Publishing Third Party Products for Old-School Essentials

Gavin Norman oldschoolessentials

So you've noticed this Old-School Essentials Third Party License thing. You've got a cool idea for a supplement or adventure you'd love to publish, but you've heard about this thing called the Open Game License which is somehow also involved, though you're not sure how exactly. You wish there was a simple explanation for how this works somewhere. Some simple steps that you can follow so you can think about fun stuff like mutant kobolds, instead of worrying about legalese.

This post is for you!

 

Publishing an Old-School Essentials Compatible Product

If you want to publish something designed for use with Old-School Essentials, the third party license is the thing you need. It's written in plain English and is formatted and structured in a similar way to the Old-School Essentials rule books that you're familiar with.

The basic gist of it is:

  1. The license has various terms stipulating what you can and can't do in your product. (e.g. your product's visual design must not make it appear that it's an official Old-School Essentials product published by Necrotic Gnome.)
  2. In return for following the license terms, you're allowed to refer to the trademarked name "Old-School Essentials" in your product and to use the compatibility logo.

It's quite simple.

Some Examples

See here for a list of products published under the Old-School Essentials compatibility license.

Including Content from Other Old-School Essentials Books in Your Product

How about if you want to publish an adventure that includes the stat blocks for standard monsters from the Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Monsters book? Or some magic items from Classic Fantasy: Treasures? It's not necessary to reinvent the wheel, right? Correct. This is where the Open Game License (OGL) comes in.

The basic gist of the OGL is:

  1. Products released under the OGL can declare some or all of their content as Open Game Content.
  2. You are allowed to copy or adapt anything that's declared as Open Game Content in your own product, as long as your product is also released under the OGL.

Basic Procedure for Using Open Game Content

If you want to copy or adapt Open Game Content in you product, you need to do the following:

  1. Check license: Check the Open Game License of the book you want to copy from. You're looking to confirm that the content you want to copy is declared as Open Game Content. (If it's declared as product identity or not clearly noted as Open Game Content, your adventure ends here.)
  2. Copy content: Copy the Open Game Content you want and put it in your book. You now need to publish your book under the OGL.
  3. Copy license: Insert a copy of the OGL somewhere in your book (at the back is typical). The easiest way is to simply copy the OGL from the book you're including Open Game Content from. (Copy everything from "OPEN GAME LICENSE Version 1.0a" to "END OF LICENSE".)
  4. Add copyright notice: Check out section 15 "COPYRIGHT NOTICE" of the license. This lists the names and copyright info of all products whose Open Game Content forms part of your book. Do not remove anything from this list! Add the name of your own book to the list, at the end.
  5. Declare Open Game Content: On the same page as the OGL, add a declaration of what content in your book is Open Game Content and what is not. (Naturally, anything you copied from another source must be declared as Open Game Content.)

That's it!

A Simple Example: Copying a Monster from Old-School Essentials

Let's take a really simple example. You're writing an adventure and you want to copy the kobold monster stats from Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Monsters and include them in your product. Let's follow the steps 1-5 listed above.

1. Check License

Check the Open Game License of Classic Fantasy: Monsters to confirm that kobolds are declared as Open Game Content. The OGL page says:

"DESIGNATION OF PRODUCT IDENTITY
All artwork, logos, and presentation are product identity. The names “Necrotic Gnome” and “Old-School Essentials” are product identity. All text in the following sections is product identity: Introduction.

DESIGNATION OF OPEN GAME CONTENT
All text and tables not declared as product identity are Open Game Content."

Firstly, kobolds aren't declared as product identity. Secondly, all other content in the book is declared as Open Game Content. This includes kobolds, so you're good to go. Kobolds are Open Game Content!

2. Copy Content

Go in and copy the kobold stat block:

"Kobold
Small, wicked, hairless, canine humanoids with scaly, rust-coloured skin. Dwell underground.
AC 7 [12], HD ½ (2hp), Att 1 × weapon (1d4 or by weapon – 1), THAC0 19 [0], MV 60’ (20’), SV D14 W15 P16 B17 S18 (NH), ML 6 (8 with chieftain), AL Chaotic, XP 5 (bodyguard: 15, chieftain: 20), NA 4d4 (6d10), TT P (J)
Ambush: Set up surprise attacks.
Infravision: 90’.
Hate gnomes: Attack on sight.
Chieftain and bodyguards: A 2HD (9hp) chieftain and 1d6 1+1HD (6hp) bodyguards live in the kobold lair.
Hoard: Only have treasure type J when encountered in the wilderness or in their lair."

Insert it into your book wherever you need it. Edit / adapt as you wish.

3. Copy License

Your book now has to be released under the OGL. Copy the entire OGL from Classic Fantasy: Monsters. That's this bit (highlighted in pink):

4. Add Copyright Notice

The section 15 copyright notice you just copied currently reads as follows:

"15 COPYRIGHT NOTICE
Open Game License v 1.0 © 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
System Reference Document Copyright 2000-2003, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David Noonan, Rich Redman, Bruce R. Cordell, John D. Rateliff, Thomas Reid, James Wyatt, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.
B/X Essentials: Monsters © 2017 Gavin Norman. Author Gavin Norman.
Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Monsters © 2018 Gavin Norman."

You need to add your own product at the end of that list. So you'll end up with something like this:

"15 COPYRIGHT NOTICE
Open Game License v 1.0 © 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
System Reference Document Copyright 2000-2003, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David Noonan, Rich Redman, Bruce R. Cordell, John D. Rateliff, Thomas Reid, James Wyatt, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.
B/X Essentials: Monsters © 2017 Gavin Norman. Author Gavin Norman.
Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Monsters © 2018 Gavin Norman.
The Joy of Kobolds © 2020 Pie Face Games. Author Bob Fossil."

5. Declare Open Game Content

On the same page as the OGL, add a section where you state which parts of your book are Open Game Content and which are not. Remember that as you copied the kobold stat block from another source, you have to declare that as Open Game Content. You might end up with something like this:

"DESIGNATION OF PRODUCT IDENTITY
All artwork, logos, and presentation are product identity. The name “Pie Face Games” is product identity. All text not declared as Open Game Content is product identity.

DESIGNATION OF OPEN GAME CONTENT
The kobold stat block and description on page 23 are Open Game Content."

(This would be the least permissive declaration, only allowing others to copy the kobold that you copied from Classic Fantasy: Monsters. You can of course declare your own original content as Open Game Content as well, increasing the wealth of material in the open-source gaming ecosystem.)

That's It!

Of course, that's a very simple case. You've only copied a single piece of Open Game Content from a single book. But often that's all you need to do.

More advanced OGL operations are beyond the scope of this article. For more detailed information, I'd recommend the following blog posts (in addition to reading through the OGL itself, of course):

Questions?

This article is provided as an aid to the community. I don't have the time to get involved in detailed discussions on the content or on the OGL in general. If you do have questions, I'd recommend raising them in the Necrotic Gnome Discord server or the Old-School Essentials Facebook group.

Obligatory Legal Disclaimer

I am a game publisher, not a lawyer. This post does not constitute legal advice.


Older Post Newer Post


  • John on

    This is really nice! I had been thinking about doing some works as companions to other stuff under the OGL, and this is a nice little explanation.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published