Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2008

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the 108th issue of The Guild Companion.

Gary Renaud RIP

It is my sad duty to inform our readership that Gary Renaud passed away in October of last year. Many of our readers will remember his insightful posts on the Silent Tower Rolemaster mailing list during its heyday in the 1990s. For my part, he was one of the GM playtesters and critics for Mentalism Companion. His articulation of the need for Rolemaster illusions to be illusions rather than the soi-disant "real" pseudocreations of the Essence realm compelled me to create the Enchanter profession and the Philosophies of Illusions section in Mentalism Companion. His formal obituary can be found at : http://www.legacy.com/Tucson/Obituaries.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonID=95943736

He will be missed.

Open Gaming License and 4e

Wizards have announced a two-phase release structure for the 4th Edition System Reference Document and Open Gaming License (see http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/4news/20080108a). In brief, publishers who want access to the 4e rules now and the ability to publish 4e-compatible material from August 2008 need to sign an NDA and if deemed suitable by Wizards, pay 5,000 US dollars. (4th Edition itself will be releasing from June 2008.) Everyone else will have to wait until January 1st 2009 before they can publish using the new Open Gaming License. Early adopters will therefore have a five month lead on the rest of the pack.

Wizards' stated goal is to raise the bar to immediate entry with regard to 4e-compatible products. If you don't have 5K to spend, then you're not a serious contender to be an early adopter. A number of publishers and others have been trying to organise partnerships so that they can raise that 5K sum. If Wizards are truly serious about trying to prevent a glut of substandard 3rd-party 4e products hitting the shelves this year, then they won't be handing out developer kits to any of these impromptu umbrella companies. Time will tell.

The advent of 4e will also bring a new Open Gaming License. All reports currently suggest that this will be a fusion of the current Open Gaming License and the current d20 System Trademark License with added restrictions. The new Open Gaming License, which really needs a new name as people are going to get confused otherwise, will have something like the community standards clauses introduced in the later iterations of the System Trademark License. It will also have more limits on what types of products can be published. The old STL allowed publishers to use the d20 System logo as long as they had no character creation or advancement rules/explanation in their products, so that their customers needed a Player's Handbook or d20 Modern in order to use them. This or something like it (and probably more restrictive) will be in the brand-new Open Gaming License. It therefore won't be possible to create complete standalone game systems such as True20, Mutants & Masterminds, Spycraft, etc., using the 4e OGL. Thus 4e OGL products will be driving the sales of Wizards' core rulebooks and not creating their own game systems that are arguably better than Wizards' 3.x efforts. I would expect that Wizards' lawyers will be trying to finesse the new OGL so that there isn't a way for competing systems built under the 3.x OGL to convert themselves into 4e compatibility.

The 4e System Reference Document is also expected to be a much slimmer document. Whereas it is possible to play D&D using just the current System Reference Document if you know the process of how to create or level up characters, that is expected not to be the case with the 4e SRD. It will be much more of a summary of the rules set than an hyperlinked version of them. This will also close out 3rd-party products that are merely reprints of the SRD (such as the Pocket rulebooks that Mongoose produced for the current edition) and again drive more sales of Wizards' actual books.

The 5,000 Dollar Question

So is anyone going to pay Wizards 5,000 dollars to get in on the ground floor? So far, I've only seen evidence that a Necromancer Games/Paizo partnership, Fantasy Flight Games and Goodman Games have committed to the 4e bandwagon. Others are still considering their options, waiting on a copy of the new OGL (still not final) to see whether there is any point in them handing over the cash, or trying to join one of these umbrella companies.

Is the Guild Companion going to sign up? Categorically No!

We don't have 5,000 dollars from product sales to squander and I'm not throwing 5,000 dollars of my own money to Wizards - I'm going to be sufficiently annoyed at having to buy the 4e rulebooks when I know I'm not going to (willingly) run 4e D&D. The only product we have that would sensibly benefit from being available in 4e compatible form is the OGL 3.5 Shadow World Master Atlas (and indeed any conversion supplements of existing or future Shadow World products that we may or may not produce.) It's not worth 500 or 1000 dollars to join an umbrella company for one major product, even assuming that Wizards of the Coast allows them access.

Given the timeframe that rewriting the 3.5 version would inevitably involve for us, it will be much better to allow a developer time to learn the finalised 4e rules set properly and publish a good conversion in 2009 rather than a fast conversion in 2008.

Farewell for now ...

I'm off to do more concept wrestling on my Something Wicked outline for HARP, so I'll leave you to enjoy this issue. We'll be back in March with issue 109, but until then …

Keep gaming and have fun,
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion