The Golden Age of Open Systems

During this year small but influential tabletop roleplaying game systems have opened up their licensing. Fate, FAE, Gumshoe, and Drama System are now freely available to any designers wanting to put their imagination on paper.

We all know the tidal impact the Open Gaming License (OGL) had on the d20 segment of the industry some time ago. I won’t go into it but it suffices me to say that it created a titanic surge of material that brought as much bad as it did good. But that time has passed.

So why am I excited now? First of all, I like the systems. They are fresh, focused, active, and evolving. Second, these living game systems have great designers behind them that know how to translate play style and thematics into mechanics. Third, they have been supported by successful Kickstarter projects. To me that means the game players are squarely behind the game designers in terms of monetary and creative support. They must like what they see. Lastly, we should see a healthy number of third party rule supplements and settings crop up in the near future. I’m anxious to see how these systems get utilized. Our company, Front Range Games is considering future products based on some of these systems.

So why would I call this a Golden Age? Actually, I didn’t ascribe the term. I first heard it about a year ago by one of the forefront game designers, Kenneth Hite. Kenneth, who by the way has been creating games around Gumshoe recently, mentioned in an IRC channel that we were in a Golden Age of roleplaying. He wasn’t talking about the amount of money that game companies were pulling in. He was talking about the greater state of creativity and access that game designers and players have right now compared with the past.

If you think about it, at no other time has it been easier to write a roleplaying product and have it seen by the tabletop gamers of the world. How easy it is to put your words to text and post your work on the web. Better yet, rub some professional polish into it and sell it on DriveThruRPG! Thanks to the digital age you no longer have to worry about getting it printed and distributed in order for it to be seen.

I accept Kenneth’s opinion and would take it one step further. We are in a Golden Age of open roleplaying systems. With open systems creating your work that much easier. All that needs to be done is dig into one that best fits your theme and weave your magic on top of that. Fate and FAE are excellent collaborative story telling systems where the players help to shape the world. DramaSystem focuses on the intense interactions between the players to move the story along. Gumshoe excels at making games built around investigation, mystery, and using that knowledge to complete the task. Bolting subsystems onto Gumshoe is almost a no-brainer.

Stepping back for a moment, I would like to call your attention to one of the survivors and now monsters of the OGL. Pathfinder, by utilizing the OGL, has been able to gather and collect a very large number of roleplayers.

Pathfinder was birthed during the version 1.0 era of open gaming and is nearly an only child. Unfortunately, it carries decades of weight inherited from the system that fathered it. The new systems I mentioned early are much lighter in terms of mechanics and needed support materials. They come without baggage and bring a lighter feel with them to the gaming table. Unlike Pathfinder, games using the new systems provide a means whereby a gamer can grab a single book and play. I would classify these newer systems as the 2.0 version of the open gaming. Besides using the venerable OGL their System Reference Documents using Creative Commons licensing as well.

And there are additional systems that are within the 2.0 movement that I haven’t named. One that leaps to mind is Eclipse Phase which handles a futuristic transhuman dystopia. I am sure I could find a dozen more.

If you are looking to create a gaming supplement I would strongly advise looking into one of the open systems to see if they meet your needs. Do yourself a favor. Spend your time creating the game you want to play. Don’t expend your energy developing a new rules set. Build on a sure foundation that is freely available to you.

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