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Role Playing (Games) The Almighty Buck

D&D 4th Ed vs. Open Gaming 243

I'm no expert in this subject, but mxyzplk has written a good summary of the issues affecting open gaming and the upcoming release of 4th Edition D&D. The open licensing associated with the 3rd Edition spawned a number of successful 3rd parties and add-ons that made the system far greater than it might have been otherwise. I've attached his writeup on the subject below, and you should really read it if you are interested in D&D, Gaming, or trying to apply 'Open' licenses to things besides code.

mxyzplk writes "Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast shocked the role-playing game industry today by announcing that anyone wanting to publish material for the new Fourth Edition of D&D, expected out in June of this year, must forgo open licensing entirely as part of their new Game System License.

With the launch of the third edition of the popular game eight years ago, Wizards had sponsored an open licensing scheme. This license, called the Open Gaming License, or OGL, was a kind of open source license designed for game publishers. The result was an explosion of third party game companies supporting D&D and establishing their own game lines. Many of these companies became quite large and successful, notably Paizo Publishing, Green Ronin Publishing, and others.

Now, however, Wizards has stated that any company hoping to publish products for their new edition must agree to discontinue any currently open licensed products and produce no further open products at all — Dungeons & Dragons related or not. A number of companies had leveraged the OGL for their independent games, for example the pulp game Spirit of the Century.

In response to questions about this policy, Scott Rouse, D&D Brand Manager for Wizards of the Coast, says that "We have invested multiple 7 figures in the development of 4e so can you tell me why we would want publishers to support a system that we have moved away from?"

It seems to me that this is the equivalent of Microsoft telling people "If you want to make and sell software for Windows Vista, you can't make and sell any Linux/open source software!" Since this is a small niche market without the visibility of a Microsoft, this play to muscle out competition by making them choose "between us and open licensing" will probably succeed. Some other game companies are rebelling; Paizo Publishing, for example, has declared their intent to move forward with the open-licensed previous version, essentially 'forking' the Dungeons & Dragons code base. But small gaming companies are small indeed, and Wizards of the Coast is owned by Hasbro (a recent development likely not unrelated to this change of heart)."

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D&D 4th Ed vs. Open Gaming

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  • This sounds familiar (Score:5, Informative)

    by gruvmeister ( 1259380 ) * on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:54AM (#23142394)

    It seems to me that this is the equivalent of Microsoft telling people "If you want to make and sell software for Windows Vista, you can't make and sell any Linux/open source software!"
    It's more like "If you want to make and sell products for Vista, you can't make and sell products for XP." Both products are made the the same company, the older one has been around for quite some time and has developed a very good following, but now the owning company wants to push sales of their new product line.
  • wiki rpg (Score:5, Informative)

    by __aanonl8035 ( 54911 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:58AM (#23142506)
    Role-playing games seem to be ripe for having all the rules and settings put up in a wiki, under a truly open content license.

    Here is a resource for various projects [] []

    Also, from what I have read about the net, you can not copyright rules. With that in mind, some bright fellows have put all the old school rules into a pdf and called is OSRIC. []
  • by Goobermunch ( 771199 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:05AM (#23142662)
    Sure sounds terrible, doesn't it. Of course, Wizards of the Coast did NOT make the announcement Mxyzplk claims they did.

    Instead, a publisher posted on one of the forums that he had had a conversation with someone at WotC and that this was his understanding of what the new license does. The individuals at WotC who responded did make comments that suggest that such a policy may be part of their new GSL, however there have also been indications that they are backing away from that position. Of course, since no one has actually seen the new license, no one knows precisely what is permitted and prohibited.

    An announcement is expected today, which should clarify the issue.

  • by Blue23 ( 197186 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:14AM (#23142826) Homepage
    I think this is a more complete story. D&D 3ed had two licenses. A open source one called OGL, and a trademark related one called d20STL that gave access to IP/PI but was more restrictive. The new GSL replaces the d20STL but is rumored to be a bit more open, and they aren't doing an OGL.

    The announcement mentioned "mutual exclusivity", which some are reading as "one product can not be licensed under both OGL and GSL", but one publisher said on ENworld that they think it's a per-company not per-product. We haven't heard any confirmation either way.

    It could be that this is bad, but right now it's just FUD until we have clarification.

  • Not 100% Clear (Score:5, Informative)

    by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:30AM (#23143282) Homepage
    In general, that's a very good summary of what's blown up over the weekend (WOTC made an announcement that a GSL would be coming last Thursday). However, a couple things to keep in mind:

    - WOTC spokespeople have made conflicting and contradictory statements and backtracking on their plans since last November. First there was to be a revised OGL, then a GSL with publisher buy-in of $5,000, then no GSL, now GSL with no buy-in, etc.

    - WOTC hasn't officially confirmed the "poison pill" clause yet (publishing for 4E prohibits you from any more Open Game License publishing). This was related second-hand by Clark Peterson, the well-regarded head of Necromancer Games (and a lawyer), as being delivered to him by WOTC staff members. Two WOTC spokespeople have been posting in the same thread over the weekend, but have ambiguously neither directly confirmed nor denied that statement.

    - No one's seen the actual new license yet. WOTC has been saying all year long that it was within a week of being released. Clearly the GSL is intended to be far more restrictive than the OGL (one thing they've been consistent on is that it must directly support the Dungeons & Dragons brand, that it restricts product types, has a community standards clause, is revocable by WOTC, etc., none of which existed in the OGL). But once again after all the riot with the new announcement last week, the speaking Brand Manager for WOTC revealed Saturday that he *still* hadn't received the actual text of the license!

    - Physical D&D 4E books are at the printers, to be released in June. A true conspiracist would think that the ongoing confusion might be WOTC FUD to delay third-party publisher business plans until 4E has already been purchased widely by the customer base. (But I think that's a low-probability bet.)

    So what's coming out of WOTC is pretty messed up. My observation is that it's been clear since January that WOTC was going to take some shot at attacking the Open Game community. I'm guessing it's at least 80% likely that this company-wide "poison pill" restriction is in fact present in the new GSL. But everything that's come out of WOTC so far this year on the issue has turned out to be incorrect and later retracted. So we'll see about this latest one.
  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:40AM (#23143548) Homepage
    "It's more like 'If you want to make and sell products for Vista, you can't make and sell products for XP.' Both products are made the the same company..."

    No, that's incorrect. The OGL *license* was originally made by WOTC. But there are now many products that are completely unique games published under that license. In some cases they have zero to do with any of the WOTC brands or products.

    Say you created a brand-new piece of software and released it under the Sun Public License (or something). Later, Sun starts aggressively trying to stop publishing of any software ever released under the SPL, including yours. That's what this is most like.
  • "Aggro" in 4E (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lanu2000 ( 972889 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:49AM (#23143762)
    From my limited experience with 4E, the aggro people talk about is not the 'stickyness' from MMOs, but the fighter/paladin making it costly to attack someone else. For example, the fighter can focus on an enemy so that it (the enemy) will have a -2 to hit any other party member. Now, if the AC of the fighter is 4 higher than that of the wizard, this will not have an effect on the enemy (it's still easier to hit the wizard).
  • Better games? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cheetahfeathers ( 93473 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:59AM (#23144000)
    With 4th looking to be the Vista edition of RPGs, will this be enough to get RPG players to change games? Will alternate fantasy games such as the Riddle of Steel and Burning Wheel see an upsurge? I can hope. Those games go to show that you don't need to spend several million to make a highly polished game. The Riddle of Steel has the most realistic combat of any game, and has won awards based on that. It still has interesting fantasy and story aspects, and the Spiritual Attribute rules are great! Burning Wheel is one of the most Tolkien-esque in feel of any RPG, including many Middle Earth RPGs. D&D was interesting in its day, but RPGs have moved way beyond it. We have games that have a lot better rules than D&D provides... let's use them! As a bonus, you'll spend less money on the books as well.

    Have any other people here moved on past D&D and found other P&P RPGs more to their liking? What are they? What are some of the things you enjoy about them that's superior to what D&D offers?
  • Liar. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @11:03AM (#23144110)

    I've a friend who was in on the testing of the new edition. So I've seen some of the rules.
    there is now aggro
    Liar. Bare-faced liar.

    If you had been playing, you know that there are no aggro rules in 4e. They briefly considered them early in the development of the product but put aside an aggro system in favor of the new marking system which forces a monster to either attack a Defender or take a penalty. AFAIK, the aggro system never saw the light of day outside of WotC offices.

    The ultimate choice between the two options is still up to the DM. Players do not get to take control of monsters by inciting them.

    The whole "D&D is now WoW" argument is common from people who *haven't* seen enough of the game. You've probably just read a few things on-line and decided to try to boost your credibility by claiming to be an insider. Too bad you tipped your hand by making an obvious and outrageous lie. Also, if true, you would've just publicly stated that your friend violated their NDA.
  • by 2short ( 466733 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:14PM (#23145716)
    "Here's my example: say you want to play a swashbuckler or a duelist, does a fighter fit?"

    You want a Ranger; it is (or can be) exactly what you're describing.

    "4e is just making the matters worse with the Roles, which basically tweak characters to min/max one way."

    If Roles do anything besides group classes for ease of table-of-contents ordering, I haven't seen it.

    I find it interesting how many people declare how horrible 4E is in such specific terms, when they clearly haven't played it. If you think 3E is the greatest RPG system ever, you may not like 4E. It's different than 3E.

    But I and everyone I know who has actually played 4E with a good GM will tell you one simple feature that puts 4E over the top: It's more fun.

  • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:44PM (#23146392)
    It does have the side effect of barring you from working with Paizo's 3.75 system

    Actually, that's precisely why WotC/Hasborg did this - they had a falling out with Paizo, said "Fuck you we're pulling Dragon/Dungeon", got greedy over the idea of $14/month for people to play on their shitty as hell (I've been in beta) "insider" online playboards.

    End result? D&D 4e is a pile of steaming crap that doesn't deserve to have the D&D name on it. Every gameplay change has been made not to make a better game, but to make it easier for lazy programmers to code it into the online board.

    Yeah, there's a set of things in 3.5 that need fixing. There were things in 3.0 that needed fixing. 4e is the "fix" for those things like replacing a worn down Ferrari's engine with a Geo Metro 3-cylinder engine will "fix" the car.
  • by DuckDodgers ( 541817 ) <keeper_of_the_wo ... minus pi> on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:26PM (#23148280)
    I'm not thrilled by all of the changes, but some make sense. Among the changes that are partly or totally confirmed that make sense:

    1. Monsters no longer must have class levels.
    2. Racial abilities that improve with level are basedon feats, instead of Level Adjustments which were a bookkeeping mess.
    3. Hit points are fixed per class and level, plus ability modifier, instead of the luck of the dice. (There are already luck in dice for combat. Adding luck in die rolls for hit points can really screw PCs. )
    4. Spells are unlimited use, per encounter, or per day - a big improvement over memorization/preparation/whatever.
    5. No confirmation rolls on critical hits (a roll of 20) or different tables for critical hit damage multipliers. Instead a critical hit just does maximum damage.
    6. Spell levels correspond with caster level, so a 12th level Wizard can cast a 12th level spell, instead of having 12th level Wizards casting 6th level spells.
    7. No feats or experience point expenditure is required to make magical items.
    8. No spells require experience point expediture to cast. The Wish spell is also gone.
    9. No level drain from undead or spells.
    10. Fewer magical items can be worn, to reduce that complexity.
    11. Fewer buff (temporary improvement) spells, and fewer buff spells that overlap, so your group doesn't spend 10 minutes in spell preparation before each combat.
    12. Save or die spells are replaced with spells that do large amounts of hit point damage, so trick instant kills become less common.
    13. Full attacks are removed.
    14. The rules for attacks of opportunity are (supposedly) simplified and clarified.
    15. Monsters can be scaled down for lower level encounters.
    16. Other class abilities get moved to the same once per day, once per encounter, or unlimited use mechanic as spells.
    17. Characters get healing surges, which let them recover from damage outside of combat more quickly without requiring a caster with healing magic. This mitigates the need to have a priest healer in every gaming party.
    18. The skill system is dramatically simplified. PCs have trained skills and other skills, and no individual skill ranks in (potentially) dozens of different skills. The skill list is also condensed.
    19. Defenses and saving throws follow a simpler progression than the various charts in previous editions.

    That's just a decent helping of the changes we know about, and I'd say a lot of it makes good sense. I'm far from uniformly excited about all of the changes, but there's definitely some good with the bad.
  • Re:Better games? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2008 @04:05PM (#23149788)
    Or you could switch to GURPS, spend more money on books, but actually enjoy reading them and find that outside of the core books that they are rather system neutral
  • by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @04:12PM (#23149922)
    My list would be shorter. Specifically:

    #3 ensures that everyone of a given class/level combination will have almost exactly the same number of HP's. That's a net loss for the game as a whole.

    #4 is novel, but is firmly in the 'maybe' column. This could change the genre. It could completely destroy any concept of game balance, making casters the only class to play at any level. Hard to say, but it certainly doesn't strike me as something that makes sense without a lot of testing.

    #9 means that one of the truly horrifying parts of facing, say, a wight is now in dire need of replacement. Otherwise it's just another shape of ghoul.

    #10 is arbitrary and therefore dumb. I mean, they're MAGIC items, are they not?

    #12 means that the 'Tomb of Horrors' couldn't exist in 4e...

    #13 was in place to give combat types an edge, so hopefully it got replaced with something

    #17 represents a serious change for DM's to bear in mind. Hopefully the ENTIRE rule-set has been reworked to take this into account and every DM is drilled on the changes. The 3e DMG makes a fairly solid case as to how much 'oomph' an encounter is supposed to expend. This limited (yet unlimited) healing is VERY different and could be quite damaging beyond it's short-term gains.

    #18 means less opportunities for skill-based encounters, which used to be some character build's pride and joy. Fewer skills probably means a more combat oriented Rogue class. for example, which is a net loss for the game also...

    I could go on, but my point is these changes may or may not have been necessary at all, and until we get to measure the full impact of them, there is good cause to be concerned. Some of them seem to be quite huge...

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas