Sunday, August 30, 2009

Other People's Games

I strongly believe in Open Gaming whether under one of the Creative Commons license or the Open Gaming License.

Over the course of supporting older editions many choose to rely on the fact you can't copyright ideas (and thus game rules) plus the legal decisions in various places that allow you to say that you are compatible as long as you don't deceive the consumer that you are an official product. (see razor blades and razors)

This is not a good path to take for revived older edition products.

We need to forge ahead and establish our own identity with our own names and get away from using Dungeons & Dragons. Today D&D it just a brand name tacked on to whatever ruleset it's parent company thinks it ought to be on. We need the old rules under new names. Note the plurals as there are multiple older editions.

Just about every old school author I know will gladly share if you ask. There will come a day when you say "Yes" and a few days later you go "What the hell? I didn't give permission for that." I seen this working on open source projects like Orbiter Space Simulator.By using the Open Gaming License you specify what it is you are willing to share. We are a small community that is growing. We get new people all the time. This problem is just going to get worse the larger we grow.

There is an ethical reason as well. Nobody likes it when somebody uses your work without permission or credit. And that exactly what you are doing when using D&D without the Open Gaming License. The law may say it is OK, but you are telling Wizards to stick it. Despite how much of a dofus you think Wizards is, that neither right or fair.

Especially in the light that Wizard did open much of D&D. That for retaining credit and returning the favor by being open ourselves we can use 90% of the D&D rules without royalty or specific approval. That is just damn generous. We should respect that by using the Open Gaming license ourselves.

Then there is the risk of not using the Open Gaming License. Understand that when you see companies like Goodman Games and KenzerCo release older edition products that they had legal advice. I don't care what region of the world you live in, trying to take advantage of gray areas of the law without the advice of a lawyer is downright silly. Remember too that David Kenzer of KenzerCo is a intellectual property lawyer in his day job.

Yes, I realize that for products like adventure the risk I am talking about is minimal. But understand there is a line and without legal advice you won't know when you have crossed. Too often I seen the reasons given for avoiding the OGL boil down to an excuse to put the coveted words "compatible with Dungeons & Dragons" on the cover. The Open Gaming License resolves this issue by spelling out the items that permission have been given for.

Some of you who are published authors are probably annoyed at this point as I questioned the manner in which you released your products. That I brought up ethical reasons that for many are matters of opinion. I think to have published at all for older edition is a marvelous thing. Anybody who asks for my help will get it whether for maps, or ideas. I don't check for an OGL stamp at my door.

My devotion to old school gaming is not blind and I am nobody's cheerleader. I will raise issues that need raising and question the wisdom of actions taken. If this post gets you to think about the issues then I have done my job no matter how you decide.


Timeshadows said...


Your mixed signals is part of what disinterests me in sticking the OGL stamp on much of my work.

On the one hand you acknowledge that by making things open source, one finds one's control over their application/usage eliminated.
--Then, on the other hand, you appeal to courtesy, legal precedent, and a sense of community.

Remembering a day when people in the gaming community would say: 'well, if it weren't for D&D, none of these other games would exist.', as well as, --'this game is its own work, and while many aspects may share similarities with other FRPS on the market, it would be unfair to say that this, or other games of the sort are cheap knock-offs, any more than Chrysler is a derivative of Ford.'

Having loved the days where one had to figure out how to convert Hargrave's arcane Arduin works with The Gamelords Thieves' Guild products, or how best to use Midemia's products alongside Judges Guild 'approved for use with AD&D' books with Tunnels & Trolls, I find all of this uniformity confusing and dismaying.
--We all got along just fine with the understanding that it was the idea, not the branding, that mad gaming great, as well as the fact that someone invents something and for decades thereafter, countless others will make improvements, revisions, and borrow technologies/systems for completely different applications.

I find the level of interconnectedness between my published milieu and my game setting and my rules-set to be too great for me to feel that I want to OGL or CC it.
--To read suggestions that by not going that route I am being contrary to the spirit of the age, is irksome. We didn't need it in the olden days.

-Kyrinn S. Eis / Timeshadows

JimLotFP said...

You talk about Wizards like it's a person with feelings.

