Wednesday, June 25, 2008

D&D: 4E is not OGL

A couple posts ago I was talking about 4th edition D&D. I decided to go check on the 4E SRD and learned something interesting: 4th edition is not released under the Open Gaming License (OGL)!

(Standard disclaimer: The following is how I understand these things work. But I'm not a lawyer or copyright expert, and so I guess that means I'm largely speaking out of my ass on this. Just be aware of the sort of material that comes from most people's asses.)

Default state: You cannot copyright or trademark game rules or mechanics, per se. You could probably patent them if they are new ideas, as they are a process (but please don't, because such patents would suck). And you might be able to trademark certain specific words or phrases used in the game description. Or course, applying for a patent or registering a trademark costs money.

However, though the rules or mechanics themselves are not copyright-able, any particular instantiation of the rules in writing is covered by copyright as soon as it is written.

So all this means you could technically take any (non-patented) game rules, read them and put them aside, and then completely rewrite the same mechanic in your own words. This would be a lot of work though--especially for something as large as D&D. (And if someone did take offense from any resulting similarities, could you really afford to defend it in court?)

3E and OGL: But then along came Wizards of the Coast's Open Gaming License. As long as you adhere to the OGL rules--which mainly involve keeping the OGL itself attached to the resulting work--you are free to copy verbatim, redistribute, add to, or change any game rules (or other content) released as Open Gaming Content under the OGL.

Wizards then released the majority of the core D&D rulebooks as a System Reference Document (SRD) under this OGL. (The SRD didn't include certain flavor text and product identity--such as certain names, deities, some monsters, or how to create or advance characters.) So people could do practically whatever they wanted with the text of all these SRD rules (provided they followed the OGL in doing so).

In addition, there was a d20 System Trademark License (STL) and d20 System Guide (which are no longer easily available from their site). Together, these specified how you could use the d20 logo to claim that your game was d20 compatible. Generally, this meant you could not redefine any of the standard conditions or special abilities of d20, do anything indecent, or describe how to create or advance a character.

Note how the OGL and STL are separate licenses. You can take the SRD and make a stand-alone game (including how to create characters); you just can't claim it's still d20 and use the d20 logo if you do.

4E and GSL: Now things work differently with 4E, which is neither OGL or d20. Instead, there's the Gaming System License (GSL). (This was released just last week.) This is more like the the STL of 3E: it describes what you need to do to create a 4E-compatible game or supplement. If you follow these rules, you get to use their special D&D logo and the many D&D-specific terms, as laid out in the new SRD. Note that this new SRD no longer contains all the rules, as it did for 3E; instead, it's largely just a list of terms. In short, it's all the phrases you'd need to be able to describe D&D characters, abilities, and monsters in the context of a game supplement--but you'd need the D&D core books to look up all the rules and definitions for them.

Also, the GSL applies only to the production of books: hardcover, softcover, or digital (PDF). It specifically excludes software and websites. Another interesting rule is that if a company switches any part of one of their product lines from OGL to 4E, they need to switch all of it over.

So, what's this change mean? The major ramification is that the 4E rules will not be freely available. I can honestly see why Wizards did this. I mean, I never bought the 3.5 books because I could use online or downloadable versions of the SRD, which were actually faster to use for quick reference. And I was planning to do the same for 4E. Just excluding character creation and advancement rules wasn't enough to ensure sales of the core rulebooks.

It also means that software products--such as all those little character generating apps and online RPG tools that understand D&D characters--could get in trouble for making 4E versions. Something generic like a character with 6 abilities scored between 3 and 18+ isn't going to be a problem. But you're probably going to want to have your software list all the various possible standard powers for the different 4E classes. But this is copyrighted product identity (as specifically listed in the new SRD); using it could be seen as creating a derivative work--and you have no license now to grant you a special dispensation to break copyright. So this could suck. I guess Wizards is planning to release some DMing software, but (unless some later license grants these rights), you're not going to have any legal alternatives.

Another concern is the fan websites that post their character details and game histories. Technically, these are derivative works too. I doubt Wizards would go after such fan material, though. In addition, they're already planning to release a separate license for fan websites to cover this.

The thing that pisses me off the most though is that they're releasing all this new license stuff under the URI. It's not d20! d20 is history as far as Wizards is concerned (since they've pulled all links to their d20 STL and System Guide.

OGL is still here though, and we'll always have the 3.5 SRD floating around. That's some consolation, I suppose. (Another bonus for Drudge, which will still be OGL!) But it looks like publishers that want to stay on the D&D bandwagon will have to abandon OGL. That probably won't be a major stumbling block for them, though, since most are in the business of producing compatible product identity material of their own. The new GSL still lets them do that.

Anyway, check out the licenses for yourself: This "plain English" version of the GSL from ENWorld is handy too.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

D&D: Omri

Omri (S.) tried the assault on the goblin holdout again. It went very well, partly because the goblins couldn't roll worth a damn. (I don't usually use my yellow d20 for this reason, but it needed some love.) Omri was also well shielded and buffed with spells--she took out each foe with a single blow and wasn't even scratched in return! I remembered to consider NPC morale, and had a couple goblins surrender after witnessing the wholesale slaughter of their comrades by this suddenly-appearing avenging goddess. This turned out nicely, as the party was able to pump them for info but then had to spend a sleep spell and some rope to tie them up when they were done. (My original idea had been to use speak with dead if necessary.)

On gaming tools, that "battlegrid" overlay and chess pieces combo is working great. Beer and nuts made for nice DMing companions! I also didn't have my computer this time, which freed up some table space and made things a little more casual. It just meant I needed to copy down all the pertinent notes in the corner of the whiteboard before we started. I might try to do that again, though I have more info necessary for our next encounter: NPCs spell-lists and such.

Picking up the Scattered Pieces

Well, this past couple months have been a bit scattered as I work on various projects:

• D&D: S. and I played some on Omri's line this weekend. I spent a day hacking B.'s OpenRPG XML tree to streamline play on Dragonwars. And last night I put in a bit of dungeon crawling on Tellurian Tales--though nothing major to report there yet.

I also got to check out the new 4E books at Borders. I only had time to flip through the PHB, but I was pretty happy with what I saw. Interesting decision to cut alignment down to LG, G, N (unaligned), E, and CE. The new gods seem cool. A lot of things like skills have been nicely simplified (often mirroring changes I've made in Drudge), but things are a bit more complicated with characters in other areas, as there are so many powers to choose from at each level now. I think it was a nice idea to turn a lot of the spells into character powers for spellcasters, except for rituals which take too long to be cast in combat. Still, with all the other stuff I have going on right now, I probably won't buy the books for a while. (But the SRD is probably out there somewhere.... Oh, foul temptation!)

• Zludge/Drudge: I've been rereading the Fudge SRD straight through, just to make sure I've covered everything I should and to pull any missed good ideas for Zludge. I also combined the 3dF of Fluffy and the 4dF of Zludge Prime into a single 3dF progression for both systems. Zludge is getting more streamlined, and I'm quite happy with it on paper. I still haven't had a chance to playtest it much yet, of course.

I've also been checking out diceless games, and I've been hacking out some co-GMing rules. Hopefully those details will make it up here soon.

• Lite Gaming: Reading Fudge's magic system got me thinking about my "non-Scrabble" magic system and so I pulled that out again late last night.

• Inspiriation: I went ahead and bought the Iron Kingdoms World Guide off eBay. So far, it's made for nice bathroom reading. I plan to work their history into my general Tellurian history document; doesn't look like it will be too painful.

• IN Research: I've also finally gotten back into my IN research by reviewing my two big spiral sketchbooks of notes, writing up a Table of Contents/Summary for each.

Anyway, this is just an overview. A lot of these projects will turn into links as more of the details get posted.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

D&D: Slow Monks

A couple days ago I got to thinking how I've created over 25 D&D characters, yet I've never had a monk character. The reason for this is I feel that monks are a cool idea but lame in practice.

My biggest complaint about monks is that a Fighter with the Two-Weapon Fighting feat and a pair of gauntlets is better at unarmed combat than a Monk of equivalent level performing a flurry of blows. Under 3.5 rules, a 1st level fighter with 2WFing could perform two attacks at -1/-1 BAB. A flurrying monk would be at -2/-2. The monk stays -1 behind the fighter until 11th level when he at least gets an extra attack.

Sure, monks do a bit more damage (initially d6 vs the fighter's d4), and monks have a bunch of saves and other special abilities--but nothing that couldn't really be duplicated with some good magic items. And the fighter has the option of armor and upping his damage using a long and short sword at the same attack bonus.

In short, I feel the monk should be a whirlwind of accurate unarmed blows. Sure, they might not do much damage verses armored foes, but I see this a damage issue, not a base attack issue. (I guess part of the problem is they only have a fair BAB progression.) I'm imagining Wing Chun style combat here (think Matrix or wooden dummy speed). This is the flavor of the monk, but it constantly disappoints me that the math doesn't match.

However, I started thinking... what if the monk also took Two Weapon Fighting? Would that stack with a flurry of blows? After much pondering and research, it seems that the basic answer is: yes. Some of the finer details are still a little fuzzy though. Specifically, if performed unarmed, does the offhand attack get +STR or only +1/2 STR to damage? The rules say there's no such thing as an offhand attack for an unarmed monk; additionally, even offhand special monk weapons receive the full +STR bonus during a flurry. This suggests the first interpretation: even when 2WFing, the monk should still receive the full STR bonus if the offhand weapon is an unarmed attack or special monk weapon. This seems to be the interpretation of Skip Williams (at least when the offhand is unarmed), and the one I favor.

However, the official FAQs (by the Sage, Andy Collins, I believe) imply that a monk's off-hand attack would receive only +1/2 STR, even if made unarmed.

The DM's always right, so I'm basically going with: Monks can take the 2WF feat to get an extra attack. This stacks with flurry of blows, so now a first level monk could make 3 attacks at -4/-4/-4. (An impressive display, but most of them will probably bounce off the opponent's armor.) By the rules of 2WF, one of those attack must be made by the offhand. However, if this offhand weapon is an unarmed attack or a special monk weapon, it still gets the monk's full STR bonus. The offhand weapon doesn't actually need to made with a hand, but could be an unarmed attack such as a kick, etc. (This simplifies book-keeping and seems to keep with the general flavor of the monk's Unarmed Strike and Flurry of Blows.)

Technically, I still have a moratorium on new character creation. However, there's a future major NPC in Dragonwars that was going to be partly monk, so (loophole!) I'm fleshing him out a bit. For story purposes, I'm taking a level of Rogue and two of Ranger first. I'm thinking of using a glaive and Combat Reflexes too, which will provide a nice reach. While the glaive can't be used with a flurry, it can still be used with 2WF. Though the glaive occupies two hands, I can still make "offhand" attacks with kicks. By that reasoning, I could carry the glaive in one hand, make primary attacks with kicks in a flurry, and then an offhand attack with the other hand.

This should make for interesting/powerful enough martial prowess. Now I just need work on fleshing out the rest of the character and the non-combat aspects...