The Good, the Bad, and the OGL-y, Part 3: Repairing the Pax Arcana

The story so far: two decades of the OGL 1.0a established a broadly understood regime for third party D&D support which, whilst perhaps unnecessary from a strict reading of IP law (in some interpretations), nonetheless represented at least a sense of legal certainty and confidence necessary to cajole third parties to attempt such products after the much harsher and more aggressive stance taken by TSR.

Then the leak of OGL 1.1 established that Wizards of the Coast were not only contemplating changing the OGL, but doing so in a way which simultaneously greatly contracted the range of material licensed under it (and the range of products that could be made under it), increased Wizards’ ability to monitor and control the market, and generally dented the interests of third parties. Moreover, it included a clause explicitly deauthorising OGL 1.0a – something which their own FAQ from 2004 implied was not actually possible.

The gamers outside looked from Wizards to TSR, and from TSR to Wizards, and from Wizards to TSR again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Kyle Brink, in interviews with podcasts, has claimed that Wizards were already planning to move away from OGL 1.1 when the leak happened because of feedback they had already received from those who’d had sight of it. That may well be true! The leak, however, did mean that a PR exercise around this was necessary. For this article, I’m going to cover their responses, do a deep dive into OGL 1.2, and then discuss Wizards’ total, humiliating, wretched capitulation to the outrage of the community.

Continue reading “The Good, the Bad, and the OGL-y, Part 3: Repairing the Pax Arcana”

The Good, the Bad, and the OGL-y, Part 2: Breaking the Pax Arcana

This is an article which grew in the telling. After I wrapped up my previous article on Wizards’ absurd unforced error concerning the OGL, I expected to wrap up the series with one more piece, analysing the proposed texts of OGL 1.1 and 1.2 and discussing Wizards’ later total capitulation.

However, analysing OGL 1.1 turned out to take much longer than I expected. There’s some pretty profound issues with it, some of which only became apparent when I started the exercise of reading over it. It’s weirdly structured – bifurcated as it is into two licences. What’s more in the process of looking at it, I realised it appeared to be missing an important thing which I had really expected to be there, and whose absence makes some of the eyebrow-raising provisions of OGL 1.1 make a little more sense. More on that later.

All of this meant that my thoughts on it ran so long that I realised that this would need to be its own article – in my third article I’ll cover OGL 1.2, the compromise version Wizards wheeled out in the wake of the leaks and started a process of accepting feedback on, and then talk about their eventual capitulation.

I haven’t quite taken as long about this article as this monk has about his transcribing, but it feels that way.

To summarise the story so far: over 20 years ago, Wizards of the Coast put out OGL 1.0a, establishing the current era of third party D&D support. Perhaps by the usual standards of IP licences and open source licences it doesn’t offer that much – but it does represent a significant thaw compared to the harsh approach taken by TSR. All is well in the land.

Then, towards the start of this year, leaks emerge of a new OGL 1.1 – a document apparently being circulated by Wizards among third party publishers. And the howling and screaming begins…

As well as the caveats I offered at the start of last article, I ought to add a new one here, which is that Wizards did at the end of the day rule out bringing in OGL 1.1 altogether – so none of the stuff I outline here will actually come to pass. Nonetheless, at points in my analysis I may add the odd stray phrase along the lines of “under this licence, X is no longer true” or similar – just because it’d be awkward to say “If this licence had been adopted, which is unlikely to happen any time soon because Wizards have abandoend attempts to pursuit OGL 1.0a” over and over again.

Continue reading “The Good, the Bad, and the OGL-y, Part 2: Breaking the Pax Arcana”

The Good, the Bad, and the OGL-y, Part 1: Forging the Pax Arcana

Maybe it’s pointless writing this article. By now, the controversy over the leak of OGL 1.1 – a planned update to the Open Gaming Licence which Wizards has acknowledged the reality of, but has promised to rethink – is all over the RPG discussion space. Everyone’s weighed in on it. Most people have probably either made their minds up one way on the subject or are simply not interested. What can me writing one more article about it on here accomplish?

Well, for one thing, I think I can add a useful perspective based on my legal knowledge. This article shouldn’t be taken as legal advice – and to be honest, nor should anything which is not being given to you by an attorney whose services you have engaged who you have briefed on the particular specifics of your situation, because specifics matter in this sort of thing. But I have studied intellectual property law – I don’t work primarily in the world of trademark or copyright, but my training did involve learning about both of those, and at least know enough contract law to be able to not be intimidated by a contract, and to recognise when it’s doing something unusual from the perspective of IP law.

