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Jun. 18th, 2008

So ... the GSL is now public (wizards.com/d20). And it's very sad to see.

First, let me point out the obvious: the GSL doesn't affect what you decide to write for your home campaign at all. AT ALL. What it does affect is the ability for third-party publishers to write 4e-compatible materials. As restrictive as the GSL is, there are going to be fewer people publishing for 4e. Which means you, as a player/DM, will have fewer choices when it comes to ready-to-use material. But if you're the sort of player/DM that never bought non-Wizards stuff anyway, it doesn't affect you at all, so you might as well ignore the rest of this blog post.

But if you ARE the sort of person who likes to see what other creative minds are doing with 4e, read on.

In short: wow, this is really, really restrictive. It looks like they really don't want people making third-party 4e products (and from what I've heard, this is true ... the people in charge think the OGL was a big mistake). Lemme take look at it section-by-section and point out any weirdness that comes to mind.

1. You have to write in for permission first, and if your contact info changes you have to update them else the license is forfeit. And they get to decide whether or not to approve you, so if you PO someone at Wizards for whatever reason ("he stole my wife!") you're outta luck.
2. Wizards can update the license any time they want, one-sidedly, with no warning and no announcement. If you don't like the new terms of the license (and who knows, they could be something really crazy like demanding a 50% royalty on each product), your only option is to stop selling licensed books ... except the license says that if you continue to publish after an update, it means you automatically accept the terms of that update.
4.1. You can't redefine any term in 4e. This used to be in the d20 STL but you could ignore it if you didn't use the d20STL ... now there's no avoiding it. So you can't make 4e-ish products like you could make 3e-ish products. Under this license there would be no Mutants & Masterminds, or True20, or Blue Rose, and so on.
5.5a. A licensed product cannot include a website ... does that mean I can't sell a ZIP file containing a PDF and a readme.html file with contact info for my company?
What is an "interactive product"? Does a PDF with embedded videos or sounds count?
What is a "miniature"? Do printable tokens count? What about fold-up "paper minis"?
What is a "character creator"? Does a random history generator with no game stats ("lower-class human brewer from the northlands, blond hair, brown eyes, tall, fat, scar under his left eye from a barfight") count?
5.5b. Similar to my last question, can I give advice (a process) of how to create the backstory of a character?
5.5d. If I can't refer to artwork in a core rulebook, does this mean I can't say "this character looks like the evil brother of the guy at the start PH Chapter 10"? If my adventure has a displacer beast encounter, can I not have an illustration of a displacer beast because that "refers to" the core artwork of what a displacer beast looks like?
5.5f. As others have pointed out, this means you can't incorporate GSL content into another product unless that product also follows the GSL. So you couldn't sell a box set of generic minis that also contained a GSL adventure, even if that adventure doesn't use those minis.
6.1. So you can convert a 3e/OGL product to 4e/GSL, but once you do so you have to stop producing print copies of the OGL version and stop selling downloadable copies of the OGL version. Basically, you burn that bridge behind you, you can't sell a similar product to the 3e market and the 4e market. Which means that if you convert the Most Popular OGL PDF Ever to 4e and it sells zero copies of its 4e incarnation, you're screwed, you can't go back and sell the old version ever again.
6.2. The funny repercussion of this is that it doesn't merely refer to titles of _your_ GSL books ... if Green Ronin publishes a GSL "Complete Book of Halflings," no other company using the GSL can publish an OGL "Complete Book of Halflings." And as the definition of "same or similar title" is really vague, they might not be able to publish _any_ OGL book called "The Complete Book of (whatever)" because Wizards' lawyers could decide the name is "similar" to the Green Ronin GSL book. (This hyperbole really depends on whether the definition of "licensed product" in section 3 refers to _all_ products published under the GSL or just products from that particular publisher.)
7. This is pretty much a continuation of the "decency clause" that was in the revised d20 STL.
7a. Which could mean that a product describing a torture chamber from the Inqusition is not allowed.
7b. Which could mean that you can't say the villain in your adventure is a rapist or a child molester. You can say he's a murderer or a druglord, though.
7c. Because you can't present one nationality as superior to another, you can't have a scenario where the Americans are the "good guys" in World War 2, coming to help defeat the evil German Nazis, even if it takes place in an alternate dimension or due to a time travel accident.
This also means you can't depict jihadist Muslim terrorists as inferior to anyone else or in a way that promotes disrespect (they're a political and religious group). Same for Fred Phelps's church. Or the KKK. Or the pro-slavery Confederate States of America. Or any nutty Christian who decides to bomb an abortion clinic. This section is pretty much the "don't say anything that could get Wizards sued" clause, except by policing GSL products so much they opened the door to make themselves liable in the first place (the OGL precludes all responsibility because there is no supervision or oversight).




( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 18th, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
Wow. It sounds like they are really trying to keep themselves covered.

