Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Proposal: Using OGL-friendly elements and crediting them

Edit: So it's come to my attention that what I propose may not necessarily be allowed due to Section 7 of the OGL from a commentor on Facebook:

slams heavily into Section 7, regarding Product Identity. Unless otherwise granted by another license (such as the Pathfinder Compatibility License) the OGL doesn't grant you permission to use the names of reference content. 

Section 11 says you're not allowed to "market or advertise the Open Game Content using the name of any Contributor unless You have written permission from the Contributor to do so".

IOW, by the OGL what you propose isn't allowed. I've seen discussion that normal IP rules still let you do exactly what you're suggesting and that the OGL doesn't give you anything anyway... but I've not seen it tested and don't have an opinion.

I agree with XXXXX; by the OGL, what you suggest is specifically not allowed. In order to do that, a publisher would have to get permission from each company whose product would be mentioned in that way.

I'll give the OGL a closer read once I have the time, and if possible consult with any legal experts on an ideal way to do this.

So an interesting thing as a self-publisher is that most D20 and OSR sourcebooks have an explanation detailing what parts are Product Identity, and what parts are Open Game Content.  In many cases game mechanics and rules fall under the latter category, but in some instances there are books with no Open Game Content at all or ones which designate all text in the work as such.  It's legal to use another's Open Gaming stuff in your own work, and the most notable examples are third party publishers borrowing from Wizards of the Coast or Paizo sourcebooks.

However, I've noticed that there's quite a few third party sourcebooks with a lot of useful Open Gaming Content.  Take for example the CC1 Creature Compendium, a huge tome full of new monsters for 1E and Basic style games.  From the Open Game License in the back, you can see that the product is very OGC-friendly:

This entire work is designated as Open Game Content under the OGL, with the exceptions of the trademark “Old School Adventures,” and “New Big Dragon Games Unlimited,” and with the exception of all artwork  not already in the public domain. These trademarks, the artwork and the “trade dress” (fonts, layout, style of artwork, etc., including all charts and graphs) of this work are reserved as Product Identity.

Products like this are a great boon when one wishes to borrow elements to incorporate into their own works.  And many OSR sourcebooks I've read are similarly lenient in this regard.  However, third party publishers who use other people's third party content aren't necessarily obliged to tell folk point-blank what elements are their own and which they took from other books.  Simply putting the titles and authors of the books you used in the OGL in the back of your product is often enough.  I see this commonly with Frog God Game's Tome of Horrors, where monster stat blocks copied from them have been put into countless sourcebooks.  Or 1,001 Spells which incorporated many spells from other sources as well as ones of the author's own creation.

While the Tome of Horrors is a very well-known and regarded product, most third party OSR and Pathfinder companies are not so prominent.  Compounding this is that many gamers don't flip back to the OGL to see which ideas came from which books.  So this gave me an idea on shining the spotlight on your peers' content: a "Third Party Credits" page.

Generally speaking, if you use a class, monster, spell, feat, etc from certain third party products, you should put near the front of your book a list of said products and the things you borrowed (in addition to the listing of the product title and authors in the OGL in back, of course).  That way, if a reader really liked a certain element which was originally created by another, they can check out the original source and potentially other works of theirs.  You gain something by using another's Open Gaming material to enhance your own work, and you point potential new fans their way.  It's win-win.

Granted, this might not be ideal for all products, such as doing a massive class compendium where individually listing elements and their parent books would take up a lot of pages.  In this case you might want to list the names of the books you used, and throw out specifics if one or more of their elements were particularly important in the creation of your product.

While it might sound like common courtesy, this isn't something I've seen often in third party publishers except some OSR books crediting their parent system (like a Labyrinth Lord-compatible adventure thanking Goblinoid Games and original creators like Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer).  I think that if more self-publishers did this, it would be a boon for all of us, and for that reason I plan on having Third Party Credits pages in my works from here on out.