Wizards’ handling of this whole situation has cast them as the villains in this story.

Bear in mind too that my studies have not focused on US law, so there may well be specifics of that which pass me by. That said, I think that could be an asset in looking at this. A lot of the commentary I have seen on the situation has been very US-centric, which misunderstands how the current RPG market works. With PDF sales on internationally-available storefronts like DriveThruRPG being so important to publishers in the field, and virtual tabletop platforms also available more or less globally, it can be dangerous to give people a clean bill of health when it comes to copyright infringement risks if that is based on exemptions or rulings based solely on US law.

US-style “fair use” is not the standard worldwide – in the UK, for instance, we have “fair dealing”, which has a different scope – and different jurisdictions will have different case law to deal with. No RPG publisher wants to be in a situation where they are limited to selling a product in only one country. This is particularly of concern if the gorilla in the room – the dominant player in the market whose legal department would cause the biggest panic if they came after your product – is a multinational corporation, who has the capacity to come after your product from the jurisdiction of their choice if they can find standing to do so (for instance, bringing copyright infringement cases against your product in the UK if you or your distribution partners sell it there instead of – or as well as – bringing infringement claims for activities in the US).

I’d add on a personal note that being conversant with copyright law is not the same thing as liking copyright law. In its present state, it is a mess. I believe it is a necessity, and will remain a necessity absent fundamental change to the way society is arranged, because if you strip it away completely you give big corporations carte blanche to plunder everyone else’s ideas wholesale – and they’ll have the funds and infrastructure available to do that much more quickly and effectively than smaller business and individuals can. But copyright durations are absurdly long at the moment, international harmonisation on matters of coverage and infringement would be a boon, and in general it feels like a field ripe for root and branch reform.

As such, if in this article I talk about something Wizards or any other party might be able to do – or at least, might argue that they are able to do – please don’t take that as any form of endorsement of that position, or suggesting that it is a good or appropriate thing that the law permits this.

Oh, and obviously a lot of the stuff I say in these two articles may end up stale in the future because of new developments. Honestly, I made a start on writing this a couple of times when the controversy was still live only to give up and wait a bit because something new and silly had happened, and I wanted to give things time to settle down a bit before giving a settled opinion on the matter rather than shooting from the hip and coming out with a bunch of speculation which would be rendered redundant in short order.

After all those caveats about the legal situation, I will lead off by pointing out that a lot of this is not about law at all.

Continue reading “The Good, the Bad, and the OGL-y, Part 1: Forging the Pax Arcana”

Supplement Supplemental! (Beasts For WFRP, Vehicles For Wrath & Glory, and More Imperial Archives)

Time for another entry in my ongoing series of brief looks at interesting game supplements. This time, it’s a Warhammer special, looking at a clutch of supplements from Cubicle 7 for Wrath & Glory and 4th Edition WFRP.

The Imperial Zoo (WFRP)

Back in the era of 2nd Edition WFRP, the Old World Bestiary had a neat conceit where the first half consisted of bestiary entries on the creatures detailed therein, whereas the back half provided the actual stats, so you could have a gap between what was IC known about the monsters in question and what was true. The Imperial Zoo for 4th Edition WFRP takes this tradition one step further, by presenting the stats embedded in accounts of daring expeditions undertaken to study rare beasts on behalf of the titular zoo.

This is an unconventional way to do a monster book, but it’s certainly a flavourful one; if you need an alphabetical listing, after all, there’s always the index, and the approach gives the referee freedom to choose which aspects of the writeups are true and which are misunderstandings, whilst using the writeups as a basis for handouts and information the PCs can acquire by asking the relevant NPCs.

The book also provides extensive details on the harvesting of monster parts for making magic item, in suitably gruesome detail, as well as a handy summary table of creature traits which is useful for quickly figuring out what a creature can do. The book also reflects a tune-up in the way Cubicle 7 present WFRP monster stats, better optimised for helping refs quickly work out a creature’s capabilities with less cross-referencing, which is very welcome. The collection is rounded out with some sample player characters, designed to be especially suitable for a campaign based around follow-up expeditions building on the work of the Imperial Zoo’s previous parties of explorers, which would certainly be a way to get maximal value out of the book.

