A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



The Death of Gamma World Content

I finally got a response from Wizards of the Coast's legal representation, and it's not the response I or anyone else wanted to hear.

The important information is provided below:

Dear Mr. Flor,

Thank you for your patience and persistence in this matter. Our letter of July 13, 2011 clearly lays out Wizards' position regarding your unauthorized and infringing "Fire from the Sky: A Gamma World 4e Adventure" module.  Your follow up questions appear to stem from your misreading of Wizards' D&D 4E Game System License ("GSL"), System Reference Document ("SRD") and other supporting documents, and also some incorrect information that you received from customer service, for which Wizards apologizes. 

The above apology is in response to my initial inquiries through the Wizards of the Coast customer service site, because at the time there was no other means of asking the questions in the first place. The customer service representative answered "Gamma World is covered by the 4e GSL", but now it's clear that he was mistaken. I accept that... A customer service representative is no place to go to for legal advice.

As you know, the GSL documents are available at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20/welcome. In a nutshell, the GSL permits you to use the game system (rules) underlying the D&D game to create your own original content, provided that you first file a Statement of Acceptance (www.wizards.com/d20/files/SOA.pdf) that Wizards accepts before you publish your work.  The GSL does not permit you, however, to copy or use the D&D content, such as any Gamma World trademark, copyrighted artwork, themes, settings or characters.  Under the GSL, only materials listed in the SRD (rules, tables, terms, and templates) are available for you to use after the Statement of Acceptance is accepted.  Gamma World is not included in the materials offered in the SRD. 

We hope this clarifies the situation for you.  Once you have submitted a Statement of Acceptance that is accepted by Wizards, you may use the game system rules under the GSL to create and publish your own original content.  Under no circumstances, however, may you use Gamma World, or other D&D content, as part of your module.  If you have any further questions, you should consult the comprehensive SRD  (http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/4E_SRD.pdf) and/or your own attorney and proceed on her or his advice. 

For the record, I have filed the Statement of Acceptance. I'm tempted to file it again, to be honest...

What is not clear is how WotC "accepts" the Statement of Acceptance. Has anyone out there who's filed an SOA received written confirmation that WotC accepts your submission?

While Wizards' appreciates your enthusiasm for the game, it cannot expend any further time or resources on your queries and will not respond to any further communications by you whether they are made to sales personnel, r&d, PR, legal, brand or anyone else at Wizards.  You are on notice by Wizards and its attorneys that what you are doing and propose to do violates the terms of the limited GSL license and infringes Wizards' copyrights and trademarks.  To proceed further in the face of this makes your infringement willful.  We strongly encourage you to consult your own attorney for advice before proceeding further.

OK, so they say "leave us alone" in a nice way. Maybe they didn't like the GenCon cover I made... No matter. I get the message.

So here is my response...

For the record, I have filed a statement of acceptance as far back as March of this year. I am considering re-filing it just in case the original did not get through.

As per your request, I will discontinue any further use of Gamma World material, and will abide by the guidelines set forth in the 4e GSL and the SRD for my future products.

On a related note, I really do wish your client would consider amending the SRD; the last time it was updated was February 2009, and there has been a significant amount of content since then.

I appreciate your attention on this matter.

...and let's call that the end of the conversation.

Note that none of the above makes reference to my actually selling the module. Whether I tried to make a profit is irrelevant; based on their statements, I'm not allowed to create it at all in the first place. Using Gamma World in any way, shape or form is right out.

So based on the above, at least until Wizards of the Coast decides to amend the 4e SRD to include Gamma World and newer content, I am not going to create any further content for Gamma World 4e. I'm sure there are ways around the above restrictions, but I am now in a situation ("on notice", as they call it) where I cannot honestly risk doing anything inappropriate or risky.

So my Gamma World development ends here and now, at least until something dramatic happens. I might create stuff privately, or continue to submit Gamma World content to Dragon/Dungeon in the hope that a miracle might happen and they accept it, but don't be expecting Gamma World modules on Drive Thru RPG from me or anyone else.

Furthermore, I hope I've been a good enough example for any of you out there who are considering making Gamma World content. Put simply... Don't.

I'm hoping that the Warriors Warlords of the Apocalypse (thank you for correcting me, Jeff K.!) supplemental for Pathfinder comes out soon; that may be a viable alternative, and Paizo seems to be a lot more forgiving than Wizards of the Coast is.

