The History, Current State of OGL Publishing, Pathfinder, and “d20″

March 28th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

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The History, Current State of OGL Publishing, Pathfinder, and “d20″

The Open Gaming License and d20 System Trademark License were first released in 2000. Since then, other trademark/compatibility licenses for other systems and games have been created, and the use of other open licenses has proliferated.

The Open Gaming License still remains popular (while the d20 System Trademark License was retired in 2008), however most OGL material published in recent years (2010-) is geared towards being support material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game under the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility License.

This article explains the history behind these various licenses, along with some guideline for how they can be used in publishing.

Definitions

Open Game Content: Material that is specifically licensed under the Open Game License, created by Wizards of the Coast.

Product Identity: Material included in a book that includes Open Game Content that is specifically defined by the publisher as not being OGC.

Third Party Publisher: A publisher creating material that is designed to be compatible with another publisher’s game; most commonly used to refer to d20 System- or Pathfinder-compatible product.

Which was the First d20-licensed book?

Freeport Trilogy

(The Freeport Trilogy, a later compilation of the Freeport Adventures)

Green Ronin’s Death in Freeport,  Atlas Games’ Three Days to Kill and Necromancer’s Games’ PDF The Wizard’s Amulet hit the ground on the same Gen Con weekend as Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook did in 2000.

Three Days to Kill was locally available at The Source Comic and Games in the Twin Cities, Minnesota in the week before Gen Con.

What’s an SRD?

SRD refers to System Reference Document: often a Rich Text or HTML document that only includes Open Game Licensed material, designed to be used by a publisher as a starting point of reference or a manuscript. By using vetted System Reference Documents, publishers could help ensure that they were only OGL material.

Wizards of the Coast released multiple System Reference Documents (For 3.0 and 3.5, and d20 Modern), as did Guardians of Order (Anime d20). 

Paizo maintains a SRD for Pathfinder called the Pathfinder Reference Document, and there is a SRD maintained by the public at at http://www.d20pfsrd.com/ which also contains some material from 3rd Party Pathfinder publishers.

It has always been recommended that if you wish to produce material based on Open Game Licensed material, that you only refer to SRDs whenever possible, as opposed to mining material from printed books.

The Open Gaming License

The first thing to understand about the Open Gaming License is it is not designed specifically for any one gaming system. Anyone can write material and place it under the Open Gaming License. However, most commonly the OGL has been used to re-use material placed under it by Wizards of the Coast: the 3.0 and 3.5 SRD, and the d20 Modern SRD.

As far as content licenses go, the Open Gaming License is incredibly simple (it’s shorter than this article!). It allows you to re-use and modify material that has been placed under it, and also allows you to intermingle that Open Game Content (OGC) with closed content, which is described as Product Identity. This allows you to, for example, use monsters from the SRD in an adventure, with you declaring that the “flavour text” descriptions of the other characters, events, and locations in the adventure are your Product Identity.

One of the conditions in the OGL (Section 7) does not allow you to use anyone else’s Product Identity. Be aware that simply using the name of a Wizards of the Coast-published spell or monster that is not included in the System Reference Document may cause you to run afoul of this clause. This includes using that Product Identity “as an indication as to compatibility”—which means you cannot (without obtaining permission otherwise) indicate that your product is compatible with Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or any other game title, trademark, etc. The full list of what is considered by default to be Product Identity is listed under section 1 of the OGL.

Beyond not including material that you cannot include under the OGL in your product, the most important legal aspect of publishing something that includes OGC is Section 6 and Section 10, which stipulates that you must include a copy of the Open Game License in your product, and you must correctly add to and update the Copyright Notice portion of the license to include the Copyright Notice from any Open Game Content that you used in your product, and also append your own Copyright Notice to it. This section is numbered as Section 15 and often referred to as such.

In order to prevent problems, you should keep careful track of when you sourced OGC, and where you sourced it from, and save their Copyright Notice / Section 15 verbiage so you can include them in your own product.

Of course, the OGL has further clauses to it: you need to read and understand the entire thing before using it. If you find portions of it difficult to understand, I suggest you look for similar projects and see how they handled things, and if you need clarification after that, try to speak to the creators of those projects.

If you are attempting to re-use something that you believe may be Open Game Content but aren’t sure if it is, or if it’s Product Identity, ask the publisher of that project. Assuming that something is Product Identity is always safest.

The Open Gaming License is irrevocable: if you place content under that license, it is perpetually under it.

The full text of the Open Gaming License: http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/OGLv1.0a.rtf

The d20 System Trademark License

The d20 STL allowed publishers, if they adhered to more stringent rules, to place a d20 System logo on their book, and also to advertise compatibility with Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition, d20 Modern, and a few other Wizards of the Coast titles.