If you want an encyclopedic collection of WFRP adversary stats, this may seem a little thin – particularly since the emphasis here is very much on beasts (and perhaps some goblins and skaven here and there), not on a broader range of foes. On the other hand, The Imperial Zoo is an interesting and worthwhile experiment in rethinking what an RPG monster book can be, and I think it is richer for it.

Church of Steel (Wrath & Glory)

This is essentially the vehicles supplement for Cubicle 7’s revised version of Wrath & Glory. The original release of the game had vehicle weapons in the core book, but they were somewhat underbaked (as were other aspects of that slightly rushed project); after Ulisses North America gave up the rights to the line and Games Workshop tasked Cubicle 7 with the salvage job, the revised rulebook trimmed that back, in service of the bid to refocus the game around its’ system’s strengths. This supplement in essence provides a fully revised vehicle system, plus some fluff on the Adeptus Mechanicus and how various factions view and interact with their vehicles, plus a deep bench of example vehicles from a range of PC factions, and so on.

I’m usually not enough of a gearhead to want much out of vehicle rules in RPGs. To my mind, a vehicle in a game is there to eithe provide a means of allowing characters to travel from A to B, or to provide a situational or environmental modifier, such as in a chase scene. I’m particularly disinterested in having a fully-developed system of vehicular combat, rather than just using vehicles as modifiers to the baseline combat system; going further than this often gets quite wargamey for my tastes.

Fortunately, Church of Steel largely follows this approach. The rules for using vehicles are kept fairly simple, vehicle stats are kept terse, and the supplement includes useful guidelines and tools for running journeys on a narrative basis. If you want to go full gearhead, Church of Steel may end up disappointing, but if you just want a bit of system support for handling travel sequences or vehicular combat which doesn’t get too bogged down this will do the job.

Archives of the Empire Volume 2 (WFRP)

As with the previous volume of this series, this is a bit of a grab-bag of stuff. This time there’s a deep dive on ogres, including rules for PCs (a treatment which does an OK job of avoiding some of the more racist implications of earlier iterations of the lore), details on star signs and astrology, rules for making magic items and handling the exploits of PCs in battles, and an overview of the Grand Hospice.

It’s perhaps best to see the Archives of the Empire series as a sort of high production value, thick WFRP magazine – any particular issue is going to have a weird grab-bag of stuff, you may struggle to use all of it (and probably won’t want to), but there’ll likely be something which tickles your fancy.

Like Dice In Rain

The first releases in Free League’s Blade Runner RPG – the core rules and the starter set – are now out, and what’s immediately obvious when you look at the material is that they’ve really hit a high bar when it comes to the production values here. I’d been favourably impressed with their execution of the second edition of The One Ring, I’ve heard good stuff about their other games, and they’ve kept up the high standards here. The core rulebook and the starter set look gorgeous, fit the aesthetic of the movies nicely without being reliant on screenshots from the films (indeed, the illustrations all look to be original, bespoke art made for the game), and are also laid out very nicely and usefully for the purposes of actual play.

The concept of the game is simple: it’s an investigative RPG, you are either a human or a replicant working the Blade Runner beat in 2037 LA, your official task is to track down and “retire” renegade replicants and investigate other replicant-connected crimes, but of course the investigations you get into will throw up ethical quandaries and emotional entanglements which might force you to choose between the departmental rulebook and your personal morality.

This is the sort of thing which if executed thoughtlessly could end up being kind of distasteful – the sort of copaganda we really need less of. Both the original movie and Blade Runner 2049, however, avoided that fate by taking a specifically dystopian route, making it clear that the work of the bounty hunters is a dehumanising process, and the bounty hunters exist in a grim and corrupt system, and the violence unleashed by the replicants is a matter of self-defence against a world intent on destroying them.

Continue reading “Like Dice In Rain”

Supplement Supplemental! (ISIS vs. Delta Green and Mr. Darcy vs. Cthulhu)

Time for another entry in my occasional series of articles giving short thoughts on game supplements which prompted some thoughts for me, but which I didn’t feel inspired to do a full article about. This time it’s a Lovecraftian special, with supplements for Delta Green and Call of Cthulhu which take those games into unexpected settings and eras.

