RPG systems, licensing and tools

Something that I have been brainstorming is a website/application combo for creating character sheets to be used in role-playing games. It was starting our D&D game shortly after Susan got eir Nexus One that really got me thinking, and since then all kinds of devices have been announced that would be really handy table-side tools to help the game move along. My goal isn’t to create a digital game; I would rather use less paper. If it were the map tiles, figures, dice and mobiles (of the phone variety), I would be happy.

D&D 4th Edition is very modular. This makes it idea to create a website that puts together various components to output the character sheet data. In fact, that is exactly what the Character Builder does, in XML even! It is too easy to create a Drupal (with Feeds) site to slurp up character sheets and output it in an easy to read format that can then be adjusted for whatever device.

So, there is the theory, and really, this is what I do with RSS and Atom all the time, so I have the practice as well. The issue is the legality of creating databases of modular game mechanic components. Is it okay? Could I get sued?

The U.S. Copyright Office has something to say about it (

Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

Material prepared in connection with a game may be subject to copyright if it contains a sufficient amount of literary or pictorial expression. For example, the text matter describing the rules of the game or the pictorial matter appearing on the gameboard or container may be registrable.

I kinda get it, and of course I am going to be looking into this more. I don’t want to just do D&D though. How about Tri-Stat, Fudge or Ricochet? Those are all systems that I enjoy, and all I see is a content type waiting to be “featured” and ready for deployment for a gaming group’s website.

What I feel like I need to do is create a gaming system that I really like, and release the whole damn thing under a CC license. I would even go further and make it BY-SA, just to make sure it could grow in the domain where it belongs, the player base. I believe that it could be just as commercially viable as any system out there, but with the additional piece of mind that the rules, and the form of expression in which I choose to share them, are being set out there specifically to be used by others.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about Ricochet in particular, and tonight I did some research (really, just searches on Wise Turtle’s forums) concerning the licensing for that system. There are some fast and loose guidelines on their site, but the creator, Clay Gardner, claims e just put them up to have something. I suppose they are reasonable; I don’t know much about small press or royalties. What I do know is that Ricochet has a fast and straightforward dice rolling mechanic, and that I wish there was some sort of system document I could refer to when creating a custom campaign setting.

If Ricochet had such a document, or if OVA was stripped of its flavor and just included the rules, then we could work with that. I will have to get in touch with Clay to see if something along those lines is of interest, but I don’t know if e is in a position to make a decision divorced from the commercial choices e is making for OVA (e has kept a really interesting development blog for the OVA Revised Edition, check it out).

So, now this is out of my head. My ultimate goal, of course, is to release Nexia as a campaign setting with a default system and conversion rules for other systems. I would love to go through the process of creating a book, but if it were a wiki, character database and a bunch of apps, I would be just as happy.

Actually, I would be happier. :slight_smile: