Thursday, May 21, 2015

Braunstein! Or Do Ethics Matter in OSR Publishing?

In the 1960s, David Wesely created a game he called Braunstein, which relied heavily on roleplaying and individual character motivations as opposed to the more commonly popular strategy miniatures games of the day. Wesely was of course part of the same group of Minnesota Gamers as Dave Arneson, and Wesely's ideas greatly influenced the Blackmoor Campaign.

So you can imagine that when I heard of a new game called Braunstein appearing at an online RPG retailer my curiousity was peaked. Furthermore the description blurb read the following:

"A Drive-Thru exclusive in digital format only! 
Role-playing began with the Braunstein games of the late 1960s. These converted war-games emphasized personal interactions and setting over complex rules and excessive mechanics... Braunstein! is written in this style, being designed for historical adventure games in the 4th through 15th centuries, but expandable through the early 16th if so desired. The judge need only choose a historical book(s) on the period they wish to chronicle and use these rules to create characters and resolve unpredictable situations using extremely simple (just 18 pages) mechanics. The rest is pure interaction! History is the best, most richly-detailed setting around, but Braunstein! also has simple rules for introducing real magic and witchcraft - perhaps the easiest ever! History or historical fantasy - it's your game now!"

The reference to the Braunstein games of the 1960s further suggested that this was the same game that Wesely used to run. The description on the cover of 1:1 Scale was slightly more confusing. Wasn't Braunstein combat typically handled through small a unit skrimish system? Was this really Wesely's game? One poster on Facebook suggested the game had little resemblence to the descriptions of the Braunsteins of the 1960s.

David Wesely created the Braunstein Games of the 1960s

Yesterday, Mr Wesely posted several places on Facebook that he had nothing to do with this ruleset. He had not been consulted for the contents and the publisher, "Olde House Rules", had never asked Wesely permission to use the name.

Critical voices were raised on various Facebook groups. Was this copyright infringement? Was it ethically right to market the game as something liked to the Braunstein's of the 1960s when the contents appear to have little to do with them? One defender suggested that it was okay because the game was dedicated to Wesely and because they only charge $1.49. 

The product has now been pulled from the online retailer. According to one source, Wesely is in talks with "Olde House Rules" to see if they can come to some sollution instead of getting into legal action. Hopefully the issue can be resolved.

I am no lawyer, but what do you think? Should this small time publisher have been left alone? Do ethics matter in OSR publishing?

More discussion of this topic.



  1. Ethics most certainly matter, in OSR publishing and everything else.

    The legality, and whether there was actually any copyright or trademark infringement involved is another question entirely (as titles and game rules are both not subject to copyright, but titles at least can be trademarked). Not beig a lawyer myself, and not knowing much more about the situation that you posted above, I have no idea if any actual infringement occurred, so I will refrain from casting judgement on the publisher's ethics or lack thereof for the moment.

    I hope that Mr. Wesley and the game publisher manage to work something out to the satisfaction of all parties involved.

  2. Ethically it does look bad. But from the description it sounds like they may not even have realized that "Braunstein" was the specific location of a Diplomacy-style game, rather than a generic term for such games. I've seen people use the term generically, right or wrong. But the fact that they refer to the 1960s and use the retro style cover makes me think they know better.
    Not a lawyer but I don't think a name can be copyrighted. I think it would be a trademark issue, and I think that a trademark is only defensible if actually applied for beforehand, unlike copyright which is automatic. So I'd wonder if there is any real legal issue.

    Ethically they ought to have made an effort to clear using the name etc. with Mr. Wesley, and also to acknowledge that they, uh, appropriated the name.

  3. The fact that some people (who may or may not be the author operating under a pseudonym) have been vehemently defending the business decisions regarding this product makes me even more critical towards it. But it is certainly possible that these amateur publishers did not realize what they were doing. If so, hopefully their current contact with Wesely will convince them to set things straight.

  4. I purchased this and now am not very happy. Does drive thru do refunds?

  5. I purchased this and now am not very happy. Does drive thru do refunds?

  6. Not sure if Drivethru does refunds, but you can contact them here:

  7. The concept of playing single characters in wargames was not unique to Braunstein. Cfr Tony Bath and Hyboria, or similar experiments in ancients gaming during the late sixties. So the idea itself probably cannot be claimed by anyone.
    But implying a connection through the use of the name Braunstein is probably not entirely correct.

    I bought the booklet several months ago, but didn't have the chance to take a look at it yet.

  8. Illegal or unethical, I'm not sure.

    Tacky as hell, for sure.

  9. Yes Ethics matter, if for no other reason than to prevent legal infringement

  10. Ethics matter. If Wesely asks for help with legal fees, I would contribute.


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