A recent absurdity involving a rather Vaudevillian effort to join the RPG industry by the name of Dark Phoenix Publishing has resulted in one good thing, so far as Misfit Studios is concerned: it’s reawakened an interest of mine in a rules set that has been beating against the back of my skull for about a decade.
Since parting ways with a company I previously did some minor freelancing for, I’ve often thought about rewriting, revising, and generally fixing up this company’s much-loved, but often much-lamented rules. Their splintered, frequently-contradictory errata for their rules have had some rather heavy-handed patches added through the 30+ years they’ve been around, but there are still many issues to be found with it. Even the game’s biggest fans typically admit it has huge faults. Despite having not played the game in about 10 years, I’ve still participated in conversations about its rules and how they could be properly patched because the same thought still hasn’t left my mind.
Well, after witnessing this process attempted oh-so-very wrong by DPP, it’s once again sparked my interest in taking up this challenge. As such, I’d like to gather a group of interested people who are familiar with the previous rules to join me in a discussion about what’s wrong and how to fix it. If sufficient good ideas arise from these conversations, it’s very likely it will lead to this group of people becoming playtesters.
Legalities and Ethical Concerns
“But wait a sec, Steven,” you say, “isn’t it illegal to rewrite someone else’s rules and publish it as a product-for-profit under Misfit Studios?” The answer, in brief, is “no, not if done properly.” A set of rules cannot be protected under copyright or trademarks laws (although patents may sometimes apply.) Instead, it is how a game’s rules are presented (written, organized, illustrated) that is protected by copyright and trademarks. What this essentially boils down to is this project could not use the same wording and overall construction as the rules it is derived from. Everything must be written using my own words, use my own art and trade dress, be presented in my own style and format, and not use any of the trademarks or patents claimed by the other publisher. I also can’t declare or otherwise indicate any degree of compatibility with the other publisher’s products–the rules and subsequent products must be self-contained and stand or fall in their own right and on their own merits.
Aside from complying with this necessity of design required to avoid legal issues, the changes and fixes I already have in mind are going to introduce some fairly interesting things that will diverge greatly from the original. Make no mistake, this will be no carbon copy or twin. It will have its own feel, unique approach, and entirely new and different ways of doing things–a distant cousin, at best.
“Okay then, Steve,” you may ask next, “then isn’t it unethical to take someone else’s rules, rewrite it, and sell it even if you can get around legal issues?” Possibly–it’s a matter of opinion, perspective, and intent.
Despite my history with this other publisher, I’m not considering this product as a way to “stick it to them” or to poach their customers. The rules have always been among my favourites, for all its faults, and is the one that really drew me into the hobby as a kid even though it wasn’t my first RPG. I also considered that the original rules’ creators have had 30+ years of listening to their fans’ legitimate complaints and concerns regarding the rules, and have largely ignored them. They’ve given no indication they intend to do anything in line with what I’m considering but their core fans have stuck around anyway because of their love for the content and settings (and yes, the rules as well), so I don’t see why they would jump ship now.
I plan on revisting something that was my “go to” rules set for 15 or so years and making it into the rules I always hoped they could be–to make it something new that gives a nod of the head to the old. Consider this my take on the OSRIC movement. And, when you get down to it, this is how the original rules came about in the first place. By his own admission, the original rules’ publisher created his game after his own dissatisfaction with the leading rules set of the time.
How to Join the Discussion (and Playtest?)
As I said, I want to start up a private conversation with a bunch of interested people to discuss what can be done before I invest any time and money into the project. Misfit Studios is a business, so despite how much the gamer in me wants to see this done, I can’t afford to divert resources away from projects that pay the bills.
If you’re interested in helping out with the brainstorming and (and potentially with playtesting) should download our NDA (you can snail mail it or sign and scan both pages to email back), and drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org explaining what you bring to the table and why the project interests you. Once we’ve got a bunch of people, we’ll start chatting about things. If the project moves on into playtesting for the purpose of publication, all active playtesters (meaning you have to speak up and participate) will receive a free PDF of the rules upon publication.