Tag Archives: license

Other Open Gaming Thoughts

Besides the buzz about D&D Next possibly being OGL, there’s other news in game licensing land.

First of all, the GUMSHOE system used by Pelgrane Publishing in many of their games is released under both OGL and Creative Commons! You can download the SRD in Word format there. Very cool.

Second, Numenera has a license and it’s not quite open. One product has been released so far though, Celestial Wisdom. But here’s why this concerns me.

Numenera is an innovative game in a very weird setting. A setting that could benefit a LOT from third party material. It’s going to be intimidating to some people to actually run, because of the weird nature of the setting and adventures.  The more the better, and any bars there limit it somewhat.

In conjunction with that, the Monte Cook brigade are now off on their second Kickstarter for a similary ambitious game called The Strange.  This does not give me a lot of confidence that Numenera is going to see lots of support from Monte Cook Games itself.  Given the worry that they’re just going to be happily Kickstarting one neat new idea after another and then moving to the next without focusing their effort on sustaining each one, does it make sense from any perspective to put limitations on people that do want to?

13th Age has, on the other hand, released under the OGL with their SRD located here on the Pelgrane site. That makes me a little more hopeful about ongoing support.

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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 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?

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.

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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