Sunday, January 17, 2016

Happy New O5L

Very late to this party, and the first thing I’ll note is how wrong I was. I was expecting more stick, but what we got instead was a big, juicy carrot. I think that was the smarter path to take.

Which is not to say that there aren’t some thorns among the roses. But first, to sum up for those of you who haven’t already seen it, there’s an OGL for 5e and it looks pretty darn similar to the one for 3e. That, of course, makes how they differ all the more interesting, and 5e’s SRD has a few interesting wrinkles in it. For instance, while the SRD discusses the existence of things like subraces, backgrounds and feats, the SRD only actually lists one of each. This means you can’t just drop the SRD into a reskinned game where orcs are the heroes and elves are the villains, unless you’re willing to rebuild large chunks of character creation options from scratch. It also means you can’t play the game with just the SRD; combining the SRD with the Basic pdf will allow you to do things like add Warlocks to your Basic games, but only the flavor that is beholding to demons and devils; the Warlock flavors tied to the Fey or cthulhic monsters aren’t included in the SRD.

It may not seem that odd a choice (after all, it means that if you want to play the game, you still need to buy the books if the Basic free-taste leaves you wanting more), but it does indicate a very different strategy. 3e’s OGL was clearly about making the d20 system ubiquitous. Every game and setting was being translated into d20, and that was clearly by design.

Just as clearly, 5e’s SRD, while not preventing that sort of thing, isn’t encouraging it, either. You can still make your 5e version of Shadowrun or World of Darkness if you wish, but you won’t have a stack of backgrounds, feats, and character class options to just lift straight out of the game to drop into yours.
The other thing your 5e-version of another game won’t have is a fancy d20 logo. This lack of “a unified, consumer-friendly compatibility logo” means the only things that will come with a WotC imprimatur will be the stuff sold in their Dungeon Masters Guild web store, and that stuff has to be set in the Forgotten Realms.

(I wonder, as an aside, if this is part of how they hope to avoid rules-bloat: let all those barnacles afix themselves to the Forgotten Realms, then burn it all down as they announce the NEW official campaign setting is now Greyhawk, and start all over again.)

Again, I’m not seeing anything that prevents the release of a gazillion splatbooks and all the horrors that come in their wake. However, I’m not seeing anything that encourages that sort of behavior, either. They’re clearly hoping to encourage more Forgotten Realms-focused content.

I’m only seeing good news for the OSR/DIY crowd. If you’ve been enjoying 5e so far, but have been put off by a lack of a license allowing you to publish your homebrew mega-dungeon or zany science-fantasy setting, happy days are here again. If you’ve been hesitant to toss up your 5e campaign setting or adventures online for sale, you now have an umbrella agreement to use for legal cover. If you’ve got something that’s not for 5e but you want to include a conversion document with it, it looks like you’ve got cover for that as well. I anticipate we’ll be seeing a lot more 5e stuff popping up from the more creative and interesting corners of the online RPG community.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the major thing that stops rules bloat would be the fact that OGL stuff won't have the official trademark attached and be very obviously not-canon, and DM Guild stuff is explicitly not canonical unless and until Wizards decides to incorporate it into an official product.

If you don't want bloat at your table, simply say "We aren't going to use any third-party or DM Guild content in this campaign"; this is a perfectly reasonable stance to take and only a true jackass could object. If you love bloat, the door is open for you to go nuts.

Compare this to the situation you had in the 3.X days, when everything with the Wizards name on it was considered as canon - not by everyone, but by a sizable constituency - and there was a corresponding pressure to get more and more books if you wanted to keep up with where 3.X was going and what the current lie of the land was. With this gambit, Wizards can keep doing a sedate pace of "official" releases - proper books distributed through conventional channels and explicitly presented as being canon - and the DM Guild stuff will represent a whole swathe of potential directions to take stuff in that nobody especially has to keep track of if they don't want to.

Wizards have found a way to simultaneously get an extra income stream, cater to the people who are hungry for more content, and protect the core of the game from bloat. It's an incredibly smart move and my respect for them has shot up.