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d20 as a Universal System

Started by Valamir, December 04, 2002, 02:02:33 AM

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Quote from: thothPersonally though, if one has the time, resources, and desire, I ask "Why not create a new system?". Yeah, I know it sounds kinda silly, but I think it's better to encourage than discourage in pretty much every situation.
This is the Forge, man. If you have the time, resources, and desire, of course you should make your own system, especially is that better reflects what you're trying to do, and rewards the type of play you're trying to encourage.
love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT


Here's my example of  why I think D20 pushes certian directions and
hence is not a good universal system.

Consider trying to make a high fantasy game that is like DnD, but does not have levels? What do you have to do?
1)Figure out costs to increase skills, taking into account attributes and feats
2)Figure out costs to buy feats, create a dependecny tree, link the tree to skills, ect.

3)Figure out some alternative magic system. probably link it to skills, ect.

My point is not that it can't be done, it can and has, but that you have to gut the system to the point that it becomes D20 quite literally. The only real thing people can carry over  is the fact that they don't have to buy new dice. (The skill system usually carries over also, mainly because it's pretty much the same as any other system based on the absolute difference of a roll and target number)


Ok, my two cents on d20 ... having played D&D from 1st-3rd (even skills and powers...) and other rpgs.

1) d20 isn't a bad idea. I dislike it flooding the market, but it's not a bad idea to make another generic system, especially one that can/might draw D&D players to other settings.

2) It began with D&D 3e. Which is bad, to put it mildly. The assumption I found in most d20 products was that they were meant to draw D&D players to other games, so they couldn't be that different from D&D. Which I dislike, to be really mild. At least no one has kept the D&D magic system :p

I did find most people I play with have switched to 3e simply because it is easier that 2e. If nothing else, d20 is easier to teach players than other "universal" systems I've found, especially if the player has some knowledge of the basic rules from another version of D&D (though it's often better if they don't...). Essentially, as a fellow I game with said, "3e is for people who thought 2e had problems" Lots of people did, and they finally found a sort-of-solution they like. Good. Whether the d20 system thatt's come out of it is a good thing as well is very debatable, but if it does get D&D players playing other systems (even if it's other systems adapted to the OGL) then I think it's worthwhile.

Not universal, but at least it broadns the universes some players play in.


Quote from: ValamirI doubt we have any d20 first players here on the Forge but perhaps we do or someone knows someone who is.  I'd be interested in following up on Matt's point.  Do we see the broadening horizon?  When d20 takes the D&D core rules to a new place (be it Nyambe or Mutants and Masterminds or Cthulhu or what have you) are we seeing D&D3e player expanding out into these new territories because they are already familiar (mostly) with the rules?

Or instead are we seeing mostly NON D&D3e players (even those who wouldn't touch D&D with a 10' pole) being attracted to those new d20 territories because their attracted to the territory and willing to tolerate the d20 mechanics...while the D&D3e players continue to play D&D3e and shun the alternative d20 settings?

I will chime in a little late here and mention that I play some D&D from time to time.

Though I have played and run the game a few rimes (and its D20 cousin Star Wars which I liked better than I expected) I haven't bought any D20 stuff.
I like the system but I really hate running it and find the rules far too complex for my taste. My group has 10 books of crunch that no ones uses and more than 2 disks of free stuff

I think to the average gamer D20 as a universal system has a number of different levels of appeal .

Many  players buy non D&D to add cruchy bits or new ideas to a game, FREX they might buy the new D20 mech book to do Escaflowne influenced games or they might pick up Wheel of Time to play with parts of the game

Other gamers like the system and are interested in trying new settings  with familiar gamist rules

and the third group buys stuff because thats all they can find players for

There may be other reasons but all of these seem to come intoplay

A lot of the other gamers I talk with (As many as I can find) don't seems to know whats out or care much and I  don't belive anyone plays the other D20 games, I think they are bought to read or raid

Mark Johnson

D20 will probably work as a universal system for any "kill and loot" type game regardless of genre as long as realism was not a goal.  If I were developing a game with this emphasis I probably would lean this way.  A game in which a team of space mercenaries try to pillage ancient artifacts from alien temples could probably be created with D20 with minimal conversion dificulties.  Also your potential fan base would probably already be very familiar with D20.  So why not?

