D&D 4e GSL surfaces

The long-awaited Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Game System License is finally available. The potential red flag of the Quality and Standards clause is still there, broad as all outdoors, and Wizards seems to be giving itself the right to sue any licensee and hand them the legal bills, regardless of judgement. Still, at least something is publicly posted, finally. The GSL still holds products released under its guidelines to begin selling no sooner than October 1st.


  1. Allan, as you well know, I have such crappy vision that I can’t be certain that I did a decent reading of the license. So, take all my comments with a grain of salt. That said, based on my interpretations, you won’t see my company go anywhere near the GSL, even for PDF products.

    Allan wrote: “Wizards seems to be giving itself the right to sue any licensee and hand them the legal bills, regardless of judgement.”

    The phrases, “Equitable”, “reasonable”, and “required by Wizards to enforce the terms” are in the lines associated with legal fees. My reading of this, is that Wizards’ attorney fees are contestable at law if a court holds that no real breach of the GSL has occurred when WotC brings suit. But you’d have to contest the fees, and the court would have to agree with your construction and application of those terms in context of a given case. You would definitely be screwed in the event that you did breach and they did sue you.

    Wizards doesn’t even warrant that the materials in the D&D don’t infringe on other people’s copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Wow. Lots of IP licenses have an express or implied warrantee of non-infringement, but this license disclaims such a warrantee. Further, you have to indemnify them against claims of copyright infringement based on materials in the new SRD that they won’t warrant as being free of infringing materials!

    The GSL allows for downloadable PDFs, but not fan websites. There will be a separate, limited fan website legal policy posted eventually.

    The GSL disallows licensed miniatures or character creation software. Like the d20 license, it doesn’t allow stand-alone games with character creation systems included.

    There won’t be GSL-covered articles in a magazine unless the whole magazine is GSL-covered. The net effect of this is that since OGL- and GSL-covered materials cannot both co-exist in a GSL covered work, if a magazine contains GSL materials it won’t be allowed to contain OGL-covered materials.

    The new GSL can change without notice and if you continue making and selling products, you automatically agree to all new terms. Further, they can pull the license from any licensee or even ALL licensees simultaneously. The latter provision makes it manifestly clear that a publisher need not be in breach to get his use of the GSL pulled if WotC notifies him of termination. Here’s the fun part: When Wizard terminates the GSL for a Licensee, the Licensee must destroy all his GSL-licensed materials!

    You can publish under the GSL and continue to publish things under the OGL which aren’t based on the d20 SRD.

    One can infer from the language of the license that if any part of your OGL-covered products substantively leverages the d20 SRD then it looks like when you publish under the GSL you have to stop publishing OGL-covered products. This will really divide the PDF market (if people even read the license closely enough to realize what they are getting into).

  2. Oops. Re: that last paragraph, it should say “you have to stop publishing OGL-covered products based on the old d20 SRD.” You could publish a new 4E-compatible GSL work and still publish FUDGE-compatible materials under the OGL.

  3. Thanks, Lee. We made the decision months ago to retool any of our PDF products currently d20 branded to OGL. When it becomes available, we’ll convert everything to the Pathfinder OGL. We’re not touching this GSL. We might be missing out on making money off all the people converting to 4e but, to be honest, the risks outweigh the rewards.

  4. The GSL looks like an attempt to put the OGL+d20SRD genie back in the bottle.

    Somebody else can chime in with alternate readings if you disagree. Mine were worst case scenario readings since SO MUCH of the license is determinable at WotC’s sole discretion and alterable by them unilaterally. The only thing that would keep them in line would be peer pressure from other (probably larger) publishers.

    Some of my readings about the use of the old d20 SRD has to do with Section 6.1 re: the “Converted OGL” product lines. Since that phrase is within the reasonable discretion of WotC to define and there aren’t any real serious parameters for the definition, I construed all d20-only products as a “product line” and all FUDGE-only products as another “product line”. You could construe the “Converted OGL” product lines section differently and read it as allowing you to consider using the old d20 SRD to produce OGL-ized supplements in another different “product line”, but I wouldn’t go there. Why? Well, simply put, there’s no point in trying to play the gray areas of a license that is revokable at will be the licensor and alterable at will by the licensor. WotC can’t unreasonably define “product line”, but they can still be reasonable and cast their net in a broad fashion. You should play according to the rules that you think they mean rather than what they said, or you are skating out on a very big lake on some very thin ice.

