Chad Perrin: SOB

6 March 2009

Community License Death Match: PRPG vs. 4E

Filed under: Geek,Liberty,RPG — Tags: , , — apotheon @ 10:14

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

In the following summary of events, I will ignore the (atrocious) GSL — WotC’s D&D 4E “Game System License”, which replaces the much better D&D 3.5 OGL. This is about use licenses that lay out terms for fan sites to benefit from protection against otherwise potential copyright infringement suits.

What Happened?
  1. WotC announced it was going to produce a D&D 4E.

  2. Paizo announced it was going to produce Pathfinder RPG as a continuation of the rules found in the 3.5 SRD.

  3. PRPG test versions were released under the OGL (other than product identity, et cetera) as free downloads.

  4. D&D 4E was released.

  5. Complaints about the lack of an available Web community use license, thus leaving fan Websites that refer to D&D 4E in an uncomfortable legal limbo where one could reasonably infer that the only way to develop content for fan sites is to take one’s chances with the legal doctrine of fair use, prompted WotC to promise a Website and/or community use license at some unspecified point in the future.

  6. Months passed.

  7. WotC sent cease and desist orders to fan sites.

  8. Paizo announced its Community Use Policy, suitable for use with Pathfinder RPG materials, about half a year before the scheduled publication date of the final release form of the Pathfinder RPG.


Do you notice something odd here? I do:

Paizo delivers on promises I haven’t even noticed it made while WotC is still very publicly making promises it hasn’t yet kept. In fact, it looks like the trend is that WotC promises something, then Paizo delivers its own equivalent to what WotC promises, then WotC . . . may or may not deliver on its own promise.

While I’m at it, Paizo has also announced the availability of its Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility Policy — which, it turns out, is eminently reasonable — about half a year before it will even be applicable. I love this kind of advance “warning”.

Full Disclosure

Of course, I’m biased. I’m biased because:

  1. I prefer open licensing over restrictive, punitive licensing.

  2. I prefer the system in Pathfinder RPG over that of D&D 4E (and over that of D&D 3.5, for that matter, though the differences are much less distinct in that case).

  3. I, um . . . really prefer open licensing over restrictive, punitive licensing.

Your mileage may vary, of course.


I think it should be obvious that I’m neither a lawyer nor anyone with any official ties to Paizo Publishing, LLC. I’ve noticed that sometimes what I think should be obvious and what others find to be obvious do not always match up, however. Therefore:

  1. I am not a lawyer.

  2. I am not officially associated with Paizo Publishing, LLC.


  1. Paizo ftw!

    Comment by Joseph A Nagy Jr — 7 March 2009 @ 05:51

  2. I thought the timing was pretty interesting, myself. WotC releases GSL, no fansite policy. Right after, Paizo releases its license AND community use policy.

    Like you, I prefer Pathfinder (though I bear no ill will against 4e; just not my game). But it’s an interesting back and forth nonetheless, and it’ll be interesting to see which companies follow what lines. I’ve started trying to track at my site, but I imagine we’ll have a clearer picture soon enough.

    Comment by Zachary — 7 March 2009 @ 05:52

  3. I’ll begin with the fact that I pretty much concur with all points and in your disclosure and disclaimer.

    I will ignore the (atrocious) GSL …

    I don’t event think you can make an apples to apples comparison between the Pathfinder RPG Compatibility license and 4e’s GSL. The reason being that Wizards completely dropped an open content license (the OGL) and rolled content into what used to be their System Trademark License. So the GSL defines both what content is available (not much) as well as trademark use (highly restrictive). While Pathfinder is still OGL, so you can still develop using the content without using the trademarks from the Compatibility license. Of course, that being said, I guess you could still develop for 4e by just keeping to fair use…

    And while I think Paizo did a wonderful thing with their Compatibility License, the Community Policy has that vague “adult content” provision, which I don’t like, but at least isn’t anything about modern cultures/religions. It amuses me that Paizo chose to release their licenses the day after Wizards did, very calculating.

    Oh, and be warned, the Wizards/GSL cheerleading squad may begin accusing you of knee-jerk reactions, nerd rage, or various other epithets.

    Comment by Mad Brew — 7 March 2009 @ 06:41

  4. Heh yeah, you’re either suffering from “nerd rage” or are part of the “tinfoil hat brigade” if you criticize any of Wizard’s colossally failed promises.

    I agree it’s badass of them to get their licenses out months before they’ll be needed. Although I doubt they really tried to time it to be right after the revised GSL hit; that’s been in a “coming soon/never” state for 9 months. It would have been tough to coordinate with it even if you wanted to.

    Comment by mxyzplk — 7 March 2009 @ 10:22

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