Other than uber-space marine and D&D type fantasy what other genres could be a good fit for D20?  D20 Modern probably fills in a few gaps but there has to be others.

Mark J

Mike Holmes


I guess the problem becomes that I have to take your word for it that the supplements being put out for D20 are of (I want to say "greater quality" but really it's) more appropriate design for players like myself, than those put out for D&D stuff in the past. And I'm sorta willing to believe this, for two reasons. First, I've read Eugene Zee's Materia Magica, and it is what you describe. His book, while chock full of stats still manages to have lots of stuff I would use for another system. Second, opening the system up to non "House" developers is just going to do that in some percentage of cases.

The problem is, how do I tell the stuff I can use from the stuff I can't. If Eugene hadn't been so kind to donate space for us to play in last GenCon, I probably would just have passed how booth by as "another d20 vendor". Because I've stopped ata some vendors, and I have checked them out. And what I find is that you get more of the old-school than stuff I can use. For example, I stopped by on booth that was displaying D20 stuff for sale, and it was a group that was reputable, and had produced other gaming materials, the sort I like, for other systems in the past. So, I figured, if these guys can't do it right, then nobody can. Well, I picked up a supplement, and what did I find? A whole book of numbered locations and stats.

What I'm saying is that, since D20 can be played this way, and with such supplements, they will continue to be commercially profitable, and will be the majority of stuff produced. So as a consumer, I have to be very hesitant about anything with the D20 label on it. For example, when seeing that somebody had finally done a "Mythic Africa" in Nyambe, I thought "Cool! I really would like to see that!" Then when I saw it was D20, my interest dropped like a rock. Because I have no assurances that it's not just another Al Quadim. It very well might be.

So, now I have to look for a review of the product, temper the review with what I think are the reviewer's biases (which I usually can only guess at), and then gamble my money on the product, hoping that it can be used to serve my purposes.

All-in-all, it's way too hit or miss. The final percentage of usable stuff, and the difficulty of determining which is, and which is not, makes it of very little utility on the whole. Great settings may be being made that I'm missing out on because they are lost in the sea of other D20 stuff. Better they had been made in another system that would catch my attention, or perhaps not at all.

Now, I'm willing to admit that there is the potential of some slight utility. Like Eugene's book. But I can't say that this makes it a wash for folks like me.

This all said, I can't begrudge anyone who really likes D&D, and would never create a setting for another system anyhow. But there are enough of these people that we don't need more people creating stuff for D20 just because they think there's more money in it (whether or not there is). Because that doesn't serve me as a consumer in the end.

I realize, however, that this is just my own problem, and that, for the majoprity of gamers that it's not a problem at all (they being fan's of the D&D style). As such, I really can't argue against it. All I can say is that it sucks to be me, as far as this is concerned. As the minority, all I can do is kvetch about it, and hope that people consider the alternative.

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Quote from: Mike HolmesI realize, however, that this is just my own problem, and that, for the majority of gamers that it's not a problem at all (they being fan's of the D&D style). As such, I really can't argue against it. All I can say is that it sucks to be me, as far as this is concerned. As the minority, all I can do is kvetch about it, and hope that people consider the alternative.
Hmmm, okay. Perhaps I'm not getting something, here, Mike, but don't you have a local gaming shop you can go to and browse books? (Maybe you mentioned this somewhere on another thread and I missed it.) I mean, I like d20, but I'm not a fan of big lists of numbered locations, either. The way I separate the gold from the dross, with d20 or GURPS or anything else, is to flip through the book ahead of time to get a feel for what it contains. I never buy a supplement sight unseen, unless there's no other way to do it. (This is the case with most indie PDFs -- but I usually see the draft version of the game here on the Forge so I know what I'm getting into.)

