My thoughts on OGL, GSL and beyond

d20 OGL LogoWhen Wizards of the Coast decided to release the 3.0 (and the following 3.5) Edition of their popular roleplaying game D&D we saw a lot of 3rd party supplements and OGL games. Of course not every book released was of the same quality. And it was appearent that Wizards’ control over what their competitors released using the OGL or the d20 System License was limited at best. So they decided to discontinue the d20 System License with the release of the 4th edition.

The new GSL (Game System License) prohibits anyone from using the OGL at the same time, so if you want to release a book for 3.5 D&D, you can’t release anything for 4th Edition as well. There are of course a few loopholes. You can of course found a new company that handles the 4th Edition stuff while your original company sticks to 3.5 Edition or vice versa. But only a few publishers jumped onto the 4th Edition bandwagon. Paizo Publishing also decided to release an updated version of the 3.5 edition under the name “Pathfinder Roleplaying Game” that should be almost 100% compatible to every other OGL material.

One thing is clear: the OGL has brought us a lot of great games and supplements (and quite a few very bad ones), it’s much easier now for us fans (and bloggers) to write up some new class, race, rule etc. without being in a legal grey area all the time. But the 4th Edition changed all that. When a blogger now posts his homebrew 4E campaign, some rules he came up with etc., he or she is in a legal grey area all the time. Wizards has promised us a fan site policy but it hasn’t been released yet.

In my opinion the OGL was a step in the right direction, but it has not gone far enough. What the community needs is a popular game backed by a large company (or several smaller ones) that is released under Creative Commons preferably of the Attribution-Share Alike (see license here) variety. We all have witnessed how Open Source Software has enriched our daily internet lives. If you need a good browser software, office package, blogging software, etc. you can get it on the net for free and if you are technically-adapt you can even give something back by contributing to the code. 

I am sure something like this could work in the RPG business too. And I am sure it would help to bring more people to the hobby than ever before. When D&D 3.0 was still young I noticed that a lot of people started to use it just to be able to play in all that cool and new settings released by 3rd party publishers. Or they used the SRD to play it totally for free using their homebrew settings. OGL is there too stay but having a set of rules with a less limiting license would benefit us all.

Some companies have made steps in the right direction, FUDGE and FATE used the OGL, Savage Worlds has a pretty nice Fan Works Policy and in the last years a few people have decided to release their games under the CC. But those are mostly games written by fans and they are not as popular as D&D, Savage Worlds and some others. And in my opinion having a almost totally free system for all of us to play with would be a great boon. I am still hoping for an Open D6 System (the one WEG hinted at) released under CC…

What are your thoughts on the subject? Would you be interested in a truely free game system? Or are you happy with the several OGL games and fan site policies?