The Gygax Rule for GMs – All you need is good rules and good books

gary-gygax
Courtesy http://rpglabyrinth.blogspot.com

In my gaming pantheon, I clearly play wargames first, other boardgames second, and role playing games (RPGs) a distant third. Spending-wise, I have bought very few RPG products since April. In the past month I came close to buying two new RPGs but didn’t. Along the way I learned a valuable lesson taught to me by no other than the Godfather of RPGs, Gary Gygax. Gary reminded me that RPGs are inherently a personal creation; if a product is “not quite right” there are tools available to “do it my way.”

The big RPG splash of the month was the Kickstarter launch of The Expanse Roleplaying Game from Green Ronin Publishing. The project currently (as I write) has over 3,330 backers pledging upwards of $239,000 against goal of $30,000 – and 24 days to go.

I initially pledged to support at the Ship’s Boat-level which is $20 for the pdf version. I then downloaded the free Quickstart pdf and took a look. I am no hard-core The Expanse fan but I generally like the universe. I initially missed the books and became acquainted with the setting through the TV series. After looking at the Quickstart I mulled it over for a few days and then cancelled my pledge.

First, the Quickstarter did not appeal to me; indeed, it actually turned me off. My initial negative reaction was to the artwork. I think my expectations are biased from the TV series and the artwork in the Quickstarter just feels too different. More importantly, it is not what I see as evocative of the setting. It almost seems too cartoonish to me whereas I imagine The Expanse though a more hard sci-fi lens.

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Courtesy The Expanse RPG Kickstarter

Secondly, the RPG core mechanic (based on Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine – AGE) just didn’t capture what I think feels like The Expanse to me. I admit I was a bit confused at first because I was expecting to see the Chronicle System used in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game which is my only other exposure to Green Ronin. I really like the Intrigue Mechanic in Chronicle and it perfectly captures (is evocative of) the Game of Thrones setting.

Looking at the Quickstarter pdf, I weighed my pledge and thought about what I was getting. I decided that I actually already have a version of The Expanse RPG. I actually have two of them, both from Zozer Games, and both using a system I am comfortable with (Cepheus Engine):

  • Orbital: 2100 – “Realistic spacecraft, using reaction drives and rotating hab modules for gravity. Orbital is set in our own Solar System and has a real hard-science feel to it.”
  • HOSTILE – “A gritty near future setting inspired by those late-70s and early 80’s movies like Alien, Bladerunner and Outland.”

I seriously weighed getting The Expanse RPG if not for the system then for the setting material. Then I (fortuitously?) came across this article by Gary Gygax himself and published in 2001 where he talks about author Jack Vance and the Dying Earth books. In particular, Mr. Gygax writes:

There is a truly great advantage offered to the Game Master when devising a campaign set on the Dying Earth. It is not highly detailed. There is no strict timeline laid down. All that has happened before is not “recorded”, nor is there an accurate gazetteer of for the world. What magic operates? Nobody can say or guess, because in the long eons of the Dying Earth’s history, likely every form possible was discovered, used, and then forgotten…almost. That means that all that’s necessary is to have the game in hand, the books that Jack Vance wrote about the world, to create a really compelling campaign environment. Using the creative base of the author, the GM’s own imagination cannot fail but to rise to the occasion. (Emphasis mine)

 

In my mind, I already own The Expanse RPG. My version uses a core mechanic that I feel is evocative of the setting (Cepheus Engine). I have the sourcebooks in the form of several TV seasons and multiple books and short stories. I don’t need somebody else’s vision that doesn’t strike me as evocative of the stories or setting.

The second RPG I nearly bought was another Kickstarter campaign. Tachyon Squadron from Evil Hat Productions is basically Battlestar Galactica with the serial numbers filed off rendered using the Fate Core system:

Tachyon Squadron is a Fate Core supplement that blends space opera and military sci-fi. It’s Evil Hat’s take on popular stories about interstellar battles, like the ones that have ships with wings named after letters and the one where robots chase the human race through space. If you’re interested in deep space dogfights, friendly—well, usually—rivalries with fellow pilots, and playing scrappy underdogs with the deck stacked against you, this game is for you.

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Courtesy Evil Hat

The project funded with 1,401 backers pledging $25,295 against a $7,500 goal. Like The Expanse RPG Kickstarter, Evil Hat was very generous and offers a free download Quickstarter version. It is pretty much as I expected as Evil Hat has previously sold a smaller, similar setting found in Fate Worlds Volume One: Worlds on Fire. In Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie the PCs are pilots aboard a giant War Zeppelin taking on “a horde of WWI mechanical monstrosities.” For Tachyon Squadron I actually was more interested in Stretch Goal 7:

STRETCH GOAL 7 (UNLOCKS AT $26,000): The Battle of Britain: At $26,000, we’ll start work on The Battle of Britain, a 5,000 word electronic supplement that applies Tachyon Squadron’s dogfighting rules to a WWII squadron of Spitfire pilots defending Britain. This supplement will include plane stats and mechanics to help you take to the skies with the Allied forces.

