Tag Archives: open gaming

The OGL: It’s Not Just d20

Hey, so I keep seeing people confused about the Open Game License. My Open Gaming for Dummies article helps dispel some of that but let’s come out and get one thing clear – it’s not “just for D&D” or just d20-derived games. Open gaming is strong and diverse.

The OGL is just a license.  It’s like the open source Apache, GPL, or MIT licenses in that it can be applied by anyone – though it was written by WotC originally, it’s not owned by them and has no relation to what games can be released under it.

Guess what all game systems are open under the OGL license?

  • The Action! system (from Gold Rush Games)
  • Traveller (Mongoose’s version)
  • Runequest (Mongoose’s version)
  • The d6 system (from West End Games’ Star Wars and Ghostbusters)
  • Fudge and its newer more popular variant FATE and derivatives thereof, like ICONS

And many more, including many many d20 variants from Anime d20 to Mutants & Masterminds.  I’m not sure there’s a comprehensive list – here’s a couple that are old and out of date. But that’s like, a big share of the systems people have played over the decades.

And of course this doesn’t mention other open games published under other licenses, like Eclipse Phase is published under Creative Commons.

Really, publishers, is there a reason NOT to open license your system?  Because face it, your system kinda sucks.  They all do. Your best bet is to get it in the hands of as many people as possible so they’ll get interested and buy your products. If GURPS got open licensed, for example, maybe someone under 30 would play it.

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.

Green Ronin/Paizo Podcast on Open Gaming

Chris Pramas, Nicole Lindroos, and Erik Mona talk about open gaming – OGL, GSL, 4e, Pathfinder, True20, and more in this podcast! Get a free 1 1/2 hours (maybe from not going to see the new Indiana Jones movie) and listen to it! Yes, Wizards is still sitting on the new GSL, so much is speculation, but it’s a good overview.

Wizards Still Silent On Anti-Open Licensing Flap

In the face of increased publisher, customer, and public concern over the reports that the new license for the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons contains a “poison pill” provision that prevents any licensed company from also producing open source games under the Open Gaming License, Wizards is staying quiet.  Scott Rouse, D&D Brand Manager, had originally promised clarification of the issue on Monday the 21st after the news broke.  Then on the 21st they said “No…” and asked ENWorld to come up with a list of interview questions for them to answer.  ENWorld got the list together (in the requested 1 hour span!) and sent them in, but Wizards upon seeing them said “Um…  I think we’ll go with a Q&A on the Wizards site instead…  We’ll send you some ‘exclusive’ answers of course, because what you care about is site hits, not the truth getting out…”  Now, even that is stretching out.  The Wizards community liaison indicates that a response will not come this week, and maybe not next week either

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“Sleazy” Proposed New D&D License

Apparently independently of my SlashdottedWizards Declares War On Open Gaming” article, there’s a BoingBoinged article referencing, oddly enough, Network Performance Daily about Wizards’ plan to get rid of open licensed D&D for good with their new Fourth Edition licensing scheme.  Fight the power!

Open Gaming for Dummies

If one thing’s clear from the discussion about the new Wizards license for D&D Fourth Edition, it’s that people like to spout off on the subject without knowing what the heck the OGL says, what the difference is between the OGL and d20 STL, and what an “open” license is in the first place.  So here’s a convenient summary if you want to know what all of this means.  Read and understand – personally, I don’t mind differing opinions, but I do mind ignorant opinions.

Open Gaming License (OGL): A license written by Wizards of the Coast to be a generic “open” license suitable for RPGs.  WotC released most of the core 3e and then 3.5e D&D rules under the OGL.  Many other gaming companies have published OGL games – some partly based on D&D OGL content, some completely original and unrelated to the D&D rules.

The official OGL v1.0a: http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/OGLv1.0a.rtf

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D&D Fourth Edition License Unveiled!

After much hullabaloo, the open licensing for D&D Fourth Edition (4e) has been unveiled – kinda. 

D&D 4th Edition Game System License

Wizards of the Coast is pleased to announce that third-party publishers will be allowed to publish products compatible with the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition game system under the new Dungeons & Dragons 4E Game System License (D&D 4E GSL). This royalty-free license will replace the former d20 System Trademark License (STL), and will have a System Reference Document (SRD) available for referencing permissible content.

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A Rare Bit of Wisdom

Paizo Publishing decided that they shouldn’t trademark the term “Adventure Path” and instead let it be a common-use term.  And also they have enough claim to it that they can almost certainly prevent anyone else from trademarking it.  Look, you don’t have to be a proprietary ass to be a game company!  They explain on their forums in this thread.  Good job guys!

WotC Rethinking Open Gaming Update

So it’s the work week now.  Discussion rages on ENWorld, the Wizards forum, and other places (e.g. Chris Pramas’ blog).  Response from WotC?  Jack!  I guess their attitude is “you can suck it!”

If any of the links go bad it’s because the ENworld mods are trying to bury the discussion by moving them to disused forums.  (Vote here to ask them to quit it.)  Update: 90% of voters say they should move the discussion back into the main forums, but no action has been taken yet.  I assume it’ll just get delayed until WotC finally puts the nails in the coffin of the GSL to save them some embarassment.

Go and let your opinion be known, pro or con!  In this day and age, companies ignore their customers at their own risk.

The Economics of Open Gaming – An Open Letter To WotC

Why Open Gaming Is Good For Business

The OGL was largely single-handedly responsible for reviving the RPG industry overall and it and 3e took D&D from a bankrupt and largely irrelevant position back to its current state of RPG primacy and pop-culture relevancy.

Let me note something about real world economics. A healthy market sector means more for everyone. My IRL company has been posting record revenues for many consecutive quarters. Our stock took a big hit lately. Why? Because our major competitors posted big losses. This cast the entire sector in a bad light. Doing well in a bad sector isn’t any better than doing poorly in a good sector, and is arguably worse, to investors.

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WotC Rethinking Open Gaming

In a post on the ENWorld boards, a WotC rep says that they’re still reviewing the basic premises behind the GSL.  Has Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG play scared them into thinking that any degree of openness isn’t the way to go?

To me, this is one of the largest decisions that Wizards could make regarding D&D 4e.  The prior OGL was a huge moment in gaming and helped catapult D&D back to the top from being a bankrupt and irrelevant little thing.  In my opinion, any decision to go back on it would be both stupid and ultimately harmful to D&D/WotC.  I’ve played D&D a long time and would love to keep playing it.  Even if 4e has retarded stuff in it, I can houserule it, heck, publish my own “nonretarded” variant, and keep going.  If they choose to make it not open however – then I won’t bother, I’ll go with Pathfinder or something else exclusively.

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