Iconoclasts (Delta Green)

Although the Delta Green Kickstarters have already yielded a healthy crop of core books, supplements, adventures, and campaigns, the stretch goals just keep coming. Iconoclasts, by Adam Scott Glancy, is one of them, and is a truly epic scenario – weighing in at a bit over 200 pages, it’s got the sort of form factor one would expect of full-length campaigns, and it could conceivably take a fair bit of time to play through, though it’s really a single investigation and the thing which has caused the page count to expand to this extent isn’t a large number of encounters or incidents so much as it’s the extensive material Glancy needed to provide to make the concept work.

Ever since the early days of the standalone edition of the game, with scenarios like Kali Ghati, Arc Dream’s been tossing out the occasional Delta Green scenario which departs from the assumed “investigating X-Files cases on US soil” baseline that’s been the norm since the original supplements; Iconoclasts is perhaps the most ambitious one yet, and also goes deeper than ever into the “ripped from the headlines” approach (which means it may risk becoming dated over time).

Set in 2016, the action focuses on Mosul under the brutal rule of ISIS – yes, they’re the titular iconoclasts. Unfortunately, they’ve gone and broken the wrong relic and set something terrible free. Delta Green tasks the PCs with setting up a forward HQ in a friendly airbase in Kurdish northern Iraq, gather what intel they can, and then undertake a mission to get into Mosul and suppress the horrors – by any means necessary.

Continue reading “Supplement Supplemental! (ISIS vs. Delta Green and Mr. Darcy vs. Cthulhu)”

On Ending a LARP

This past weekend we ran the concluding event of Anarchy, a historical LARP set in the Stephen-Matilda civil war of the 12th Century. I learned a lot of lessons about running LARPs over the course of the campaign – as happens whenever I run a game – but I was particularly gratified with how one experiment we tried at the weekend panned out.

This related to how we handled the end of the event, which was also the end of the campaign itself. I think handling the finish of a LARP event is a very tricky thing; there is no widely-adopted one-size-fits-all solution, and whilst many games put a lot of thought into climactic, final encounters, I think there is a difference between “how do we do the climax?” and “how and when do we declare an end to the event?”

To be clear, I am not talking here exclusively about how you end a campaign – though obviously this will be relevant to this article – so much as how you end an individual LARP event – whether that be the last episode of a campaign, or a preceding one, or a one-shot event. There seem to be three models which are particularly widespread; what we did at Anarchy constitutes a fourth. I think this sort of thing genuinely merits significant thought, not least because of the “LARP drop” experienced my participants post-event; a little attention to getting an appropriate sense of closure can’t eliminate that, but I would be willing to hypothesise that it might alleviate in some cases. Here’s those three common methods, followed by the Anarchy experiment.

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Supplement Supplemental! (Material Cultures, Filled-In Blanks, and Arthurian Encyclopedia)

Time for another instalment in my occasional series talking about RPG supplements which by themselves don’t inspire me to write an article, but which I still find worthy of comment.

Weapons and Equipment (RuneQuest)

From the title, you might expect this to be a fairly dry piece – perhaps along the lines of …and a 10 Foot Pole for Rolemaster, with lots of expanded equipment lists and the like. There’s an extent to which it is utilitarian in nature – it deliberately includes a chunk of the information from the equipment rules in the RuneQuest core rulebook, for instance, specifically so the book can be of maximal use in actual play. (If you know the information is definitely in there, there’s no need to juggle between this and the core book to find the equipment details you want.)

However, as someone on one of the RuneQuest discussion groups on Facebook pointed out, this supplement’s title undersells it – you could almost call this Material Culture of Dragon Pass, for it doesn’t merely provide you with a price list, but goes into a little detail about what the equipment is, what it tells us from a cultural perspective, and so on. Old World Armoury for 2nd Edition WFRP did something along similar lines to this, though I would say Weapons and Equipment takes the approach even further. Details on availability are here as well as pricing, and there’s also information on the obtaining and maintenance of livestock, mounts, dwellings, and so on. Services as well as goods are covered to an extent, with information on hiring mercenaries and other skilled personnel, or obtaining skill training.

In short, whilst the book gives you the fine item-by-item details it can also, with a quick skim, give you a quick grounding in what the material possessions of RuneQuest characters are like, what that says about them, and how all these things fit into the world – thereby helping evoke the distinctive cultures of Glorantha. This means it’s both extremely useful and extremely flavourful, which is a rare and welcome combination.

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The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 11)

In the previous episode of my Fighting Fantasy review series, I finished off the Fighting Fantasy releases of 1988 – an era when it seems like quantity was prioritised over quality, with some absolute clunkers slipping out (including Sky Lord, far and away the worst gamebook I have covered yet). There were some signs of hope – the best of the four books I covered in that article, Stealer of Souls, was really very good, perhaps the best Fighting Fantasy book I’d yet tackled in the series not written by Steve Jackson. On the other hand, a tepid contribution by Ian Livingstone – Armies of Death, most charitably described as an experiment which doesn’t quite work – highlighted how the scaled-back involvement of the series’ creators was causing issues.

Remember, Steve Jackson wrote his last gamebook for the Puffin series way back with Creature of Chaos, and Ian Livingstone’s contributions have become more and more sparse; in fact, we’ll only see one more gamebook by him in the remainder of the Puffin series. (He’d be credited with two solo works, but one of them was ghostwritten by Carl Sargent.) This time around, we have another clutch of gamebooks written by other parties, under the “Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone presents” banner. This has historically had mixed results; some of these gamebooks have been very good, some of them have been outright terrible, and of course you have the recurring issue where whenever you have a new person beginning to contribute to the series, they always seem to have a period of growing pains as they feel out best practice.

The four books in this review cover all the main Puffin-series releases for 1989 – that’s right, after this we’re out of the 1980s and coming into an era when increasingly sophisticated videogames become serious competitors with gamebooks when it comes to solo fun. That means Fighting Fantasy really needs to pull up its socks now if it’s going to keep up. Does the series manage this? Let’s see…

Portal of Evil


For ages the dense forests at the foot of the Cloudhigh Mountains of Khul have been considered totally inhospitable to humans, occupied as they are by dangerous monsters and hordes of goblins. However, a while back an expedition from the frontier town of Kleinkastel went exploring the forest. The survivors came back with important news – there’s gold in them thar woods! The region has now become the hub of a gold rush, with Kleinkastel becoming a boom town and the centre of mining activities for the region.

Now, however, miners have been disappearing from their camps and villages within the forest. The mining leaders suspect that something is up; you’d previously passed on an offer to come to Kleinkastel and work as a caravan guard, but this sounds like a more serious matter, so as the adventure begins you are travelling into the outskirts of the forest, intent on reaching Kleinkastel and discovering what the problem is…

Portal of Evil is the second Fighting Fantasy book by Peter Darvill-Evans. His first one was Beneath Nightmare Castle, which I generally enjoyed, but knocked down a few marks for a slightly thoughtless recycling of racist tropes. Here Darvill-Evans looks like he is potentially getting into dodgy territory again. Having a gold rush naturally nudges the reader to think of the US one, so the gold being found in lands previously held by inhuman goblins is a little troubling. That said, the introduction does suggest that Darvill-Evans is entirely aware of the colonialist impulses associated with gold rushes, so maybe this will be handled better than expected.

Continue reading “The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 11)”

Empire In Ruins, But WFRP In Fine Shape

The emergence of hard copies of Empire In Ruins and the Empire In Ruins Companion sees Cubicle 7’s “Director’s Cut” version of The Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition come to a close. The Enemy Within project has been one of the most welcome aspects of the new edition; though the original first edition releases were justifiably well-regarded, they were also very much of their time, with some design decisions and refereeing tips which may have made sense back in the day but don’t reflect best practice now (and were potentially frustrating even when originally published).

In addition, the multi-part campaign infamously fell apart towards the end in its original release. The episodes up to and including Power Behind the Throne were always considered to be the strongest, but then instead of the intended followup, The Horned Rat, seeing the light of day, instead Something Rotten In Kislev by Ken Rolston was published as the next episode. This was, at best, incongruous – Ken hadn’t written it as an Enemy Within episode but intended it as a self-contained Kislev-based adventure set, and some of the liberties taken to get the PCs from Middenheim to Kislev were rather heavy-handed, and once they got there more or less nothing that happened was particularly relevant to the ongoing plot threads established in preceding episodes.

Things went from bad to worse with Empire In Flames, the original finale of the campaign. Despite being penned by Carl Sargent, who was more closely involved with the wider Enemy Within project than Rolston (Sargent was the author of Power Behind the Throne), it’s generally regarded as the worst episode of the lot – entirely tonally inconsistent with what came before, and on top of that extremely railroady, with the PCs spending a lot of time watching NPCs doing cool stuff but not doing very much themselves (with some notable exceptions).

Continue reading “Empire In Ruins, But WFRP In Fine Shape”