My Vision for the New 4E Game System License (GSL)

Wizards of the Coast has yet to release the new “Game System License” for the 4th Edition D&D rules and I am tired of waiting for Moses to come down 185AECE1-61B5-4320-AF80-8C04CDB2EF82.jpg

from the mountain. I want to kick-start the process, so I decided to post some ideas that WOTC hopefully will incorporate into the new version. Will it make any difference? Probably not, but it makes me feel better and it is my way of predicting what will be in the final version.

For those coming late to the party the GSL is the license that WOTC makes 3rd party publishers sign before they can sell anything that uses the 4E D&D system. You should read the original GSL. It provides some context for my suggestions. If you are not interested in reading a legal document or old blog posts to catch up on the GSL controversy , let me sum it up for you: it is an evil document. Incredibly unpopular with publishers and pulled within a few weeks of release for “revision.”

Let us move past this old document to the new, “Trask Built” version.

{Lots of Legal Boilerplate, on to the good stuff }

1. Wizards will notify all signatories of any changes to the GSL by mail.

No, this is not a major burden for Wizards. I personally contacted/visited most of the RPG companies in the English-speaking world setting up There are less than 400. Not a big deal to do a mass mailing. The original version of “we change it and you have to keep checking back to see if we changed anything” is just rude.

2. You can reprint entire unaltered blocks of text from the SRD, including page numbers for reference.

I get that WOTC wants to sell books, but preventing publishers from reprinting power descriptions and the like was just annoying.

2. You may print an OGL and 4E version of the game simultaneously.

This one really annoyed me in the original GSL. If 4E is so much better than 3.5 in every possible way, what harm does a 3.5 version of the same book cause? Clearly no one is going to buy the “inferior” version, right?

4. “Wizards of the Coast” has final approval on all books published under the GSL. All works must be submitted for approval to the “Community Standards Department” before publication. WOTC reserves the right to require edits before release of any offensive material.

Wizards included a vague “community standards of decency” clause in the original GSL. Vague is not acceptable. Either you let people print what they want or you demand approval on every product, with feedback to fix the problems. Vague is just too dangerous in this age of litigation.

5. If there is a lawsuit between WOTC and the 3rd party publisher, arbitration is the venue of choice. Legal costs are determined by the arbiter.

I am not a lawyer, but even I know that lawyers and trials are expensive. Here is the original GSL’s version of this, “Licensee will be responsible for all legal costs, including Wizards’ attorneys’ fees, associated with any action required by Wizards to enforce the terms of this License.” No small company can afford to pay the legal bills during a protracted suit for both sides! It basically made WOTC lawsuit proof from anyone other than a large company. Arbitration is fair, cost-effective idea.

6. Changes to this document are NOT retroactive. All changes require signatories sign the license again. Currently published products do not have to conform to the new requirements

It will be a cold, dark day in Hell before I ever sign a contract that can change without my consent. Of course, it is very unlikely WOTC would do such a thing, but can you afford to take the risk?

Such is my vision for the new 4E GSL. I am sure there are those that disagree with me or think they have a better idea on how to handle these issues. Feel free to make your feelings known in the comments.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

5 thoughts on “My Vision for the New 4E Game System License (GSL)

  • January 14, 2009 at 12:39 am

    Or… I have an idea. Since game systems can’t be copyrighted, only the literary text of the game, why bother even signing the GSL? Publish under Fair Use, don’t use any of their “literary text”, and just respect their trademarked names and you’ll be fine. If you are not under license, and publishing under fair use, then legal fees for being sued can only be assessed if you are found to be _intentially_ infringing on the literary text of their game. Of course, that would simply never happen, and in the case of unintentional infridgement they can, under the law, only sue for damages. Just food for thought. =D

    The GSL is good if you want to put a big Dungeons & Dragons® logo on your product and use their trademarked races, like Dragonborn® and Tielflings®. Otherwise, humans and elves and dwarves are all fair game; even with their rules.

  • January 14, 2009 at 12:47 am

    All very true. Sadly, I think that the “core” content is enough of a selling point to make some publishers sign the GSL. If you just want to use the mechanics with your own powers/pcs/classes, then you can use the Kenzerco method of making you game “compatible” with 4E.

    Trask, The Last Tyromancer

  • January 14, 2009 at 7:04 am

    I think they should just revert back to the OGL for 4e, release a SRD version and admit they were wrong about the whole thing. Instead of the SRD we have the DDI Compendium which is….. well, put politely, very amateur.

    I mean – would it hurts sales? Honestly? It’s far more likely that increased exposure and third-party support will mean INCREASED sales. Y’know, like what happened with 3e. The OGL and third party support turned D&D from being a marginalized failing brand into the game we now know and love. To turn away from the very mechanism that fed them was the single most stupid mistake they could make. Yet that’s exactly what they did.


  • January 14, 2009 at 10:18 am

    I can’t see why anyone would sign the GSL. Fair Use is good enough. With that “we can change the terms anytime we like, and don’t have to tell you” bit, aren’t you just giving them carte blanche? WotC hasn’t done a lot lately to foster a great deal of confidence in them, either.

  • January 14, 2009 at 10:57 am

    There’s so much energy in third-party and independent game design these days, and it makes absolutely no sense for WotC to try and stifle that. I will miss D&D in the future. Or not. There are plenty of other games to play.

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