill clause” a little at the time (Wizards Comes Clean On Open Gaming).    But when the final GSL was released, it still wasn’t all that great (The GSL Is Finally Released).   And it wasn’t just me, most of the major players who put out D&D third edition products under the old OGL walked away (How Bad Is the New Wizards D&D 4e Game System License?).  Even Clark Peterson of Necromancer Games, lawyer and big booster of WotC and their license up to that point, had to walk away (Clark Peterson Is A Flip-Flopper).  Wizards tried to ignore the hullabaloo for a while, but finally in August said they’d be revamping the GSL.  Then… time passed.

The New GSL In Depth

But today, they have released a new version of the GSL!  Let’s go through it and see how it is.

Before we start, if you don’t understand all this business about the OGL and d20 STL and GSL and SRD – read my article “Open Gaming for Dummies” which explains the basis of a lot of this.

OK, the license starts by delineating that it’s for D&D Fourth Edition (4e) and lists a bunch of core rulebooks, updated to include newer ones like the PHB2.  It’s nice that they’ll be allowing access to more than just the “core three,” but are they planning on updating the list every time they publish?  Or will subsequent books not be included?   Hard to say.

Starting and Stopping

First, this isn’t a “no-touch” license like the OGL was; you need to send in a document to WotC that they agree to, so it is a real direct entity-to-entity agreement.  Second, they can change the license any way they want at any time, and don’t have to notify their licensees.  This is still a little sucky – if you publish a book, and then they change the GSL to somehow be a problem (like, say, “give us a meeeeelion dollars,”) you automatically accept the changes if you continue to distribute your book after the date it changes.  A bit of an ambush clause, if you ask me.  But, there is now a part of the termination clause that actually lets the licensee terminate the agreement!  That’s new.  And once you terminate, you can sell your stuff off for six months.  Same six month grace period exists if they decide to cancel the GSL wholesale.  The six month period does NOT apply if Wizards decides to terminate your license.

This is a positive change.  Previously, you were pretty much completely at Wizards’ mercy – if they decided to screw you and tell you to set your warehouse on fire tomorrow, they could.  From a  business viewpoint, no one with self-respect (or decent risk management skills) could agree to it previously because of the update and termination (“ambush”) clauses.  Now…  it’s not exactly friendly, but it might be viable, if your products tend to make most of their sales in the first six months.

They still follow it up with the usual legalese about “you can never challenge this license in court, or Wizards’ right to anything it claims as IP under patent, copyright, trademark, trade dress, trade name, trade secret, or anything else we can think of.”  I assume these are largely unenforceable; I see these a good bit in other legal agreements and somehow people still go to court over them.

What Can You Do?

It’s worth mentioning for the newbies that the GSL is a “free” license like the OGL was before it – there are no royalties or payments involved.

The license covers paper game books and pdfs only, or other stuff not excluded in section 5.5, which we’ll get to.  You basically can use any specific term listed in the 4e SRD.  This SRD is a lot more restricted than the old d20 SRD; essentially you can just use some D&D terms and refer back to the core books.  You have to use some logos and disclaimers. You can’t describe character creation or advancement; it still won’t let you create “D&D variants” like Conan, Mutants & Masterminds, True20, or the many other things that came from the time of the OGL.  You can’t change anything from how it’s defined in the core books – the GSL FAQ says that even saying Eladrin are taller in your game world than what the PHB says is off limits.

There’s what I think is a new clause that lets you make new artwork “based on” the art in the D&D books, which is nice – before there was just a clause saying “don’t refer to the art in any way!” which means that drawing an orc too much like the orcs are depicted in the Monster Manual was bad, which was retarded.  Although they specifically list some critters you still can’t create derivative imagery of:  “Balhannoth, Beholder, Carrion Crawler, Displacer Beast, Gauth, Githyanki, Githzerai, Kuo-Toa, Mind Flayer, Illithid, Slaad, Umber Hulk, and Yuan-Ti.”  Why just those?  (Because they’re not in the SRD, says the FAQ, but that begs the question.)  This is a bit of a WTF? clause.

This leads us to Section 5.5, the licensed products clause.  It still omits Web sites, which is sad.  They say fansite guidelines are coming out soon, but it took seven months for their GSL revamp to appear, so who knows when that’ll happen.  It omits software, which is sad because they’ve always produced shit software and it would be nice to have more people working on that, but eh.  No novels, no miniatures, no t-shirts.  The worst part of this is that you can’t include a licensed product in a magazine that isn’t entirely a licensed product.  This means no magazine can print one 4e article – the whole mag has to be all 4e, all the time.  I’ve worked on RPG zines before, and this is a PITA.  We’ll call this the Magazine Killer clause.  Again, this was in the previous rev too, so if not better at least it’s not worse.

Section 6 is the usual morals clause.  No sex, “excessive” violence, or real-world stuff.  Stupid and moralistic, and somewhat counter-productive…  But again, unchanged.

What’s Missing?

