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Announcing the Basic Roleplaying System Reference Document and Open Game License

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6 hours ago, lordabdul said:

No, you've come up with all kinds of hypothetical examples to try and figure out what the license covers.

All of those are viable ideas for RPGs, simply as log-lines.  (Plus they also overlap with my own interests—who knows what I may do with them?—though I also enjoy the works of Moorcock and Niven, which we haven't begun to address here.)  The only one that isn't ready to go out of the gate is The Sword in the Stone–based game, which would either entail negotiating with T. H. White's estate or revamping as an original YA Arthurian squires-focused RPG.  I wouldn't have proposed them otherwise.

5 hours ago, lordabdul said:

Oh well I tried to help with something actionable that may satisfy all parties, but alas...

I appreciate how you'd like to cut the Gordian Knot of this conversion thread.  It's not a matter of a single pitch, however, but of clarifying the language in Clause 1(e). 

Why would you ask a prospective game designer to go to the time and effort of conceiving and writing a detailed game pitch on the basis of an open license if there was a chance that it would be rejected on the basis of a "known unknown" interpretation of Prohibited Content?

 

5 hours ago, JonL said:

I can see where defining "story-element" might take some careful thought

 

Elaboration on this in the context of Clause 1(e) would definitely be helpful.

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1 hour ago, Travern said:

Why would you ask a prospective game designer to go to the time and effort of conceiving and writing a detailed game pitch on the basis of an open license if there was a chance that it would be rejected on the basis of a "known unknown" interpretation of Prohibited Content?

Because you probably already wrote and spent the brain power equivalent of 3 game pitches already on this thread :D   Also, because the game pitch wouldn't be wasted: if Chaosium comes back and says "nope, that infringes on our IPs", you can still send the same pitch to Evil Hat or Design Mechanism or whatever, with minimal edits (since the game pitch wouldn't mention much mechanics, if any).

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16 minutes ago, lordabdul said:

Also, because the game pitch wouldn't be wasted: if Chaosium comes back and says "nope, that infringes on our IPs", you can still send the same pitch to Evil Hat or Design Mechanism or whatever, with minimal edits (since the game pitch wouldn't mention much mechanics, if any).

But this misses the point of an open license.  You don't have to petition to Evil Hat at all for permission to produce a FATE game since they released that under the regular OGL in the first place ("You don’t have to ask our permission or anything like that, though we’d love it if you let us know your product’s out there and maybe slide us a few free copies (digital is fine).")  Established fair use practices, the public domain, and copyright law cover all the questions about intellectual property.  There's a reason why FATE and PBTA are perennial recommendations in RPG design forums (n.b. Design Mechanism has a standard submission process).  Why would you tell a prospective game designer they have to create pitch for an open license?

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1 hour ago, Travern said:

But this misses the point of an open license.  

An open license has never been about "anything goes". Some licenses are more or less restrictive (the WotC OGL also has a few restrictions for instance). The BRP one is what it is. So instead, how about this: if you have any doubts about your game idea, you have 2 options:

  1. You ask Chaosium directly about it (by showing them what you want to do, not in a roundabout way by talking about a dozen hypotheticals)
  2. You just go with another SRD and OGL to be safe... are you really that married to BRP? (as opposed to any D100 system?)

But in reality, I think you are either (1) overthinking this, or (2) trying to sneak something past Chaosium. I don't imagine you're trying to do a reskinned Call of Cthulhu ("you investigate Eldritch-related mysteries, but on Mars! And you can play aliens!"), so I assume it's (1). If, for example, you're trying to do a "multiverse time cops" pulp adventure game and you want the option, in the future, to release an adventure book featuring Mythos monsters or King Arthur (it wouldn't be far fetched for a multiverse time cop thing), then talk to Chaosium directly about it. It would, like, literally take one sentence. However, if these elements are in your core game, just use another license.

Edited by lordabdul

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I just took another look at the Mythras Gateway license and noticed that the BRP license is actually quite similar in some regards - I think them main problem and the reason for most of the discussions is that the BRP license doesn't state its intent as clearly.

Mythras Gateway practically tells you: You can reproduce the abbreviated (but fully functional) version of our rules in your publication; and you can reference official material - but whatever you do, you have to ask us first. We don't want a share in the profits, we just want to have some control over what's out there under the Mythras brand.

That is not an open license, and it doesn't call itself one; and all in all, it is a fair and even generous arrangement. As someone who wants to publish for Mythras, you know from the get-go you'll have to stay in contact with the Mythras publishers about what you are doing.

 

The BRP OGL says: You can use the abbreviated (not quite fully functional) rules from our SRD in your publication; you cannot reference or reproduce other official material (though I'm not quite clear on that), but you can create your own subsystems, as long as they don't stray to close to our systems for Sanity and Passion, because we consider those a signifant part of the product identity of CoC/Glorantha. We might be okay with something similar you create, or we might not be okay with it. Please ster clear of certain subject matters like the Cthulhu mythos or King Arthur, because these are also a core part of the product identity of some of our games. The limits are fuzzy, please ask us in case of doubt. We don't want a share in the profits, we just want to have some control over what's out there under the BRP brand.

