7 months ago ::
Dec 08, 2012 - 10:19PM
On the subject of clones:
1) You don't have to change a lot of names. WotC doesn't own terms like d20, strength, dexterity, fighter, feat, etc.
2) By US IP law, once you publish a set of game rules, you essentially lose control over them. The rules aren't copyrighted so nothing prevents someone from developing a similar game.
3) This does not mean you get to do a direct copy and paste of everything in the rulebook. But if you are willing to take the time to rewrite it, or if you find relevant text blocks that are OGL, you could use the same rules framework.
4) Definitely don't copy flavor text, artwork, etc. Basically if it's not mechanical stuff, leave it alone.
5) The OGL and GSL are licenses. You can choose to use them or not. Obviously if you use them it eliminates a lot of question as to whether or not your product is legal, but particularly in the case of the GSL you will find that you are more limited than what you could legally produce without a license.
6) The OGL and GSL are not rules structures, they are licenses. If you use the OGL, nothing prevents you from using terms or structure outside the d20 system. So there is no reason you could not introduce powers into an OGL game.
*I'm not a lawyer, but these are my impressions after doing a lot of reading through US law as well as some well-written articles by someone who is an IP lawyer.
It is FAR from clear where the boundaries are. I mean you're correct AFAIK. The problem is there's no clean breakpoint between rules and presentation. Is a monster stat block format something that can be copywrited, or perhaps have a design patent on it? How about a power? How about the IDEA of using powers in an RPG? Where exactly is the boundary? Can you really MEANINGFULLY clone 4e? Are you willing to spend the $100's of K to find out? Obviously you can make any totally non-commercial thing you want and being sued probably means little if you just slide it out there on the net and let people circulate it, but hardly anyone will ever see it. What if you go further? What if you give it away on one of the gaming sites, what happens then? At a certain point someone can, and may, toss a C&D at you. You wouldn't be the first. Cost you a good chunk of change, more than you'd EVER make off it, just to show your face in court and say you want to argue about it. You'll just loose by default, and the court enforces orders. You don't want to mess with that.
This is why 4e clones are a non-starter. Sure, there WILL be some one-man toss it out there jobs. A few might even be half decent, but there'll never be a real supported alternative 4e clone system. I don't even really see why there should be, 4e doesn't need new books, it needs better adventures and settings. Put your energy into that, you can CLEARLY put that stuff out under GSL (IE with a 4e compatible logo) or with OGL without one. Don't waste your times on rehashing the rules...
That is not dead which may eternal lie