Dungeons & Dragons Goes Open Source

ByMichael J. Martinez

R E N T O N, Wash., July 7, 2000 -- Dungeons & Dragons, the granddaddy ofrole-playing games, is looking to the latest trend in softwaredevelopment to take its wizards, trolls and elves to a new level.

Wizards of the Coast, which obtained the rights to Dungeons &Dragons in 1997, is hoping to bring the swords-and-sorcery gameback to the popularity it enjoyed in the early 1980s with a verymodern ideal — the software-born “open source” concept.

When the third edition of D&D is released in August, Wizards plansto give the core rules for the game away for anyone to use andamend, hoping that when other companies publish games, whether theyare supplements for the basic D&D game or new games entirely, itwill lead gamers back into the fold.

“We’re not creating a new game, but we’re creating a muchbetter version of the rules,” said Ryan Dancey, vice president incharge of D&D at Wizards, based in Renton. “We think these ruleswill be flexible enough for a wide variety of games.”

Tech Idea, Geek Game

Open source licensing was popularized in the late 1990s bysoftware developers working on the Linux operating system, a freesystem that competes with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows products.Anybody can download and use Linux, and can make any changes, solong as those changes are offered up to the rest of the developmentcommunity.

The open source license has created a network of Linuxdevelopers worldwide, busily improving the operating system on analmost daily basis.

Under Wizards’ “d20” open game license, created inconsultation with the software community that helped create theopen source license, companies can take Wizards’ core rules andcreate any kind of game around them, from an elves-and-dwarvesfantasy game compatible with D&D to a horror or science fictionadventure.

Game publishers can also change the rules, or make up new ones,which Wizards can then incorporate into D&D or other games.

The thinking behind the move is simple: if a single set of rulesbecomes commonplace and more people get used to them, then morepeople will be attracted to D&D and other Wizards games.

Wait-and-See Stance

While Wizards hopes d20 will become the industry standard forall role-playing games, other companies are taking a wait-and-seeattitude.

“The operating system gimmick is interesting,” said SteveJackson, president and founder of Steve Jackson Games. “Of course,a generic role-playing game system has been done before.”

Steve Jackson Games has produced its GURPS (Generic UniversityRole-Playing System) line of games for more than a decade. Thatgame, however, is fully proprietary, and is much more detailed thanD&D’s system. “We tend to get D&D players looking for somethingmore,” Jackson said. “If Wizards doubles its sales from thisidea, then in a year they’ll double mine.”

Tim Avers, director of marketing for Atlanta-based game companyWhite Wolf Publishing Inc., agreed.

“D&D is an entrance level role-playing game,” said Avers,whose company publishes horror game titles such as thecontroversial and best-selling Vampire: The Masquerade. “I saythis because it’s the game most suited to bring people into themarket for the first time. When D&D’s day is up, the same willprobably be true for the entire marketplace.”

That’s nearly come close to happening, however. On storeshelves, D&D is overshadowed by titles from White Wolf, SteveJackson and other companies, which all have struggled to maintainmarket share in the face of new hobbies, such as the collectablecard games, such as Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering, which Wizardsproduces.

Dancey said the d20 system could create a renaissance in gaming,pulling people back to D&D and other role-playing games. And that,to other game producers, would be just fine.

“Anything that expands the audience is great,” said original D&D creator Gary Gygax, who now runs his own independent game company. “I think Wizards couldpull it off.”