Open Gaming

My choice in gaming is political. I have played Role Playing games since the late 80s. When I picked up my first Role Playing Game (RPG) I had no idea what I was doing. My first games were not run correctly at all. We really did not start playing in a more correct manner until a friend played some games with another group and came back to us to Game Master (GM) us in my parent’s basement. I played a lot of smaller press games at the time from more independent publishers before I ever played Dungeons & Dragons. We often would use the games we played to depict the ideas for stories and characters we had. The rule sets were there as a vehicle to tell the stories and share the ideas in our imaginations.

Palladium games were big for me in the early years of role playing. The Palladium system was based on house rules for Kevin Siembieda’s Dungeons & Dragons game. Even in the early 80s, the DIY element was present in the publishing of games. Just running a game was a DIY effort most of the time. Role Playing appealed to kids who wanted to create their own entertainment. As I grew to learn the history of role playing and Dungeons & Dragons, I began to see this wonderful past time where people were engaged in a community of gamers who were creating their own games and rules as they went along. Dave Arneson introduced Gary Gygax to his game which he called Blackmoor and Gary & Dave would go on to publish the first white box of the game. Over the years people getting into it would create their own worlds, rules and elements to play. Eventually other small press game companies would publish supplements and other versions of RPGs. The first few decades there were often conflicts over publishing material for existing games, even though it continued.

In 2000 the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released with an Open Game License (OGL). The idea was to outline a legal framework to release products and games using the existing game mechanics. Prior to this lots of games just created their own mechanics and a whole world of gaming options were available. The OGL led to a market flooded with books and games all using this almost universal system called the D20 system. The market was flooded. People like Troll Lord Games used it to put out a system based on the D20 system but unique to itself in how it is played. This system is Castles & Crusades named after Gary Gygax’s game group and is still published strong to this day. The OGL from D&D was not the only open game license. Many other systems came out which had open licenses as well. When I was getting active in politics some years later I would come to question copyright law a lot, so this public copyright license I saw as more in line with my interest in copyleft as a concept and movement. Here was a hobby that showed it could thrive if intellectual property was more controlled by the public instead of restricted by a private company. It showed that a rising tide lifts all boats, and cooperation instead of competition was preferable. I loved seeing this happen.

Other open systems predated the D20 system and the OGL that came out of the 3rd edition of D&D. Others followed. I hope to cover a lot more of those systems in the future here.

With the coming of the internet over the last couple decades, I have seen new tools to distribute material. Material that Dungeon Masters (DM) and Game Masters (GM) have been creating for decades could be distributed without having to start a company, pay for production or any of the hinderances of the decades of gaming before. DM’s have been creating this material forever. Material for rules, settings, adventures and more we could suddenly share and access. With the OGL we could put out our own material for games we all loved.

Now we have many game systems that are open. We have print on demand books, and a with PDF’s a lot of people just do digital books to avoid lugging libraries of books to game each week like was once necessary (I still do). Where gamers were creating and sharing ideas and content in their basements to share with friends, we now have the ability to create and share in so many new ways that the hobby is now more community created and community driven than ever before. You do not have to be the official intellectual property (IP) owner to publish or participate. We do not need an official source. Even if Hasbro never printed another Dungeons & Dragons book again, we would still be playing and distributing the game.

The OGL was used to clone previous editions of the game, so many still play the older editions with new published material. I gravitate towards those games because they are even more grounded in open communities. Right now, the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons is popular, it dominates the market as I am writing this, and it might be the most popular it has ever been. But, as once the third edition dominated the market, Hasbro pulled it for a new edition, and Paizo continued to print a core book using the third edition rules published as Pathfinder, and it became the most played game for quite a few years. If Hasbro pulled Dungeons & Dragons altogether, I would expect some publisher would go forward with a clone to keep the game alive. This is the beauty of having open content. A company cannot decide to just pull our game away from us.

Making and publishing game books is not a get rich quick scheme. Most who do it are doing so because they love the game. Those putting out smaller press content through places like lulu.com or drivethrurpg.com do so because they love the game. While some companies make decisions for the financial gain, we can hold more power through open gaming. I plan on highlighting a lot of the content out there available because of the existence of a public copyright license.

Posted by No Dungeon Masters!

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