Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- d20 is also a kind of polyhedral die.
The d20 System is a system of game mechanics for role-playing games published in 2000 by Wizards of the Coast and based on the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The system is named after the 20-sided die which is central to the core mechanics of the system.
Much of the d20 System was released as the System Reference Document (SRD) under the Open Game Licence (OGL) as open gaming content, which allows commercial and non-commercial publishers to release modifications or supplements to the system without paying for the use of the system's associated intellectual property, which is owned by Wizards of the Coast.
The original impetus for the open licensing of the d20 system was in response to the poor economics of producing role-playing games. While core rule books were still profitable to publish, supporting material such as supplements and adventures, had poor sales and were expensive to publish over the long-term. Ryan Dancey , Dungeons and Dragons brand manager, realised this and hit upon the idea of openly licensing the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons through the d20 trademark and thus allowing other companies to support the d20 system, thus spreading the cost of supporting the game and increasing sales of the core books, which could only be published by Wizards of the Coast under the Dungeons and Dragons and d20 trademarks (to this end, the SRD does not include rules for character creation and advancement). In this, Dancey was successful and the popularity of the 3rd Edition of Dungeons and Dragons can be attributed to d20 and the OGL.
Of course, economics were not the only reasons for the creation and popularity of the d20 system. The d20 system was marketed as a simple generic role-playing game system that could be used to role-play in a wide variety of genres. Many hoped that the wide variety of role-playing systems available could be replaced by the d20 system, easing the game designer's development process and the player's learning process and costs. Designers could produce games under the d20 umbrella of rules making their games more accessible and thus players need not make any additional purchases in order to learn the core rules.
Mechanically speaking, the d20 system is similar to older, proprietary game systems such as the d10-based Interlock system used by semi-defunct publisher R. Talsorian Games, and d20 System designer Jonathan Tweet credits his work on Ars Magica as one of the inspirations for the system. The basic mechanics involve adding a skill modifier to an ability modifier and rolling a die to compare to a target number (called a Difficulty Class).
The d20 System is not the first system attempting to be universal (supporting all kinds of game settings), but it is one of the most popular. GURPS from Steve Jackson Games had been the most popular universal role-playing system since its creation in 1986.
The rules for the d20 System are defined in the SRD (currently version 3.5), which may be copied freely or even sold. The SRD is essentially made up of material from the Dungeons & Dragons books Player's Handbook v3.5, Dungeon Master's Guide v3.5, Monster Manual v3.5, Deities and Demigods (3rd edition version), Epic Level Handbook, and Expanded Psionics Handbook. Information from these books not in the SRD include detailed descriptions, flavour-text, and material Wizards of the Coast considers product identity (such as references to the Greyhawk campaign setting and information on mind flayers). d20 Modern has its own SRD, which includes material from d20 Modern Roleplaying Game, Urban Arcana Campaign Setting, d20 Menace Manual, and d20 Future.
Because Dungeons and Dragons is the most popular role-playing game in the world, many third party publishers produce products designed to be compatible with that game and its cousin, d20 Modern. Wizards of the Coast provides a separate license allowing publishers to use some of its trademarked terms and a distinctive logo to help consumers identify these products. This is known as the d20 System License . The d20 System Licence (D20STL) requires publishers to exclude character creation and advancement rules, apply certain notices and adhere to an acceptable content policy. Games that only use the OGL are not bound by these restrictions, and several have included character creation and advancement rules, allowing them to be used as standalone products. D20STL products require a core book from Wizards of the Coast and must clearly state this. As the D20STL has changed, some companies have chosen to use the OGL by itself. All D20STL products must also use the OGL to make use of d20 open content, but publishers may use the OGL without using the D20STL.
For a long time D20 System products using one or both licenses took a significant market share of the role-playing games industry. They have especially promoted the rise of electronic publishing, since small companies can tap the huge market potential of Dungeons and Dragons at no cost to themselves. Recent declines in d20 sales would seem to contradict this opinion.