Heck, you can probably do a lot of quick and easy filtering just by what it says on the back. "116 New Feats!" Yawn. "A complete new world, with detailed cultures and a new magic system." Hmmm, maybe that's worth flipping through to see if I want it. And you know you can probably skip most adventures, as they're usually very "standard d20 kill n' loot" oriented. Right there, you can narrow yourself down to a managable number of books to glance at. (Certainly, in my case, it helps that I hate prepackaged adventures for any system, so righ there I have a lot less to look at...)

Anyhoo, at the risk of repeating myself, I don't see what part of your problem that can't be alleviated by flipping through the book and reading a page here and there. I do this when I visit a game store anyway, even for games I don't normally buy stuff for (like Rifts -- there's some surprisingly interesting ideas in Rifts supplements sometimes, divorced from the awful (IMHO) system), and I still do it even for games I DO normally buy stuff for -- my gaming dollar is thinner than it used to be, so I always check stuff out.

I guess my point is that I still see d20 benefiting people who don't like it. Even you're not the type who has the time, money, inclination, or ability to browse (and no value judgements there, I know some people have more frenetic lives than I do), well, yes, I guess it can't benefit you, but that goes for a lot of things outside of d20 as well, so I don't see it as an inherent flaw in d20... (And, to be fair, you do say that this is "your own problem"...)
love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT

Mike Holmes

That's the point Kirt. I never get to the point where I take a look anymore. I look over at the shelf of "that stuff" and just turn away. No, it's not worth my time to sift through all of it. Especially since I'm the kind of person who would rather make his own stuff up than use something even semi-unsuitable. The free time that I do have, I spend either playing, designing, posting here (can't browse the game store when I'm at work), or very occasionally, buying stuff for sysems that I know will work for me. I browse very little at all actually; instead, I go in, buy what I need, and get out. I buy online (and PDF) whenever possible. Based mostly off reviews, and word of mouth.

I'm guessing, but from what I have browsed (mostly at Cons, oddly), I've found that 95% of it is in the useless category. Now, again, since I've only taken a small sample, perhaps I've just looked at the bad stuff. Maybe the pecentage of stuff that would suit me is actually higher than that. If so, someone please make that point. But I think we all know that the vast majority of stuff produced for D20 follows the conventions of D&D modules that make them nigh worthless for my styles of play.

I mentioned reviews. Occasional browsing would come under that aegis as well. That is, these things will happen. Also word of mouth. My point is that, even with all these occasional sources of information, I'll still end up disapointed more often than not. For example, there was a glowing review of some City Book series (can't even remember the titles). I did take the time to check it out based on the review. And I was disapointed. Apparently the reviewer saying stuff like "lots of details of city life" meant "lots of numbered locations". Yeesh.

Again, I'm just not going to spend a lot of time looking for a needle in a haystack. Here's a better idea. You probably can figure out the sort of thing I'm looking for, Kirt. Sim detail, with lots of open-ended plot hooks based on personalities, politics, etc. Now, how many D20 books can you suggest for me? Let me know which ones they are. Apparently it's easy for you to just sift through it all (and therefore you must have already), so you ought to be able to direct me to the stuff that'll work for me, no prob.

Is Nyambe a suitable supplement for Sim/Narr play?

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I think we may be missing something important about the usefulness of d20 by focusing too much on the viability of the system itself. of course not everyone is going to find d20 books useful, and of course history is going to repeat itself: most d20 books, like most older d&d support materials, are going to be crap. Mike can turn away from the shelves of d20 books if he wants; it's not going to hurt him or d20 in any way, any more than my not looking at RIFTS books has made my world less enjoyable or prevented numerous RIFTS books from being printed.

I think d20 is useful in an entirely different sense. I was reading up on the d20/OGL faqs this weekend for a different project, and noticed this:

Quote from: d20 license FAQ
Q: Does Wizards of the Coast want to destroy competition in the gaming industry?

A: The company would like to see the number of widely distributed roleplaying game systems reduced.

There are people who see these two objectives as synonyms. There are real-world examples that prove that not to be the case.

There are numerous examples of successful, thriving publishers who focus on making products that are compatible with other game systems. Having a "house system" is not a requirement for being a roleplaying game publisher, despite the fact that those two ideas have gone hand-in-hand for nearly two decades.

