4e: GSL weirdness

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The Game System License has a what appears to be a big hole in it.

Certain monsters, such as the Beholder and the Displacer Beast, (and possibly other non-monster things) are excluded from the SRD.

Before 4e, these things were considered Product Identity (despite the fact that D&D’s claim on the displacer beast is tenuous) and were not included in the 3.x SRD or as Open Gaming Content.

The thing is, as far as I can tell, the GSL only limits what you can do with respect to terms in the SRD. As such, I don’t think there is anything in the GSL stopping someone from using, say, beholders in a product – or redefining them in a way that wouldn’t be permitted of a Bodak or Bulette (both of which are in the SRD).

Oddly, the trademark notice in the Monster Manual doesn’t claim a trademark on any monster names or likenesses, either… so that doesn’t appear to be a restriction.

Of course, if you published under the GSL and abused this, I believe that Wizards could probably just alter the license retroactively in order to stop you from publishing your book in which beholders are happy, purple, smiling beasties. It is rather one-sided.

This should not be construed as legal advice, by the way.
(Yes, I have a law degree. Pretend I’m not using it. )



1 Response

  1. I think it is something that, like much of the current IP issues, will only be settled by a court case. As I understand it, TSR let the copyrights slip for the monsters years ago, so WotC doesn’t really own Beholder, but they can claim it as Product Identity as a kind of half-copyright (paraphrasing half-understood IP law here). So you get Eye Beast miniatures from Reaper, an Eye King template from Green Ronin, etc. We all know its a Beholder, just like we know a mind flayer when we see one, no matter what they call it.

    To me it all ties into hobbits and OSRIC. Halflings exists because TSR couldn’t call them Hobbits. Nowadays, you either know that halfling is just a non-infringing term for hobbit or don’t know or care much at all about it. One of the complaints towards systems like OSCRIC is that, well, it isn’t called D&D, so it isn’t really D&D. But, at some point, aren’t we doing the same thing that TSR did when they decided to call hobbits halflings?

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