Friday, November 9, 2007

D20 is Dead

The D20 license won't be used in D&D 4, according to the unofficial D&D 4.0 news source, Enworld. Before you go clicky-clicky, they're doing away with the D20 license and replacing it with a straight OGL license. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, just know that the D20 logo that a small percentage of D&D players know to mean a book is D&D compatible will now be replaced with an obscure OGL logo (or text) that means the same thing. No biggie, just a little more educatin'. It also means anything with a D20 logo will scream old.

D20 has meant a book was compatible with D&D 3 or 3.5 (sometimes unclear which). You could drop it directly into your D&D game. OGL was usually used for games with D&D ideas in them, often for books that had alternative class advancement, like Conan or Thieves World. They've both been used for purposes other than this, like D20 products that were compatible with other WOTC games or OGL used for unrelated licensing and distribution of a game product. For example, Spirit of the Century contains an OGL license but has nothing to do with D&D or Wizards of the Coast. Confused? Don't worry about it. OGL will mean D&D compatible, whether it has an actual logo or some clever marketing text (yet another online debate).

Now the question all the game publishers are wondering: Where is this OGL license? They're depending on it for D&D 4 compatible (OGL) products for next year. Personally, I'm ambivalent about their desire to get product out by Gencon. Gencon is a big marketing event for the industry that I think has more hype associated with it than substance, especially for us here in California. As a marketing event, it comes at the end of "game season," which is pretty much June-August. RPG publishers have a history of hording their releases for Gencon rather than spreading them more strategically throughout the year, the kind of behavior that has led me to diversify my store into areas other than games. The problem is that most small publishers use Gencon as the end-all be-all of their marketing efforts. They haven't progressed as a business far enough to have a real marketing plan other than to print all their new stuff for Gencon and sell it out to alpha-gamers. Ugh, grow up already.

As for barriers to entry, I don't see the change to OGL forcing small publishers out. There was a rumor floating around that OGL content would have to be printed in a box with green ink on each page. It sounds ridiculous, until you realize it would kill off all the small garage publishers that couldn't afford color printing. Devious, if not completely ridiculous and implausible.

As a role-player and a store owner, I personally would like to see a lot of creative people stop chasing the D20/OGL tail and go out and do something more creative. I mean really, seven years ago there was a lot of stuff that needed to be done, and there are still standout hits in D20 like Ptolus and Book of the Righteous. However, do we really need 4.0 versions of that stuff? Make your own game. Start a magazine. Do a small press project. Create affordable card sleeves that are always available. It's like what I heard from one industry commentator about the Hollywood writer's strike: expect a lot of new novels to come out this time next year.

Finally, as a game store owner, I'm hoping publishers don't think a 4.0 release means a reset when it comes to sales of secondary source material. I will be extremely choosy on which OGL product to carry. We'll probably be discussing the "periodical model," again, which is when I treat a product like a magazine. Get a couple copies, sell them, and when turns slow, drop them forever. OGL products will need to stand out even more than before. They have to attract customers with the new licensing scheme who already have a history of being burnt. Like now, they'll have to overcome the WOTC rampant release schedule sucking up all available gamer cash. It will be the companies with a solid D20 track record that will get to play: Green Ronin, Goodman Games, Paizo, etc.

Most anticipated RPG product discussed in my store: The Dresden Files.

Good article by Monte Cook on OGL and the industry.


  1. D20? OGL?

    me still not know where controller go! lawldawg

  2. Well spoken. I take your points to heart. I'm concerned about the 4.0 rollout schedule. I was led to believe that the PHB will release in the first quarter followed by the DMG in the next quarter and then a MM somewhere in 3rd quarter. Even if the OGL is finalized and released this year, how is anyone to release a product for it without fear of being contradicted by "official rules?" Unless, of course, that is the plan.

  3. All three books will be released simultaneously in June. They changed the schedule.

    The problem with the OGL is that the PHB rules were just submitted to the editors a couple weeks ago, with the understanding that additional play-testing may tweak them further.

    On the positive side, I think early products for 4 will be much better than early 3.0 products, mostly because the system appears to be simplified. A lot of the encouner level crunching and pacing and CR calculating that took years for people to understand are gone now. It's supposed to be simpler and less formulaic.

    They'll also be better because every yahoo who wanted to publish their dream "Complete Book of X" won't get their chance again. Most retailers will be looking for familiar, tried-and-true publishers for 4.0 OGL content.

    Some crap will get through, however, because it sells. How else can we explain Mongoose?