Tuesday 28 October 2008

Licenses and free fantasy resources from Crooked Staff

This is a entry of two halves. Firstly, I'll be having a brief look into game licenses and what they mean for you the gamer and you, the game designer. Secondly, I'll be reviewing some smashingly good fantasy downloads from Crooked Staff Productions: dungeon building blocks, and some D&D mini adventures.

Gaming Licenses

When you wrangle an RPG off the world wide web onto your semiconductor driven calculating device, chances are it's going to have copyright or license information attached to it somewhere. If you've parted with dearly beloved cold cash for your Portable Document Format roleplaying game, I am willing to bet a small subset of my wife's shoe collection that it will have copyright on it. It's easy to understand for paid games: I made this. Download and print for your own use but make money from it and I'll come after you with a fire axe, bottle of cheap blended whiskey and a box of safety matches.

For free games, the distinction is blurred as there are more options open to the philanthropist. The options are both broad and numerous and are worth knowing especially if you intend on extending the free system for your own ends. Here are the main different types I've found in use.


"It's mine. Download it and play it but the game itself is mine. All mine."
Free copyrighted games work in the same way as paid-for copyrighted games. You can download them and play them to your heart's content but the copyright still remains with the original owner. You can't extend it or use any of it without the author's permission and so on. It follows the usual copyright laws. You normally find this when the game, setting or supporting material is likely to be required for something else.

Open Gaming License

"Some of this is mine. You can't have that. Some of it is free. You can have that. Read this document to find out..."
The Open Gaming License (OGL) allows the author to separate things they want to share and things they don't under a single license. For example, you might want the system to be open and free to modify but not any of the branding or imagery. The OGL was created by Wizards of the Coast in 2000 to allow them to separate the mechanics of their d20 system from the copyrighted D&D material. For each game, there is a standard document listing the Open Game Content (the free stuff) and Product Identity (copyrighted stuff). If you're looking to extend an existing free game, be a bit careful with OGL games because the great idea you've had for a sourcebook might breach the copyright of the Product Identity.
Edit, I got this a little wrong. Thanks to Ricardo for setting me straight in the comments:
Product Identity (PI) is actually a form of super-trademark, as opposed to copyright. That is, it allows you to protect certain terms, as well as other concepts and ideas (not normally covered by trademark or copyright). In an OGL work there are typically four types of protection: traditional copyright, OGC, trademarks and PI.

Example: Fudge.

GNU Public License (GPL) / GNU Free Documentation License (FDL)

"It's really free! Change it! Keep it free! Hug trees! Cycle to work! Vote Democrat! etc."
These two licenses go hand in hand. The first was intended for software (dates back to 1991) and the second is newer and is used for documentation. It says that you can modify, update, copy or change the original in any way as long as you make the result free too. You can make a commercial version of it but over 100 copies, you need to make the source free. FDL licensed documents can contain 'Invariant Sections', which are things you're not allowed to change. Without that, it's the same as the GPL.
Examples: Yags (GPL) and Jags (FDL).

If you're not asleep by now and you're salivating at the thought of the legalities of free gaming, then check out Ricardo Gladwell's description of the different licenses over on Free Roleplay.org.

Crooked Staff Productions

Aimed mostly at Dungeons and Dragons, the free Crooked Staff Productions (Kristian Richards) has a clutch of delightful free material including maps and adventures. The dungeon maps come in colour and black and white depending on the flavour of printing. The tiles are beautifully produced and are avialable in a free downloadable PDF, which certainly makes the print a lot easier. Kristian also provides some instruction on how to get the best from the print. A series of foldable items for the dungeons are provided too, with doors and the like. The standard of the graphics is very high. I would imagine they would do just the job for any fantasy adventure, rather than D&D alone.

Kristian also provides five D&D adventure-ettes. These are little sections of adventure that you could easily (and I mean easily) plug straight into your campaign. The titles of the adventure-ettes give themselves away: a simple lair, a typical tomb and so on. Each adventure-ette is a two column PDF with everything you need for the adventure-ette including maps and descriptions to read to the players. A crutch I know some GMs really appreciate. They are easy to read and although not massively original in content, they do their job with aplomb. They are aimed at lower levels but have a guide to levelling the encounters up. If you need some spice on the spur of the moment, these will do just the trick. A delight that I wish someone (please, don't point at me) would do for Science Fiction. Thanks for sharing, Kristian!


Michael said...

I also like the idea of Creative Commons license. I like the idea of "some rights reserved" rather than "no/all rights reserved."

I'm waiting to see what the Creative Commons 3.0 version looks like.

Ricardo said...

Rob: Again, thanks for the shout out for the Free RPG Community, we appreciate it. Again, I'm going to play the pedant but here are some notes:

Product Identity (PI) is actually a form of super-trademark, as opposed to copyright. That is, it allows you to protect certain terms, as well as other concepts and ideas (not normally covered by trademark or copyright). In an OGL work there are typically four types of protection: traditional copyright, OGC, trademarks and PI.

Lastly, free software/documentation (GPL/GFDL) doesn't automatically equate with Democrat support :)

madbrewlabs: I believe the 3.0 versions of the CC licenses are out now, although the jury is still out as to whether they are free or not.

Rob Lang said...

@madbrewlabs: the best place to keep up with those developments is on the Free RPG Community.

@Ricardo: Many thanks again. You're demonstrating the benefit of having a community of us free creators, we can offer friendly and informed advice. I have updated the post to include your comment as a quote for those scared of reading comments!