Tag Archives: wizards

Green Ronin Says “No” To The GSL

Well, another major company has said “no thanks” to Wizard of the Coast’s new D&D 4th Edition game system license. Green Ronin won’t be signing on – see their site post on the topic here. They sum up the main issue well –

“We had hoped to include 4E support in our plans, but the terms of the GSL are too one-sided as they stand. We certainly do not blame Wizards of the Coast for wanting to defend their intellectual property and take more control over the type of support products D&D receives. We do not, however, feel that this license treats third party publishers as valued partners.”

Unfortunately, no GSL for them means no 4e. I don’t really care since I don’t like 4e and don’t plan to play it, but hopefully in Kenzer gets some legal precedent down this won’t be the choice everyone has to make.

This truly is Wizards cutting off their nose to spite their face. When I was helping launch 3rd Edition at is premiere at Gen Con 2000, I bought a copy of Death in Freeport, the first scenario available for 3e, and it was by Green Ronin. Freeport later grew into a huge game line for them; this initial adventure got our gaming group in Memphis fired up on Freeport and 3e in general. Freeport and 3e went together like chocolate and peanut butter for us; we’d play other stuff – all the scenarios from Wizards and the other third parties that cranked into full steam with the debut of the OGL – but our characters would always come back to Freeport. Exciting times. Which apparently Wizards doesn’t want to relive.

There is no doubt that Green Ronin contributed heavily to the 3e launch and its high quality products contributed to the overall health of 3e gameplay. Slavish devotees of Wizards, no matter what their practices, will claim that can’t be *proved.* And no it can’t; economic causality is impossible to prove even if the indistry involved didn’t hide sales numbers like they were state secrets. But I lived it, with my gaming groups and with all the Living Greyhawk groups I interacted with. Wizards, you want a bigger slice of the pie, but you’re shrinking the pie to get it, and that’s idiotic. Wake up.

The Revolution Begins

The entire gaming industry was underwhelmed by the new D&D Fourth Edition Game System License (GSL), which is restrictive and frankly dangerous to the licensee, not to mention being a very disappointing step back from the open licensing push of the previous edition.

Paizo Publishing has already forked D&D in response, saying “poo on 4e” and going ahead with the 3.5e system, turning it into their new Pathfinder RPG. But now there’s a more meaningful strike back at Wizards’ ill-considered and backwards business practices – Kenzer & Co. is putting out a book for 4e (Kingdoms of Kalamar) without using the GSL at all. (Thanks to Lamentations of the Flame Princess for the news!)

A quick primer on intellectual property issues. There’s copyright and trademark concerns, but courts have held consistently that any kind of game rules – from baseball to Monopoly – may not be restricted via IP. This should mean that as long as you avoid direct text plagarism (copyright) and trade dress (trademark, though this gets harder as companies abuse the trademark laws to “own” simple words and concepts) you can make compatible programs just fine – this is how companies have made third party games and addons for game consoles, etc. (Though as you can see from history, some consoles have succeeded on blocking this more effectively than others.) (If you need more of a primer on the game industry’s licensing history, the OGL, GSL, etc. see my old post Open Gaming for Dummies.)

Unfortunately Hasbro (Wizards of the Coast’s corporate masters) has been aggressive in suing anyone who touches any of their properties, whether the use is legal or not – two good examples are the recent Scrabulous suit, and the RADGames Monopoly suit. And even before Hasbro was in the picture, TSR and then Wizards had a history of being litigious; TSR suing Mayfair for publishing AD&D 1e adventures is one example, as is the infamous Magic “tapping” lawsuit.

Note that Hasbro lost the RADGames suit and that company happily puts out award-winning add-on games for Monopoly, even saying “Monopoly” and terms like “Community Chest” which are trademarked! And the old Mayfair suit wasn’t decided on IP grounds but because Mayfair had entered into a specific contractual agreement with WotC that said they couldn’t do that. This is the reason gaming companies shouldn’t uptake the GSL – it is actually more restrictive than what your normal legal rights grant you, and by signing up you are giving up rights basically for a piece of paper saying “Wizards won’t sue us.”

In my opinion, this is pure extortion. But it’s effective. Most roleplaying game companies are small one or two person shops or just part-time gigs. Even a groundless suit from Hasbro would take more money than one of these entities has just to show up in court (in whatever shopped venue Hasbro chooses, most likely one of the infamous IP venues like the Eastern District of Texas) to contest it. So whenever this discussion came up in the recent GSL flap, there was a general air of fatalism and people saying snidely “why don’t you rest your own livelihood on some legal theory!?!” Because admittedly, figuring out the complex legal mess of trademark vs copyright vs rules vs contracts is a bit much for most freelance writer types, and there’s a huge risk of getting sued whether or not you do it right.

Well, it turns out that David Kenzer of Kenzer & Co, a major third party RPG publisher, creator of the Knights of the Dinner Table comic, the Hackmaster RPG, and the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting, is an IP lawyer “in real life.” So in defiance of the GSL and their “no 4e products may be sold until after Gen Con” rule, his company has put together the first third party D&D 4e supplement and is selling it at Gen Con. Apparently he’s confident in his ability to “do it right” and to thwart any ill-considered legal action from Wizards/Hasbro.

And I don’t think this is a bad bet. RADGames was two guys in a basement and they won. People like to say “Oh, the US legal system is about who can throw the most money at it” but in reality, the law wins out pretty reliably.

So I want to say “Yay!” to Kenzer & Company. By pretty much volunteering to be the test case for this they’re going to lead the entire hobby games industry into realizing their legal rights and not living in FUD of Wizards and their “licensing” any more.

WotC Finally “In” on Gen Con Indy

After a good bit of dithering, today Gen Con announced that Wizards will be co-sponsoring as usual.  Yay.  Of course, all the events are already taken and all the local hotel rooms too.  Bah.  I had considered going this year to help with Pathfinder if nothing else, but the signs were too hazy until now, and now it’s too late.  Get your acts together earlier next year guys!

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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