This isn't directly related to the discussion, but what do you think people will do with an OGL for 4e? I know that 3e's rules were really amenable to creating stuff like alternate WWII scenarios, 1970s racing games, pirates, Saturday morning cartoon bands, and so on. 4e's rule set really seems to scream "this would be a great basis for superhero gaming," but I can't really come up with any other alternatives to plug the rules into.
Jun. 18th, 2008 07:13 pm (UTC)
Well, two things.

1) AFAIK there isn't going to be an OGL for 4e. The GSL is it. They don't want people using their mechanics under license to create similar but competing games.

2) That said, you can't copyright game mechanics. If someone wanted to create a 4e-ish game set in another genre, they could do so. Wizards might sue, but there's always that possibility.
Jun. 18th, 2008 07:18 pm (UTC)
Okay, so basically a "True d20" based off 4e wouldn't be possible, but a "Mutants and Masterminds" probably would be?
Jun. 18th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
It really depends on how willing you are to risk getting sued. In the USA you can file a lawsuit for anything, even frivolous things that a judge will dismiss, and it's often done just to scare people who don't have money to hire a lawyer to spend an hour in front of the judge arguing the absurdity.

Wizards doesn't have a copyright on a d20-based game mechanic. Or on class mechanics. Or on levels.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 18th, 2008 08:04 pm (UTC)
Here's the US copyright law on games, btw: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl108.html
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 18th, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
There are lots of people who are going to be disappointed by this. :(
Jun. 18th, 2008 07:45 pm (UTC)
I hear you. With 3rd edition, it seemed that the attitude was "success for the hobby equals success for D&D." It looks like that's been completely turned around.

I'm most concerned with the backwards compatibility clause, essentially forcing third-party publishers into a tough business decision. Does it make business sense to abandon a rules-set that your fanbase has been using for the last 8 years? If I headed up a company on par with, say, Paizo or Green Ronin, I'd be trying to broker a custom non-GSL license with Wizards instead.

The second biggest concern is the disallowed use of certain MM monsters (but not others) in third-party products. So far as I can tell, you couldn't include drow, succubi, Orcus or cambion (all real world concepts), beholders, displacer beasts, or mind flayers (iconic and uniquely D&D) in any adventure. The SRD does contain a slew of uniquely D&D monsters, however, such as carrion crawler, bulette, grell, roper, etc.

How they picked some monsters over others is beyond me.

Jun. 18th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
No dark elves? Really? That's... Absurd. I mean, it was silly that you couldn't do beholders and mind flayers after a point in the 3.5 life cycle, but dark elves? Especially since they built them directly into the flavor of the eldarin and the elves...

Jun. 19th, 2008 02:30 am (UTC)
I have a sneaking suspicion you could get away with dark elves, you just couldn't call them drow. Amongst other places they exist in Norse Myth.
Jun. 18th, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC)
on the bright side, this is going to make my decisions on which third-party 4e products to buy really, incredibly trivial. maybe i can afford more minis.
Jun. 18th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
No real surprise, unfortunately. If it was going to be anything other than this, they would have announced it a year ago when Paizo was at its critical juncture.

Frankly, I think this will hurt them in the long run. On the other hand, here's hoping we'll see some big things from "non-Wizards, non-d20" companies again for a change. The gaming community could use it, IMO.

-The Gneech
Jun. 18th, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC)
Frankly, I think this will hurt them in the long run. On the other hand, here's hoping we'll see some big things from "non-Wizards, non-d20" companies again for a change. The gaming community could use it, IMO.

I, for one, have been hoping for exactly this since the countdown started last year.
Jun. 18th, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
It looks like a lot of clarifications are in order.
Jun. 19th, 2008 12:32 am (UTC)
The whole OGL/GSL situation makes me sad. No matter what you think of 4e, Pathfinder, or whatever, I don't think this entire situation is good for the health of many third party publishers or the hobby as a whole.
Jun. 19th, 2008 01:58 am (UTC)
It's not unique to Wizards. A few days back the Associated Press started sending cease and desist orders to bloggers linking to and quoting snippets from AP stories. There has been a reaction, and word has it the AP has sort of backed off.

The problem with Wizards (and Hasbro) is that they haven't kept up with the changes brought by the Net, the open source and creative commons movements, and even the OGL. They think that control of content is what matters, when it's really communication. It's the network that matters now, and networking requires sharing information instead of hiding it away.

D&D has always been about the community, by placing D&D back under lock and key Wizards has turned its back on the community, and is trying to return to the days when pulpits cost dear and frequency was scarce. I doubt they'll ever catch on to the existence of personal publishing on the massive scale we have now.