Alas, this stretch goal didn’t unlock. My potential Pilot-in-Training pledge of $12 would not have made a big difference.

What really turned me off about Tachyon Squadron was the over-the-top SJW proselytizing. It is so in-your-face I think it overwhelms the game setting. Even if I am able to put the SJW part aside I see the the game offering me little new. The major rule of difference, dogfighting, is likely not far from that found in Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie which I already own. Much like The Expanse, I have a Battlestar Galactica RPG in the form of the officially licensed Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, 2007). This game uses the CORTEX Classic system which I generally like (indeed, I am still awaiting my CORTEX Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game Kickstarter to deliver – only 3 months overdue…so far). If I want to do Battlestar Galactica using Fate Core I already own all the setting and rules material; why should I invest more money into a near-version that alleges to be ruleset but comes across more like a SJW propaganda tract?

Passing on The Expanse RPG (Green Ronin’s AGE System) and Tachyon Squadron (Evil Hat’s Fate Core System) got me thinking about the games and systems I do have. Last June I listed Star Wars The Edge of the Empire RPG (Fantasy Flight Games) as one of my Top 3 RPGs. I like the Narrative Dice System and want to play more with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Thinking about expanding beyond Star Wars I picked up GENESYS: The Roleplaying Game for All Settings.

Genesys is a role playing system designed for flexibility and adaptability, specifically tooled to work with any setting imaginable. The Genesys Core Rulebook not only contains an overview of the rules and how the innovative narrative dice system works, but everything a GM and players need to run adventures in five completely different settings. Everything from equipment to adversaries, character abilities to an overview of narrative tropes, all is provided in the core rulebook for Genesys. With a system so adaptable and expansive you can explore every popular roleplaying genre, from classic fantasy style campaigns, to modern day detective thrillers, and even to a far off sci-fi future, Genesys doesn’t fit into any one genre of roleplaying, and instead invites players to craft their own stories with unparalleled freedom.

Taking GENESYS and combining it with Gary Gygax’s Dying Earth GM approach, I can likely make a version of The Expanse or Battlestar Galactica – or any other setting I chose to explore – for myself.

The most important RPG lesson I learned this month is that I don’t need Kickstarter to make an RPG for me that “isn’t quite right”; I just need good books and a good ruleset.

#SciFiFriday #TravellerRPG Legal Wars – Give me Advocate-1!

When can you write about the Traveller RPG? Can you sell what you write?

Traveller, in all its forms and editions, is copyrighted. Copyright protects the publishers (Far Future Enterprises and its licensees) from unauthorized copying or publication. Traveller and associated words and terms are trademarks. Trademark protection protects the publishers from unauthorized use of marks.

We have a liberal Fair Use Policy. If your activity is non-commercial, you can make copies to support playing the game, you can scan copies for your computer, you can write short programs and spreadsheets which automate processes within the game. You can make copies of pages as handouts for players. You can make web pages in support of Traveller.

Fair Use Explicitly Applies to non- Mongoose Traveller editions….Only Mongoose Traveller is governed by both the OGL and TTL….

FAQ FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

3. May I rewrite the game in my own words, scan parts of the book, or create any other derivative works.

No….You can write about the Traveller universe, and put it on your web site… but you can’t reproduce the rules (or reproduce re-writes of rules, etc.) except for about a page (because we give you permission to do that, provided you post the proper acknowledgement).

Far Future Enterprises Fair Use Policy, (C) 2008

Here is the copyright notice in the Mongoose Publishing Traveller Core Rulebook, (C)2008:

Traveller (C)2008 Mongoose Publishing. All rights reserved. Reproductions of this work by any means without the written permission of the publisher is expressly forbidden. All significant characters, names, places, items, art and text herein are copyrighted by Mongoose Publishing.

This game product contains no Open Game Content. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission.

In September 2008, Mongoose made available the Traveller Developer’s Pack. The pack included a series of Open Game License (OGL) System Reference Documents (SRD) for Traveller, Mercenary, High Guard, and Vehicles. These SRDs pertain exclusively to the rules of Traveller, not any setting.

Legal rights were explained in the Read Me First document of the Developer’s Pack:

I want to produce material based on older and out of print versions of Traveller, and publish them on a non-commercial basis.

Consult the Fair Use Policy Document.

I want to produce and publish my own original material using the current Traveller rules – both commercially and non-commercially.

Consult the Traveller Logo License.

The Read Me First document also stated:

What Can’t I do?

The following is not permitted under the Traveller Developer’s Pack – if you wish to attempt one of these projects, you should contact Mongoose Publishing for further information at msprange@mongoosepublishing.com. This is not a comprehensive list, and you should get in contact if you want to do anything not covered by the Fair Use Policy or Logo Licenses.

  • Publish material for older and out of print versions of Traveller, and release them commercially.
  • Publish software based on the current edition of Traveller.
  • Publish Original Traveller Universe material beyond the confines of the Fair Use Policy or Foreven Free Sector Logo License.

This arrangement was fine; third party publishers like Zozer Games and Gypsy Knights Games could legally publish alternate settings using the then-current Mongoose Traveller (MgT) first edition Core Rulebook. That is, until Mongoose stopped selling the first edition, thus making any commercial release based on the first edition rules ILLEGAL.

