A Portent of the Apocalypse?

Last night, Wizards of the Coast made an unexpected move that surprised everyone – they finally released the Game System Licence. Yeah, the one that they’ve repeatedly failed to come up with despite assurances that “it’s almost ready, we’ll have it out at D&D Experience”.

After making certain that all the waters had not turned to blood, that fire was not raining down from the sky, and there were no suspiciously emaciated riders on pale horses on the street, I set about reading it.

Of course, I am not a lawyer and I’m admittedly not very good at comprehending legalese, but essentially it seems to give WotC a whole lot of control over whoever is so foolhardy as to actually release something under it. It’s constrictive in its content and ambiguous in expression. For example, does Section 7 C mean that a GSL-compliant product cannot portray, for example, Nazis, the Soviets, or the Al-Qaida negatively?

7. Quality and Content Standards. The nature and quality of all Licensed Products will conform to the quality standards set by Wizards, as may be provided from time to time. At a minimum, the Licensed Products will conform to community standards of decency and appropriateness as determined by Wizards in its discretion. Without limiting the foregoing, no Licensed Products will depict in any text, graphical or other manner:


c) existing real-world minorities, nationalities, social castes, religious groups or practices, political preferences, genders, lifestyle preferences, or people with disabilities, as a group inferior to any other group or in a way that promotes disrespect for those groups or practices, or that endorses those groups or practices over another.

There’s also that “poison pill” provision we had so much brouhaha earlier, in Section 6. Basically, it states that once a company has gone GSL for some product line, they may no longer publish stuff for that product line under the Open Gaming Licence.

The thing is, it’s never clarified what the hell constitutes a “product line”. Going by WotC’s stuff as an example, would Forgotten Realms and Eberron constitute separate product lines? Or is it a division by genre, as suggested by the promised modern GSL (ETA sometime around the heat death of the universe). If it is, why doesn’t it say so? Are you allowed to do non-fantasy stuff at all under this licence, with the modern licence on its way?

They also seem to have raised some eyebrows among the publishers. Here’s an EN World thread (and here’s another), where a number of D20 publishers have been voicing their apprehensions, including Clark Petersen of Necromancer Games, who was supposed to collaborate with Paizo Publishing and release material under the GSL. Now, he suggests he might come out with a Tome of Horrors for Pathfinder RPG (A product that I would buy in a heartbeat. I’ve got the original, and it rocketh mightily. Mightily, I say!).

I am curious to see if anyone will take WotC up on this. My prediction – one or two companies might, depending on how “product line” ends up being defined.

I can’t wait to see what their fan site policy will look like!

4 thoughts on “A Portent of the Apocalypse?

  1. This thing is evil. I hope the collective common sense of the gaming world snuffs it out before it can gain a foothold.

    Also, thanks for the link on the message board. Sadly, I cannot read the comment. 😦


  2. Pingback: 4E’s SRD is Out: We Still Have To Buy the Books « Jonathan Drain's D20 Source: Dungeons & Dragons Blog

  3. The only sensible people who would actually subject themselves to the GSL are going to be doing so via PDF format.


    The fact Hasbro can take your intellectual property as their own, change the GSL at any time, yank the license on you at any time for any reason, force you to destroy all product that no longer conforms to changes in the system, etc. means the only commercially viable way to do it is to make a publication that can be changed and resolicited at a moment’s notice.

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