What is Open Gaming?

Howdy Guys and Gals! I’m Thomas Novosel and I am writing for Game Creator Social Forum today. The topic I am going to discuss today is about Open Gaming and what that can mean for RPG Designers everywhere…so…

“What is Open Gaming and how can it help me?”

Open Gaming is a movement that has taken place in the Tabletop Role-Playing Game industry where designers and publishers have started moving towards releasing content under public copyright licenses that allow others to hack, remix, copy, or create derivative works of the original. Some even allow those remixes/derivatives to be released commercially!

Now this kind of thing has been around for awhile but really picked up traction when the System Reference Document (which contained the core rules for 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons) was released by Wizards of the Coast using a license friendly to Open Gaming (the Open Game License). The SRD by Wizards was pretty much a game designers toolkit to the games rules. After its release a huge number of rulebooks, supplements, and adventures were released using 3rd Edition D&D rules (whether they be completely changed or compatible!). Most notably Pathfinder which is a direct port of 3.5 Edition Dungeons and Dragons (if you want to hear how success stories occur, look up Pathfinder or Paizo Publishing, they are pretty big!).

But soon other licenses began to pop-up around the RPG world (Creative Commons is a pretty easy one to use!). We saw a lot of trash games or just direct copies of rule systems, but then a few gems began to appear…

Why is this important to me?

Because! Open Gaming allows a designer to not have to start from scratch (crunching numbers and such!). That’s right! There are tons of open game systems out that there, so if you like one or think your world/setting would make more sense using one, go ahead and check out the license terms for them!

Now this is not to say that it won’t be difficult, that it won’t require tons of time/effort and play-testing.

In fact, it does.

But if you are an active gamer like me and find that sometimes there is no need to reinvent the wheel when a good rule-set is already out there and just needs some tweaks and added rules… Open Gaming is for you.

So can you throw me a bone and tell me some of them?

Well, of course I can! That is what this article is pretty much about! In parentheses you will find what license it is listed under, so look each up and check them out!

  • d20 System Reference Document by Wizards of the Coast (Open Game License): The SRD is pretty much all the generic parts of Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition laid out nice and ready in a bunch of rich text documents for designers to read and adapt.
    FATE is not like FUDGE, it just uses similar dice! (now go look up FUDGE!)


  • FATE / Fate Accelerated Edition by Evil Hat Productions (Open Game License and Creative Commons): Ever of it? No? Well it is a game where it is all about stories and action! So it promotes and encourages Players to work to enhance the story not themselves (my Character dying would make a good conclusion to the campaign? Go for it! It helps make the story more interesting!). Fate is a pretty good system and actually is very popular among story-gamers (STORY FIRST DANGIT!) because of its replacement to Ability Scores (Strength, Intelligence etc etc they have numbers!). In Fate you generally have phrases that describe a Character, that phrase (in short) is your Ability Score!

    A good game that uses the GUMSHOE system!
  • GUMSHOE System by Pelgrane Press (Creative Commons and Open Game License): This is an investigation system that has been used for games ranging from supernatural government hunters to weak human Cthulhu diggers (and even Vampire Secret Agents! … I think). It focuses heavily on clues and investigation. But actually is worth a look over if you like horror/clue hunting games (a big draw for me to this one is how investigating always succeeds! So no matter how bad you roll, you are still on the plot train!).
  • Dungeon World by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel (Creative Commons): What can I say about Dungeon World… hmmmm… it is derived from Apocalypse World by D. Vincent Baker (AW won RPG of the Year for the Golden Geek Awards in 2011 and Game of the Year in 2010 for the Indie RPG Awards). So it comes from good stock already… but then the judges read the game and it came out fantastic (it won an Ennie for Best Rules and a Golden Geek for Best RPG!). This game has an old school fantasy feel to it but with modern rules. There has been quite a few supplements released for it using the Creative Commons license (so look before you write!). And even if you don’t want to add to the rules, go ahead and make a remix! Change stuff around, rewrite the Characters able to played as… do anything! It is a great entrance into the world of the “Powered by the Apocalypse” system.

So maybe you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, maybe something out there will work for what you want to do… it just needs some tweaking!


Thomas Novosel has been designing games for six years, at an incredible pace that perplexes even himself at times. He is always at work designing and writing games, some of his friends say it is like a second full time job for him. He is the founder of Orbit Above Games (a small game design studio), he has a Patreon, started theFreeRPGHunt (a special subreddit!), and also is found on Tumblr playing Wee Exploits .



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