The people who created and promoted the OGL are all gone from the company, aren't they?

Wizards as a company isn't very favorable towards open gaming these days, are they?

I'm not espousing copyright violations or anything (and have no intentions of committing such myself), but nobody owes Wizards anything.

The OGL is a tool, nothing more.

Robert Conley said...

The Open Gaming License makes specific provision for product identity which is not open. Expeditious Retreat Press would place their entire product under the OGL while Necromancer Game would only put the stat block itself under the OGL. So there is a broad range of options over what you open.

As for the "weren't for D&D" argument that not the situation I am talking about. Nor I elude to it in my post.

Much of the OSR is trying to resurrect somebody else copyrighted game and print new material for it. We can do so because of the OGL and d20 SRD, we are given permission for 90% of the stuff we need.

And yes I know there are new RPGs considered part of the whole Old School Movement. (Mutant Future, Encounter Critical, Mazes & Minotaurs, etc)

Wizards can go pound salt if they complain about this. In numerous post Ryan Dancey as stated that Wizards expected new games to come out of the SRD and some of them will be little more than copies of 3.5. Ryan goes on further that people will reject the clone in favor of the real product by Wizards.

For the most part Ryan was right. The part he missed was that if a older edition game doesn't exist in the first place and people still want stuff for it. Then it will be recreated as close as it can be with the SRD.

As for your last paragraph. Mainly my post was aimed at commercial authors. The old days of kit bashing was great and still continues. The Internet makes it even easier. Realistically the worse that can happen (unless you post copyrighted text) is a cease & desist.

Robert Conley said...

but nobody owes Wizards anything.

I understand you are not advocating copyright violations.

I refer to Wizards as an entity with feeling because it shorthand to refer to the thousands that have invested their money, and whose jobs depend on the health of company.

In short Wizards (with Hasbro) is not a faceless entity. However I agree that currently they are not that sympathetic.

And I agree if Wizards wants to complain about the retro stuff done using the d20 SRD they can go pound salt.

But that was released under the OGL and if people are not using the OGL then what are they doing then?

Timeshadows said...


All of my points are connected.

No one who isn't writing D&D-system-derivative gaming material needs fear lawyering.
--Nor does someone need permission to run with a theme.

If I ape Sky Realms of Jorune or Man, Mytrh & Magic, the OGL won't do me a fig's worth of good if Leker and Tevis or Brennan come after me for their share of perceived IP violation.
--Thus, not everyone in the OS clan is going to give that much of a good gosh darn about the OGL.

If using OGL material, and then not sharing any of it (as many 3.x products have done) is used as a form of protection, then it defeats the OGL as an open-source methodolgy.

My overarching point as a published author of fiction and gaming material (PCI, under a sub-contracting agreement) is that if my material isn't part of the incestuous family of gaming products, however similar their lineage, then the OGL is not only useless to me, but counter-intuitive.

If folks want to exercise their minds and figure out how to convert my stat-blocks to LL or what-have-you, and they hen make a knock-off critter, so long as they don't name it the same thing, I've got little recourse to do anything about it --nor should I really be concerned.

I'll go farther and say that i think that the OGL has been abused by certain companies to create derivative works that are not at al represented by the OGL/SRD/d20, and yet, I don't think poorly of their d%, skill-based, multi-genre 'simulacra' any more than I did of the oddles and gobs of games that used the iconic six ability names, a d20 for combat, or had hit points.

Maths are maths, and archetypes are archetypes...

Robert Conley said...

then the OGL is not only useless to me, but counter-intuitive.

I understand your point. Where it coming from and agree to some degree.

This is not a good path to take for revived older edition products.

However given I said this how do you think my post applies to gaming in general.

Anonymous said...

I personally think that copyright law has spiraled out of control.

I think the original copyright law of the United States got it about right: Copyright lasted for 14 years, and you could extend that copyright for an additional 14 years. And that was it. A copyright could not last longer than 28 years.

Since then, copyright just gets longer and longer, and we now face the preposterous spectre of innumerable books being long out of print, practically unavailable, and still copyrighted! IMO, it amounts to a form of book-banning.

