Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Patrimony of Evil

Say what you will about the Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons itself -- and I have -- but I cannot countenance anyone complaining about the Open Game License, which is nothing sort of a godsend for the old school community. Why, you might ask? Quite simply, the OGL literally ensures that the Gygaxo-Arneson heritage of the game is available to any and all in perpetuity. Without it, games like OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardy, among others, would not be possible. The OGL is nothing short than an insurance policy against the day when Hasbro decides to treat D&D like so many other bits of IP it controls and locks it away in a vault somewhere, never to be seen again (like so many Avalon Hill titles). One day, "Dungeons & Dragons," as a brand name may disappear forever, but the specific ideas and concepts of its creators are now forever available to the hobby to use, develop, and disseminate.

To cite some rather specific examples, let's take a look at some demons and devils created specifically for D&D and see how many of them are now Open Game Content:

Baphomet: This name is, of course, public domain, but the specific association of it with the demon lord of minotaurs is a Gygaxian invention. Thanks to the Tome of Horrors, you can now use him in your retro-clone products if you so desire.

Fraz-Urb'Luu: Famous for having been imprisoned beneath Castle Greyhawk, the demon prince of illusion is OGC, thanks again to the Tome of Horrors.

Geryon: Derived form Greek mythology by way of Dante's Inferno, D&D's serpentine ruler of the fifth layer of Hell is OGC.

The "Faceless Lord:"
No, we can't call him Juiblex, but we can call him Jubilex. Again, ToH is to be thanked.

Kostchtchie: Again, a real world mythological name, but his portrayal as the demon lord of frost giants is unique to D&D -- and he's now OGC.

Moloch: Of Biblical origin, Moloch is the ruler of the sixth layer of Hell and lieutenant to Baalzebul. Both and the name of his master are OGC.

Orcus:
Orcus has a real world analog, but the image of him as a bat-winged, goat-headed prince of the undead is pure D&D; it's also OGC.

Pazuzu: An ancient Baylonian demon famous in the 20th century for his connection to The Exorcist, D&D's version of him is now OGC.

Careful examination of other OGC products will reveal many other formerly D&D-specific monsters are now Open Game Content that may be freely used by anyone under the terms of the Open Game License. I find it hard not to be very happy about this, because it means, for example, that, were I to publish an old school gaming product, I am free to use many distinct elements of AD&D rather than having to create my own substitutes.

This may seem like a small thing, but it isn't, for much -- though not all -- of the appeal of old school gaming is its unique storehouse of monsters. Without them, there's a sense in which a fantasy game could never claim to be Dungeons & Dragons anymore. I know that, for many people, one of the reasons that 4e does not feel like a true successor to OD&D is because of the way it has abandoned or extensively reworked so many monsters that have been strongly associated with the game for 25 or more years. But, of course, if one's goal is to build an IP you can exploit and others cannot, you have no choice but to abandon the past, particularly since so much of D&D's patrimony has been bequeathed to us, the gaming community, to do with as we please.

And that's why I shall be forever grateful to Ryan Dancey and the Open Game License.

18 comments:

  1. Nicely said. The OGL's been quite a boon to the hobby no matter how you slice it.

    Completely unrelated - nice work on "The Ruined Monastery" from Fight On! #1. My group really enjoyed it, right down to the St. Gaxyg the Gray.

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  2. As it happens, every 1e plane-ruling archdevil is named, since Tiamat was the ruler of the first plane, five of them with specific level numbers attached:

    Asmodus (9th)
    Baalzebul
    Belial (4th)
    Dispater
    Geryon (5th)
    Mammon
    Mephistopheles (8th)
    Moloch (6th)

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  3. Hmmmm, my take on it is that OSRIC, Labyrinth Lords, Basic Fantasy, etc would all have been perfectly legal to produce with very few minor changes- or even no changes at all without the OGL. Rules mechanics can not be protected by law- whether it's a board game or an rpg. Reverse engineering a game, and changing the "fluff" is perfectly legal.

    In some ways the OGL has a reverse effect to the one you're ascribing to it- because it's been offered, outside parties think they HAVE to use it- I mean why else would it be offered? Right?

    We're beginning to see people come to the awareness that using the official licensce is completely unnescessary with the 4e.

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  4. The "Faceless Lord:" No, we can't call him Juiblex, but we can call him Jubilex.

    Heh. He's always been Jubilex to me anyway. I regard Juiblex as the error of a copyist in ancient times.

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  5. But Jubilex sounds like an antidepressant for seniors.

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  6. ...Jubilex sounds like an antidepressant for seniors.

    Ha! Guess that'd be a topical cream, in keeping with the Faceless Lord's potfolio.

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  7. "Rules mechanics can not be protected by law- whether it's a board game or an rpg."

    You're 100% right.

    The reason I hate the OGL is that it encouraged so many publishers to use WotC's godawful "d20 system" as a basis for their game. I can't tell you how many times I've waded through game stores since imagining how much more interesting all these crap d20 system games as could have been if each had been forced to use a unique rules system. System diversity is a very good thing.

