In the one year that Man-Made Mythology has been released to the masses (Yup, we’ve been out in the world for a whole year as of July 24th!) one of the most common questions we get from bystanders, observers or just curious parties who have not yet played the game is some variation of the title — “What makes this any different than X?”
It’s a valid question to be sure and sometimes it’s double edged. Some players see the OGL (Open Gaming License) logo on the rules and form a fast opinion about the quality of the game and what it has to offer based on their experiences with other OGL titles that are based on the D20 system, which is now over a decade old. Some opinions are positive and some are negative, but with the baggage that some OGL titles have had over the years, it’s understandable players be cautious about what they might be getting into. Before we get into that, a bit of history and context.
Let’s face it; There were a lot of bad D20 titles out in the early years of the system. What was intended to be a rule set, a game engine if you will, to drive a singular standard rules system so that no matter what genre you liked and what developers you enjoyed, there would be a universal system that dictated “If you know how to play one game, you know how to play them all.” The system was originally put out by Wizards of the Coast to drive the Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition (3.0) and allowed publishers, both big and small, to develop their own content with complete ownership of their intellectual property by adhering to the Open Gaming License that had all the basic rules. Developers could use as much or as little of the system as they desired, could change whatever they want and could declare in the book which part of their rules would be used as Open Content and what part of their books would be closed. In most cases, changes, additions or revisions to the rules would remain as Open Content. This meant that someone else could then build upon that new work for their own system and tweak and modify the system to suit their needs. Meanwhile, the Product Identity would be declared and could not be used by anyone except the copyright and trademark holders. Generally, art assets, story themes, proper nouns denoting names of people and places and other original content unique to a campaign setting would be protected. This might mean someone could use a new spell you created called “Lord Durngthall’s Might Fist” but they would have to omit Lord Durngthall’s name from the spell description and/or create their own. In many ways, this system doesn’t seem that different than the way open source software works, such as Linux. In which programmers start with a basic platform and then add their own bells and whistles to create a unique product like Ubuntu or Redhat. When it was first introduced, however, there were a lot of publishers trying to cash in. The glut in the market with what was essentially “shovelware”, a term used to describe software that is either poorly written, poorly tested or poorly presented and most likely the sum of all three, was astounding. Companies and individuals, many with very little understanding on how the system worked, were creating game supplements that were game breaking at best, and utter trash at worst. This tarnished the shine of the OGL system somewhat, especially by the end of the 2000’s. The Open Gaming License still remains in use to this day however and is used by many companies like Green Ronin (although heavily modified) and Paizo as the basis of the mega popular Pathfinder game. And it is the system we opted to use for the Man-Made Mythology system.
Aside from the OGL there was a separate license created by Wizards of the Coast called the “D20 License”. Although often lumped together in the modern lexicon, this was actually a very different and specific license that is no longer in use. It stipulated that for any third party publisher to claim compatibility with the Dungeons and Dragons game system, there were certain aspects of the system that could not be included in the rulebook, including things like character creation rules and stat generation. Instead, publishers were required to reference that their game was compatible with Dungeons and Dragons and required The Player’s Handbook in order to be a complete game. By adhering to those guidelines, publishers could then place the D&D logo as well as the D20 logo on their book. This was beneficial to both the third party publisher and Wizards of the Coast. For the third party, it meant they could devote more resources into the unique aspects of their game and less into rehashing the rules that are present in a book that most gamers probably already had, or would be willing to purchase, for their collections. For Wizards of the Coast it was beneficial because they banked on the fact that whether people were playing their games or not, dozens of titles would be available that they didn’t have to work on, but would still generate sales for their products.
This is just opinion, but I feel that in many ways this backfired on them. It lead to lazy cash grabs of many third parties who were now entitled to do even less work and get the benefit of having the D&D logo on their book, resulting in more shovelware style games. Also, even though the games would often require the purchase of The Player’s Handbook to play, the general rules, excluding the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast, were freely available online as a free download in the form of the OGL rules for anyone who wanted them. What was intended as a tool for developers became the basis of a lot of people’s possession so they wouldn’t have to buy a book. The reason I bring this up is that people often get the two confused or are unclear at what each distinct license was intended for and how it was meant to be used.
Over the course of less than a decade, the 3.0 (and 3.5 revision) rules set was abandoned by Wizards of the Coast as a failed experiment as they moved on to their 4E system which was NOT open content and as far removed from the OGL system as any other unique system on the market. The 3.5 rules were refined by Paizo and became the Pathfinder RPG in 2009 and the perception was growing that the OGL (Or D20 system has it had come to be known) was a dead horse and a thing of the past. There were better and newer systems out there and it was time to move on. Paizo definitely proved that aspect wrong as sales for the Pathfinder series have toppled D&D sales pretty consistently for the past several years — Enough that Wizards of the Coast has now abandoned their 4E system in favor of D&D Next, which is more like 3rd Edition than it is 4th (But that’s another article all together).
So what does all this have to do with Man-Made Mythology and Critical Strike Publishing? Well, this history lesson lasted a bit longer than I had intended, so I’ll get to that in Part Two of this segment in the coming days.