Expect D&D to fade away to a small scale war game, to be replaced as an RPG by other products from wiser companies.
Jun. 19th, 2008 04:42 am (UTC)
That's a highly unlikely scenario. OGL or not, most gamers bought Wizards products more than they bought 3rd party OGL products. D&D has more brand oomph now than it ever has, given the sales thus far on 4th Ed. Certainly it loses out on the "cool kid" population that actively consorts with 3rd parties and such... But that's a minority. Books with a big "Dungeons and Dragons" logo on 'em will ALWAYS sell the best.

This is all speaking as one of that cool kid minority, of course; before 4E I hadn't bought a Wizards book since the PHB2, and nothing since 3.5 before that... Whereas I bought everything Malhavoc ever put out...

Jun. 19th, 2008 02:32 am (UTC)
What are the likely legal ramifications of releasing a D20 game called "Not Dungeons and Dragons"?

I could even have expansion, Definitely Not Dungeons & Dragons for instance...
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 19th, 2008 04:46 am (UTC)
Re: You are a babykilling wacko pro-abort.
...wait, seriously? You dug around in Livejournal for this entry, that was explicitly about Dungeons and Freakin' Dragons, to bash the author for ONE LINE that implied that BOMBING is a bad thing?

Please, there must be something better you can be using your time for.

Jun. 19th, 2008 04:51 am (UTC)
Re: You are a babykilling wacko pro-abort.
Perhaps he could put a bullet in his head, he's a moron.
Jun. 19th, 2008 06:19 am (UTC)
Re: You are a babykilling wacko pro-abort.
Nah, suicide is a sin. Can't do that. Wouldn't be Christian...
Jun. 19th, 2008 07:13 am (UTC)
Re: You are a babykilling wacko pro-abort.
Does it count as suicide if he's just aiming for a lobotomy?
Jun. 23rd, 2008 02:38 am (UTC)
2. Wizards can update the license any time they want, one-sidedly, with no warning and no announcement. If you don't like the new terms of the license (and who knows, they could be something really crazy like demanding a 50% royalty on each product), your only option is to stop selling licensed books ... except the license says that if you continue to publish after an update, it means you automatically accept the terms of that update.

But wasn't that part of the OGL too?
Jun. 23rd, 2008 03:32 am (UTC)
No, that was part of the d20 System Trademark License, which you agreed to abide by if you wanted to put the d20 logo on your book. You could publish without that d20 logo and only use the OGL, which is irrevocable (the OGL is changeable by Wizards, but the OGL also states that you can always use an older version of the OGL, so it is effectively perpetual ... if don't like a more recent version, use an older version and you're fine). 500 years from now people will still be able to publish 3e-compatible books using the OGL, or 3e-ish games like True20 and Mutants & Masterminds.

With 4e, the OGL and d20SRD are combined into one document (the GSL). You can't publish 4e-compatible materials unless you agree to the GSL. And because the GSL is at-whim changeable and revokable like the d20STL, you're under the thumb of the WotC legal team. Or whoever is on that team a year from now, or ten years from now.

Next year Hasbro could say "yank the GSL" and everyone publishing with the GSL is screwed. Compared to Hasbro saying "yank the d20STL" at which point publisher just need to take the d20 logo off their books. Compared to Hasbro saying "yank the OGL," at which point the Wizards lawyers say "we can't."

And that's why section 2 is such a big deal. At any point, Wizards can shut down a 3rd-party publisher's 4e-compatible books, even if that publisher has been 100% compliant. They can do this for any reason they want, like "they're doing a book on vampires, we want to do one and we don't want competition." Or "the new VP doesn't like Bob of Bob's Games." Or no reason at all. And there's nothing the 3pp can do about it.
Jun. 23rd, 2008 05:22 pm (UTC)
Ah, I see. Thank you for explaining. Hm. Well. Unfortunately, I don't see very much we can do about it. I guess the question is to what extent Wizards will use this particular clause, now or in the future. Just because the tool is there for them to shut down any third-party publisher doesn't mean they'll necessarily do so... unless you know something about the company that I don't. Which, to be fair, is entirely possible. :) Thanks again.
Jun. 23rd, 2008 08:44 pm (UTC)
Like I said, this doesn't really effect players and DMs. Who it really effects are people who want to publish 4e-compatible stuff ... they're putting eggs in WotC's basket, and doing so is risky because the next person to pick up the basket might decide to do a "brain on drugs" commercial.
Jun. 28th, 2008 12:22 am (UTC)
What's funny is that this makes dealing with WOTC more risky than a government contract, without all the juice that working for the people who control the treasury get. At this point I'm almost waiting for the property to crash and burn a painful death until someone else with more sense can afford to take their little experiment in bad business off their hands and do it proud again.
Jul. 20th, 2012 06:03 pm (UTC)
Derp. "effect" should be "affect."
Jun. 27th, 2008 01:06 am (UTC)
7c looks especially bad. That's taking political correctness way to far. With groups on both the political Right and Left clamoring to censor anything they think is ''immoral'', I can see why Wizards wants to walk the line closely, but still....

( 30 comments — Leave a comment )

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