Days of High Adventure
Changing the Game: D&D and Mods

Robert Stoneback | 28 Jan 2010 21:00
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If this had taken place in the modern gaming era, these fan creations would have most likely been embraced by TSR. Unfortunately, Dungeons & Dragons was treading new ground in more ways than one, and it seems that the game's own creator did not know how to react to players, people who weren't even professional designers, editing his work. Gygax actually wrote several articles in "Dragon," D&D's official magazine, expressing his disapproval of playing the game in any way other than the rules he had written and his distaste of what he thought to be amateurish fan-made products.

Whatever bad blood existed between gaming and fan content has largely been lost in the transition to the digital age. One of the first commercially successful games to feature extensive modding was Doom, developed by id Software and programmed by John Carmack. Whereas Gygax was protective of the rules governing his game, Carmack was eager to let aspiring game designers tinker with his work. Carmack made the source code for Doom freely available for download, which quickly led to fan-created level editing programs.

Later, Carmack would license his Quake engine to other development studios so that they could create their own titles using the game engine he had created. In 2000, four years after Quake's launch, the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons, now owned by Wizards of the Coast, would release the Open Gaming License, giving aspiring gamemakers the same tools to make their own content that Carmack had with the Quake engine.

It had been another software designer, Richard Stallman, who had given Wizards the idea for the OGL. Stallman, founder of the free software movement that eventually gave birth to Linux, believed that the best way for programmers to get good software was to let everybody have access to the program's code. To that end the OGL, compatible with D&D's new d20 rule set, let players publish any product they wanted using the game mechanics: They could change or add their own rules with the only catch being that the content creators had to let everyone else use their rules as well.

The OGL was also a direct response to the more draconian policies used by TSR in the 70s; by discouraging players to share and create content with each other, D&D had forced players away from it. Just as Carmack licensing the Quake engine led to the creation of games like Half-Life, the d20 rules led to the creation of acclaimed games such as Green Ronin Publishing's Mutants & Masterminds and Malhavoc Press' Arcana Unearthed. The idea was that since D&D was the most popular tabletop role-playing game, if more products used its rules it would mean more people would be likely to buy D&D books. As most mods require an original copy of the game they're built on to run, the d20 system and OGL would ideally encourage players to pick up D&D's core rulebooks such as the Player's Handbook.

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