As the d20 System Trademark License is no longer available for use, the details of those restrictions and benefits are essentially irrelevant at this point.

D20 logo1

d20 STL Revocation

In June 2008, Wizards ceased allowing publishers to use the d20 System Trademark License. Publishers with print books were granted a six-month period to sell off remaining physical stock, and six months to remove any electronic books from the marketplace, or modify them to be OGL-compatible.

Some publishers re-branded their books, creating a handful of new logos/brands to identify them as OGL and former d20 titles—but none of those new brands obtained widespread traction. As of early 2015, many d20-licensed books still exist in PDF form with minimal or no modifications to their branding or content.

Game System License (D&D Fourth Edition)

The GSL was announced in August 2007, launched in June 2008 and revised in February 2009. It was not widely adopted  by third party publishers with many—including d20 stalwart Green Ronin Publishing rejecting it for being too limiting and too focused on serving Wizard’s of the Coasts needs.

With D&D Fourth Edition’s relatively short lifespan and lack of third party products, the GSL’s legacy isn’t in what it created directly, but what it created indirectly: Pathfinder.

Pathfinder

If you are interested in the history of Pathfinder and Paizo, I recommend reading Paizo’s 10th Anniversary Retrospective, available here: http://paizo.com/paizo/blog/tags/paizo/auntieLisasStoryHour — it goes into great detail on the company’s history.

Pathfinder RPG cover

For those who want to publish material that is compatible with Pathfinder, you can do so in two ways:

Use the OGL

Pathfinder material is published under the Open Gaming License, as it is derived from the 3.0/3.5 SRD (amongst a few other sources). You can use the Pathfinder SRD to create derived and compatible works as long as you follow the Open Gaming License. However, this does not give you the right to use the Pathfinder name or any other trademarks (as they are Product Identity).

Paizo Inc. Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game Compatibility License

PZOCOMPATIBILITYE 500

This license allows you to use the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility Logo on your product, and to indicate compatibility with Pathfinder and  refer to specific Pathfinder books. You are still required to use the OGL if you include any OGL content, and obey all of its clauses regarding Product Identity, Section 15, etc.

Paizo requires you to submit an application for the Compatability license, including a description of the products you intend to make.

Beyond that, the following page outlines the major facets of the license: how you can refer to Pathfinder and different Pathfinder titles, how you may and may not display the logo, etc: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/compatibility

Paizo also maintains a Frequently Asked Questions list: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/compatibility/faq

Old School Movement / Retroclones

An unexpected result of the Open Gaming License was the resurgence in availability of material that was compatible with prior versions of D&D. Multiple publications used the Open Game Content in the SRD to essentially recreate older editions of D&D and several of those rules sets have been further supported with original adventures and other content—essentially creating one (or more?) ecosystems that harken back to the style of rules and source material of the late 70s and early 80s!

Other OGL Material

Cover 500px1

(13th Age, from Pelgrane Publishing and Fire Opal Media, by Rob Heinsoo & Jonathan Tweet)

Notable fantasy material licensed under the OGL, beyond Pathfinder, includes 13th Age from Pelgrane Publishing and Fire Opal Media. It has a Compatibility License: http://pelgranepress.com/site/?p=14447

Mutants and Masterminds from Green Ronin publishing is one of the longest running complete OGL games, having spanned three editions. It has a compatibility license, Super Powered by M&M: http://mutantsandmasterminds.com/licensing-mutants-masterminds/


1185854 469878409786551 1400406744 n

(Mutants & Masterminds from Green Ronin Publishing, by Steve Kenson. One of the true survivors of the OGL era.)

Spycraft from Crafty Games has a compatibility license, Powered by Spycraft: http://www.crafty-games.com/licensing/spycraft

The Open Gaming License has been applied to other games and gaming material beyond the “d20-derived” style of gaming born from Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. This includes Traveller from Mongoose Publishing, the GUMSHOE System by Pelgrane Press, Fate from Evil Hat Productions (which is also available under a Creative Commons license), and Fudge from Grey Ghost Games. Fudge is notable in that it was first published under a license of the author/publisher’s own devising, and years later was placed under the Open Gaming License — which allowed Evil Hat Productions to truly move forward with the Fate gaming system which was originally derived from Fudge.

Of further note is the Open D6 system, from West End Games. The D6 system first appeared in the Ghostbusters RPG and was later used in the first licensed Star Wars RPG. Decades later the system was released under the Open Gaming License as OpenD6, after a second incarnation of West End Games failed to capture the market with their revamped series of D6-based books.


