This post is a guide for the Mörk Borg creator community. It discusses open licensing and provides a breakdown of the Mörk Borg third-party license. The goal is to help creators better understand RPG open licensing in general and the Mörk Borg license’s specific requirements for compliance.
Below, you’ll find a quick history of open licensing, which I think is important context, but you can skip it if you’re pressed for time or just not interested. Following that, you’ll find a general overview of open licensing and then a point-by-point explanation of the Mörk Borg third-party license. Next, you’ll find a brief discussion of other copyright concerns that may be relevant to your creative work. Finally, I conclude with a checklist to help you ensure your Mörk Borg content is in full compliance with the license.
Please note: I am not affiliated Stockholm Kartell, Ockult Örtmästare, Fria Ligan, or Mörk Borg except as an independent contractor providing editing and proofreading services. I am not a lawyer, and none of what follows should be construed as legal counsel. It is merely practical advice from a document nerd who’s familiar with copyright and licensing.
A Short History of Open Licensing
Open licenses for RPGs followed from the preceding, related concept of open-source software, which was the norm in the 1960s and then disappeared amidst the proliferation of copyright-protected proprietary software. Open-source software returned to prominence in the 1990s, which is around the time the open gaming movement also emerged (making third-party RPG content an unlikely analog cousin to videogame mods and machinima).
Open-source software and open-license RPGs are fundamentally similar: both are formal systems that are accessible and shareable amongst developers. In the realm of software, accessibility means developers can modify the code to create novel gameplay experiences, and shareability means it could circulate through society as culture. The same is true of open gaming content.
Accessibility and shareability define the “open” part of open gaming. Open doesn’t mean freedom to do as you please with the content. It’s open only inasmuch as anyone who wants to use the license is free to do so provided they abide by the restrictions.
Open gaming rose to prominence in the early 2000s when Wizards of the Coast released D&D 3e under its ambitious Open Gaming License (OGL). It was not the first open license in the RPG space, but it is historically the most significant.
The OGL was masterminded by Ryan Dancey, who later left Wizards to work at Paizo, publisher of Pathfinder—a game that wouldn’t exist without the OGL. In the early 2000s, Dancey and Wizards executives wanted to reclaim D&D’s market dominance, and to do that, they needed to generate unprecedented levels of fan engagement.
The OGL was the solution. Instead of DMs developing adventures and dungeons for their groups, anyone could create and distribute content for D&D, and it could happen fast; Wizards wouldn’t have to spend the time, money, and effort of reviewing applications and issuing licenses.
Having lived through it, I can tell you that OGL products flooded the market, and they all pointed back to D&D. The plan worked like a charm, and D&D returned to the top.
Today, open licenses have become relatively common among indie and small press RPGs, and they still serve the same purpose: enabling mass licensing of compatible content. That empowers gamers to become semi-official creators and to meaningfully participate in the brand and subculture.
Open Licensing 101
First and foremost, an open license is a legal contract between two parties, freely entered into by both. It is the same as any other contract: both parties must fulfill their obligation to one another.
Open licenses are developed and issued because they are a more efficient licensing model than the traditional one. An open license allows anyone, from small presses to indie zine makers (the licensees), to create content compatible with a particular RPG system.
The caveat is that anything published under the license must conform to that license’s stipulations to the letter. If not, the licensor will probably deliver a cease and desist to the licensee. The licensee may then either bring the work fully into compliance, or they must stop distributing it. Otherwise, the licensor may bring legal action against them.
Open licenses vary in size and complexity. Wizards’ OGL is a precisely worded, rather lengthy one. The Mörk Borg open license is, in contrast, cleanly and concisely written. (Love that Swedish design sensibility.) The licensing terms Gavriel Quiroga set for Warpland are even shorter and less formal:
Regardless of the form it takes, you can use an open license simply by doing that: using it. Do you accept the terms and conditions? Great! You’re now a licensee. Go forth and make content.
Understanding the Mörk Borg Third-Party License
This license is split into 5 broad parts:
- Preamble: what the license is and how it works
- Content: what you can reproduce or reuse from the core rulebook
- Branding: how you’re allowed to label and market your content
- Legal: copyright and your content’s relation to Stockholm Kartell, Ockult Örtmästare Games, and Fria Ligan
- Addenda: additional restrictions and social responsibilities of the licensee
Content, Legal, and Branding are all articles that introduce individual sections addressing specific points. Altogether, this license contains 13 discrete parts with distinct purposes, and we’re going to review them one by one.
The preamble simply explains what this document is: an open license for the Mörk Borg RPG. It’s similar to the preamble to a constitution or an introduction to a book or essay; it provides the main idea (open licensing) and gives you an idea of what the rest of the document will discuss. It also grants permission for creators to profit from their work.
Article 1: Content
You are allowed to make Mörk Borg-compatible content, and you’re allowed to say that it’s compatible with Mörk Borg. You do not need anyone’s permission to do so if you follow all other guidelines in the license.
This section protects the copyrighted status of official Mörk Borg content. Neither images nor text may be reproduced (excluding the text of page 17 in the core rulebook), and none of the text may be translated under the open license. The names of characters, monsters, and places may be freely used so creators can maintain a strong creative connection to the pre-established fiction.
The game’s rules and mechanics can be freely referenced and restated. If necessary, a creator can reiterate a rule that’s especially relevant to a particular release (infection, for example), or they can even use the system as a whole as the basis for a distinct, standalone game (like Ar-Em Bañas’ On the Bones of Bathala or Infinite Black’s Vast Grimm).
Article 2: Branding
You may not use the Stockholm Kartell, Ockult Örtmästare, Fria Ligan, or Mörk Borg logos. You are not directly affiliated with them, and so you cannot use their brand identities to sell your product.
Instead, you may use a special logo specifically designed to indicate compatibility with Mörk Borg. (Thanks, Johan!)
You may not state or imply that your product is official Mörk Borg content or that it is in any way sanctioned or endorsed by Stockholm Kartell, Ockult Örtmästare, Fria Ligan, or Mörk Borg.
Article 3: Legal
You alone are responsible for any legal claims brought against you as a result of publishing under the Mörk Borg third-party license. In short: if someone brings action against you, you are on your own. See Other Copyright & Intellectual Property Concerns below.
Any legal issues involving the license are the provenance of Sweden’s legal system. In the unfortunate circumstance that legal action is brought against you based on your use of or non-compliance with the license, the case will go before the Swedish courts, not those of your country of residence or citizenship.
Sections 9 & 10
These points are where I’ve seen the greatest number of third-party releases falter, and since these sections are very closely related, I’m going to address them together.
Section 9 is a mandatory legal notice that must be included in your product. It states that you and your content are not in any way associated with Stockholm Kartell or Ockult Örtmästare. It also explicitly states that you are publishing your content under the Mörk Borg third-party license and that you retain full ownership of that content.
Section 10 is another mandatory piece of legal text. It states that you hold no rights to Mörk Borg itself and that they are retained by Stockholm Kartell or Ockult Örtmästare. That’s why you can’t reproduce text and graphics from any official Mörk Borg publication; those rights are reserved, not released under the third-party license.
These two pieces of text are arguably the most crucial parts of the Mörk Borg third-party licensing agreement. They must be legibly included in any publication claiming compatibility with, or using open content derived from, Mörk Borg. The text must also be presented on any page or post used to directly distribute your content.
If you do not include this exact language—including the title and your name or pseudonym—within the document and on any platform where you are distributing it, then your product is not in compliance with the third-party license.
As of 16 December 2021, the Mörk Borg third-party license explicitly and unambiguously forbids the creation of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) under its provisions. Johan Nohr was kind enough to provide a comment on this decision:
“NFT is a ‘buy a star’-scam that also kills the environment and I don’t want MÖRK BORG anywhere near it.”
Nothing else really needs to be said.
Don’t be a dick. You may not use the third-party license to publish anything that maligns, slanders, or attacks anyone on the basis of descent, sex, sexuality, or any other inborn trait or personal preference. Gaming is about having fun with friends, not hating on people. It’s really that simple. It’s not even really a legal issue. It’s a matter of respect, human dignity, and good taste. In other words: don’t be a dick.
Other Copyright & Intellectual Property Concerns
The third-party license is designed to give creators the freedom to make original content while still protecting the integrity of the Mörk Borg brand. But just because you are compliant with the license doesn’t mean there aren’t other legal issues you may encounter.
First and foremost, you may not use any content that you don’t own or haven’t licensed from its creator. This includes text as well as images, which are protected in the same way that the rights to the graphics and language of Mörk Borg are reserved by the creators and protected by copyright.
Luckily, there are vast troves of pre-existing content that you can draw from.
One option is using content released under other open licenses such as those furnished by Creative Commons. In this case, of course, you will also need to abide by the rules established in those licensing agreements.
The premier resource is the public domain, which consists of content that is out of copyright, has never been in copyright (such as myths or folklore), or has been intentionally released from copyright. As a result, it can be absolutely, unconditionally, and freely used for whatever purpose. In 2021, for example, copyright on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby expired, and so Nick Duff blessed the world his Mörk Borg-compatible gem The Great Axeby.
This raises another relevant issue: parody. Parody is protected under fair use doctrine. The Great Axeby does not claim to be The Great Gatsby, the adventure is not in direct market competition with the novel, and any reasonable person can see that—despite similar characters and situations—they are clearly not the same thing. The former’s creative value derives from its obvious parody of the latter, and that value evaporates if it cannot draw on its source material.
On the other hand, Fitzgerald’s estate probably has more resources and better lawyers at its disposal than the average third-party content creator does. Legal battles are never fun, and they are extremely costly. If this is a concern for you, research parody and fair use, assess the risk, and use your own best judgment. If you’re able, seek legal counsel and get a qualified opinion.
Finally, be aware of licensing for fonts. Just because you’re able to download a font without paying for it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allowed to use the typeface for projects you plan to distribute, commercial or otherwise. Always double check before publishing.
Use this checklist prior to launch to help make sure your content is in full compliance with the Mörk Borg open license. Keep in mind, though, that it’s no substitute for direct consultation of the license itself, and it should be used in tandem with the official document.
- Does my content use any images from the core rulebook? If so, you must omit them and find other graphics.
- Does my content take any text (other than The Nameless Scriptures) verbatim from the core rulebook? If so, it needs to be substantially altered (i.e., rewritten in your own words) or omitted. Translations don’t count; you need explicit permission from the copyright holder before releasing them.
- Does my content incorporate the logos of Stockholm Kartell, Ockult Örtmästare, Fria Ligan, or Mörk Borg? If so, remove them. The exception is the “compatible with Mörk Borg” logo, which you can use if you follow all other guidelines.
- Am I claiming that this is an official Mörk Borg release? Unless you have a deal with the creators and publishers, it isn’t, and you can’t say that it is.
- Have I included the mandatory legal notice somewhere in my product? If not, you must do so.
- Have I included my product’s exact title and my name and/or pseudonym in the legal notice? If not, the license does not specifically cover this release.
- Have I included the mandatory copyright notice in my product? It’s only one sentence. I’m sure you can find room for it.
- Have I included the legal and copyright notices on my product page, website, or whatever platform(s) I’m using to distribute my content? If not, you’re not in full compliance with the license.
- Am I tokenizing my content (i.e., releasing it as an NFT)? You can’t, so don’t.
- Have I made sure my content is free from bias, bigotry, and other offensive and defamatory elements? Get rid of it. No one wants that.
If you can check all the boxes above, then congratulations—you are in compliance with the Mörk Borg third-party license. Thank you for responsibly making content for the world’s most blackened and brutal RPG, and for helping the community grow and thrive.
Do you have questions about the Mörk Borg third-party license or about open licenses and open gaming in general? Feel free to get in touch, and I’ll help you figure out the answers to the best of my ability.
An art/rulebook that will make your eyeballs bleed fire … and you’ll like it
Reflections on an annotated bibliography of official, semi-official & community content for Mörk Borg
Mörk Borg & Medieval Carnival culture