Monday, February 27, 2012

A Rant (You've Been Warned)

For several days now I've tried to avoid thinking about this. It was to no avail, as I can't seem to stop. When I think about blogging, it is uppermost. Now, when I even think about gaming, it is there. I know I am allowing it to take up far too much of my thinking, so, I've decided to get it off my chest. Maybe then I can move on. If you don't want to read any further, it won't hurt my feelings.

I'm a Linux guy (Mint, if you're interested), and by extension, open source. I don't have Windows anywhere, except whatever embedded version my son's Xbox360 runs. As it relates to Linux, one of the things open source means is that I can take a piece of software you wrote and tweak it, modify it, and call it something else. I can even sell it. But one thing I must do is make it freely available. Not necessarily on DVDs with full documentation, but at least a download version must be freely available. Not crippleware, either, but fully functional.

I believe the retroclones should operate on the same principle, since they are made possible only by the auspices of the OGL (which I know differs in details, but the "open" spirit is what's important here).

It offends me that there are those who will take the work of others, work made freely available in good faith, and use it to profit. I am specifically speaking of Crypts & Things. Maybe there are others, I don't know. Before we go any further, I want to make something perfectly clear:

I do not own this game in any form. All of these comments are based on the ad write-ups and reviews I've seen. If I am misinformed, it is due to my sources.

Something else I want to be clear about: I know that C&T includes a background and that there are mechanical ties woven into the rules. In all sincerity, I congratulate the folks behind the design and development of that background. Taking your raw creativity and turning it into a living is a wonderful thing.

My issue lies not with the original background material or house rules to support it. It isn't with making that background a commercial product. My problem is with using someone else's work to help sell it. Swords & Wizardry is freely available. Akrasia's house rules are freely available. Those two documents are the engine that drives the setting in C&T. Without them, and the OGL S&W was written under, C&T would not exist as it does.

As far as I know, all the other games that are directly derived from clones, or the original rules, have a freely available option. Some are full versions, such as S&W Core, and some are missing the art, like Labyrinth Lord. But they all make a full, free version available. That is within the spirit of the "open" movement. I'm not campaigning for a free version of C&T for myself. I don't need it. I have S&W and Akrasia's house rules. I can house rule out races and add rules making magic dangerous (in fact, I have posted about it already). As good as I am sure the background is, I don't need it, either.

I'm arguing for a principle here. If you're going to take advantage of the work and imagination of others, work that is made freely available, you should give back. Otherwise, taking advantage is all you're doing. The open community, whether open gaming, or open source, is symbiotic. Don't be a parasite.


  1. I'm also a Linux guy (Unix, really, but I have contributed to the open source community and use Linux and GNU tools heavily). I think you are being a bit hard on C&T here, especially since Akrasia's house rules are available for free on the web (and even collected into an attractive PDF).

    Other clones that don't have full free downloads:

    - LotFP Grindhouse Edition (Rules & Magic is free, but the Referee and Tutorial books are not)

    - ACKS (very little "product identity" content, but no free downloads)

    As long as products are following the law with regard to the license (and allowing other derivative works as required) I don't think we should feel entitled to anything else. It's also worth remembering that the real philanthropist here is Wizards of the Coast for creating the OGL and opening up a large quantity of traditional D&D intellectual property.

  2. You may be right about me being too hard on them. My concern for that is what held me back from posting. The real bottom line is that it is none of my business. It comes down to one thing: money. Money is being made and one of the selling points is that C&T is based on S&W. I don't know if Mr. Finch is getting any sort of royalty on sales of C&T (that's an arrangement between those parties and is none of my business). Akrasia seems pretty happy with his mention in the credits.

    I know this post and comment are all over the place. It's because my feelings on this are all jumbled up. If a person can manage to make his creative energy pay his bills, I'm all for that. I'm not concerned in the least that C&T is a commercial product. I just think that if it is based on the open source work of others, it should have an open source option. If it does not have an open source option, then the author of the open source work from which it is derived should be compensated.

    I've downloaded LotFP. It is based on the d20 SRD pretty directly. It clones the feel of the old style of play, rather than the rules. Maybe that's splitting hairs, but it's important. Being directly based on the SRD, it is derived from a money-maker. James Raggi did all the heavy lifting to bend the SRD to his vision.

    With C&T, they took the work of Matt Finch, and used it to "power" their game. I wouldn't even be writing this if they had done the "cloning" work for themselves. Matt made his work freely available, and now somebody is making money on his generosity. Furthermore, he made it freely available in the spirit of community that the OSR engenders and enjoys. It is a direct contravention of that spirit to take a fellow community member's work and sell it for your own profit.

    Brave Halfling is releasing Delving Deeper soon. It is a commercial product based on S&W WhiteBox. According to their website there will be a free no-art pdf for download "early in 2012".