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.
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.