Monday, August 25, 2014

Game Mechanics Metamorphosis Alpha

So following my post about how I am not a big fan of the OGL (even though I do think it is a step in the right direction). I got to thinking about how I (or we) could do something about it.

Basically, what the Industry could use is a license that supersedes the OGL and spells out in very exact terms how the law works. What I mean by that is, the license is really not necessary in the eyes of the law, but the license would spell out in no uncertain terms that it would be perfectly acceptable to follow the law and no "big bad company" is going to come down and sue you.

Well, WotC wrote the OGL, and now they seem to be going down a very different path (but time will tell, who knows? Maybe they will announce an uber awesome license for 3rd party publishers later in the year).

Still, I got to wondering how could anyone get the one up on the OGL? And that got me to wondering about Metamorphosis Alpha. If you haven't heard, James Ward owns the rights to Metamorphosis Alpha. He still sells the original rules online. You should really head on over to and buy a copy of the pdf.

If there is any game that proves how ludicrous the OGL is, it is Metamorphosis Alpha. Here is a game that has Strength, Constitution ability scores that you roll with 3d6. Uses Armor Class, Hit Dice, Daggers, Swords, Crossbows.

And came out in 1976.

And here is what Gary Gygax penned in the foward to the rules.
Readers familiar with TSR's DUNGEONS & DRAGONS will immediately recognize many similarities between the two game systems, and they will just as quickly note the numerous important differences which make METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA a similar but outstandingly different sort of contest.

What I would propose, if I had any sort of clout with anyone (sigh), is James Ward should start a kickstarter so that James Ward could make $100,000 bucks for releasing the rules (the game mechanics) as Creative Commons (or something at least better than the OGL), and every OGL publisher should promote it because it would be better for the industry as a whole.

And finally, someone who actually makes creative content, someone like James Ward who worked for decades producing games would get a financial reward instead of some giant corporation that peddles brand awareness.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Not a Fan of the OGL

A while back, I got into a discussion with a friend of mine about licensing, specifically the OGL. He asked what it was that I don't like about the license, and I found it difficult to articulate the exact reason at the time. I think part of the trouble I have in discussing the matter is that I think having an open license for game content is a great idea, I just think the OGL does a poor job.

I feel a lot of OGL publishers probably use the license more out of "fear of getting sued" than any sort of noble cause like "game content should be shared in a open license" kind of way.

See, I think one of the big issues in the industry is trying to navigate what exactly is protected by law when one publishes a game. You can head over to the U.S. copyright website and read up on games and copyrights and get the impression that its okay to write your own retro clone without any sort of permission.

But the problem is, anyone can drag you to court, and for an average citizen that is prohibitively time consuming and expensive. So do you really want to risk spending your days at court, wrestling with legalese, against a giant company that has nearly bottomless wealth to throw at you in court?

With that in mind, the OGL starts to look like a better proposition.

I just find it a shame that it didn't just spell out what is currently law in a more clear and concise way.

It could have said,
Game mechanics are free to do what you want with (just like copyright law says)
Descriptive prose is the property of who authored them (just like copyright law says)
If the author wishes to allow the descriptive prose to be reused by others, they can denote what parts are free for reuse.

Instead it delves into arcane terminology, and mentions things that basically take away rights you would normally already have.

I could go on about various parts of the license, but I want to just focus in on one problem that plagues most OGL products I look at. Specifically part 8.

8. IDENTIFICATION: If you distribute Open Game
Content You must clearly indicate which portions
of the work that you are distributing are Open
Game Content.

It is just a crap shoot how well a publisher has applied this to their product. What is a publisher going to do? Mark every piece of content with a big OGL "open content" sticker next to it that they want open up for others to use?

If I look at a couple of OGL products I have it is just a mess.

Look at the back of Iron Heroes (or flip through the whole thing for that matter). Can you tell what is product identity and what isn't? What is open content and what isn't? Well, it doesn't clearly say, so it must all be Product Identity! Except it can't be because it must have reference the original WotC SRD? Didn't it?

Or go grab the free to download Grindhouse edition of Lamentation of the Flame Princess. Look at the last text at the bottom of the last page.

Designation of Open Game Content: All contents of the Rules and Magic book (except where noted in
Product Identity)

The sentiment there is great! But man, "All contents". Is that true? How do I know that Raggi didn't copy something that wasn't in the original SRD. Maybe he slipped in a Drizz't (tm) or a Mindflayer (tm) reference without realizing it.

Lets go and read the back of OSRIC. The good bits are always on the bottom of the last page.

Chapters I, II and III of this work are Open Game Content. Chapters IV, V and
VI are Product Identity to the extent permitted under the OGL and to the ex-
tent such material is subject to copyright, except for any text language derived
from the SRD or the Tome of Horrors, which is Open Game Content.

Well, doesn't that sound like a joy to try and figure out.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Avengers and Top Secret

Somewhere, in the dim recesses of my memory, I know that I would watch reruns of a an old 60s show called "The Avengers". I believe it was before I even played my first game of Dungeons & Dragons so I was quite young. Many years later, the series was replayed again on the A&E network. I find something fascinating about the show, although I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone.

For anyone who owned the TSR Top Secret game by Merle Rasmussen, there was an illustration in the pages that is instantly recognizable as Emma Peel from the show.

I had a conversation with an older aunt of mine, she recalled how the character (Emma Peel) from the show really represented something empowering to women to her. Here was a woman who could fight (she knew martial arts), was very intelligent (she was a scientist), and did not need to be rescued (in fact, she often rescued Steed instead).

When I got Merle Rasmussen's TSR Top Secret box set, I always played it as I believed the default setting was written: US vs. USSR during the Cold War, with spies competing against each other in Europe, specifically Germany.

But looking back on it now, I think it would have been cool to run a spy game more in the vein of "The Avengers". If you have never seen the show, it had a lot of technology featured in the shows. The bad guys were usually employing some techno-magic like device to accomplish their sinister deeds.

One episode featured the duo of Emma Peel and John Steed squaring off against a robot, another has a town where agents of the Ministry are disappearing, but the town is deserted. There is an episode with a device that allows the villains to swap their minds with others.

Guns are used in the show, but it is rarely a shoot out. Most fights are hand to hand combat where Emma Peel can demonstrate her martial arts skills.

But most of the show involves investigation to figure out what the villain is up to; following clues, having conversations with the locals, asking the right questions. Perhaps it would be a perfect fit for the GUMSHOE system.