Fatecoresystem

(Fate Core, from Evil Hat Productions, is available under both OGL and Creative Commons licenses.)

Licenses other than the OGL

Roleplaying games and sourcebooks have also been published under various Creative Commons licenses, but not all of them allow commercial re-use.

A few other licenses, such as the GNU Free Documentation License, have been used on occasion, and some games—such as Fudge, before it was licensed under the Opening Game License—had their own licenses designed to be used by one game only.

Trademark licenses without Open Licenses

There are also a number of games that allow you to publish compatible material with a compatibility logo, but that do not have any open licensed content for you to re-use, or any requirements that your material be open-licensed. This includes Pinnacle’s Savage Worlds: https://www.peginc.com/licensing/>

and the Hero System from Hero Games.

Creating Open Content in 2015 and Beyond

If you have the freedom to choose a license for all-new material, I suggest that the following considerations are the most important:

  • Is the license appropriate for the type of material you are going to publish? The Open Gaming License was specifically designed for the text of a gaming book. Creative Commons licensed are aimed at mixed-media works: text + art + design, but you can use a CC license to only license part of a work—such as all the text or all the art or “all of chapters 15, 16, and 17″ while not touching the remainder of the work.
  • Does using the license grow the audience for your material — does it give you access to a community of fans?
  • Does the license make your material available to use to others in ways that you find acceptable?
  • If you have bought or licensed work from others to appear in your material (artwork, writing, etc), does the contract you bought/licensed it under allow you to republish the material under an open license? Most publishers buy material from authors and artists under Work For Hire contracts, and thus the publisher owns the copyright and get choose to re-license the work under any open license they choose. Ethically, people creating work that you publish should be aware that you plan on open-licensing it, too!
  • The following are my personal suggestions for how to license material. Please read and consider the licenses carefully; what is right for one person/organization may not be right for others. What is right for one project may not be right for your next project, either!

    —If you want to create material for a game or setting that uses a specific license—use it.

    —If you want to create a new game, not dependant on material already under one of the existing open licenses, use one of the Creative Commons Licenses. These licenses don’t have the d20/fantasy/D&D implications that the OGL tends to have, and can allow for no commercial re-use, no derivatives, etc.

    —If you want to create a new game, not dependant on material already under one of the existing open licenses, but with plenty of open-licensed material available to be used with it or converted to be used with it, use the OGL.

    —If you want to create fantasy material with the widest possible commercial audience, produce material under the Pathfinder Compatibility License.

    —If you want to create fantasy material with some degree of built in audience, but want the least restrictive license possible, use the OGL.

    >

    Publishing your own SRD

    If you are releasing a lot of open licensed content, you should consider releasing it in a System Reference Document style. While originally publishers such as Wizards of the Coast and Guardians of Order released SRDs in the universal Rich Text Format, most are now released as web pages — usually using wiki software so they can be edited and amended by the community. Some SRDs are created and maintained entirely by the fan community.

    Releasing a SRD will encourage people to use your material for their own works, as it will make it even more clear which material is available to be re-used.


    Special Thanks

    Thanks to the backers of my Patreon project for helping fund this article, including, but not limited to: Brian Allred, Tara Brannigan, Jeff Eaton, Eleanor Holmes, Andrew Kenrick, Adam Tinworth, Lester Ward, Evil Hat Productions, and Melior Via.

    In particular, thanks to John Dunn, Ryan Macklin, Craig Maloney, and Lester Ward for feedback on the initial draft of this article.

    Special thanks to Jason Jensen for editing and access to his extensive collection of d20 titles.

Patron for Game Business Articles

March 9th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

I have launched a Patreon to fund the writing of more game business-related articles. I used to write them more often, but in recent years I’m busier keeping up with Posthuman Studios, and writing that sort of stuff fell by the wayside.

With the support of patrons, I hope to return to writing business-related articles roughly once a month. As a Patron, you can choose exactly how much money you want to pay me per article, and you’re only billed for the months I publish one or more.

The first article is The History, Current State of OGL Publishing, Pathfinder, and “d20″, and it’s available to patrons right now. Patrons will get access to each article about a week early, before they’re released to the public under a Creative Commons license.

My next couple articles will focus on planning and running a convention presence as a publisher. So if you’re a new publisher looking for advice, or you’re just curious about the industry, please show your support of my Patreon. Thanks!

Recent & Future Releases

May 6th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve been buried under a log jam of production work for the past several months, and my lumberjack class skill of +4 (+2 when I wear that sweet lumberjacky shirt) has finally worked parts of the jam loose!

First off is The Devotees, a new adventure for Eclipse Phase. It’s available in both print and PDF.

