Thursday, July 17, 2014

Questioning my efforts

Probably one of my biggest faults as a game-designer is that I don’t think I am terribly original. And this makes me second-guess almost all of my efforts. Case in point, Mutants & Marvels.

As you no doubt know, M&M is a mash-up of TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes and the d20 mechanic. In order to create it, I basically took MSH, filed off any references to Marvel Comics and characters, and tore out the old, percentile-based mechanic, replacing it with a basic, d20 mechanic. In a nutshell, that’s it.

Two other efforts have done almost the exact same thing. And arguably, done it better.

Four Color (4C) is a direct clone of MSH. They also filed off any Marvel references, and re-skinned it into a generic supers RPG that works just like old one did (with very few modifications, as far as I can see). 4C is available for free, and has nice art and good production values.

Icons is a bit more ambitious. They recently published a comprehensive version, that is credited to one of the creators of Mutants & Masterminds. Now, they substituted a d6-based mechanic for the original. It’s a pretty complete game, and sells for about $10 on RPGNow, also with good art and production values.

One thing that both 4C and Icons did was to change the names of the Abilities and the descriptive words associated with the Ranks. In both, the Ability names used are simply synonyms for FASERIP. And in both, rather than using the scale of Feeble up through Unearthly (or beyond), they make the “words” secondary to the numeric values, and then list possible words to use if you like the descriptive feel of MSH (though in both, the original words are still listed as choices).

In Mutants & Marvels I kept both the FASERIP ability names, and the descriptive ranks from MSH. I noted them as Open Gaming Content on the OGL, but they are still there. And this has me questioning things. Did the writers of the other games change the names and words simply to differentiate their games from MSH? Or did they do so for legal reasons? It’s this second question that makes me sweat.

I have read and re-read the OGL, and I think the way I did it is perfectly legal, since the OGL is actually not designed specifically with any single game in mind. True, it is most often used for D&D and other d20 derivative works, but that is not specifically listed as a stipulation of the License. However, I’m not a lawyer.

As of right now, M&M is ready to go. I have done all the edits, made my final decisions on art and other original content, formatted the PDF, and am ready to just upload it to RPGNow. And here is where I falter. Because I’m afraid people will see it, and laugh at me for being a hack. Or worse yet, someone will file a Cease & Desist against me, forcing me to take it down.

I just don’t know what to do.


  1. Nothing is 100% original. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, seeing just a bit farther than those who went before us. This is no less true in game design than in any other field of endeavor.

    You've written and (as of any moment now) published your own RPG. That's more than 99% of gamers will ever do.

    Is your game decent? If you look through a list of published RPGs, half of them suck. Many of them are unplayably bad systems, or have language that could be improved by having a fourth grader edit for style. Your game is better than that, and probably better than at least half of the offerings. If so, you've done better than 50% of game designers.

    Oh, and you did it with fewer resources than many of those people, who were working full time with teams of professionals and valuable intellectual property at their disposal.

    Not every great physicist is Albert Einstein, and not every great composer is Bethoven. You wouldn't go to an art museum, see an amazing painting, and say, "That painter sucks, because she didn't make the Mona Lisa!" No, you would stand an appreciate the amazing painting, one of many, but unique among all other paintings. You may see the influence of Picaso or Renoir in the work, but even while commenting on those influences you wouldn't think the artist a hack. In fact, that painting may be someone's favorite. Of the thousands of patrons who walk by it each day, at least one will think, "That's beautiful! I would love to take that painting home with me and see it every day."

    You made your own game! Take credit for that! Enjoy it!

    1. Thanks! That was the last bit of encouragement I needed. I'm still just a *little* concerned about the legality. but the rest is fine. So, screw it! There it is! :)