As you can see from this site, I run a very heavily modified version of D&D. In order to keep track of all of my changes, I have written my own version of the core books: DMG, PHB, and MM. I’m very proud of the system I’ve created and would love to share it with the community. However, there are legal concerns that must be taken into account.
For those that don’t know, the majority of D&D 3.5 was released (many years ago) as a collection of files known as the System Reference Document (SRD). Further, permission has been given to copy, modify, and distribute these files through the Open Gaming License v1.0a (OGL).
What this means is that anyone, under the OGL, may create and sell their own product based on the SRD.
However, my game is not based on that edition. I think it would be best described as 1e, with various ideas taken from later editions and other games, all of which then heavily modified to fit my own vision of the game. As such, it includes a great deal of copyrighted material. If I want to release my house rules under the OGL, then I have a lot of changes to make.
I’ve actually begun the process to get a feel for whether or not this project is feasible. I think that it will be.
The first step was to reformat the files contained within the SRD. There are dozens of files, in Rich Text Format, with endless formatting problems. The worst problem was that, in some cases, there was a CR/LF separating two lines (in the middle of a paragraph) instead of a space. Throughout the various files, there were many hundreds of occurrences of this. In other places, words were cut in half or run together. Many times a bullet item would start at the end of the line containing the previous item instead of its own line. That sort of thing.
Fortunately, I’m quite skilled at formatting Word documents and actually find it very therapeutic. After combining related files into larger files, I removed all existing formatting, and spent 100 or so hours reformatting and reorganizing the presentation in a manner that I find easier to read and more logically laid out. For instance, all the animals and vermin were listed under those categories instead of each animal and vermin creature placed where it should be alphabetically. Some people may prefer categorical groupings, but if I want to find an entry for “Hawk”, I prefer to look under “H” instead of “A” (for Animal). I’m a strong believer in attention to detail, so I spend a lot of time ensuring that even the smallest details are correct.
My next step will be to expand the spell entries. There are numerous spells that say something like “this spell is similar to some other spell except for the following”. That annoys the heck out of me. I plan to edit each entry so that each spell has a full description, without relying on a reference to any other spell.
Beyond that, I probably still have a great deal of work just formatting the SRD to display what’s in it, in the manner that I want.
I have to say that I was surprised by what all was included. I expected the SRD to be just the three core books. Instead, it also included epic rules, psionics, detailed rules on creating and running adventures in various environments, and a great deal more that I was happy to see was included (and thereby covered by the OGL).
Adding My Content
The point of working so much with the SRD first was to create a structured base as well as to have a clearly defined framework of what is OGL-covered material and what is not. Now, as I add my own content, I just need to take care that everything I add is my own work and not text taken from any other source.
In the end, the vast majority of the SRD material will be replaced by my own material. I just needed a system that would ensure that I wasn’t accidently slipping outside the OGL.
Unfortunately, there are a number of limitations on what can be included. For instance, I cannot release three core books called “Dungeon Master’s Guide”, “Player’s Handbook”, and “Monster Manual”. They will have to be named something else. Nor can I use the term “Dungeon Master”. Most likely I will go with “Game Master” instead. A handful of the more iconic monsters may not be included (Beholder, Mind Flayer, Carrion Crawler, etc) as they have been specifically excluded from the SRD. However, that doesn’t preclude a similar monster with a different name from appearing. Most bothersome (although quite reasonable) is the restriction on NPC names. I strongly prefer “Tenser’s Floating Disc” to “Floating Disc”. Although the spells and magic items containing NPC’s names are still allowed, the names are not, which I think is unfortunate.
That does touch on one issue that I’ve been contemplating. My rules are very different from all editions of D&D. Yet I have familiar sounding names for races, classes, spells, monsters, and magic items. This familiarity may give the impression that the rules are similar as well. That impression could cause players (and DMs) to fight the new system (at least subconsciously), because they expect it to be the same as some other game. That raises the question should spells and magic items all be renamed in order to clearly delineate this system from any other? Aside from being an enormous task (keep in mind that these names are referenced all throughout the rules), I rather like some of those names and would miss them if they were gone. That question will be put off for some time.
My plan is to create my version of the three core books (under different names) and sell the DMG and PHB as PDFs through RPGNow (or similar site) for $4.99 each, with the MM being a free download from this site. The two rule books will be filled with unique new material while the MM will just be a modification of existing material in order to make it compatible with my rule books. I can’t see asking people to pay for that. Plus, by offering a free download, people can see the level of quality and get a feel for what the other books will include. It’s also possible that by offering the MM for free, along with low prices on the other two books, I may garner some good will and enjoy wider interest.
Additionally, once the core books are available, I open the door to producing other products: setting materials, modules, accessories, etc. based on those core books. Since this is the rule set I use, naturally I prefer to spend my time creating material that uses that rule set, so I can use it myself in my own games.
This project is definitely stepping out beyond my comfort zone. I have endless questions and areas that need to be researched. And with various limitations of my own, things will move slowly. I’d be very surprised if things come together before this time next year, but it will be fun project nonetheless.