PS21810 The Devotees 400px

We also just reprinted Gatecrashing, the Eclipse Phase core rulebook is at the printers for a fourth(!) printing, and our first card game, Shinobi Clans, is also at the printers. Our next release, Zone Stalkers, is imminent.

Outside of Posthuman Studios is the Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game, from Evil Hat Productions. It’s an action-science romp, powered by the Fate rules. I worked with an awesome team including Mike Olson and Jeremy Keller for this title, and it’s a great game and a gorgeous book. Pre-ordering the print book gets you the PDF copy immediately.

Robo Cover 400px

Beyond Atomic Robo, I’m working on the Designers & Dragons book series for Evil Hat. An extensive preview of the Designers & Dragons: The ’70s has been released, going over TSR’s history in detail.

And I’ve been diving into Accursed by Melior Via, as I have a one-sheet adventure to write for them!

As this logjam continues to get unjammed, please stay clear of rolling and falling logs. And by logs, I mean games!

Speaking at PePcon in Chicago: June 15-18

April 15th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m going to speaking at PePcon in Chicago this summer. This is the fifth Print + ePublishing Conference, hosted by the fine people that run InDesignSecrets and CreativePro. I’ve attended three of the four previous PePcons, and it’s always a smoothly-run show with great speakers and a collaborative, sharing atmosphere. It attracts a pretty wide variety of designers and designer-related people: from government employees trying to efficiently make hundreds of forms that are accessible and meet up with tons of standards, to small newspaper people still working on bridging the paper/digital worlds, to automation experts, typeface designers, and more.

This year’s Speakers List is a great one — including Chris Kitchener, the lead product manager for InDesign; Deke McClelland, trainer extraordinaire (and a fine singer,, too…), and keynote speaker Lynda Weinman, co-founder of Lynda.com.

And me? I’ll be jamming out 20 minutes on automated production InDesign: from spreadsheets to InDesign to the printed page. I’ll probably cover this talking about card game design, with a side trip to the fun of automating contracts (Everyone loves contracts!). And bonus, aside from InDesign, we’ll only use free and/or Open Source tools.

If you’re interested in attending PePcon, let me slide you this nice discount code to save $50: CH23B

NewImage

I hope to see you there!

Game Designer’s Workshop: Posthuman Studios Interview

April 3rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

At Gen Con 2013, the owners of Posthuman Studios (Rob Boyle, Brian Cross, Jack Graham, and myself) sat down with the folks at Roleplaying Public Radio to record this episode of Game Designer’s Workshop.

We were a little tipsy when this interview started (it was, after all, after business hours at Gen Con …), and we were moreso by the end of it. The audio levels fluctuate, and Jack Grahaman yells in a way that would be obnoxious if he wasn’t so damned funny.

This isn’t like your standard game-related podcast. We talked about how we all started gaming, how we met each other, how we started working together, and why we’re still working together. It’s hella honest, insightful and even a little bit useful in places.

Making things with people that you love and respect is awesome. I hope you enjoy hearing us talk about that.

Smart Folders to fix Dropbox Limitation

March 17th, 2014 § 3 comments § permalink

I’ve complained several times since Dropbox updated their client that the new UI is lacking in one significant respect: the number of recent files shown is only 3, and that is not configurable in any way:

Dropbox 1

For someone who uses Dropbox for actual work, this is laughable—if we’re away from our computer for a few hours, a dozen or more files could easily be uploaded or edited. Even if we don’t have to take action on those files, it’s good to stay up to date on what’s going on.

If you’re using OS X, the best way to do so is to set up a Smart Folder. Mine uses the following parameters:

Dropbox 2

Open the Finder and select your Dropbox folder, then hit File -> New Smart Folder.

Personally, I want to see anything updated in the last 24 hours, so I select the option of “Last Modified Date” and set it to “Within last 1 day.” This also will display files that were created within the last day, as well.

Then click Save, and be sure that the “Add to Sidebar” option is ticked.

BTW, if you’d like to tell Dropbox that you want more recent files, I started a thread about this on their feature request forum a few months ago.

Any other things you do to make Dropbox more productive for you? Share ‘em in the comments!

Removing TextEdit from OS X Mavericks

March 13th, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

I have pretty strong feelings about the OS X app, TextEdit: I do not like it. It is not useful to me, I do not like text and rich text editors in the same application, and I never want to use it. I never want to accidentally open it. Any time it is opened, it is wasted time and added frustration.

If you like using it, this tip is not for you!

But if you want to delete it, you’ll notice that OS X Mavericks gives you this error if you try and delete it (or some other apps, like Chess and Stickies) from the Finder:

Screen Shot 2014 03 13 at 5 13 59 PM

Mavericks, I am still the boss of you.

