Tag Archives: wizards

State of the RPG Union: Wizards of the Coast

Well, Wizards of the Coast is still plugging along, but it’s not looking good.

They have performed their traditional annual Christmas layoffs, this time tossing super-veterans Rich Baker (read his goodbye on the Wizards forums) and Steve Winter.

Rich had been with TSR/WotC more than 20 years and worked on Alternity, Spelljammer, Birthright, Forgotten Realms, Axis & Allies,and much more.

Steve had been with TSR/WotC for 30 years!!! He worked on Marvel Super Heroes, Star Frontiers (my first RPG), the 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set (my favorite setting), Pool of Radiance…

Of course long tenure and loyalty mean nothing to Hasbro, they are happy to fire people right before Christmas (it’s good for them financially since it’s their end of fiscal year) even when they’ve been there 20 or 30 years.  Stay classy, guys. Of course older employees make more money, so clear them out for young guys you can get to work for half the amount.

As everyone no doubt knows, they’ve hired Monte Cook and signs point to him and Mike Mearls working on D&D 5e, possibly for a 2013 release. Which I guess could be good since Mearls has been trying to make conciliatory noises at the “alienated by 4e” crowd. However, I see two bad signs.  One, Monte’s columns so far have been – strangely lackluster.  As in “fourth grade reading level” lackluster.  I don’t know why, he’s more talented than that, I wonder if there’s some strange restriction in place, but they really have been drivel.

But from what him and Mearls seem to be saying – instead of one well-designed game, it seems like they want to try to make everyone happy by making a “make your own D&D kit” instead of just making one D&D.  Which worked out so well for FUDGE. I think accommodating DIY and house rulers is great – but just be careful not to require it, guys. D&D has gone from a nice simple streamlined game in early D&D days to a hideous 500 page beast – cut that shit back. Someone should be able to play the game – not some dumbed down “beginner’s” version, but the real game – without a law degree. I like Pathfinder but the diarrhea of the rules there is getting me down too.

Also, they just got done suing Atari to get the rights back for D&D computer games, despite Atari being the best thing that’s happened to them since the Gold Box games.

Has anyone else noticed that when they go to wizards.com, the popdown at the top even says “Brands” now?  Not “Games.”  Not even “Products.”  Just “Brands.” How shit-tastic. That doesn’t bode well.

D&D Soda!?!

Check it out – limited edition D&D “Spellcasting Soda” from Jones Soda.  I know I hate Wizards of the Coast now and I shouldn’t like this, but really it’s pretty cool and entertaining.  I want “Bigby’s Crushing Thirst Destroyer.”   I wonder if they taste good?  My only Jones experience was with a holiday novelty pack and it tasted like burning, but those were admittedly weird flavors.

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.

Conclusion

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?

WotC President Explains: “We Are Retarded”

ENWorld scores a interview with WotC president Greg Leeds in which he says nothing we didn’t already know about their recent move to yank all WotC/TSR products from electronic publishing via PDF from all channels without warning.  Except that PDFs are never coming back because of “them pirates.”  Why even do an interview if you’re not going to say anything?  Man, the marketdroids have really raped D&D’s corpse.  Alas.

I don’t know if they realize that before PDFs, enterprising pirates just scanned and OCRed the docs anyway.  This will change nothing in terms of piracy, and will only jack their customers.  But, after all their other moves, it’s clear they don’t really care about that.  They have the attitude that “all you little vermin need our product like it’s your drug, so we can be as exploitative as we want and you’ll still come crawling to us.”  (And frankly from reading ENWorld, there is a good subset of people for whom this is true.)

Wizards of the Coast’s Latest Dick Move

Wanted to buy a PDF of any Wizards of the Coast/TSR product ever?  TOO LATE!!!

It started with an email I got from Paizo:

Date: Mon, 6 Apr 2009 19:28:09 -0700 (PDT)

Dear XXXXXX,

Wizards of the Coast has notified us that we may no longer sell or distribute their PDF products. Accordingly, after April 6 at 11:59 PM Pacific time, Wizards of the Coast PDFs will no longer be available for purchase on paizo.com; after noon on April 7, you will no longer be able to download Wizards of the Coast PDFs that you have already purchased, so please make sure you have downloaded all purchased PDFs by that time.

We thank you for your patronage of paizo.com. Please check out our other downloads at paizo.com/store/downloads.

Sincerely yours,
The Paizo Customer Service Team

But it turns out it’s not just Wizards hating on Paizo, it’s everywhere.  They pulled all their product from DriveThruRPG etc. as well.  With LESS THAN ONE DAY OF NOTICE to download even things you’d already bought.

Read the threads on RPG.net and ENWorld for more.

Wizards chimed in on this with a:

“Hey all. I wanted to step in and shine a mote of light on the subject. First off, this cesation of PDF sales has absolutely nothing to do with the Internet Sales Policy. I know it’s the 6th of April and I can definitely see how the two would appear linked, but the truth is, this is a completely seperate matter.

Unfortunately, due to recent findings of illegal copying and online distribution (piracy) of our products, Wizards of the Coast has decided to cease the sales of online PDFs. We are exploring other options for digitial distribution of our content and as soon as we have any more information I’ll get it to you.”

He’s referring to the new Wizards Internet  Sales Policy they announced today.  Yes, these moves are unrelated.  Surrrrrrrre they are.

So in other words, there are naughty pirates out there!  Don’t sell PDFs!  At the same time, WotC has announced they are suing eight individuals for infringement based on torrenting the PHB2.  You don’t bother announcing stuff like that unless you are trying a “My penis is so big” offensive against the evil forces of teh Intarwebs.

Well you know what?  Fuck you, Wizards.  May I direct everyone who is interested to The Pirate Bay, where the D&D 4e PHB2 is available.  (Not that I’d personally download any of that 4e crap.)

Are they really serious?  What does removing all your PDFs from legitimate outlets do except encourage people to pirate it?  And pulling this with such short notice undermines faith in the entire PDF market – re-downloadability is one of the selling points.

Paizo’s running a “PDF Love” sale on their stuff to try to make it up to their customers (use promo code “PDFLove” for 35% off!).  Of course this sudden yank screws all the companies who were reselling their stuff.  But since when did Wizards give one little damn about any of their supposed parters in the RPG industry?

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.

Summary

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.

Conclusion

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.

Regards,

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.