(Example: Warriors of Mars, published by TSR in 1974. Very few copies were ever made. It will NEVER be re-published. Plenty of old-school gamers want a copy, but can't afford the $500 to buy the occasional copy that crops up on ebay. This is de facto book-banning, enforced by the United States federal government.)

I think it is perfectly ethical to treat any work published more than 28 years ago as in the public domain.

JimLotFP said...

>>But that was released under the OGL and if people are not using the OGL then what are they doing then?

I would agree in that I don't see how a rules manual could get by without using the OGL.

But adventures? I've had people call my current releases "systemless" or nearly so. I wouldn't go that far, but certainly I'm not putting very much established rules text in my work at all. The OGL just seems limiting if I'm not actually using the stuff it so graciously provides.

Dan of Earth said...

"We need to forge ahead and establish our own identity with our own names and get away from using Dungeons & Dragons."

This is the point of trying to build a new brand, and was the explicit intention behind OSRIC. In the beginning OSRIC as a brand was envisioned as being far more important than as an SRD. To build that importance, though, you have to build the brand. You need people out there to use it, but to do that you have to make it attractive for them to do so.

So I agree with you strongly, but I also agree with James that the OGL is a tool. If that tool isn't necessary for the job, then why bother. It is absolutely necessary to write a full rule system if you want it to clone another game closely and make use of important terms. For modules, I don't know. I think it's certainly possible with modules to include too much terminology, for instance too many spell names or propriety monster names and such to be violating copyright. In those cases definitely go with the OGL.

People should remember that the OGL is not a mysterious or sinister thing. It is an extremely valuable asset to us. About the only thing it ties you up with is advertising compatibility with a trademark or product identity. That may be important to some people and not important to others, depending on your goal.

But to get back to Rob's original post, yes I do think we should be building new brands. Dungeons & Dragons as a brand has been lost to us for a long time. One of the problems though is that it's like herding cats. Many people will ask themselves why they should rally behind one brand when they could create their own. Part of this is that egos get involved, and another part is that many people want to tweak a system to release their own version. The end result is a splinter of competing brands. It isn't too bad right now, but I think it will be as time goes on. I find it ironic that some people who have complained in one breath about how the community isn't rallying behind one brand will then go on in the next breath to talk about creating their own system.

In one sense I don't think rallying behind only one brand is a good thing, but I do think that when publishers create modules it would help a lot if they support some of the brands we're trying to build by stating compatibility.

Anonymous said...


Robert Conley said...

In one sense I don't think rallying behind only one brand is a good thing

I agree which is why I said

We need the old rules under new names. Note the plurals as there are multiple older editions.

I think a variety of "brands" both by individual authors or groups is the best way to go.

anarchist said...

I get the impression that a lot of gamers have an unclear idea about what the OGL really is. For example I've heard people talk about releasing something under the OGL, when they seemed to mean making it public domain. And that confusion could cause people to do something they didn't mean to, for example giving Wizards rights related to their product.

Robert Conley said...

Also as a general point I do agree that adventures and settings can be crafted such that you don't need the OGL.

christian said...

A problem I have with the OSR is that I already own everything they have published or ever will publish. I own it in the form of all my old AD&D books, modules and Dragon mags.

JimLotFP said...

err, you really think the adventures being released are just copies of the old ones?

Unknown said...

I am disinterested in and unimpressed with the argument that it is immoral or unethical to indicate compatibility with a product. You base this on the grounds that you are profiting from someone else's work; this is, for any product with a meaningful amount of content, inaccurate. Third parties building off of your product is part of selling a product - it is, literally, the nature of the beast (and it is quite unreasonable to expect people to only improve upon it under your terms.)

The only way to keep a product from being built upon is by not releasing it to the public, which will stop anyone using it. It is this same public that Wizards (for instance) both needs and tries to control, and the argument that the public should respect Wizards and not produce d20 content outside the OGL/GSL out of duty would be nonsense even were it not for the extreme degree of legal restriction and scare tactic litigation perpetuated by the company.

To reiterate (again, for the sake of clarity) - even if Wizards did genuinely treat their small-time competitors well, the argument would not be valid.