Open up Terminal (/Applications/Utilities/Terminal.app) and paste this command into it:


sudo rm -rf /Applications/TextEdit.app/

You’ll be prompted for your password; this is the password that belongs to your admin account on your Mac. Type it in, hit the enter key, and TextEdit should be vanquished. The next time you update OS X, it might reinstall it.

My preferred text editor on OS X is TextWrangler. It’s free and amazing.

“Fairness,” book prices, electronic book prices

January 17th, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

(This was originally a Tumblr post, but my blog is a better long-term archive for it. Minor edits since I first posted it to Tumblr.)

People often say that electronic versions of books should cost less than the print versions due to production costs being lower.

This is a simplistic statement that is flawed on several levels:

#1: Not all books are published in both print and electronic format now, so electronic-only format books have to bear the entire burden of earning out, whereas a book published in print and electronically amortizes many of the expenses across two releases. Some books would not exist in electronic format at all (at their current quality level) if print versions did not help pay for the content. Electronic-only books need the ability to earn-out on all expenses.

#2: The production vs. content (writing, editing, art, graphic design, indexing, etc.) costs of books vary wildly, depending on the type of book, the publisher, the printing method and quantity, etc. Unless you have inside information or reliable experience, you can’t look at a book and tell how much it cost to make and where that money was spent. Even if you can make that estimation, you almost certainly have no idea how back-end contracts are structured and how people are being paid. Some publishers and authors are more transparent about this than others, but information learned in one field may be completely useless in another.

Furthermore, some say that authors and creators shouldn’t earn more on electronic copies than they would selling a print copy. So, for example, if it cost $2 to print/ship/etc a book that sold for $10, and the author also makes $2 on each sale (all of these numbers are completely made up for the purposes of a simple example), then the ebook version should sell for $8 and the author should continue to make $2. All the savings should be passed to the customer; no profits for the creator should be added.

The issue with the above is there is nothing that has defined the author’s $2 as a “fair” royalty beyond what the business has dictated in the past. The publishing business is changing, authors have more control, and often more responsibilities: if you can afford the $10 book to begin with, a situation that pays the author more is not going to hurt you. And it may well benefit you, because if the author is making twice as much on that book, they can probably afford to spend more time writing and have a higher quality of life, which is going to lead to better and more consistent work.

Beyond that: the argument that “ebooks aren’t as good as print” is rooted in emotion and history, but as time passes it’s becoming more and more obvious that in some cases, and especially in some genres and book styles, electronic books offer more utility and convenience to the reader. Should the creators not be rewarded for that?

The counter argument to that is that some of the features of electronic books — searching, bookmarks, etc. — are “inherent to the format” and thus the creators shouldn’t be benefit. The same people will also extoll the virtues of print books that are also inherent to the format, and the authors and creators end up benefitting from that! So it’s a wash; all formats have inherent flaws and bonuses.

New Skin Deep texture: Happy Distress!

November 26th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

SD TEXT003 HappyDistress 900px

Happy Distress! is the newest Skin Deep texture; it’s available on DriveThruRPG for only $5, and it contains 12 different files: eleven 8.5×11 300DPI distressed textures, and one larger 600DPI file that is a scan of the various pieces of duct tape that were used to create the analog textures. I thought they looked cool so I included them—they’ll do some nice work making distressed type or edge work!

All of these graphics are Creative Commons licensed, so you can use them in commercial projects as long as you credit me. There is no limit on how you can use them or what medium (print, web, iPad app, etc.)

I also made a quick video that outlines the contents and has a quick demo on how these textures can be used to help quickly enhance a book cover:

SD TEXT004 HappyDistress stack

I’ve also made a Skin Deep Sample Pack available, with 120DPI graphics from each pack available for free (not CC-licensed.)

Posthuman Textures become Skin Deep!

November 8th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

In late 2011 Posthuman Studios’ released 3 texture packs that I designed under the name Posthuman Textures. Today, I have pulled them under my own control and renamed them Skin Deep. I will be devoting more time in the near future to releasing new texture packs and other graphic design resources.

By pulling these under my own wing, I’m able to devote more time to them — as niche projects, devoting Posthuman Studios’ time to them didn’t make sense.

Three texture sets are currently available:

Battered and Blasted

SD TEXT000 BatteredAndBlasted stack

Dead Television Explosion

SD TEXT001 DeadTelevisionExplosion stack

Something Died

SD TEXT002 SomethingDied stack

Each set is $5 and available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license, which means you can use them in and modify them for commercial projects (Books, electronic books, websites, no limitations!) as long as you attribute me as the original creator.