Filed under: 4e, DnD, Gamma World, RPG Comments Off
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  1. That sucks. Sorry that WotC doesn’t seem to want any support of anything other than plain vanilla D&D.

  2. As a side note there is a GammaWorld-ish 4E product out there now. Altered Earth uses 4E/GSL rules in a similar setting. Taking a look at this might give you some ideas of how to continue.


  3. This is complex, and I hope I don’t waffle too much.

    Principle 1: The GSL is a contract between you and WotC. By entering into that content you agree to use the material in the SRD and material of your own creation and not to use any other WotC-created material. In fact, copyright has little to do with it.

    Principle 2: In general, whether you are selling something or giving it away is irrelevant when copyright infringement is concerned. US law’s concept of ‘fair use’ makes it a factor, but actual copying of WotC text and images in a third-party module is probably infringing, whether it’s free or not.

    I’ve not seen the adventure you created nor the images and logos you used on it, so I don’t know which elements of WotC-created content you made use of. I’m also far from an expert on the GSL, which seems like quite a limited grant of access to WotC content, apparently only purporting to allow references to be made to WotC names.

    However plenty of publishers have created material which is compatible with D&D both before the OGL (and now the GSL) and outside the GSL but still compatible with 4e. I am sure that there’s a fine line which such publishers need to walk. There’s a more detailed discussion (from a far better informed source than me!) here: http://www.loremaster.org/content.php/175-Protection-from-Chaos-Part-V-To-GSL-or-Not-to-GSL

    In other words, you’re never going to be allowed to use WotC Gamma World content. Inside the GSL, you can’t refer to WotC creations which are not listed in the SRD. Outside the GSL you may well be able to create a Gamma World compatible module, though you’d have to tread carefully.

    I hope that helps a bit. I’m sure this has been exceedingly frustrating for you, and I hope you find some way through it!

  4. It’s called ‘Warlords of the Apocalypse’, actually, in case anyone is looking for it right now.

  5. GSL is usually when you want to sell your material or distribute it online. Wizards really won’t allow you to use the GSL with their setting material. If you don’t care about profit, then you might consider submitting Gamma Word content to Dungeon or Dragon. You could also approach Baldman Games or Wizards and suggest having a special convention event. But, the reality is that it is likely not good for them to have GSL Gamma World content out there _with the current model_ they use. If they adopted an iTunes model for distribution, then it would make a lot more sense. Just my thoughts from the non-expert peanut gallery.

    • I have attempted, on several occasions, to submit Gamma World content to Dragon. In fact, I submitted FFTS to them and waited for them to respond “no” before publishing (I am aware of their exclusivity guidelines for publication).

  6. Pedr’s post is spot on, and I appreciate the link to my article. I want to add another minor point. According to this post, WotC stated:

    “Once you have submitted a Statement of Acceptance that is accepted by Wizards, you may use the game system rules under the GSL to create and publish your own original content.”

    The author (David) seems to be interpreting this statement as a request for his Statement of Acceptance. It is not. It’s simply a statement of the circumstances that lead to one’s surrender of his or her rights to publish material (through a contractual agreement). They’re fully aware David already submitted an SoA.

    I also want to reiterate something Pedr said because it’s so important here. This has nothing to do with copyright law at this point. This is a matter of contract law. Please don’t lose sight of that. Concepts such as transformative use, fair use, infringement, etc. are completely irrelevant. They’re interesting academic questions, but once David signed the SoA, they became meaningless. David is not permitted to reproduce or even reference WotC-created Gamma World content until he ends his contractual relationship with WotC.

    • Which I believe is done via a “Statement of Termination.” If he signed one, though, he’d have to remove all of his GSL products from the stream of commerce. I’m guessing he doesn’t want to do that.

      • Well, I admit I don’t have many items in the “stream of commerce”.

        So before I consider publishing through alternate methods, I need to terminate the GSL? That’s something that I have to consider very seriously due to my interest in publishing non-Gamma World material in the future.

  7. And as to your question, “…how is [your SOA] accepted?” I believe the only reference to this is in the GSL PDF which reads, “…Effective Date. The License commences fourteen (14) days after the date Wizards receives Licensee’s completed Statement of Acceptance, provided the submitter of the Statement of Acceptance has not received a written notice from Wizards within such fourteen (14) day period declining to offer a License.”

    So I would interpret that to mean, once you submit the SOA, if you DON’T hear back from them within 14 days then you may consider it accepted. And fwiw, I did not hear back from them when I submitted my own SOA a year ago.

