To D20 Or Not To D20

Recently, there’s been some movement on a proposal (put forth here, among other places) for someone to put together a Wiki-based website, where all of the Open Content from hundreds of D20 products would be available online for free. Sure, it’s legal, and within the terms of the Open Game License…but I suspect that it would have a massively negative impact on those of us who sell this stuff, especially PDF publishers who make much of their money on backlist sales that would essentially be immediately cut off, with the Open Content posted for free. The topic is being actively discussed, with no small amount of vitriol, in many quarters—notably here. The problem is that most of the folks in the “for” column are designers who think it would be a great resource to find existing Open Content for projects they’re working on, or gamers who think that everything should be free. Publishers, especially those for whom this represents a living rather than a hobby, are noticably less enthused.

The thing is, the D20 market isn’t the most stable market in the world. People CAN post Open Content freely, under the terms of the license. Wizards of the Coast CAN, at any moment, publish a rules revision that cuts the legs out from the market, or they can simply decide that the new version will not be covered by the license at all. This is why electronic publishing is able to make a fairly successful go of it. We PDF publishers can react to changes much more quickly than our print-publishing brethren.


I’ve been wondering, even before this whole thing surfaced, if it’s not worth my while to start putting out more non-D20 material. Get a market base firmly established in the event that the bottom does drop out. I’ve got a number of projects in various stages of pre-production. Perhaps it’s time to dust them off.

(For those who are interested, the projects in question are:

  • Black Powder, Black Magic: A “twisted history” game—the Napoleonic age with behind-the-scenes dark magical happenings and monsters. Sharpe’s Rifles Meets Hammer Horror.
  • Gloriana: Originally conceived as a D20 game, easily ported over to a non-D20 rules system– Elizabethan Fantasy game.
  • Heroes of the New Wave: My goofiest concept: Neo-pulp adventures of the 1980s. Duran Duran Meets Doc Savage.

No shortage of ideas. The question is whether the sales that I’ve seen with Adamant producing D20 material would carry over, just on the strength of our brand. Probably not, since there are more D20 players…so a drop is inevitable. How large of a drop, though?

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