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………