October 26, 2012

Open Licensing and DramaSystem (and GUMSHOE, too)

With the Hillfolk Kickstarter having funded both open licenses for DramaSystem and now GUMSHOE as well, it’s time to consult the stakeholders on just what the configuration of those licenses ought to be. Ultimately the decision will be mine (DramaSystem) and Simon’s (GUMSHOE), but we’re both on the same basic page in wanting low-hassle licenses that encourage uptake by gamers and commercial users alike.

(With GUMSHOE there’s a wrinkle concerning foreign languages. The games have been licensed to various territories, and Simon will respect the wishes of those publishers if they don’t want third-party GUMSHOE material published in their languages. That’s why the text on the Kickstarter site refers to the English language. At least some of our translation partners seem stoked about the open license, so we may be able to widen this out.)

Parentheticals aside….

Hillfolk backers made this happen, so I want to take your preferences into account.

Those of you who aren’t going to use the licenses or play the games, but are here purely out of abstract interest in open culture, will have only the steely rigor of your intellectual argument to fall back on.

The question at hand is whether to adopt an OGL, or OGL-like, approach, or to go the Creative Commons route—or a hybrid of both.

A Creative Commons attribution license that allows for mash-ups would be simplest for me. But that doesn’t require give-back the way the OGL does. Do you as Hillfolk funders want a give-back provision that requires anyone adding or modifying to the DramaSystem structure to also make their design work available on the same open basis as the core license itself? Or do you not care if someone designs a great new sub-system and then treats it as proprietary?

A CC attribution license with Share Alike doesn’t allow third-party publishers to cordon off the story elements of their products from the rules stuff, keeping their intellectual properties proprietary while letting the rules stuff enter the general use pool. When George Lucas wants to do his dramatic game of marital strife between Darth Vader and Natalie Portman, he can’t use DramaSystem under a Share Alike without backdooring Star Wars into the public domain. I’d love to see DramaSystem games based on existing properties, which requires the kind of carve-out the OGL allows for, where certain chunks are designated open content and others product identity.

Stalwart Wolf Clan member and open content maven Bryant Durrell has proposed a CC/OGL mash-up, the details of which I hope he’ll provide in a comment below.

Have at it, people, and don’t let the eternal enmity between Wolf and Lion deter you from speaking out in the name of all the badlands…


  1. I'm a mobile developer and have done work for another RPG license, so a lot of my thinking comes from that corner. So, to be blunt, a CC with Share Alike is a major, sometimes insurmountable hindrance for developers who are not specifically working on open source work. Especially if an interpretation of the license confuses or mixes source code along with the literary work. I'd soon as avoid such a risky license and move to another. An Open Gaming style license is preferred. Let people create and keep their IP. Let others build on top of, not as part of the system.

    I also know that Robin was shown interest in how the movement towards mobile technologies is affecting tabletop roleplaying. The required flexibly of mobile and web technologies should also be addressed in the license. I have some ideas that could easily be dashed by a restrictive or viral-type open license. Hopefully proposals of the license created or selected could be made a available to us for comments before becoming set in stone.

  2. That's a great comment but got lost because you posted it before the Disqus plug-in loaded. Please try adding it to the main discussion.