Can Cthulhu Be Open? Part 2


Since posting about Chaosium’s stance on the Open Gaming License as it applies to the d100 game system, there has been a lot of chatter on various forums (in several different languages). Most recently, there has been some more detailed explanation by Chaosium, over on their BRP forum which I would urge anyone with an interest in publishing d100-like games to read.

Put simply, the Chaosium position is that while there was an OGL version of the Runequest rules produced by Mongoose in 2006, that fact does not mean you can use that OGL-published material in your own games. Why not? Because, they argue, Issiaries (Greg Stafford’s company which owned the Runequest IP at the time and licensed it to Mongoose) never gave a perpetual license for the use of the content … so Mongoose could never have produced an OGL version which allows any other parties a perpetual license to re-use content (which is what the OGL essentially is). By this logic, one assumes Chaosium believes that Mongoose was in breach of its licensing contract … although Issiaries did not object to the OGL version back in 2006, and it was only 5 or so years later that any questions were raised about the appropriateness of the OGL license.

The other assertion Chaosium make is that this same objection does NOT apply to the Legend RPG later produced by Mongoose. (The Legend RPG, for those who are unaware, was a product produced by Mongoose in 2011 — and still available from them. It is d100-like but is rewritten from the ground up and includes none of the Runequest-specific parts previously found in their Runequest SRD).

So How Does This Matter to Cthulhu Games?

While this is an interesting piece of history for fans of Runequest, I am personally much more interested in how this affects other games which have been developed since 2006 using content from the now-verboten Mongoose Runequest SRD. Some of those games are explicitly Lovecraftian, and it’s those which interest me most.

One of the great things about OGL-published games is that the publisher is obligated to include details about all the prior OGL titles from which they have derived content. That means the OGL statement at the back (or sometimes front) of a publication is a great source of information about the “ancestry” of a publication. In the current situation — when something from earlier “generations” has its legitimacy questioned, this kind of information can be invaluable in trying to sort out who in the “family tree” might also potentially be ruled “illegitimate”.

Sifting through the OGL statements for most of the “children” with a Lovecraftian leaning, I was able to synthesize the following “family tree” or inter-related games:

The part of the diagram shaded in red represents games which, under Chaosium’s interpretation of events, may have something to worry about. Each of these is either derived directly from the Mongoose SRD (which Chaosium asserts is now invalid) or derives from *both* the Mongoose SRD and Legend. The reason these games could be in trouble is that the chain of “claims to legitimacy” can be seen as a bit like a row of dominoes. If something you’ve relied on in your game is proven invalid — knocking down “their” domino — there’s a good chance that you’re somewhere downstream in the row of toppling plastic. even if that’s just one of several sources you’ve used.

Interestingly enough, of the Lovecraftian games I looked at the only game which has a rock-solid claim (according to Chaosium’s statements) is Arc Dream’s Delta Green RPG. So … anybody out there who is contemplating making a new d100 game, you’d do well to look at how the Arc Dream guys worked around the potential landmines.



4 responses to “Can Cthulhu Be Open? Part 2

  • docfuturity

    The OGL is really (usually) only supposed to impact the ability of a compliant publisher’s ability to create emulated rules (the idea is rule mechanics can’t be copyrighted). I can see a claim if the license identified IP that it shouldn’t have (Glorantha specific content), but otherwise even using the standard OGL 1.0a from WotC is sufficient to release a D100 clone without even specifically touching the Mongoose SRD (you’d just need to avoid utilizing any of the SRD content). It makes sense though on the use of the Legend SRD, since Mongoose specifically stripped out all potential IP from that document and retained only rules content. I bet some of the games in red above may be referencing the RQ SRD but they could easily redact those portions and replace with the Legend SRD.

    • deanadelaide

      I suspect you are right on the last point, though I am sure that some of the folks who have had perfectly “acceptable” games for 10+ years might feel miffed at having to rewrite a few pieces here and there and re-issue their game.

      I also wonder whether the Open Cthulhu guys — whose SRD kicked off this whole elaborate debate — could do the same, especially since their route back to the challenged Mongoose SRD is via Renaissance (via Open Quest). Actually if either of those upstream games fixed their reliance on the old Mongoose SRD then all they’d have to do is follow suit I guess. Whether they do that or not is anyone’s guess, though.

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