The d20 System Concept:
Frequently Asked Questions
Much of the information in this FAQ relates to copyright and trademark law. This FAQ does not constitute legal advice. Readers are advised to consult their own legal counsel before proceeding with any d20 System project. Permission is granted to reproduce this document, in whole or in part, provided that this notice is preserved intact. Please send comments, questions or feedback to Linae Foster.
Q: Why is Wizards of the Coast pursuing this strategy?
A: The company believes that one of the major factors which caused the collapse of the commercial tabletop RPG market from 1993 to 1996 was the proliferation of different, incompatible, core game systems.
The company believes that when many different game systems proliferate in the market, they cause significant problems with the shared rules knowledge and preferences between communities of players necessary to sustain a long-term, commercial market for RPG products.
The company has decided it is possible that consumers can be educated to understand the problems of system over-proliferation, and for those consumers to apply pressure to publishers to use standardized systems.
To jump-start that effort, Wizards of the Coast has created the System Reference Document, and the Open Gaming License (OGL) to allow royalty free, nonexclusive use of the game system at the heart of Dungeons & Dragons by anyone who wishes to do so, for both commercial and noncommercial works.
Wizards of the Coast believes that by doing so, and by educating consumers about the benefits of Open Games, the fundamental economics of the tabletop RPG category will be improved. One (obvious) consequence of this strategy is that if it works, Wizards will see significant, long-term financial benefits. Thus, the company sees this as a win-win situation, where it can benefit along with, rather than at the expense of, other publishers.
Q: Could Wizards of the Coast decide to stop supporting the d20 System?
A: As with all things large corporations sometimes do, there is always a chance. The chances of the company doing so are remote. As long as Wizards of the Coast is in the business of selling Dungeons & Dragons, it will be in the business of selling and promoting the d20 System.
Q: Does Wizards of the Coast want to destroy competition in the gaming industry?
A: The company would like to see the number of widely distributed roleplaying game systems reduced.
There are people who see these two objectives as synonyms. There are real-world examples that prove that not to be the case.
There are numerous examples of successful, thriving publishers who focus on making products that are compatible with other game systems. Having a "house system" is not a requirement for being a roleplaying game publisher, despite the fact that those two ideas have gone hand-in-hand for nearly two decades.
The company believes that this is a market where diversity is more harmful than beneficial. The competition in the tabletop RPG category will (if the OGL/d20 strategy is successful) shift from producing competitive RPG systems to producing competitive RPG products that share a common system.
Q: Does Wizards of the Coast think that the d20 System is the only RPG that should be published?
A: Nobody at Wizards of the Coast believes that OGL/d20 will cause the market to reject all other RPGs. There will always be a market for game systems produced by publishers who are determined to forge their own path, or to push the envelope of design. And there will always be people who find different game systems more entertaining for different types of games and different genres. Over the long term, however, Wizards of the Coast hopes that the systems which are widely available in the market also become Open Games, and that instead of supporting dozens or hundreds of different games, the market chooses to support a just a handful.
Q: What does Hasbro think of the d20 System/Open Game concept?
A: The basic ideas were presented to the CEO of Hasbro in 1999 as a part of a wide-ranging overview of the company's Research & Development efforts.
In the great scheme of things, Hasbro as a corporation doesn't care one way or the other about Open Games and the d20 System. In fact, the RPG business itself is just barely large enough to be broken out as a separate line item in the financial accounting that Wizards of the Coast provides to Hasbro.
In short, Hasbro's management and oversight will be a non-factor in the success or lack thereof of the OGL/d20 experiment.
Q: Is the d20 System just another term for "Dungeons & Dragons"?
A: Yes and no.
The current version of Dungeons & Dragons is the basis for the d20 system. The market research done to determine what gamers wanted out of an RPG game was used to determine what kinds of rules, and what level of complexity, would go into the game.
That foundation was also used to produce the Star Wars roleplaying game, and it will be used to create a number of future products now in development at the company.
Over the long term, the two identities will separate. Dungeons & Dragons will mean the specific brand identity of that game, and d20 System will mean the common shared rules and systems used by many different games.
Q: Does a d20 System game have to have classes and levels?
A: No. Nothing in the licenses or the System Reference Document require the use of classes or levels.
Q: Does a d20 System game have to have Armor Class and hit points?
A: No. Nothing in the licenses or the System Reference Document require the use of Armor Class or hit points.
Q: How can Wizards of the Coast publish d20 System games without using the Open Game License?
A: Since Wizards of the Coast is the original copyright holder of the content in the System Reference Document, it is free to license that content in many different ways. One way is through the various tabletop RPGs the company publishes. Another way is through the Open Game in the System Reference Document. A third way is to computer game publishers who use the game in their software.
If and when Wizards of the Coast chooses to include Open Game Content from a third party in any of its games, the company will have to follow the same terms and restrictions as everyone else with regard to that Open Game Content. However, as long as everything the company publishes is strictly its own property, it need not do so.
Q: Will Wizards of the Coast release other RPG games it owns as Open Games?
A: There are no plans to do so at this time. Since one of the objectives of the OGL/d20 project is to reduce the number of widely distributed game systems, releasing other games using the OGL would be counterproductive.
At some point in the future, the distinctive and unique elements of various games Wizards of the Coast owns may be incorporated into the System Reference Document to allow their widespread use as additions to the basic d20 game itself.
Also, there may be official "conversions" created between various other games and d20.
At the moment, active no work is being done on those aspects of the business.
Q: How will consumers learn about the d20 System Trademark?
A: Wizards of the Coast is committed to a long-term marketing strategy focused on raising consumer awareness of the trademark. There will be a constant effort made to draw attention to the mark and to explain its value to the market. Wizards gains tremendous value from this effort just by linking its own game products together in the consumers' minds, so there is a practical reason to continue to fund that campaign.
Q: Won't publishers make lots of variations of the d20 System concept, confusing players?
A: Sure, they'll probably try.
However, using the OGL, anyone who wants to can "fix" that content and publish the fixes, returning the variation to the core d20 system known by hundreds of thousands of gamers. And if those "fixes" are more popular than the variations, pretty soon, the "fix" will become the standard, and the variation will become a curiosity known only to a few people.
Over time, if the effort to vary the basic d20 System rules keeps failing, the number of people who attempt it will decline. At some point far in the future, commercial publishers may stop bothering to try at all.
The interesting thing about "open" projects (software, tabletop RPGs, etc.) is that they tend to suppress, rather than encourage "forks". Since everyone has the right to take an "open" project and make whatever changes are necessary to conform to the public standard, those who try to deviate from that standard are often perceived as wasting everyone's time, and being disruptive to the value of the shared community experience. Innovation happens at the edges of the envelope, rather than at the core. Changes to the core require a general consensus from large numbers of people to be successful, otherwise they'll just be ignored or "fixed" to maximize compatibility.
In fact, one of the biggest groups affected by this force will be the Wizards of the Coast tabletop RPG Research & Development team. When the time comes to make a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, they'll have to make a very persuasive case to the market to adopt any changes to the core rules they want to make! The R&D team has already made some variations close to the core. The Star Wars rules include a different system for tracking character health, the Vitality Point/Wound Point system. Only time will tell if two variations that close to the core will both be supported by the market.
Go to the d20 System main page for information about the d20 system
or check out the d20 System message boards for lively discussion.