    Sorry to hear about your troubles. It would be nice to see an updated SRD.

  8. Okay, lawyer hat off, gamer hat on. I also wish there was an updated GSL. I love Gamma World, but it’s been tough to get things started here in the DC area, and we’re one of the biggest and best-connected gaming communities in the country. More support for Gamma World, either from WotC or third-parties, would help encourage the game’s growth.

  9. That’s a bummer. So, no one is allowed to create Gamma World content under the GSL. Hm. I wonder if that’s WotC’s intention, or if it’s just unfortunate fallout (no radiation pun intended) from the way the GSL works. I would imagine that they would welcome fan-created Gamma World adventures that otherwise complied with the GSL (no use of their creatures or text or images) as this might encourage sales of the Gamma World game. But perhaps that’s just not their way of thinking here.

  10. @OnlineDM: My *guess* is that it’s a combination of two things: 1) not wanting to revisit (and thus rewrite) the GSL; and 2) lawyers acting instinctively to a contract violation. If there’s a GW-specific marketing reason to limit 3PPs, I don’t personally see it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Remember, the GSL’s primary (only?) purpose is to maintain game integrity. That is, they want to make sure, for example, that the base Elf is always between X and Y inches tall, which copyright law wouldn’t protect. By allowing people to sell their product with the valuable WotC logo printed on it, the licensees give up the right to change the base Elf. (A minor, but easily grasped, example.) Perhaps they want to develop more content before allowing 3PPs to jump on the bandwagon. They want to develop enough content about Terra Prime so that when 3PPs get involved, there’s something on which to base that gaming integrity. If this is the case, don’t hold your breath. According to the “coming soon” seminar at GenCon, there’s nothing GW on the schedule right now.

    • But the thing is that they’re apparently *not* developing “more content”… Nothing is slated for Dragon or Dungeon, and there are no planned publications in the schedule. That is unless you count the novels, of course.

      • Yeah, I said that. However, in the Thursday seminar, they made a point (when the question was on Gamma World, IIRC) that just because something isn’t on the current schedule doesn’t mean it’s been abandoned. In some context, they referenced Gamma World when they made that statement. My hypothetical could still be correct, but if so, it’s on their schedule, not ours.

  11. This situation also has more far reaching problems. For example, in my upcoming module “The Coming Dark” one of my major NPCs is a psion. Since that isn’t covered in the GSL (it’s a PHB3 creation, which the GSL has not been updated to include), I legally can’t make any mention of her being a psion and can’t reference things like the Mind Thrust power.

  12. The game industry like all traditional media forms is going through a lot of changes due to the digital age. Sadly with the failure of TSR the D&D brand has been on thin ice. WotC is owned by Hasbro now and that ownership restricts how nice or easy they can be in legal matters. As a publisher the only thing they truly own are their ideas. Legally those ideas are protected by lawyers in the employ of Hasbro, which likely sees WotC and the D&D only in the terms of $$$.

    Legal infringement on those ideas constitutes a threat to their market share and further insult if its using their ideas and brands. It would be awesome if they updated the GSL, but they may not be producing the same game in the future, as was the case when they left behind 3.5 to produce and promote 4e. So it may be that until that decision is made, they news to keep all of their cards close to their chests.

    Is it disappointing? Yes. Is it surprising? I really don’t think so. In speaking with people throughout the industry I’ve heard only rumors and got a few odd feelings when asking tough and direct questions. I’ll be posting a few articles in the coming months with interviews on Geek-Life.com and you can draw what impressions you like from those. Good luck with your future publications, I think your other readers have provided some good alternatives to the situation.

    For the record I did get your adventure on DriveThruRpg.com and look forward to running it for my group at home. I also appreciate learning from your situation when considering how to go about releasing my own Gamma World adventure. Best of luck.

    • If you’re not currently operating under the GSL, you shouldn’t have his same problems at all. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to infringe, but it’s not nearly as dangerous as you might think it is. If you’re going to invest a lot of time and money on a serious publication, you really should learn from the Hubble telescope makers. Spend a few extra bucks and do it right the first time (in your case, by consulting an attorney).

      BTW, although I have no hard data to back it up, I find the notion that the D&D brand is “on thin ice” laughable. It’s very strong, and the fact that Hasbro hasn’t shut it down is strong circumstantial evidence to that effect.

  13. Simple solution: play mutant future instead. WotC doesn’t want GW to eclipse or even interfere with their imagined cash-cow, D&D.

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