Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Impossible Task.

With The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra out and in stores, and Fantasy Fucking Vietnam having been crapped out, it's time to really settle on the next serious project. Insect Shrine is in the hands of the artist, so that's not something I can actively move towards completion myself. The State of the LotFP Union post had some ideas about where next to conquer, but my mind is swirling in other directions.

The Spell Comparisons post wasn't just done because I was bored. There are two things happening there. Number one, the "simulacra" are absolutely horrible at being publishing aids and guides. That's not their focus (especially now that OSRIC 2 is out). They're complete games, real D&D but with new branding (as opposed to fake D&D with the old branding). There isn't a comprehensive publishing guide that breaks down what terms and spells and monsters are OK for you to use in your own publishing. The 4th Edition SRD is absolutely the format that an oldschool "publishing guide" should take, and it can even be broken down by edition (of course not by name, even saying "Holmes" or "Moldvay" as identifiers may or may not be too much, but saying "1974" and "1977" and "1981" and "1983" would certainly work), and then published using just the OGL as being for "First Edition" or whatever. You still can't name the game you're actually publishing for if you're using the OGL, but you can write what you mean in the meat of your product with the OGL, without muddling the "brand" waters.

We know the score, but I really wonder if the gamer on the street knows what an OSRIC or a Labyrinth Lord are and what their relationship to each other and old D&D might be. But if you publish something just for "First Edition of the Leading Fantasy RPG" or whatever (hopefully something a little more elegant than that!), there is no confusion.

Not that this is a condemnation or criticism of the simulacra as
games. I run BFRPG myself, and that's a complete Frankenstein's monster of mixed up D&Disms. But as publishing guides? Fail! Fail! That's not what they're formatted to do! The products themselves mention it's allowed but don't show how. It's just "It's possible! Go do it!" And some enterprising individuals have, but there is still a lot of confusion about how it all works and I'm willing to bet there are a lot of creative people and good writers out there that would be contributing if some of these things would just show them explicitly how.

Maybe they could have separate "publisher guide" documents with the 4e SRD formatting. When publishing your own product, you just need the terms, not the details or the rules or the explanations. In fact, most of these terms are so standardized that it's just the spell descriptions that require the OGL. Hit Points, Armor Class, and many other terms became widespread in the gaming industry (look to the computer games of the 80s for many examples as well!). Monsters are easy to get around (mainly by not naming them!). I mean, there are probably a hundred ways to put a beholder (for one example) in a module without calling it a beholder or violating a copyright or the OGL - look how BFRPG has close-but-not-quite Carrion Crawlers and Displacer Beasts!

But it's the specific spell names that are difficult to identify in a precise manner this way. If you have a high level spellcaster in your product, you need to list the spells plainly without a lot of malarkey... otherwise, the spell listing is just going to be
pure compacted malarkey as you duck and dodge copyrights and such over one guy's stats. And thus, my little comparison spreadsheet as a start.

The other reason I did that is because I am beginning serious work on The Treatise of Ensorcelled and Occult Primeval Accoutrements for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games And Their Modern Simulacra, and organizing my work really does seem like an impossible task. How to create a random magic item generator in a way that's truly open-ended, putting the different elements of a magic item together much like the creature generator did for monsters, and yet not a complete unusable mess?

I thought a good second step (the first step was making a master list of physical forms the items could take) was to list out the spells and effects for all the versions of the game with which it would be used. See where things could be simplified (Control [Thing], Anti-[Thing] Shell, Resist [Form], that sort of deal) and and get an idea whether each magical item form should have its own unique list (with a compiled section at the end listing all effects) or whether there should be one Magical Effect List and each individual section merely offering guidelines on how they tailor each effect (a ring would probably operate differently than a magic rubber ducky, even with the same effect). I'll also be going through my HERO System books for inspiration... thank you UNTIL Superpowers Databases! And all those power advantages and disadvantages... that's like crack for the imagination.

So that's where I am with that right now. Hopefully in several months you'll all be making rolls and coming up with magical paintings that trap any viewer inside them and then fireball the shit out of them, but luckily you've got fingernail polish of switching places (in cases of entrapment) so it's actually the PC to your left that gets sucked in...

... and you'll never have to look at a Sword +1 again in your life.


  1. You still can't name the game you're actually publishing for if you're using the OGL

    Is this something stated in the OGL or are you talking about Copyright or Trademark law?

    In the US we have the Lanham Act which permits a non-owner of a registered trademark to make fair use or nominative use of a trademark under certain circumstances, such as description and identification. Which certainly looks like it fits the bill.

  2. 7. Use of Product Identity: You agree not to Use any Product Identity, including as an indication as to compatibility, except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of each element of that Product Identity. You agree not to indicate compatibility or co-adaptability with any Trademark or Registered Trademark in conjunction with a work containing Open Game Content except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of such Trademark or Registered Trademark. The use of any Product Identity in Open Game Content does not constitute a challenge to the ownership of that Product Identity. The owner of any Product Identity used in Open Game Content shall retain all rights, title and interest in and to that Product Identity.

    As I understand it, this clause of the OGL means you're giving up your ability to say "Compatible with..." unless you have explicit permission to do so.

  3. Thanks for the clarification!

    It makes me wonder if you could just fair use the whole thing.

  4. I bet you could, but if you're using so many specific monsters and spells and other terms, it's probably easier to just go OGL, use all the terms, and not worry about it.

    I think there's a reason the OGL became so widespread, and I don't think that reason is simple fear of litigation or ignorance of one's rights.

  5. I will buy your magic item generator the very day that it's released. If it's half as good as your monster generator, it will be money well spent.

    When I was considering all my options for CARCOSA publication, I jettisoned the idea of using the OGL in any way, shape, or form. I simply was not sure if I could do X, Y, or Z in an OGL product. Plenty of people told me to "ask a lawyer", but for little niche products like we're all publishing, that makes no sense. Paying the lawyers would cost more money than we would make selling the product.

    So I decided to just do my own thing with CARCOSA and not use any license whatsoever. It was simpler for me than navigating the twists and turns of the OGL.

  6. Great idea, Jim! The "Artifacts & Relics" tables were always my favorite innovation in Eldritch Wizardry.

    One approach might be simply to describe the effects in "real world" (meaning the game's imagined world) terms. Less interesting stuff such as +/- to hit/damage/be hit/etc. can use conventional jargon.