Dungeons and Dragons, not Licenses and Lawyers

I’m putting my Mutants & Masterminds Week on hold for just one day to put down my thoughts about the GSL. Please forgive the intrusion. Normal service shall be resumed tomorrow.

4e D&D is, first and foremost, a game with strong legally-mandated overtones. Take the Monster Manual for example; the entire book is essentially a Statement of IP. Gone are the days when you could just look up stats for, say, a Goblin. It’s Goblin Cutter, Goblin Blackblade or Goblin Hexer, all of which are copyright Wizards of the Coast. “Goblin” is the name of a mythical creature in the public domain, but Wizards own “Goblin Cutter”. See the difference? That’s the reason why dinosaurs aren’t called dinosaurs in the MM – they’re Macetail Behemoth, Bloodspike Behemoth and the like. The names have been changed to Protect the Intellectual Property. Anyone can write a system-neutral adventure where the players encounter a couple of Goblins, but if you want refer to their stats you’re into legal territory again.

It’s the same through all of the Core Rules. Wizards’ haven’t used a generic term where a specific (and copyrightable) term will do. It’s easy to give excuses and say “well, that’s the world we live in” but that’s the point – it’s the world we live in because we put up with this crap.

And it’s a shame. It’s a shame because 4e D&D is a darned good game that’s being strangled at birth by legalism. Third Edition D&D and the OGL revitalised the RPG industry to a massive degree. Third party support blossomed, and it continues to grow to this day. There’s more new OGL-compliant material coming out every single day than there is support for 4e D&D.

Ask any gardener: If you encourage something, it will grow. If you limit it, it will die.

The new GSL is, without a doubt, better than the original. It’s still far from perfect, but it’s probably as good as we could have expected. Gone are the cross-compatibility restrictions, and the termination clause is…. well, it’s not that bad, I guess. Paizo’s new license for Pathfinder is far simpler, fairer, and (built as it is on the OGL) a much better deal all round.

Me, I like the one for Mutants & Masterminds the best. Email Green Ronin your proposal and they get back to you within a week (if possible) with either the go-ahead, or help to make it compliant. Send them a PDF when it’s done, and they provide the license text and M&M Superlink logo; you just add them and the credits into the relevent places. It’s straightforward, easy to implement and (unlike the GSL) is a genuine mark of quality. Green Ronin sets the bar for the M&M Superlink program pretty high which means that logo on the cover actually means something.

One of the reasons claimed (by the ‘net, not necessarily by Wizards themselves) for the shift from the OGL to the GSL was to implement quality control on third party products. I see nothing in the GSL or it’s conditions to show that’s the case. That only comes with support, encouragement and involvement in the third party process. M&M Superlink provides that; the GSL doesn’t.

So what’s all this mean for us, joe rpg-player? The great news is that the improved GSL means there’s new products coming out for 4e including support from Necromancer Games. I’m seriously looking forward to 4e Classic in particular. Paizo and Green Ronin are going their own direction, and that’s also great news for the industry – choice is good, after all. The OGL has given them the ability to be strong enough to support their own product lines, and that’s great for them, and for us.

The next few months are going to be interesting, that’s for sure………

19 Comments on “Dungeons and Dragons, not Licenses and Lawyers”

  1. I think 4E Classic is not going to do it for me. That’s too bad, because I really liked the 3.5 material Necromancer Games published. Perhaps, as Claudia is fond of saying, I just “need another two years to see the light.”

    Right now I still think I’d rather play Labyrinth Lord than 4E.

    I’m not sure I like a quality assurance policy to come with the licence, so I can’t really feel good about the Mutants & Masterminds licence. I definitely see your point with the copyrightable names for everything in 4E.

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  2. L&L, worse than REAL LIFE(TM), but apart of REAL LIFE(tm). IF WotC wants to play L&L, let them. It’s probably their fault that they want to make others play their game. So, what seems to be the problem?

    The problem is — L&L sucks. The point of the OGL was to provide a safe way to use gaming content, and it would help Wizards of the Coast. However, this is getting out of hand for 4e.

    Eltons last blog post..Bringing Atlantis into RPG

  3. Honestly I never gamed with third party material in 3e (I picked it up to laugh at it – White Wolf’s Ravenloft, Goodman’s Dragonmech, and D20 [Insert Franchise] like Call of Cthulhu – ugh) so I can live with just Wizard’s and my own stuff. Especially given that all the 3pp material that has come out so far for both editions has failed to impress upon me the need for its existence.

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  4. @Alex Fear my wicked WordPress-plugin twitter-using magicks!

    @Elton Ironically, if Wizards’ had closed the door to third party support with the launch of 4e it would have probably improved things. As it is, other companies (and we fans) have had 8 months of not knowing what the heck is going on. Closing the door would have kept things far simpler :D Better still would have been for them to have kept the OGL as-is. Silly peeps.

    @Wyatt No OGL would have meant no Mutants & Masterminds! How can you say such a blasphemous thing?! :D :D :D Seriously though, the main 3pp products I used for 3e D&D were Ptolus and the Worlds’ Largest Dungeon. I could live without the rest, so I see where you’re coming from.

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  5. Mutants and Masterminds is different though. It’s not D&D, it just uses the D20 and it does so in inventive, new ways. I’d wish more people would try doing that than trying to reinvent 3.5, or shoehorning every conceivable genre into straight D20. Unfortunately the reality is that I was far more likely to see thirty D20 My Little Ponies than a game like Mutants and Masterminds, and I still am. So that’s why I play with only Wizard’s material and material I make myself.

    Though, I am very prolific in writing stuff for my own use. I’m sure most people wouldn’t even try to write a single warlock power, let alone two whole pacts like I have. So I guess for those people 3pps are very important providers of options.

    follow @WyattSalazar on twitter

    Wyatts last blog post..Spirits of Eden Spring Playtest: Adventure Specifics

  6. This does explain the utterly ridiculous naming conventions. I mean, seriusly, rename the dinosaurs? Ugh. I wonder if people can even use the names without bursting in laughter or something.

  7. @greywulf: Er, Boston Legal is where the smart money is on Licenses & Lawyers? Lock & load people!

    I’d add in that the new GSL is an improvement but the lack of fansite policy is still disturbing, although not entirely unexpected – what was that line about not learning from histoty and repeating it again?

    satyres last blog post..upon a red horse and bearing a sword

  8. @Canageek With the exception of Dinosaurs, you’d probably end up with pretty much the same thing – Goblin Cutters, Kobold Slingers and the like. But the main difference is the licensing, of course. Under the OGL anyone can use those terms, change ’em, print the statblocks in their adventures, whatever.

    With the GSL, they’ve drawn a fixed line in the sand which says that those names are Owned by them and the stats cannot be used at all – only the names and page references. That pretty much kills their usability dead. They become too tied up in IP legalese to be worth considering if you’re a third party publisher. Might as well make your own monsters and leave Wizards’ creations well alone.

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