Tag Archives: licensing

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.

Mongoose Traveller Licensing Unveiled

Mongoose Publishing, one of the recent publishers of the venerable Traveller universe, has released their “Developer’s Pack” that describes licensing terms for others to put out Traveller material.  And it’s groundbreakingly liberal!  But somewhat complicated, so let me break it down.   (Direct download link)

1.  First of all, the new Mongoose Traveller rules are released under the Open Gaming License (OGL), and a complete System Resource Document (SRD) is included.  So as far as open licensing allows – go nuts!  But wait, there’s more.

2.  There is a Fair Use Policy document – actually provided by Far Future Enterprises, who owns Traveller and licenses it out – that allows you to do stuff based on all previous (non-Mongoose) Traveller versions and publish noncommercially on a Web site or whatnot.  Make copies, write programs/spreadsheets to automate stuff, whatever.  They ask you don’t directly reproduce more than a page or two of rules straight out of previous rulebooks and that you post a FFA copyright notice somewhere.  There’s some unavoidable complication here – they note that they didn’t have all the rights to some art/maps from previous editions and so technically you need that artist’s permissions for those – sad, but unavoidable.

They don’t explicitly mention the ticky things that White Wolf did in their site policy, like not being able to take advertising.

3.  There is a Traveller logo license (TLL).  You get to use the logo but you have to agree to a bunch of lame restrictions – send a form in, can’t use “Traveller” in the title, avoid naughty content (sex/violence), they can ask you to destroy your stock, the whole litany of unpleasant restrictions in most licenses (though they do note that “It should be noted that Mongoose Publishing is committed to a strong relationship with third parties using the Traveller logo and that this instruction will only be given under extreme circumstances that threaten to bring the Traveller trademark into disrepute. If in doubt, third parties may always discuss potential projects with Mongoose Publishing first.”  I’m not sure it’s worth it.

4.  There is a “Foreven Free Sector” license.  This is an interesting one.  The other licenses are basically about rules.  This one lets you use the Original Traveller Universe (OTU) intellectual property (IP)!  I wish this wasn’t so groundbreaking but it is – you can publish stuff set in the OTU – Aslan, K’kree, the Empire, and all of it, in any time period.  You have to “keep it in the Foreven sector” – you can reference all the rightness of the OTU but can only develop/change this one “sandbox” sector.   This license has a similar set of restrictions to the TLL, but in this case it might be worth it; it’s like WotC letting anyone write a Forgotten Realms book as long as it’s set in Sembia.

All in all this is a pretty cool set of licenses.  I think things like the content clauses are 1970s leftover crap, but in general a) the rules are open and b) you can use the OTU even commercially under restriction and c) you can do whatever a normal fan would do under Fair Use.  Props to Mongoose and Fast Forward for this approach!  Any company that thinks it’s not in their best interest to be open like this is either delusional or WotC.

White Wolf Fansite Guidelines Are Annoying

Well, Wizards is never going to get off their lawyered up asses to release a new GSL, let alone a fansite policy.   But White Wolf has a new one!

I don’t usually play WW games myself.  It’s not a fault of the games usually.  I feel like the people out there that play White Wolf fall into three categories – the gothy goth ‘take it real seriously’ pagan types (not my crowd), the teenagers in Dr. Seuss ‘Cat in the Hat’ hats (definitely not my crowd), and the normal gamers that play WW games like they’re D&D, all about the combat no roleplay (pointless, there’s better wargames).  I’d like the opportunity to do some WW gaming with normal-but-deep-RP people.

But while researching my article on RPG site Web traffic, I went to look at the WW site to see if I could figure out why their traffic has dropped off 54% in 3 months.  Not sure this is the answer, but I came across their new fan site guidelines (the “Dark Pack”). They try to make them reasonable, but the resultant list of rules is a mess that will inhibit fansites substantially.

They do a good job of separating the carrot from the stick.  If you do the things at the top of the page, you get to be listed in the Dark Pack links on their site, which is a good incentive-based approach.  Unfortunately, this section is just “use this standard Dark Pack logo and link.”

Then once you get into the “restrictions for all sites” section it gets a lot harder.

1.  No revenue of any sort – including no ads or Google Adwords – they specify that even your hoster can’t put ads or AdWords on your pages.  That’s a problem.   Sure, it’s WW’s “right” to be the only one making money of their content but it’s problematic when many fansites have gone over to hosted blogs or free-for-ads Web hosts.  Even LiveJournal is now inserting ads into their Basic accounts.  This effectively excludes lots of people who rely on free Web hosting or blogs of one stripe or another.

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The GSL Is Finally Released

So even though I’m on vacation, I can’t help but post that the new D&D 4e Game System License (the license they’re using instead of the old OGL for 4e) has been released.  Here it is

There’s a bunch of downloadable docs; the GSL itself, the new SRD (system reference document), and more.  Here’s the summary of each.

GSL – You have to send in an “acceptance card” to use the license.  No products to be published before October 1.  The license can be changed at will by Wizards.  You have to use their new logo on licensed products.

Licensed products may NOT  be any of the following: web sites, minis, character creators, “interactive products,” reprint any material from the books (so no “power cards”), refer to any imagery or artwork, or be incorporated into anything not fully licensed – so no magazine articles!  That last one is a bit of an unpleasant surprise, I guess it’s a play to make people still use Dragon and Dungeon despite their “high-tech” ghettoization onto Wizards’ site.  Death to fanzines!  And Kobold Quarterly, and…

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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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Wizards of the Coast Declares War On Open Gaming

Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast shocked the role-playing game industry today with the revelation that anyone wanting to publish material for the new Fourth Edition of D&D, expected out in June of this year, must forgo open licensing entirely as part of their new Game System License.

With the launch of the third edition of the game years ago, Wizards had sponsored an open licensing scheme. This license, called the Open Gaming License, or OGL, was a kind of open source license designed for game publishers. The result was an explosion of third party game companies supporting D&D and also establishing their own separate game lines. Many of these companies became quite large and successful, notably Paizo Publishing, Green Ronin Publishing, and others.  There are open gaming products covering every genre under the sun – science fiction, horror, wild west, and anything else you can think of.

Now, however, Wizards has stated that any company hoping to publish products for their new edition must agree to discontinue any current open licensed products and produce no further open products at all – Dungeons & Dragons related or not.  In a phone conversation about 4e licensing with Clark Petersen, president of Necromancer Games, a company representative explained this policy and was adamant that it was not going to change. A number of companies are leveraging the OGL for their independent games, for example the pulp game Spirit of the Century; the gaming community adopted the OGL on good faith and more than 90% of the openly licensed games in existence are using it.  This “poison pill” clause means that in exchange for any further involvement with the Dungeons & Dragons game line, a company must abandon any past OGL products and vow not to produce any more.

In response to questions about this policy, Scott Rouse, D&D Brand Manager for Wizards of the Coast, says that “We have invested multiple 7 figures in the development of 4e so can you tell me why we would want publishers to support a system that we have moved away from?”  Linae Foster, Licensing Manager, also notes “We understand the impacts this license will have on the 3pps, fans, community and industry in general. We respect that companies will need to make the decision that is right for them and their supporters.”

It seems to me that this is the equivalent of Microsoft telling people “if you want to make and sell software for Windows, you can’t make any Linux/open source software either!”   Though this move might be legally shaky, especially in the EU, side players in the small RPG industry are often only a couple people strong, and Wizards is owned by Hasbro, making any challenge to these terms doomed from the start.  (The buyout of Wizards by Hasbro is likely the source of this change of heart away from open licensing; events like the Scrabble/Scrabulous lawsuit have Hasbro trying to define and expand their scope of IP control.)   Some of the more well-established game companies are rebelling anyway – Paizo Publishing, which used to publish Dungeon and Dragon magazines under license from Wizards, had already declared their intent to stay with the open prior version and develop it moving forward instead, effectively “forking” the D&D code base.  But even they admit this is effectively a niche play. 

This also appears not to be limited to publishing companies, but also to individuals wanting to put content on their Web site or other venue.  When asked about individual licensors, Scott Rouse replied that yes, individuals would need to fill out a GSL license agreement and send it in to WotC to participate.  Some ten or so years ago, TSR (the original company, which was bought by Wizards and then Wizards by Hasbro in turn) liked to send out “cease and desist” legal threats to people posting D&D-related content on their Web sites.  Will we see a return to that?   By the letter of the law as much as it’s been revealed to us, some guy on their Web site putting up 3.5e related content and 4e related content at the same time is subject to the same limitations…

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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