The company believes that this is a market where diversity is more harmful than beneficial. The competition in the tabletop RPG category will (if the OGL/d20 strategy is successful) shift from producing competitive RPG systems to producing competitive RPG products that share a common system.

Q: Does Wizards of the Coast think that the d20 System is the only RPG that should be published?

A: Nobody at Wizards of the Coast believes that OGL/d20 will cause the market to reject all other RPGs. There will always be a market for game systems produced by publishers who are determined to forge their own path, or to push the envelope of design. And there will always be people who find different game systems more entertaining for different types of games and different genres. Over the long term, however, Wizards of the Coast hopes that the systems which are widely available in the market also become Open Games, and that instead of supporting dozens or hundreds of different games, the market chooses to support a just a handful.

now, I had read that before, as I'm sure everyone else has, but reading it again in the light of all this discussion made me think about a few things. first, WotC is coming out and saying they want to see fewer game systems. they note, however, that they do not expect d20 to be the only game system in existence, plus they say they want to see more game materials -- they just think that a thousand game books with a thousand different game systems fragments the market. they are right, for a couple reasons:

[*]people will buy an occasional product for a game system they don't use, but tend to buy more products for those systems they do use. making a new game system for each product tends to limit the number of products sold.
[*]for every specific setting, such as "D&D fantasy", the old market had maybe 20-30 seperate game systems to handle that setting. each system had one or two interesting ideas; the rest of the material for that system was basically "reinventing the wheel", making a person buying D&D fantasy products more likely to "browse and borrow" as xiombarg describes than to actually buy the product.
[*]most "unique game systems" are just copycat game systems with a few minor tweaks. they do not offer anything new.

what WotC decided was to create the OGL and the d20 license. I don't think the OGL has been fully used the way WotC intended; what WotC was hoping was that Chaosium might create an OGL Basic Roleplaying and SJG might make GURPS Lite OGL -- no changes to either of these systems, just opening the systems up, so that most people with an itch to create a game would simply take the OGL mechanics and add their setting or system ideas on top, reducing the amount of "reinventing the wheel" and building up the usable product base for each of the major game lines. the d20 license is thus WotC's example of how they would use the OGL; if Chaosium created a "BRP license" and Steve Jackson created a "GURPS license" along the same pattern, new game releases would tend to cluster around the OGL game systems. of course, Chaosium and SJG didn't react in the way WotC was expecting, but instead worked up a few d20 products.

paradoxically, perhaps, this would also improve the lot of indie rpgs. indie rpgs are unique systems with unique settings, but they tend to get flooded out by unique systems with clone settings. by moving clone settings away from the "non-D&D" domain into the D&D domain, we can get a clearer idea of the truly unique games available.

so to sum up: I think d20 is useful in that it clears a lot of deadwood out of the way. all those people making games with "100 new races! 1000 new classes!" are now making suppliments for D&D, which makes stand-alone indie games look better as whole. d20 becomes useful as a "universal" system for publishing game ideas that do not really stand up well on their own.
John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects:

Mike Holmes

Wait, so I don't have to check out so many Fantasy Heartbreakers because they will come out in D20 and not their own systems?!? Hmmm, that's tempting. D20 as a garbage vaccuum....

OTOH, perhaps that's enabling such designers. ;-)

And still, I'm not concerned with the garbage. I doubt that these will get past my review checks, and word of mouth filters anyhow. It's the designer that could be making something good that I'm concerned about. The one who might say, "Ah, I could make something better, but it's easier and more profitable to come out with something for D20." Why compete with Delta Green, when more people buy stuff for Greyhawk? Does this guy exist? Who knows, but he might.

Again, however, I'm sure the D20 people appreciate this guy's sentiments. You'll just have to understand if I'm not jumping for joy.

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Ron Edwards


Hey everyone, I did post a comment about staying on topic especially when discussing D20. This is a system thread, specifically, its application to a variety of settings and perhaps even of modes of play. Discussions of publishing, the OGL in particular, and related stuff are way off topic, OK?