Saturday, January 14, 2023

A Minor Point In The OGL Dustup

 I watched an interview with Ryan Dancey, architect of the Open Gaming License, in which he discussed what is copyrightable and what is not. His example, though, was the combat tables in AD&D (1st edition, naturally), which he claimed were not made according to a formula, but were instead adjusted by Gary Gygax manually according to "what looked good", and were therefore art and copyrightable. That, though, is not the case at all. All of the combat tables in AD&D (and the "alternative combat system" in the original D&D booklets) were simply a highly "at the table" usable expression of a fairly complicated, but still systematic, formula. This can be attested to by the existence of THAC0 ("To Hit Armor Class 0") in the listing of monsters in the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide. There was also an "AL", standing for "Attack Level", listed in the Monster & Treasure Assortment, Sets One-Three: Levels One-Nine, which is effectively a "To Hit Armor Class 9" (where Armor Class 9 represented an unarmored target) entry. Dancey is simply confused by what he thinks his team was able to add to the D&D legacy in terms of rules systems.

Anyway, that's just a thing that I felt I had to get out there.


  1. I haven't seen the interview, but: Dancey's example sounds like BS in any event. A table of numbers that define the rules for the game are still the rules of the game, even if they don't follow a formula. "Full house beats a flush" is a rule of poker that doesn't follow a mathematical formula. That doesn't mean you can copyright it. Similarly, if a level 5 Cleric needs to roll 13 to hit AC 6 (or whatever), even if Gygax plucked that number out of thin air, it's still simply a rule of the game and not an original, creative literary expression meriting copyright protection. Dancey should stop pretending to be a copyright lawyer.

    1. I tend to think you're probably right in general about that, but your example is flawed. Poker hands are ranked strictly according to the probability of drawing each one. A full house beats a flush because you are mathematically more likely to get a flush than a full house and the game rewards the less-common event.

      Either way, though, it seems to me that even arbitrary numbers without discernable method, as you say, do not deserve copyright protection, simply because they define the procedure. Now, incorporating text in High Gygaxian explaining the author's reasoning about why a particular procedure is useful or necessary would be a different story, but you are correct that that is not what Dancey said.