Mongoose Publishing currently sells the second edition of MgT. Like the first edition, the game contains no Open Game Content. At the same time the second edition was released, Mongoose entered into an agreement with OneBookShelf (the company that brings us DriveThruRPG.com) to create the Travellers’ Aid Society (TAS) and brought the Community Content Agreement (CCA) to the Traveller gaming community. The CCA allows for commercial uses of the MgT Core Rulebook “…provided that they only use the game system rules and game terms found in the current [my emphasis] edition Traveller books published by Mongoose Publishing.” The real interesting part of the CCA is how the agreement grants Mongoose broad rights to YOUR IP:

“User Generated Content” shall be defined as the copyrightable elements included in your Work, such as original characters, scenes, locations and events. User Generated content shall not include the illustrations and cartographic artwork included in your work. Per the terms of this Agreement, you expressly agree that your User Generated Content, once submitted to the Program will become Program IP and useable by other members of the Program as well as the Owner as described in this Agreement.” Web Post by Harl Quinn – 05-02-2016

What this means is if you are a third party publisher who wants to sell an original setting using the MgT second edition rules, the only way you can legally do so is to use TAS and GIVE UP your IP to Mongoose (not to mention that posting to TAS also means you give up a larger portion of the financial proceeds of the sale to Mongoose and OBS).

The combination of no Open Game Content in the “current” MgT second edition and the CCA effectively means there is no allowable commercial use of the “current” edition rules other than that specified by the CCA. Most importantly, any IP you place in TAS no longer belongs exclusively to YOU; Mongoose and ANY OTHERS can use YOUR IP freely.

Gypsy Knights Games in the comments adds: “I would like to correct one small thing in this post. While it is true that Mongoose and anyone else who likes can use any part of your IP in any way they want, it is important to note that the person using your IP must also be part of the CCA/TAS agreement. It is a small distinction but I think it is an important one.”

Mongoose is not the only publisher with a CCA. Wizards of the Coast has their Dungeon Master’s Guild,  Margaret Weis Productions has their Cortex Plus Creator Studio, and Monte Cook Games has their Cypher System Creator. I can appreciate these folks trying to protect their IP, or in the case of Margaret Weis protecting several licensed IP.
I also totally agree with the third party publishers who don’t like this arrangement. I wrote about that earlier this year, when the outlook looked very bleak. I didn’t see anybody taking the Evil Hat Productions approach of releasing most of their line under not one, but two proper-use licenses.

Thankfully, the future looks much brighter now, thanks to Jason “Flynn” Kemp of Samardan Press. Mr.Flynn has taken the Traveller OGL SRDs and created the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document: A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Game System. Quite a mouthful, but important for the Advocate skill-holders out there.

Please Note: This product is derived from the Traveller System Reference Document and other Open Gaming Content made available by the Open Game License, and does not contain closed content from products published by either Mongoose Publishing or Far Future Enterprises, and it makes no claim to or challenge to any trademarks held by either entity. The use of the Traveller System Reference Document does not convey the endorsement of this Product by either Mongoose Publishing or Far Future Enterprises as a product of either of their product lines. – Cepheus Engine System Reference Document (c) 2016.

The impact of the Cepheus SRD has been near-instantaneous. Zozer Games has published Orbital 2100: A Solar System Setting for the Cepheus Engine Game. This week, Gypsy Knight Games released Clement Sector: The Rules (An Alternate Cepheus Engine Universe). The GKG rules follow a major rework of their entire (formerly) Traveller RPG-releated line to make their products OGL compliant, even going so far as to strip the word “traveller” from all their books. These products are great because the rise of Cepheus has given me my 2d6-based Sci-Fi adventure gaming mojo back!

You know what? I’m OK with that.

I’m OK because after years of disappointing Mongoose content and watching the roll-out of their second edition (which fails to impress me) I now understand Mongoose is making a naked attempt to take back commercial profits of an IP that the OGL SRD release gave away. Mongoose wants to make bank not only on the Classic Era Third Imperium setting, but any other setting that uses “their” rules engine.

Since 1979 I have gamed with Traveller, but Jason “Flynn” Kemp, Paul Elliott at Zozer, and John Watts at Gypsy Knights Games have together taught me I don’t need “Traveller” to play a fun 2D6-Based Classic Era Sci-Fi RPG.

————-

Post Script: But wait, isn’t there another “current” Traveller RPG out there? All this legal wrangling over MgT second edition also got me thinking about Traveller5. According to the front plate in the T5 Print Edition 5.1:

Copyright (C) 2015 Far Future Enterprises.

All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without express written permission from the publisher.

FFE maintains a FUP Fair Use Policy (available on request) detailing reasonable uses of the Traveller5 game system (including references to the material, copying, web presences, and derivative works) while still respecting its copyright and intellectual property.

It appears that T5 is not Open Game Content but allows reasonable non-commercial use. Not being governed by the Open Game License will require negotiating commercial-use with FFE.

“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright  1977-2015 Far Future Enterprises.”