Well, the other big change is that they removed the remaining “poison pill” clause.  This clause basically said that “you can’t publish the same stuff under the OGL and GSL.”  In other words, if you want to create a 4e version of an adventure, campaign setting, etc. that is also available via OGL – you have to give up the OGL.   Of course, this meant that everyone with multiple product lines including OGL stuff – Green Ronin’s Freeport, for example – wouldn’t touch 4e with a ten foot pole.

Now, apparently, you could put out a “4e Guide to Freeport,” adapt existing 3.5e adventures to 4e, etc.  You can’t dual-stat; the FAQ states that, say, using Cleric as defined in the OGL inside a GSL-licensed product violates the “don’t redefine things” clause in the GSL.  That’s a little annoying – I fail to see how they have a vested interest in someone not dual-statting an adventure, for example – but it’s a minor restriction in lieu of the previous huge ass one.


There is no doubt that the two simple changes made in this version – adding a termination clause with *some* protection for the licensee and removing the GSL “poison pill” clause – have hugely improved the license overall.  It has changed from “we hate open gaming and will do everything we can to stomp it out” to “open gaming’s not for us, but no hard feelings.”

It’s still a little wonky (don’t draw a Yuan-Ti!) and has a little of the “You’re all 4e or not” flavor in the no-mixed-magazines and no-dual-statting restrictions.  But whereas the previous GSL was probably rated a 2 out of 10 in terms of desirability for a potential licensee (it really could only have been worse if it incorporated forced sodomy) this version jumps to a 6 out of 10.  It could be more open, but in the end it is a free-use license that lets you publish some things for D&D 4e with only moderate restrictions.  For comparison, the OGL is a 9 out of 10; it could only be improved by making it more future-evil proof, and the old d20 STL is a 7 out of 10, it still had morals clauses and was bossy but at least it didn’t try to tell you what you could do with your other products.

Should I Use It?

If you’re only interested in doing 4e stuff – sure.  You are officially no longer a chump to sign at the dotted line.  Rest easy tonight, for the first night in nine months.

If you do other stuff as well, especially OGL – well, you have to think about a couple things.  One, do you want to fork your R&D to include D&D 4e?  I suspect Paizo, for example, won’t spend much effort publishing 4e adventures because they are now heavily invested in Pathfinder, and as 4e is a very different beast from previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons, it would take a lot of work to dual-purpose.  But maybe Green Ronin would want to put out a “4e Guide To Freeport.”  And certainly outfits like Necromancer that just do adventures and aren’t strongly system-devoted could.  Anyway, don’t glut the stores with 4e stuff because you can now and it might make a quick buck; evaluate it according to your business strategy and focus on your core.

Two, you have to decide if the six month termination deal is okay.  On the one hand, it might be unlikely to happen, and some product types generate a lot of their revenue in the first six months.  On the other hand, this process (and the recent experience for the third party companies of burning all their old d20 books according to the terms of the termination of the old d20 STL) has made a lot of people not trust Wizards so much any more.  And if you lose your GSL licensee status (at your discretion), it’s not just your newest product you lose but anything in the pipeline.  And if your products sell well over time, six months may not be all that great.  Plus, you have to remember that if Wizards terminates your license themselves, you’re boned, no six months.  But it does offer you some legitimate business tradeoffs.


Producing third party supplements for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition is now viable.  It took a long time to get here, but we have to give props to Scott Rouse, the D&D Brand Manager, for listening to the community’s complaints and making positive changes.

WotC On The Fansite-Closing Warpath

Recently, I asked “Will WotC Close You Down Next?” in response to them sending a cease & desist letter resulting in the closure of Ema’s Character Sheet website. All the usual Wizards apologists came out of the woodwork with excuses.  “Well, Ema was charging for storage.”  “Well, this is probably a one time thing, it’s not like they’ve declared war on fansites.”

Wrong!  Site #2 goes down little more than a week later, and this time it’s not a paysite.  RIP 4epowercards.com.  The message they have up reads:

4epowercards.com is going down

Unfortunately, the people at Wizards of the Coast have served me with a Cease and Desist letter. While I respect Wizards, and love almost all of their products, I am still disappointed. We can only hope Wizards will offer a service simliar to that provided by 4epowercards.com.

In the near future, once I’m done clearing out all the offending copyrighted materials, I will provide the source code used to drive this site. I hope it can be of benefit to someone out there.


Ryan Paddock

Thanks to the ever vigilant ENWorld community for the scoop.

Was this site reprinting some WotC intellectual property?  Yes, totally.  However, so are most fansites.  “Fair use” is a diminishing safe harbor, between aggressive copyright and trademark laws.

But that’s the system we have.  The real crime here on WotC’s part is that they want *some* fansites.  They want people to use thepower of Internet community to innovate with their games and spread the word.  So they want that, but are unwilling to publish a fansite policy that says what is OK to do.  So they discriminate by shutting down sites that happen to have innovated something that conflicts with, say, whatever piece of DDI they finally managed to get running.  And that’s just not fair.

If you are a fansite, you’re not safe.  No amount of head-in-the-sand excuses you put forth on forums will change the fact that WotC is trying to have their cake and eat it too; and by leaving the community without a fansite policy can (try, and unless you have a lawyer on call will) shut you down for anything they don’t like.  Because pretty much everything violates IP, legally.  Have a character sheet posted for your new fighter with the text of his powers on it?  Illegal.

Who can really be this naive?  You have seen all the other companies that have tried, and in some cases succeeded, to quash critics right?  Kmart sues “Kmartsucks.com” for trademark infringement, etc.

Will WotC Close You Down Next?

Wizards of the Coast has sent a cease-and-desist letter resulting in the closing of popular fan site “Ema’s Character Sheets.”  As usual, they refuse to comment on that action or commit to actually delivering a fan site policy so that people might be able to operate safely.

Ema’s Character Sheets had loads of high quality character sheets for 3.5e, 4e, Star Wars, and other games.  They had 4e power cards, too.  You could even save your characters up on their server for a fee, and they had a character builder functionality.  Which was all great, and has been running without comment for  years, until WotC finally got their 4e Character Builder done, then it’s nap time for the competition.

The worst thing about all this is that Wizards is going after folks without even delivering the policies that should let people know if they’re “safe” or not.  The GSL revamp, the fan site policy – all in limbo for months with nothing but statements like “Well, it’s not really that important” from Scott Rouse.

Sure, the data Ema’s site (and hundreds of other sites across the Internet) was using is Wizards IP.  They certainly have the “legal right” to go after anyone so much as saying the words “Dungeons & Dragons” on their site.  But the point of the gaming community is to let people use that IP to advance the game.  Rouse says “Oh, you know, we only really care about pirate sites posting whole torrents of our books.”  But that’s clearly a lie in the face of this action.  And he crosses the line from honest company rep to corporate shill when he says things like “not one website has been sued because of a lack of policy” (emphasis mine).  No, you don’t have to sue them, they close down when you C&D them because they can’t afford the lawyers you can, and they are risking their own personal money, time, and life while you get to hide behind incorporation and an organization.

So what was the problem with Ema’s?  That they charged for storage?  That they had a “software” component?  That they used Wizards IP?  No one knows, and so no one can avoid that.  As one poster on ENWorld pointed out, “My avatar here is Wizards IP [it's a pic of Tanis Half-Elven's face from DragonLance].  Can they come after ENWorld?”

The answer, legally, is yes.  Their IP is their IP in our insanely corp-friendly legal system.  Whether it’s charged for or whatnot is immaterial except in whether the company decides in its own mind whether you’re worth the effort to crush or not.  This is why people put out real licenses and policies to create an understanding with the community that has to use some of their IP to do anything meaningful.

So for everyone who’s been taking Wizards at its word, that “Oh, you’re safe unless you’re a pirate” – it’s not true any more.  And until they deliver a revised GSL and fan site policy, you can’t know if you’ll be safe.  But don’t worry, they’re working on it.  Real hard.  Because one day soon, they will change their ways and decide to value rather than just shit on you, the online gaming community.  Seriously, they say they will!  How could you not believe them?

[Thanks to ENWorld for breaking the news - here's the whole long forum thread if you're interested.  I'll note that ENWorld charges for community supporter accounts and has 4e character sheets and power cards for download too (including Forgottten Realms IP).  And where do forums/wikis end and "software" begin?  Not sure they are really all that far from Ema's site on this one.]

Some Miscellaneous D&D News

I’m ignoring most of it because I don’t like 4e, but these are of interest:

1.  The new GSL is still on a collision course with nowhere.  Scott Rouse is working on it but with Lidda gone, it’s not coming soon and when it does, probably won’t be significantly changed.   Yay.

2.  WotC may be releasing non-random minis!  This would be welcome.  The price and prepaint of their minis are great, the randomness not.  I’ve only bought about 5 packs because of that, even though I’ve desperately wanted more from playing a summoner recently.  Thought some of the commons are pretty cheap from the secondary market.

3.  More and more people are relating their 4e experiences, and learning that, as I said, the new rules are not indeed streamlined, but take even longer to run a combat.

Wizards is Buckling on the GSL

Great news courtesy Mad Brew LabsWizards has announced that they plan to revise the GSL!

They’re not committing to details, or a date, and the dreaded fan site policy is still pending (a fan site policy wasn’t needed for the last ten years, why now?) but they at least admit that everyone hates the GSL and if they don’t want to lose product support and customers they need to get their act together.

So to all the messageboard fanboys who said “don’t complain, it’ll come to naught and you’re not showing proper respect to our beloved Wizards overlords” – TAKE THIS!!!

Cowards who never stand up for what’s right always claim standing up won’t have an effect.  Good work to all the publishers, from Clark at Necro, Green Ronin, Kenzer & Co, on through about everyone else, who have refused to mortgage their comapny’s futures to this heavy handed move.  If even a quarter of the holdouts had caved, we might not be having this discussion.