Gamma World, GSL, Cease & Desist Letters, oh my!

Not that kind of atomic.

Fire From the Sky & Gamma World GSL Issues

Many of us were overjoyed to discover that Gamma World was covered by the GSL but there’s been some confusion since then, especially since the withdrawl of the Fire From the Sky adventure for the game, produced under the GSL by DarkLight Interactive.

Getting straight answers out of Wizards of the Coast customer service is like finding hen’s teeth, then forcibly removing those teeth from the hen, which turns out to be a giant, killer chicken with lots of friends, while from the sidelines someone shouts at you that you shouldn’t be attacking the hen at all, but rather contacting the legal departent. So, having slain the hen you quest forth seeking The Legal Department only to discover that they live in a cave up an unclimbable mountain, only speak an ancient dialect (Haad’Copi) and even then don’t deign to speak to most people anyway.

In short, getting any contact or clarity from these people OTHER than a C&D order from Hasbro’s attack lawyers is an exercise in excrutiating masochism and, personally, as a regular GM I’m much more of a sadist.

Still, I’m passing familiar with these legalese nonsense and I managed to get a hold of a copy of FFtS, I also have my handy copies of all the Gamma World books and the GSL to hand and so, I think, I can discern what went wrong and how people might go about producing saleable Gamma World material in the future.

Where God Went Wrong

The first thing that leaps out and nobbles you the moment you look at FFtS is that it openly advertises itself as a Gamma World product and announces its compatibility, complete with a self-designed compatibility logo. You can’t do this, yet. The GSL has no references to Gamma World and only references D&D. While it talks about ‘forthcoming’ GSL information for SF/Modern materials I think we can probably all safely bet since the layoffs and the reluctance to have the GSL and modify it beforehand that we ain’t going to see this in a while, if at all.

Without explicit permission you cannot and should not advertise your product as compatible with Gamma World in much the same way as you cannot advertise your product as being compatible with Dark Sun, Eberron or Forgotten Realms. You can only advertise your product as being compatible with D&D. Even though Gamma World is more of a separate game than a setting per se this makes no odds as far as this problem is concerned.

Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes

Trade Dress: A clear attempt has been made to make FFtS look like the official GW material. This is laudable n’all but companies tend to be pretty protective about this. While it’s (probably) fine for the powers, attacks and monster stat blocks, not so much for the main body text. Best to play it safe.

Monsters/Powers Etc: Not a mistake here, but something to be wary of. You can’t reproduce the monsters in the Gamma World books AT ALL. You can’t use the base stats and fiddle them a bit to create a ‘deadly nightshade vegepygmy’ though you could create a ‘deadly nightshade plant-midget’. Equally you can’t reproduce power/attack text or damage or anything else direct from the book, like hazards.

Omega Tech/Alpha Mutations: Nope, can’t mention these or make up your own. You can of course create your own NAMED loot and maybe ‘evolutions’ but you can’t redefine or work it into the existing system. You’ll have to leave people to do that themselves maybe with vague suggestions like ‘There might be a couple of high tech devices in this bunker for the characters to loot’ or ‘the reality flux in this area may cause random genetic and other changes in a character from turn to turn’.

Healing Rules: Specific mention/reference to Gamma World healing rules. Can’t do that. You could refer to D&D healing rules, but not to the GW healing rules. You can only refer to the books covered in the GSL.

Who is this God Person Anyway?

OK, so, what CAN and CAN’T you do for Gamma World under the GSL?

Adventures: Monsters and encounters appear to be no problem, just watch your terminology. There’s nothing that says you have to use a standard monster template in your material, so as far as baddies go you should be golden.

Rules: You can only mention rules that are in the main 4e D&D books and covered by the existing GSL. You can’t refer to the GW peculiarities, you can’t redefine terms but you CAN expand them or add new ones.

Mutations: So you can’t create new Alpha Mutations, but you could produce ‘Evolutions’ as a mutation mechanic to bolt onto 4e D&D that works in somewhat the same way, maybe a table instead of cards, maybe permanent instead of temporary mutations.

Omega Tech: You can’t produce Omega Tech cards or a field guide, but you could produce books or tables of ‘high tech weapons’ that work much the same way, though, again, you can’t use specific GW terminology that doesn’t appear in the GSL.

Cards: So you can’t have items with ‘expended’ and ‘salvaged’ rules specifically. With mutations you can’t have ‘overcharged’ and you can’t talk about tap, refresh and other card handling.

Character Origins: Nope. Can’t do these. Too many non GSL terms and references. It’s just not going to work. Nothing to stop you putting them out as fan material, but that’s a different samovar of piscines altogether.

PreGens: Nope. If you want to include pregenerated characters with your adventures you’re shit out of luck. You could always put them out for free as ‘fan material’ as with origins, but that’s inconvenient really.

Weapons & Equipment: Gamma World is pretty vague, so long as you don’t use the same names you should have no problem here coming up with your own stuff.

Cryptic Alliances: You can’t call them that or make cards, but you can come up with secretive groups all you like.

Vocations: Nope, these aren’t allowed. They’re not covered in the GSL. You could create some things that are analagous to them in some way, but again you’d have to be careful.

Feats: You could make up Feats all you wanted, but since they can only – normally – be gained via vocations in Gamma World you’d need to work out some other rationale and why someone might want to take them in place of their vocational one, while still not mentioning vocations.

Don’t Panic

None of this constitutes legal advice, it just represents what I’ve been able to discern are the probable issues with FFtS and the likely reasoning behind the C&D order. I have taken a rather conservative and paranoid outlook on what may and may not be allowed for material produced for Gamma World and your mileage may vary, as may your tolerance for risk. If you’ve NOT signed up to the GSL and want to produce Gamma World material you’re probably better off confirming to normal copyright and compatibility legalities, but I’m not going to get into those here. Look it up for D&D on Google and you should find some articles explaining it nicely.

Ultimately the only way we’re going to know exactly what’s going on is as and when Wizards legal offer some sort of explanation or cure opportunity to DarkLight Interactive.

I do not consider Brainclouds to be a ‘n00b’ or to have done much wrong in this instance. It’s a messy area and Wizards are providing conflicting messages on the issues that have been raised. If anything we’ve been done a favour by having this pushed out into the open. Since the dropping of the OGL and the confusion around the GSL the whole issue has been a mess for 3PP which is a large part of the reason you haven’t seen a great deal of 4e support and why so many more 3PP have embraced Pathfinder (feeding its success).

Hell, just the sheer amount of acronyms used above should be a warning to anyone.

Hopefully this helps some people get their head around the issues and, if in doubt, crosscheck with the existing GSL.