licenses for RPGs

Ryan S. Dancey ryand at
Wed Mar 21 10:50:57 UTC 2001

Do you have the right to make a game which is mechanically compatible with
another game?  Yes, it appears that you probably do, unless there is a
patent or trademark right involved.

Do you have the right to make a product which contains the unique
copyrighted content of D&D, or derivative works therefrom?  No, in my
opinion, you do not.

And in-between lies a big grey area where only a court can decide, on a case
by case basis, if a particular work is an infringing derivative work.

The OGL (like the GPL) is just a framework for getting rid of the threat of
lawsuits and the grey area.  Sure, you could black-box and clean-room Linux,
but you're far more likely to use Linux with the GPL, because you can do so
at essentially no cost, and in a framework which provides for little risk of

The OGL framework, when applied to the System Reference Document, provides a
way to make D&D compatible content that is far, far more extensive than the
basic rights you might have as they relate to the public domain status of
the game rules of D&D.  And there's no grey area.  Both conditions which
make it possible to bring to market a commercial product without having to
provide for a substantial threat of litigation.

And it's furthermore quite silly to point at the former TSR (now Wizards of
the Coast) business and say that the climate of litigation is fostered by
one company.  Every commerical hobby game publisher has taken the exact same
position for 25 years - that the mere game rule content in an RPG is the
least part of the copyrighted work of an RPG, and that derivative works
based on such a product are infringing.  The OGL and the d20 concept are a
step away from the parochial view of RPGs as isolated creative endeavors and
towards a view of clearly deliniated rights - and to my mind, that's a
positive step forward.


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