    And that's not even considering all the ill-concieved garbage that would never have been pumped-out at all without the ability to ape 3E. The lack of an OGL would also have kept mountains of bargain-bin filler from ever seeing the light of day.

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  8. While it's true that rules and systems can't be protected by copyright, the practical implementation of that rule - what exactly is a rule and what is more than a rule - gets a bit more complex. That's the reason for the use of the OGL in retro-clones. For supplemental products (as opposed to complete rule systems), things get a bit easier - but there are still pitfalls for the unwary. Kenzer has a campaign world that's billed as compatible with 4e without using the GSL, but he's an IP lawyer. With the exception of people with a fair degree of legal familiarity, using a retro-clone's rules is generally a safer proposition than referring directly to the trademarked game.

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  9. "Moloch: Of Biblical origin, Moloch is the ruler of the sixth layer of Hell and lieutenant to Baalzebul. Both and the name of his master are OGC."

    This goes towards proving my point. As you said, Moloch is in the Bible. So is Baalzebul. So why in the world should anyone be thankful to WotC for being so generous as to allow others to use these names? They didn't create them. They don't own them. Yet, they make people believe they need their permission to use them. It's worse than trademarked nazis.

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  10. This goes towards proving my point. As you said, Moloch is in the Bible. So is Baalzebul. So why in the world should anyone be thankful to WotC for being so generous as to allow others to use these names?

    It's not the names for which I am thankful, but rather that the usage of them specific to D&D has been made Open Game Content. Sure, the Bible speaks of Moloch but does it speak of him as the ruler of the 6th layer of Hell, lieutenant to Baalzebul, and wielding a whip?

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  11. "Sure, the Bible speaks of Moloch but does it speak of him as the ruler of the 6th layer of Hell, lieutenant to Baalzebul, and wielding a whip?"

    Not that I'm aware of, but then again, the 6th layer of Hell, a heirarchy among demons and their use of whips are not inventions of either D&D or WotC either.

    So my point remains, I could put together a rpg game or supplement and include a whip wielding Moloch servant of Beelzebub without any sort of licence and do so legally.

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  12. So my point remains, I could put together a rpg game or supplement and include a whip wielding Moloch servant of Beelzebub without any sort of licence and do so legally.

    You could do so, but I wouldn't. The OGL is a guarantee that WotC isn't going to attempt to sue me for breach of copyright, whereas I have no such guarantee if I just trust that, because all the names and concepts are public domain, WotC's legal department will have no problem with my using them in a product clearly aimed at the audience of D&D.

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  13. Also, as a practical matter, it's a lot easier to assemble a retro-clone from the SRD than it is to write one from scratch. If you already have these books then maybe you don't care, but if you want to attract new players it's a lot easier to do so if there's a version of the game in print.

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  14. I've noticed over the last several weeks that the anti-clone brigade have switched tactics. Gone is the argument that retro-clones are totally illegal. That has been replaced with the idea that what the clones are trying to achieve (the publication of new, original editions-compatible material) is legal, so why bother with a clone?

    As far as I can tell, none of these critics have so far put their own advice into practice and actually published a saleable original editions-compatible product. I would love to see them do so and test the waters for the rest of us. And from what I've seen, none of these critics have any sort of legal qualifications either.

    I can't help but think they're fighting the wrong battle here. Shame their energies aren't being directed into something more constructive. Or if they're so sure they're right, stop sniping and just do it - prove the retro-clone movement wrong. I think they'd find we'd applaud them if they proved right. We certainly would waste time nit-picking their endeavours on forums and blogs.

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  15. Isn't it amazing how popularity can change everything? Despite what anyone says, doing a retro-clone RIGHT is a helluva lot of work. The best are mature iterations of the original and not simple rewrites. They're also FREE, which guarantees a lot of goodwill. No wonder fans like it, and no wonder the 'industry' wankers want to get on the bandwagon.

    I wrote the Demons & Devils entries for the upcoming OSRICv2. In researching for that, I found all of the named Devil Lords and all but 6 of the Demon Princes are free to use (Yeenoghu, Zuggtmoy, Lolth, Kostchtchie, Juiblex, Graz'zt)

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  16. Um, for the record, I really enjoy Labyrinth Lords and have played it a number of times. Just because someone doesn't think an official licensce is needed, doesn't make them "anti-retroclone".

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  17. With the exception of people with a fair degree of legal familiarity, using a retro-clone's rules is generally a safer proposition than referring directly to the trademarked game.

    Correct. That's frankly why I consider it a boon. Things like OSRIC and S&W are unusual in that they have lawyers involved in their creation. That's not true for most retro-clone games and the OGL, regardless of its connection to the D20 system, is quite a boon in this regard.

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  18. I wrote the Demons & Devils entries for the upcoming OSRICv2. In researching for that, I found all of the named Devil Lords and all but 6 of the Demon Princes are free to use (Yeenoghu, Zuggtmoy, Lolth, Kostchtchie, Juiblex, Graz'zt)

    Interestingly, there's a version of Kostchtchie in the Tome of Horrors and it's OGC, while Juiblex, under the name "The Faceless Lord" and called "Jubilex" (sic) in the text is also there and also OGC.

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