    I can see arguments construing section 6.1 more narrowly than I did, but I wouldn’t personally go there. Since Section 6.1 survives termination it looks like a real attempt to get people to try to waive their rights to use d20 SRD derivative works permanently. You could construe it other ways. Let’s say that your GSL rights were terminated, you could start up a totally brand new OGL product line that doesn’t reuse any of your old product materials, but which does use the d20 SRD. It’s a possible reading. It might land you in a legal battle where you have to argue that in agreeing to the GSL you didn’t waive your rights granted under the OGL.

    I based my reading on the line that says by using the GSL, you agree to not thereafter “publish any portion of the Converted OGL Product Line”. The d20 SRD is certainly a portion of many d20-compatible OGL products, and thus my somewhat paranoid reading of Section 6.1 comes into play.

    In my opinion, since the GSL is a written agreement entered into by parties subsequent to them entering into an OGL-based relationship, both parties can mutually agree to new terms for the relationship including, but not limited to, the revocation of previously granted rights, even if those rights were perpetual. WotC can’t unilaterally revoke your OGL rights, but you can agree to put them on the chopping block as a price to get access to new toys to play with.

    Your mileage may vary (as may your readings of the GSL).

    Here’s a concept that I’m throwing out (but NOT recommending) to those wanting to publish under the GSL — you could start another paper company. You could theoretically create a new corporation or LLC that exists solely to publish GSL-covered works. You could have that LLC apply for use of the GSL. Don’t mix your chocolate and your peanut butter. You would have to keep the IP you published by your old company under the OGL entirely in your original company and you wouldn’t want to let your new company have access to it. You would have to keep the new company publishing solely GSL-related stuff. As a human being involved in game publishing, that would create an OGL publishing avenue and a GSL publishing avenue. To keep it on the up-and-up, you would have to make sure that the membership/ownership of your new company and your old company is substantially different so that they pass a “smell test” and WotC doesn’t arbitrarily take your GSL rights away. You would want to keep your back stock of GSL works light in case you get your GSL rights terminated. I am NOT recommending this, I’m just musing about what a particularly insane person could do if they wanted to make some money publishing some first release stuff for the GSL without forever closing the door to old product lines.

  5. I’m not a big fan of 4th edition at all and from what I’ve seen, it’s been a bit of a flop compared to what they were expecting. That said, all this GSL thing sounds like is a poor attempt at Wizards trying to FORCE all the third party publishers to permanently convert all their best product lines to 4E exclusively. I think I’ll be switching to Pathfinder LONG before I have anything to do with this latest of Wizards’ atrocities…

  6. Something that occured to me a few days ago. I pretty much agree with everything Lee has said…I thought of all of those things my first reading through. So, Lee…don’t worry about your sight – you’re right on as far as I can see.
    However, as Lee stated – the OGL disallows any system based on d20 to have character creation included in those materials. Wizards apparently thought this through very well when they came out with 4th ed. They hold COMPLETE AND TOTAL rights to all 4th ed. materials, basically, and they do not allow anyone to create materials that swing both for OGL and 4th ed. So, what happens when all of the OGL core rule books finally disappear off the shelves and out of the thrift stores and used book stores. How will someone write any materials for the OGL. They can no longer refer players to the 3.5 core rule books for character creation.

    Let’s face the facts. No one seems to be happy with 4th ed. gsl, and no one seems to want to take the risk of publishing under it. Within five years, the 3.5 core rules will be gone, and with them the ability to publish under the OGL. Wizards has effectively written all other D&D publishing companies off the map, and will have taken total control over the market once again. All hail caesar!

  7. “the OGL disallows any system based on d20 to have character creation included in those materials.”

    The OGL does no such thing and never did; it’s the D20 System Trademark License that did that.

  8. This is complete and utter garbage. How do they expect to get other publications or promotions to market? The refusal to provide website or interactive product licensing is a huge disappointment to me. Why would you kill off your community in this way?

    F off wotc!

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