Updated: Jan 19
[I'm a writer and I like to write, so this is wordy. However, you can snag yourself a draft Snow Baboon creature stat block at the end of this article if you read it all! And, sure, if you want to skip the words and go grab the stat block but then you'd miss all the lovely words...the words!]
If you are reading this it is likely that you are aware of the kafuffle that has broken out online due to the licence changes that have been leaked from Wizards of the Coast regarding third party creation of content.
The really short version is that the new licence would appear to be far more restrictive than the old licence and would in fact, replace the old licence. (Something that many felt would never happen due to the wording and spirit of the old one.)
It's not good. It's also based on leaked information, so the accuracy of it all has to be taken with a slight pinch of salt. And whilst Wizards have finally responded to the ruckus and said they would take things on board and they didn't mean it as it has been taken etc. their reply is rather lacking - and I'm being charitable there.
On the positive side several companions, notably Paizo have presented a robust response and vowed to create a properly, and permanently, free to use gaming system for all.
Bravo to them and the others.
I also think that this is one of those moments where it pays dividends to take a step back and consider, how can this be a good thing?
As a sole trader who's livelihood is wrapped up with his ability to produce compatible products to the leading game systems in the RPG market I'm one of those small creators at the heart of this particular storm.
And I'm not worried.
In fact, after some reflection, I'm grateful.
And here is why - for clarity, let me point out that when I write 'writing for a single game system' and other such phrases, I mean 'compatible' with a single game system but writing 'compatible' every single time in the following paragraphs is going to be dull to read.
ONE. Complacency is the mind killer - Putting out content aimed at a single game system is narrow and limited in creative focus. All systems have certain assumptions hard backed into them and breaking those often makes of an unpleasant gaming experience. As such, whilst you can strive to be creative writing for a single ruleset there is only so far you can push things before your adventure that was balanced nicely for say - Starfinder, is suddenly more Call of Cthulhu but without the supporting mechanics. Sure you can add those in but that get's clunky very quickly. Starfinder has space at it's heart, Cthulhu has horror at it's heart. If you want to write horror in space... horror comes first so take your Cthulhu and set it on the moon on in another dimension. That's going to be an easier fit.
(I've had one of those moments where I fear that my example might be used to discredit the overall point. I'm sure you could write horror in space with Starfinder but if you only wrote for Starfinder and wanted to write horror, I'd advise you to learn Cthulhu to broaden and stretch your creative range.)
TWO. One is the most dangerous number in business - If you only sell one type of product, you are vulnerable to when that product falls out of fashion. This came up with a fellow creative who I interviewed for The Oracle RPG magazine. It's always tempting to write material that goes along with the most popular ruleset. However, and it's a big however, you do not own that ruleset, no matter how sharing and caring they are being. And, as anyone who has ever entered into a business contract. The lovely warm feelings that start at the beginning of a collaboration or partnership are rarely there by the end. Which is why you can never rely on good will, only good business practise. Which is to work with multiple clients or have multiple products.
I have multiple projects coming out over the next few months:
Zilight - Zombie solo play game
Starship Scavengers - Sci-fi solo play game
The Oracle #30,31,32 - system-neutral fantasy RPG magazine
Vastral's Guide to Magical Oddities 3 - system-neutral fantasy RPG magic items
You Ask, I Write 2 - come ask me an RPG question, system-neutral content
Those are effectively aimed at three different markets - zombie lovers, sci-fi fans and fantasy RPGers. Yes, there is crossover, but they are distinct products for distinct groups.
Zilight was literally written with the intention of selling it at ComicCons. Where I would not take my other products.
That's because I do this for a living and I can't rely on any one market or product type. This licence business simply reinforces that.
THREE. 5e design is meh - Okay, I've held my tongue on this point for years but frankly, one of the big reasons that I have my own styling for things like stat blocks is that I don't like the ones that are used in 5e. However, the amount of pressure to use the same style, use matching wording etc is intense. If anything, if WOTc star wanes a little, and I think it has now amongst the hard-core fans, then it should open up acceptability for material that is still compatible, yet is styled differently. The challenge is, will the fans still purchase it? I think they will. After all, if you are a casual player, you are likely going to stick to WOTc products. If you are anything more than that, then you will probably know already, that when you go to Kickstarter and find my products on sale, that they are not 'official' but they can be 'used in conjunction' with the official rules to have a fun adventure.
FOUR. Safety helps you sleep at night. - Hand in hand with the thought that WOTc might become more litigious going forward then changing the way things look isn't a bad thing at all. Yes, legally there is a well established precedent for making and selling products that are compatible with another companies stuff (that's how the 3rd party car part industry exists) but for your lonely little creative who really, really doesn't want any legal issues with anyone, well, the more you can create your own look and feel of product, the better.
And you know what else you can do? Whilst you are making your stat blocks and other materials look unique, you can tweak and amend the rules. You can add things and take things out as you, as a creative RPG writer, thinks is best. And sure, you might need to include a line or two in your book/magazine/adventure explaining what you've done but it means you are offering a unique product. A product that you changed and enhanced.
You saw above that Vastral's Guide 3 is coming out - it's at Kickstarter right now until 17 February in case you wondered: Link Well, one of the big differences with the magic items in there is that they are be found damaged and repaired. Their damaged state alters their abilities - weakening some, removing others etc. And what you repair them with can make a difference.
That mechanic has been in since Volume 1. Because I thought it should. It gives the Games Master more options - you don't just find the Rod of Time, you find one that is cracked and leaking temporal energy... You know what that does? That triggers a side-quest where if the players want their characters to have a fully functional item, they have to go and get components to fix it. None of which is in 5e. Yet all the Vastral books are entirely compatible with that game system. Which leads us to the fifth reason:
FIVE. What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Creative and business hurdles make you a better creative and business person. I've been full-time, self-employed RPG writer for nearly three years now. (And I've been self-employed before for many years.) No one who works for themselves wants to spend hours overcoming a challenge - whether that is researching the best broadband provider or reformatting their creature stat blocks. But, once you are through the pain of doing it, you typically have something better at the other side of it - and you have learnt some things in the process. (For example, never use British Telecom for your broadband - I'm not kidding never.)
The stat blocks are still Work in Progress by the way but I'm leaning hard towards the ones on the right. The one on the left was an early variation on what we've classically done, which in turn was different to the WOTc blocks. These just take us further away. The second hit point number (16) - 32/16 - is a 'battered' rating. Basically, it is half the max hit points of the creature. You can use it as a trigger for special effects or for a moral check etc. A very useful mechanic. We would explain it, in whatever publication this was coming out in - in this case The Oracle, issue 30.