A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

3Apr/11Off

Gamma World and the Great Legal Unknown

I have recently completed a Gamma World "delve" (5 encounters) tentatively titled Fire From the Sky, and am considering making arrangements as far as distribution.

Part of me wants to send it to Wizards of the Coast for possible publication in Dragon or Dungeon, not because of the money but because it would be a rather cool experience to see something with my name on it appear in a WotC publication (I use the term "publication" loosely). But I'm hesitant in doing this because they kind of demand exclusivity; it will be released once, and only once, and I will get only one paycheck as a result (and, by my calculations, it's not that big of a paycheck either: six cents a word, I believe). They will "own" it from then on, and I will be relegated to simply saying "yeah, I wrote that"... which is rather cool in its own way, but still.

The other option I'm considering is a non-exclusive distribution through DriveThruRPG, throwing it up there for a buck or two in the same fashion as many other people have already done. But before I do this, there's one obstacle to overcome: the 4e GSL.

You see, when you want to publish D&D 4e content, the rules are pretty cut and dry if you follow the Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Game System License. This consists of a few things:

  1. Filling out and sending them the "Statement of Acceptance", agreeing to abide by their publication guidelines.
  2. Include some legal text in the publication, with very specific size and positioning requirements (see sections 5.2 and 5.3 of the Game System License document).
  3. Follow all the rules of the 4e System Reference Document, which details what source material you can and cannot use (for example, I cannot republish a monster stat block from any monster in any core manual; essentially I can only say "see Monster Manual") as well as guidelines for the presentation of new material.
  4. Include the GSL Logo.

But the problem is that all the above relates specifically to the Dungeons and Dragons mechanic. What about Gamma World?

If you look at the above logo, you will see the following text:

Requires the use of the D&D Player’s HandbookMonster Manual,® and Dungeon Master’s Guide® Player’s Handbook® 2, Monster Manual® 2, Adventurer’s Vault™ core rulebooks, available from Wizards of the Coast, LLC

Unless players are expected to buy all these books in order to play Gamma World, that obviously doesn't apply.

I asked Wizards of the Coast (through their support site) about the existence of a Gamma World SRD, and this is the first response I got:

Thanks for the question! The Game System License applies to any d20 system. This does include Gamma World. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide any more information on the GSL than what appears on the relevant website here: http://www.wizards.com/d20.

After I tried to explain that the text and logo they are expecting me to include doesn't apparently apply to Gamma World, I got this:

If you are in need of further assistance on this matter you would need to contact our legal team at the below address.

Wizards of the Coast
Attn: Legal
PO Box 707
Renton, WA 98057-0707

Uh... OK then. No email address? As usual, lawyers make us sometimes feel like we're in the Stone Age.

Another reason for this confusion is that the Gamma World Rulebook not only has the "D&D" logo on the front and back covers but, throughout the book, the game is explicitly referred to as "D&D Gamma World". So is it D&D or not? The mechanic stands alone, and one doesn't need any of the D&D core rulebooks in order to run a game (they certainly help in terms of experience, but they're not a requirement).

So, despite it being done, I can't publish the module yet. Putting all the above on the 2nd page of the module just to comply legally doesn't feel right when I know that the content they're asking me to put in simply doesn't apply.

Does this mean that I'm not authorized to publish Gamma World content at all? Am I spinning my wheels here, borderline oblivious to the fact that I'm not supposed to be doing what I do?

The first draft of Fire From the Sky is complete and is in the hands of an "elite few" that are proofreading it and making sure I didn't do something horribly wrong with the Gamma World mechanic. Once they give it their blessing and I can resolve some of the questions posted above, it will be unleashed upon the masses.

If the legal ramifications continue to be unclear, I might end up submitting it to WotC just to avoid any problems. If they accept it, yay! If not, at least some time will go by while I sort all this out.

We'll see how things go. But I promise you'll get it sooner or later.

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