My Thoughts on the Game System License from Wizards of the Coast

A little background before I really get into the GSL. The GSL is the system license that allows 3rd party publishers to use Wizards of the Coast’s intellectual property (ie names,

The Essence of the GSL
The Essence of the GSL

locations, creatures) in their products. It was originally released in the summer of 2008 and very few companies signed it. In fact, it was roundly criticized as draconian and grossly unfair to the 3rd party publishers. WOTC quickly withdrew the GSL for “revision” and released a new version this week.

There are some improvements over the original document, but I am still very, very unimpressed. A particularly onerous section that forced 3PP to remove/destroy old inventory when they leave the GSL contract now has a 6-month grace period to allow them to sell off non-compliant inventory. This is an improvement, but then you get down to the truly evil section.

By the way, I should mention that I am skipping some sections related to the SRD, logo use and “approved” content (ie no sex, excessive violence, hurting anyones feelings, etc) and the clause that allows Wizards to produce a competing product “substantially similar” to what the 3PP publishes. No, I think that true evil in the GSL begins at section 9.3. I reprint it here for your convenience.

9.3 Protection of Wizards’ Rights. Licensee will assist Wizards to the extent necessary or as requested by Wizards to protect any of Wizards’ rights in and to Wizards Intellectual Property. Wizards will reimburse Licensee for any reasonable out-of-pocket costs incurred as a result of providing such assistance, provided that Wizards has approved such costs in advance. Licensee will not institute any suit or take any action on account of any such infringements or imitations, or otherwise institute any suit or take any action relating to Wizards Intellectual Property. Licensee will take no action that will harm, misuse or bring into disrepute the activities, properties or products of Wizards or Wizards Intellectual Property.

Yes, once you sign the GSL, you are now a potential “draftee” in any IP infringement action Wizards undertakes. They kindly offer to pay “reasonable” expenses incurred by the 3PP. Lovely, letting lawyers decide what is reasonable is like letting pigs decide how much slop to eat. No thank you.

Just as a thought experiment, let us assume you want to take Wizards to court and let the lawyers sort out a problem between the two of you. Problem is, WOTC picks the venue and you gave up the right to trial by jury.

18. Choice of Law; Jurisdiction. This License will be governed by the laws of the State of Washington, USA, without reference to its choice of law rules. Licensee  irrevocably consent to the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of the federal and state courts located at King County, Washington with respect to any claim or suit brought by Licensee arising out of or related to this License, and Licensee agrees not to commence or prosecute any such claim or suit other than in the aforementioned courts. LICENSEE EXPRESSLY WAIVES ITS RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL OF ANY DISPUTE, CLAIM OR CAUSE OF ACTION RELATED TO OR ARISING OUT OF THIS LICENSE.

The uppercase lettering was in the original document. At least they are being upfront about what you give up.

I am done. I cannot read this thing any longer without spasms of laughter. I do not t speak for anyone except myself, but I would never sign this contract. There is too much power in the hands of Wizards and too little benefit to the 3PP. There is one great thing that might come of the new GSL If this version is an unpopular as the last one ( and I believe it will be), then more companies will start producing their own systems and worlds and variety can only be good for the gaming community.

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.

6 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Game System License from Wizards of the Coast

  • March 4, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Meh, I don’t know too much about this stuff. Reading over a thread at enworld seemed to indicate that folks were generally happy with it.

    It’s wotc’s ip, in general gsl will favor them. You don’t like it, make your own stuff.

  • March 4, 2009 at 11:28 am

    You do know such clauses were in the d20 STL as well? Or are you railing against that one, too?

  • March 4, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Choice of law clauses are at least normal; if you don’t have them, you can’t understand what the terms of the license mean. I can’t speak to the waiver of jury trial.

    The evil part, to me, is where they can elect to send you a letter terminating your license and you have to comply and destroy your inventory without any grace period.

  • March 4, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    @Thasmodious–As far as I know, the original d20 license did not contain these restrictions.

  • March 6, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    honestly, I hope this fails and is refused by the 3PPs. The sooner d-20 stops being the big gorilla in the room and actually good systems get a fair shot the better.

    D20 is good for one thing and one thing only: Dungeons and Dragons. It is NOT good for other games. Levels are relics of the past and XP should be spent, not hoarded.

    Wizards can put whatever they like into a contract, it’s their IP after all, but the 3PPs don’t have to sign it. I hope for the sake of the gaming industry, they don’t.

  • March 22, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    What right do they have to take away someone’s trial by jury?

Comments are closed.