Side Quest: OGL

So the last time I posted about #CORE20RPG was the end of December. I had great plans then for doing regular updates, and a bunch of stuff already queued up to show and talk about as regards the game and some of its inner workings.

And then Wizards of the Coast had a little thing happen with the Open Game License.

Maybe you didn’t hear about that? You can go look into if you like. I’ll wait.

You’re back? Excellent.

When I wrote up the first draft of the first bits of CORE20 as an actual game system, building on the collection of house rules the game was for the first couple of years, it was fiercely and proudly a product of the OGL. 

Those first rules were built not just around the D&D 3.5 SRD, but on other OGL material including the 3.5 “Unearthed Arcana” — a book of optional rules that WotC released as Open Game Content so that everyone could use those rules to create new works. As the OGL intended.

For a long while, I’ve been wanting to find the time to turn CORE20 into something other people could test and play. And during all that time, I emphatically embraced the reality that the game was a product of the OGL.

The foundations for creativity that WotC laid for open gaming were a big part of what brought me back to D&D in 3rd edition, and eventually to work on the game — for WotC, and others — for eighteen years. For a long while, the idea of creating an OGL game was a point of pride.

And all those feelings are supremely bittersweet now, because certain people at Wizards of the Coast have looked at the multiple worlds’ worth of wondrous imagination that have come out of the OGL over two decades and decided: 

“Yeah, fuck that.”

So the last few weeks haven’t been great for me, as for so many other people in a creative community that I’m proud to be a part of. Because I’ve had to think a lot more than I ever expected to about how I want this game to come out.

In December, rumors started swirling in earnest to suggest what some of us had guessed at months before — WotC wasn’t planning to release 6th edition under the OGL. And at that time, I assumed the same thing that most creatives working in the OGL community assumed.

We assumed that Wizards of the Coast would be pulling a 4e by bringing 6e out under a new license. A closed license. We wondered if they’d sweeten that closed license for some folks with the chance to put third-party products onto D&D Beyond at long last. We speculated a lot.

We heard about companies being asked to sign NDAs, which seemed to confirm those speculations. 6e would break from the OGL. But hey, we’d still have the OGL, right? The wealth of material produced for D&D, the huge base of 5e players — none of that was going away. 

Right?

Anyway. Unless WotC does an even sharper about-face with the next draft of their new OGL, there’s not a chance I’ll be signing on. (Other people have noted the problems of OGL 1.1 far more comprehensively than I can. I’m not going to recap the issues.)

Wizards is now promising that any game released under OGL 1.0a can stay that way. And CORE20 is already and has always been an OGL 1.0a game. People have seen it, people have read it, people have playtested earlier versions on the way to making it the game I wanted it to be.

And even if WotC reneges on that promise, as they’ve reneged on the promises made when the OGL was created, here’s a thing. Most of what came into CORE20 via the SRD has already been rewritten. Much of what’s in the wildly-being-finalized open-playtest draft is brand new. 

The foundations and palimpsests marking where the game came from are clearly visible, as intended. But there are precious few direct lifts from any SRD in the game, and it won’t take much work to polish those direct lifts into their own thing if that becomes necessary.

So, whatever happens, #CORE20RPG is absolutely coming out. It’s coming out as the game I want it to be, and as part of the larger movement of creativity that is the legacy of the OGL. Even if there’s no OGL left.

Lots of other amazing, creative folks have announced that they’re responding to WotC’s OGL debacle by creating their own games. Building on what D&D means to them, by homage and inspiration.

And apparently, without meaning to be, I’m one of them. 

I’ll be getting back on schedule with previews and updates next week, which you can find here at the #CORE20RPG hashtag, or right here at the new design blog, which you can get to via core20rpg.com

I’ve been playing CORE20 for years, and having an incredible amount of fun, even as I’ve been looking at it constantly and thinking to myself: 

“This can be more. This can be amazing.” 

Now I get to find out if I’m right.

The Start

Like many creative folks, I have great energy once I get going but often have no idea where to start. So in trying to figure out how to start talking about #CORE20RPG, I’ve wisely decided to start at the start. Which should have been obvious, I guess…

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ecVI1f2Du5VcLrQkdW1cfGOG6hPf2JPv/view?usp=sharing

That 8-page download is roughly the first half of the first chapter of the game — “Building Your Character.” It sets out the broad strokes of how CORE20 works, but without too deep an initial dive into mechanics (which I think is a good thing for character building).

I think it makes a good preview because it uses the process of character building to set up the feel of the game, to sketch out what the book looks like chapter by chapter, and to focus on how those chapters feed the process of creating the character you want to play.

Because building unique characters and story is what CORE20 is all about, talking about character building sets up the scope of the game’s ambition. And in doing so, it hopefully gives players the strongest sense of what they can accomplish as they make the game their own.

More such quick teases will be forthcoming as we work toward getting a full playtest package together for early in the New Year. And if you have any specific suggestions for parts of the game you’d like an advance look at, just let me know.

I’ll Explain

So I’ve written a d20-based fantasy RPG, as one does, whose underlying system is called CORE20. (The game proper has a different name, but I’ll tease that later.) This is a thing I’ve been working on/playing for about twelve years now, because I’m pretty lazy.

I’ll explain.

First thing you need to know: Given the opportunity to do something, I will almost always sit back and wait for someone else to do it instead. (I’m relatively quiet on social media because I know that if I wait long enough, someone else will say what I wanted to say.)

Second thing you need to know: D&D was my first RPG, which I started playing in high school. It saved my life, in a very literal sense.

(I know that’s not a unique story. If it’s your story too, I’m glad we’re both here.)

Third thing to know: Traveller was my second RPG. And though it didn’t carry the same emotional/life-saving weight, it was equally important in shaping my sense of what roleplaying games were, and of the kinds of stories an RPG could tell. One of the things I liked about Traveller was that unlike D&D, its advancement mechanics featured no classes and no levels. I know lots of other games have done the same thing, but Traveller and D&D were my games. They were the framework and foundation for me.

So forty-odd years ago, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to play D&D, but to have no classes and no levels like Traveller?” And because I’m pretty lazy, I assumed that because that was clearly such an awesome idea, someone would eventually get around to writing that game. So I waited.

I kept gaming. I waited some more.

I got out of gaming for a while. When I got back in, I looked around. Still no version of D&D with no classes and no levels.

Then I started working in RPGs. I started working on actual D&D! And I waited.

And then in the spring of 2010, I thought, “Screw it. I guess I’ll just have do it myself.”

So here we are.

I’ve got a game called CORE20, whose foundation is D&D — the game that saved my life, and that I’ve loved for forty years, and that I’ve worked on for eighteen years and three editions. It’s heroic fantasy in the style that D&D has long driven, with no classes and no levels. It’s freeform character building, built around the idea that even before the DM asks the in-game question, “What do you want to do?”, you get to ask the question:

“Who do I want to be?”

And then you get to answer that question in a new way.

(There’s a whole ton of other new stuff in the game as well, including pushing the rules toward maximizing the potential of a high-magic, high-fantasy world, and building real heroic story within that world. I’m lazy, but I’m also hyper-ambitious when I finally do get going.)

I’m looking at having a public playtest launch early in 2023, and I hope folks will check the system out. I’ll be talking about it more before then, so keep an eye on this space or the #CORE20RPG hashtag on Twitter or Facebook for more info. And for any industry mutuals and other folks I’ve worked with: If you’d like more info to figure out if the game might be something you’re interested in working on, I’d be very pleased to hear from you.