Wednesday, June 18, 2008

4e GSL Released

Yesterday, the Game System License for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released. I honestly didn't think we'd ever see one, as I predicted earlier. So, let the pillorying begin: I was wrong about this. In my defense, though, I stand by the fact that 4e is not an open game. The GSL is not an open license but instead a limited use trademark license. And now that we can see the license itself, we can see just how limited use it actually is.

Lots of people better versed in the intricacies of legalese than I have already dissected the GSL and found it wanting. Even Clark Peterson of Necromancer Games, one of the biggest boosters of 4e, seems to have had the wind taken out of his sails by the GSL. The long and short of it is that the GSL, far moreso than the OGL, is designed to sell copies of WotC-produced D&D products. It is not about expanding "network externalities" or growing the hobby or anything else beyond making WotC money.

Now, that's WotC's prerogative, of course. They are under no obligation to anyone, except Hasbro's shareholders, to do anything, least of all give away their intellectual property for free for others to use to produce their own products. So let there be no mistake: I don't think WotC has done anything wrong with the GSL. But I do think the restrictiveness and narrow-mindedness of the GSL serve to highlight just how revolutionary than OGL was (and is). Apparently, the guys in charge of WotC agree and they're launching a counter-revolution in the form of the GSL.

Assuming anyone still places any faith in my predictive abilities, I will now make two further prognostications. First, I think we will see very few non-PDF publishers use the GSL. Instead, almost all 4e support will be done through separate licensing agreements, a possibility even the GSL notes as an option. Second, I think Paizo's Pathfinder RPG will now become a much more powerful force in fantasy gaming. No, it won't be a serious rival to D&D in terms of numbers or profit, but it will do very well for Paizo, far better than they were expecting and it will quickly rise to be the linchpin of the remnant OGL hobby/industry.

(I also think the GSL will also create more fertile conditions for the old school renaissance, but that's a topic for another day)


  1. Pretty much agree with your predictions there. I said much the same thing when I had a look through last night. Here is hoping that this really does benefit the resurgence of traditional adventure role-playing games.

  2. Please do elaborate on the topic of how this may "fertilize" the conditions for old school gaming, in a future post.

    I'll be waiting.

  3. It’s ironic. Gygax got all sorts of grief from fans and employees of Wizards for saying that he thought the OGL was a mistake. Yet now, it seems Wizards agrees.