Unlike the OGL, the d20 license is revocable and is controlled by WotC. For critics this gives too much control of the open gaming movement, which is widely considered to be synonymous with the d20 System, to a private company. The d20 license tightly controls what can and cannot be published under its terms through the d20 guide and WotC have the ability to alter the d20 license at will and gives a short, 30 day "cure period" to rectify any issues with the license before termination.
Critics cite as an example of abuse of this power the attempts by the independent gaming company Valar Project to publish the d20 Book of Erotic Fantasy , which contained adult content . WotC altered the d20 license in advance of publication of the Book of Erotic Fantasy, by adding a "quality standards" provision that required publishers comply with "community standards of decency" which subsequently prevented its publication. WotC claimed this was done to protect its d20 trademark, but critics claimed that it was censorship and that WotC were bowing to public pressure and moral outrage. The Book of Erotic Fantasy was subsequently published without the d20 trademark under the OGL.
Criticism is also levied at the conditions for termination of the d20 license through a breach of its terms. Critics consider these conditions to be unfair, especially when coupled with WotC's ability to modify the license at will. The d20 license requires that, upon breach of the terms of the d20 license which includes any subsequent modifications of the d20 license after publication of a work using the d20 trademark, all inventory and marketing material must be destroyed - something potentially catastrophic for a small publishing company.
The history of the d20 system begins with the publication of the System Reference Document under the Open Gaming License, and the publication of the d20 license which allowed third parties to publish content under the OGL using the d20 system trademark.
The Golden Age
At first, publishers were cautious of the OGL and d20 license, being relatively new and un-tested. Most of the initial d20 publications were from small game publishers and generally relegated themselves to adventures and descriptions of monsters.
Slowly but surely, as confidence in the OGL and the d20 license grew, d20 publications began to proliferate. Many new companies were started exclusively to publish d20 content, such as Mongoose Publishing and Sword and Sorcery (a sub-subsidiary of White Wolf). Soon, d20 publishers began to report record sales and the d20 phenomena took off. Not only were new monsters and adventures published, but completely new campaign settings, supplementary rules, and even alternative systems based upon d20 were being published.
According to the creator of the d20 trademark, Ryan Dancey , this phenomenon was an example of the marketing theory of network externality, where supplements encourage the gaming community to purchase more of the essential core books of the game, but opinions as to the reasons for d20's success vary.
It wasn't a Golden Age for everybody: sales of role-playing games had already been in decline, and the popularity of the d20 system was bought at the expense of the sales for other systems. Particularly hard hit were the small, non-d20 independent game publishers many of whom went under during this period.
However, the Golden Age also jump-started the fledgling PDF role-playing publishing industry. Since many of the d20 publishers were small, amateur companies started by fans, publishing as PDF offered a cheap and easy way of getting started that suited. Many of these companies were web-sites only and sold only PDFs, either direct or through a PDF reseller site, such as RPGNow. Ironically, this also saw a new renaissance in the independent game market as small, amateur and fan-based game designers similarly started publishing in PDF format and finding new markets.
However, the golden age of d20 sales was not to last. While there was no denying the quantity of d20 books published was considerable, many consumers began to notice that the quality was somewhat lacking in many publications. In recent years sales have declined quite rapidly and many of the companies that had got started selling d20-only material have since gone under. Many companies who once published and supported d20 material have since stopped doing so.
Although d20 still remains popular, the number of publications has reduced considerably. While Dungeons & Dragons continues to sell well, many d20 and non-d20 publishers have suffered decreasing sales. Some observers believed that the initial drop in non-d20 sales could be directly tied to the emergence of d20, but as many d20 publishers disappeared or scaled back production their non-d20 counterparts have yet to see a boost in revenue.
- Official website of the d20 Game System and the Open Gaming License
- Open Gaming Foundation
- The Hypertext d20 SRD
- D&D / d20 News & Reviews
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