A Truly Free License

in tabletop-games •  8 months ago

About Us

Loreshaper Games was designed as an exercise in testing a theory, one which has come to be a fairly important one in my life.
As a game designer who started as a hobbyist and desires to be a pro one day, I've spent a lot of time working on games, and one of the greatest tragedies I've seen is in the form of having great games that people just can't legally access because they're out-of-print or too expensive for their target audience.
I don't believe in encouraging piracy, because I feel it sends the wrong message. I believe strongly in IP rights, but not in the strong use of IP rights. So when I saw a trend in the tabletop gaming industry started by the OGL, I thought it would be a start of a great movement.
So the vast majority of our stuff is free in the libre sense; both offered without charge and with the ability for anyone to transform it. We also don't use viral licenses: if you see our stuff and want to make stuff with it, we're not going to tell you how. We're just gonna give you a nice big thumbs-up as you do it.

Why We Have Our Own License (& A Brief History of RPG Licenses)

The tabletop roleplaying game industry has always thrived on independent creators; nearly everyone who plays a roleplaying game will personally and collectively add to the rules, settings, and products they engage with.
Fudge started a whole culture of open gaming, and remains a solid system and contender to this day (even if it is not as well known as it once was). A solid system with a great following, Fudge shaped my early days as a roleplayer and designer.
There were other games that followed suit, but the big win for Open Gaming came with the OGL. Wizards of the Coast somehow managed to convince their legal team to draft something that would give them a great reach, but fails to deliver on all its promises.
Unfortunately, the OGL is burdened down by technicalities and common practices antithetical to our goals. Other systems have adopted it, or similar licenses, but the methods pursued usually prevent people from simply modifying the content and saving it for later. It doesn't cover the whole product cover-to-cover, but only the basic rules, some of the core content, and maybe extras. While Paizo has by far been the most notable OGL success story, even they don't allow setting materials to be freely distributed, making it difficult to enjoy with friends without committing to pay some money.
Technically, we could release our games under OGL, but it's viral, meaning that all third-party products based on your work need to be released under OGL, at least in theory if not in practice. We take offense to that.
Other games have pursued alternative licenses, both under other gaming-specific licenses, and under licenses such as Creative Commons. Sometimes the Creative Commons has actually made games less free, as is the example with Eclipse Phase, a game which I strongly enjoy but have to express severe discontent with the viral and non-commercial licensing clauses it includes.
I believe strongly in a free-market system, and I've been dedicated to pursuing this as a safeguard against the horrible atrocities that have happened as a result of managed economies. I also believe that to open something up is to allow others to capitalize on your ideas. In the digital age, we're hoping to move toward allowing people to vote with their money, offering all our products with the exception of minor optional pieces (like adventures, GM supplements, and patron/backer rewards, which only one person in a group needs and are not critical to play) as entirely free and modifiable, available as "donationware", via subscription services that bundle it with other games, and now here on Steemit (once I figure out a good way to do this; I'm open to any ideas). That's an inclusive and, by the way: nothing goes behind a paywall except stuff for the hyper-enthusiasts.
In the digital era, where distribution is effectively free for us, we don't see a reason not to offer our products at the very least price the market will offer for them: if you like them, spend money on them to drive future developments. If you don't, you can try them risk-free and be 100% sure instead of simply writing them off. Steemit literally lets us offer our products at no cost and still make money off of them, so it's ideal for our operations.
I believe that having the world have access to games is a great way to foster communication and goodwill; roleplaying games are a way that we connect with others and ourselves on a deep communicative level, and the more of that we can share the better humanity will be as a whole. Plus, having fun is a positive end in and of itself, and the more people we can help achieve that the better we'll sleep at night.

Our License

Our license isn't particularly controversial (learn from the masters and all that), but it has a few features I want to go over. First, let's take a look at the full text:

Tabletop Attribution License

Permission is granted to any legal entity without charge to distribute or create derivative works of the licensed content, assuming that the following conditions are met:
The original creators of the work, Loreshaper Games, and subsequent contributors, receive attribution.
The form of attribution provided in the above section of the license itself shall be sufficient to satisfy this requirement.
Hyperlinks should be preserved for digital distributions, and human-legible web addresses should be provided in works distributed via print.
Furthermore, this license includes the following clauses:

  1. Logos, trade dress, and titles of products (including trademarked terms) may not be used without securing individual agreements.
    A. The following logos, trade dress, or titles may be utilized without individual agreements (N/A).
    B. The following logos, trade dress, or titles may be utilized with a modification to indicate third-party usage (N/A).
    C. Licenses granted under 1.A. or 1.B. may be revoked at the discretion of the original creators of the work, such as in cases of offensive or substandard content.
  2. The rights for derivative works remain with their creators:
    A. The creation of a derivative work transfers no inherent rights to the original work
    B. the creators of the original work do not receive rights for the derivative work.
  3. The original work may be distributed freely without modification.
  4. The following content in this document, such as visual elements, is not released under the TAL: N/A
  5. Works and content licensed under the TAL shall remain perpetually licensed under the most recent version of the TAL, to the fullest extent permitted by law.

Let's talk about each of these parts for a minute.


While legally binding, this part is intended to be human legible. It covers the basic overview of the copyright part of the license; basically: you can use it so long as you say you did.

You wouldn't need to include Loreshaper Games in this spot if you're applying this license to something else.

Clause 1: Branding

The purpose of this section is to handle the branding and trademark side of affairs. It's sort of a second layer of attribution. We use this differently for each product, and we'll include human-legible explanations of how to respect our trade dress once we move to products that really get involved in this clause.

I'm not entirely sure if this is necessary or not, but I've seen similar clauses/systems in other works, and I'm pretty sure that the copyright-specific foreword won't handle this.

Notice that you cannot revoke the right to create derivative works; this is a Fire and Forget license (or, rather, fire and lose all ability to prosecute), but you can ask that they don't use your branding. This is equivalent to moral rights elsewhere in the world, but I'm US based so I have to write this in.

Clause 2: Derivative Works

There was nothing in the earlier parts of the license to specify it as viral. This clause simply makes it super non-viral. It's a shield to make sure that no infringement of third-party works exists.

Clause 3: Distribution

A lot of the OGL stuff is kinda-free, in that the text is free, but you can't distribute the finished product freely. This clause puts an end to that.

Anything under the TAL is 100% free for redistribution, which is one thing I liked about the CC license of EP.

Clause 4: Content Licensed Differently

I don't use this for my own stuff, with the exception of noting public domain works, but this is something you could use if you wanted to license something under the TAL when there are other rights entanglements that you need to be aware of. I just use it to denote when things are truly public domain as opposed to being TAL-licensed.

Clause 5: No Take-Backsies

This clause is intended to prevent bad actors from messing around with TAL-licensed products. Once you slap the TAL on something you're unable to undo it. There are a few rare cases where this would theoretically happen, but they're very rare.

Thank you!

If you're still reading, you're the sort of person we need. I hope you enjoy our games as much as we enjoy making them, and that you share the word. Feel free to drop me a line at kyle@loreshapers.net if you have anything you need me to know.

— Kyle, Head Honcho of Loreshaper Games

P.S: I am not a lawyer, merely a good impostor (I did study copyright law under the late Dennis Karjala, but only as an elective as part of my undergraduate studies). There will probably be changes to this license as it hits reality head-on, but not any that change our vision. Speaking of Karjala, I think it's important to acknowledge the role his philosophy played in solidifying my commitment to the TAL and bringing it into reality.

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