Now, the whole middle part is basically saying: Whatever you do, please ask us whether we consider it okay and in the spirit of our OGL.

Which is an absolutely legitimate arrangement, but it just should be stated as such.

The way things are worded now, you open up the door to situations like this: Someone comes up with an idea for his own horror rpg based on some other take on cosmic horror, for example based on the works by Laird Barron or Thomas Ligotti, who have created their own mythologies that are in no way part of the Cthulhu Mythos (although I think Ligotti might have been adapted into the Cthulhu myth by other autors). He creates an alternate Sanity system for it. Chaosium looks at the pitch and feels that it doesn't infringe on anything they'd consider barred, so they give their okay. A year later, after a lot of hard work, the game is ready for publication. Chaosium takes another look at it and now feels that it strays much too close to CoC after all. What now? This is a scenario where all parties may have acted in good faith and simply followed different interpretations of what is stated in the OGL and what was communicated in the original pitch.

Or even simpler: Reading the OGL, an aspiring author feels that he or she can safely create a King in Yellow RPG (like the excellent recent Gumshoe game by Robin D. Laws, by the way ...), since the Carcosa Mythology was only later (and quite artificially, despite some vague references that Lovecraft dropped for the fun of it) integrated into the Cthulhu Mythos. However, we already heard that chaosium considers everything King in Yellow off limits in conjunction with its OGL.

Now, if the license simply said: "Whatever you do, it is subject to our approval", it would be clear for everyone that you need to stay in contact with chaosium throughout your development process and be ready to make the required adjustments, whatever it is that you want to do.

The way it is now, it looks as if Chaosium wants an OGL, but still wants to keep the door open to veto publications based on criteria that are very open to interpretation. This is significantly different from most other OGLs, which state clearly what parts of the publishers IP you can use; and you can than freely combine these parts with everything that is not protected by that publishers (or anyone else's) copyright. The publishers have decided to live with the risk that people will create material that strays close to their turf; they decided that it's wort it. If you feel different, that's okay, but it's problematic to call your license an OGL then.

The BRP OGL creates insecurity. Just saying: "We retain the right to veto whatever you want to do; however, you can expect us to want you to succeed with your project, and we'll try to support you by answering your question" would be clearer, and, to my mind, actually more inviting.

Edited by Jakob
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8 hours ago, lordabdul said:

An open license has never been about "anything goes". Some licenses are more or less restrictive (the WotC OGL also has a few restrictions for instance). The BRP one is what it is.

The BRP OGL is currently on version 1.0.2, so it's not set in stone.  We raised the issue about Clause 10's ambiguity about maximum revision, and Chaosium clarified it here that it was 30% or more of the total word count and updated the license accordingly.  (The question about whether this covers open content/legal information or only original content—a not inconsiderable issue for shorter works—remains open.)  Chaosium has demonstrated that it's prepared to work with the community to improve the license.

 

8 hours ago, lordabdul said:

So instead, how about this: if you have any doubts about your game idea, you have 2 options:

  1. You ask Chaosium directly about it (by showing them what you want to do, not in a roundabout way by talking about a dozen hypotheticals)
  2. You just go with another SRD and OGL to be safe... are you really that married to BRP? (as opposed to any D100 system?)

If it's option 1, then you're in effect negotiating permissions, and you'll need new contractual language for your project if Chaosium gives you their consent to go ahead.  Anything else leaves you legally exposed.

For option 2, well, my initial (Twitter) reaction to the news of a BRP SRD was unqualified enthusiasm.  As I've said, BRP is my favorite rules system, and I've been looking forward to the SRD for quite some time.  Admittedly, after reading the fine print and discussing it here, I now have reservations about the BRP OGL's current state.  Having taken a public stance, though, I'd like to see it through.

 

8 hours ago, lordabdul said:

But in reality, I think you are either (1) overthinking this, or (2) trying to sneak something past Chaosium. I don't imagine you're trying to do a reskinned Call of Cthulhu ("you investigate Eldritch-related mysteries, but on Mars! And you can play aliens!"), so I assume it's (1). If, for example, you're trying to do a "multiverse time cops" pulp adventure game and you want the option, in the future, to release an adventure book featuring Mythos monsters or King Arthur (it wouldn't be far fetched for a multiverse time cop thing), then talk to Chaosium directly about it. It would, like, literally take one sentence. However, if these elements are in your core game, just use another license.

Sadly, there's no easy middle ground between overthinking a contract and underthinking one—and it's always safer in business to go for the former.

Let's take your sci-fi game idea of Eldritch Mysteries on Mars! (which sounds pretty fun).  "Eldritch" is a 16th-century adjective meaning "eerie", not a unique coinage by HPL, so the title is not a problem.  As long as your aeons-old alien overbeings were original creations and not reskins of Cthulhu Mythos entities such as, say, CAS's Vulthoom, that should be fine.  You could take the adventurer aspect from the public domain fictional character Gullivar Jones by Edwin Lester Arnold (who influenced Edgar Rice Burroughs's character John Carter—which is not public domain).  For the antagonists, you could use H.G. Wells's Martians from The War of the Worlds, which is public domain (finally).

The only complication, however, is that Wells's Martians appear in Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu supplements Cthulhu by Gaslight and The Malleus Monstrorum.  Thankfully, @Rick Meints has clarified that they're OK to use as long as you don't copy-paste Chaosium's work in your own adaption of them.  The obstacle here is that this is not reflected in Clause 1(e)'s language, which could be cited to revoke the project's license. I doubt the current Chaosium management would do such a thing, but in the BRP OGL's current form, a future one could easily.  Moreover, such issues could potentially arise across all the product lines and literary works enumerated in Clause 1(e).  That's the kind of legal loophole that absolutely needs to be closed before embarking on a licensed project.

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On 4/24/2020 at 6:55 PM, lordabdul said:

... "you investigate Eldritch-related mysteries, but on Mars! And you can play aliens!"...

 

Cthulhu X Barsoom

What could be a more uncomplicated IP ... ?

 

(but frankly, that sounds pretty F'ing awesome!)

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On 4/14/2020 at 4:40 PM, craigm said:

And this is what I was saying earlier about this license. Instead of clarifying everything up-front you've now committed to answering these sorts of questions for folks.

Only if they are actually pitching a real, credible proposal for a publication. If you’re just idly speculating and have no intention of actually writing anything, I don’t see why anyone at Chaosium needs to concern themselves.

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53 minutes ago, simonh said:

Only if they are actually pitching a real, credible proposal for a publication. If you’re just idly speculating and have no intention of actually writing anything, I don’t see why anyone at Chaosium needs to concern themselves.

With an open license, there should be no need to pitch anything for approval, nor need for any of this sort of discussion. It should by clear from the license text itself what is or is not permitted.

 

 

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On 5/25/2020 at 4:03 PM, JonL said:

With an open license, there should be no need to pitch anything for approval, nor need for any of this sort of discussion. It should by clear from the license text itself what is or is not permitted.

It needs to be clear to people who are serious about publishing a game.

That might come across as being glib, but it really isn’t. There’s a whole world of difference between the considerations and trade offs involved in actually planning to publish a viable product, including thinking through what kind of concept is worthwhile to commit that kind of effort to, and Just thinking up a hypothetical edge case example.

Edited by simonh

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4 hours ago, simonh said:

It needs to be clear to people who are serious about publishing a game.

That might come across as being glib, but it really isn’t. There’s a whole world of difference between the considerations and trade offs involved in actually planning to publish a viable product, including thinking through what kind of concept is worthwhile to commit that kind of effort to, and Just thinking up a hypothetical edge case example.

Those kinds of considerations and tradeoffs are expected in a regular contractual license between parties and take a lot of negotiation to avoid problems for the final product.  An open license, however, must be transparent in its terms in order that the licensing party does not have to engage in any further deliberations, vide, say, Creative Commons, GPL, or WotC's OGL.  As such, it should eliminate any ambiguity, obscurity, or "known unknowns" (which is good contract law practice in the first place).  Whether the potential licensees out there are professionals, amateur hobbyists, or just dabblers is immaterial.  They should all be able to put their confidence in an open license as it is written rather than risk being told later that their project is not in compliance because it contravenes an unclear clause or unwritten rule, especially if they've already put work into researching it or, worse, begun writing it up.

Edited by Travern
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5 hours ago, simonh said:

It needs to be clear to people who are serious about publishing a game

What level of commitment is required before one gets to learn the secret of "appearing in vs originating in" re all the real world proper nouns in four decades worth of CoC books?  

Does someone seriously need to write a monograph adventure about a high-school road trip in the 90's to get confirmation as to whether or not "Ford Escort" is prohibited content because it's a trademark and proper name on the equipment list in CoC 5th?

Edited by JonL
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On 5/25/2020 at 10:03 AM, simonh said:

Only if they are actually pitching a real, credible proposal for a publication. If you’re just idly speculating and have no intention of actually writing anything, I don’t see why anyone at Chaosium needs to concern themselves.

Honestly I'm busy working with other open systems at this point, so my interest in writing anything for BRP has cooled considerably since the announcement. I'm still taking a wait-and-see approach.

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16 hours ago, JonL said:

What level of commitment is required before one gets to learn the secret of "appearing in vs originating in" re all the real world proper nouns in four decades worth of CoC books?  

Does someone seriously need to write a monograph adventure about a high-school road trip in the 90's to get confirmation as to whether or not "Ford Escort" is prohibited content because it's a trademark and proper name on the equipment list in CoC 5th?

It isn't as simple as that, however.  Note that most of the "Prohibited Content" of the Cthulhu Mythos doesn't "originate in" Chaosium products.  An over-general statement here could explicitly undermine the key prohibition.

I'm certain Chaosium has no interest in making "Ford Escort" into Prohibited Content.  It's not even a relevant point to bring up, frankly:  it's too absurd a case, too distant from the core issue.

I agree this issue needs some further refinement.  I don't think producing the language will be trivially easy.

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On 6/29/2020 at 3:40 AM, smiorgan said:

Good to see people doing something with this license!  I really look forward to this.

It's now out:

 

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