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Open Source RPGs

Matt Cruikshank has a long, passionate article request in the Suggestion Pot. Hop over and read it in full if you like. One element I’ll seize on is discussing open source/creative commons games.

John Kim maintains links to a vast number of free RPGs [1]. Among them are a subset of open and licensed games, conveniently gathered together as open gaming examples [2]. Eleven open games are highlighted at that link, and many more exist out in the wild. (For example, one of my favorite systems is FATE, a FUDGE derivative. It was released under the OGL and exists on a well organized wiki [3]. One specific, non-public form of the system is Spirit of the Century.)

The Shadow of Yesterday

I enjoyed reading The Shadow of Yesterday [4] (released under creative commons)– it is a fantasy RPG, but its focus is a little off from the traditional. The game style encourages character interaction and non-standard skill use. The world of near is a fantasy world, but it doesn’t feature the endless monsters you may be used to from D&D. A key motivator for the system are Keys, the form of advancement in the game. Some keys mimic traditional experience (the Key of Bloodlust [5] rewards overcoming opponents in battle), but others offer very different motivation (like the Key of Unrequited Love [6]). So far, I haven’t played the game– does anyone have experience with it in play?


The Shadow of Yesterday, linked above, uses FUDGE dice and elements of Fudge’s resolution system. Several gnomes are big fans of FUDGE– Patrick Benson’s review of the system [7] is thorough. After reading the article you’ll know whether you want to investigate further.

Supplements for FUDGE are everywhere, from Agyris – World of the Bell [8] and FATE Pendragon [9], each freely available on the web, to published games like The Deryni RPG [10] and The Collectors: The Burning House [11].

D20 and OGL

Probably the most expansive source of ready to mix freely available and usable game information. Several products and websites have tried to organize and highlight great game elements. I liked The Year’s Best d20— a product that really highlighted several good open source options and expansions for D&D. A current project that uses a web community is the The Grand OGL wiki [12]. It organizes extensive excerpts from many many sources– contributing to this project might just fit the bill. It is OGL, which may not be as easy to use as creative commons– but the depth of sources can’t be matched. Many System Resource Documents [13] are compiled by John Kim, exposing more than a dozen takes on the d20 system.


JAGS is a system I’ve heard good things about. It sounds similar to GURPS in system complexity. It is well supported and the core system is freely released under the GNU FDL. Does anyone have experience with the system? Tell Matt and me about it in comments.


The Wushu open rules [14] are released under a creative comments license. I have heard about many fun game sessions of Wushu– the system is demanding, but supports wild and over the top action. If cinematic and rules light are your guiding lights, this might be a great system to build on.

Other Deserving Systems

Several other systems are listed on John’s page, and there are many many more systems out there on the web. Is there a system that you think Matt should look into? What system have I unfairly overlooked?

Games Not Officially Open

For many smaller game systems, obscurity is the enemy. While it is always best to check with the author before you sink in too much effort, many game designers and authors would love to have you help them out by providing tools, quick references, and all of the other goodies that you mentioned. Many are very approachable– if you’d like to help make their system more convenient or breathe new popularity into it, you’ll probably find an ally in the author. Jot the author a quick email and mention your ideas. Few will turn away free work and advertising.

In the end, I’m one gnome– while I ready and enjoy a roleplaying games, I haven’t really played that many open systems. Share your ideas in comments. Let us know about games that are ripe for Matt’s efforts or open licensed games that excite you. The web’s an awfully big haystack…

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Open Source RPGs"

#1 Comment By Gregory On June 30, 2009 @ 6:11 am

Just last month I released a system called [15]. It’s lightweight, quick-playing, and general-purpose. And released under a Creative Commons license.

It’s had little play yet, though; mostly just my own playtesting.

#2 Comment By carandol On June 30, 2009 @ 6:53 am

It’s probably worth pointing out that the recent editions of RuneQuest and Traveller produced by Mongoose are released under the Open Gaming Licence, and are thus those rules sets are available for others to build on.

#3 Comment By Knight of Roses On June 30, 2009 @ 7:20 am

I have played a lot of FATE and some tSoY, both have great mechanics for encouraging roleplaying (Aspects and Keys respectively). tSoY suffers from the Indie RPG problems of not handling conflicts beyond one-on-one very well. Both are fun and a source of great ideas but I prefer FATE.

#4 Comment By BryanB On June 30, 2009 @ 9:58 am

If I am not mistaken, ORE is an Open Source RPG, with REIGN and Godlike being “closed” specific forms of the One Roll Engine by Greg Stolze.

#5 Comment By steamcrow On June 30, 2009 @ 10:09 am

So, I was going to comment about how much I love FUDGE, and you go and also link up my Agyris site.


Anyway, I continue to be a big fan of the ‘Stew.

#6 Comment By Scaredy Squirrel On June 30, 2009 @ 11:03 am

About JAGS…

In fact, only the JAGS-2 version of the rule is released under the GNU. It’ a “light” version of the complete JAGS Revised ruleset.

JAGS is a rule and mechanics heavy RPG that uses a 4d6-4 roll under resolution (it sounds more complicated then it is). Combat is deadly and detailed, using a kind of thick system to determine what you can do in a round. Lots of possible actions and damage complications… If you enjoy a heavy system once in a while, check it out. You can see that they like GURPS, but that they just didn’t want to clone it.

The complete JAGS Revised system is still free, but not open like JAGS-2. Also, check out the settings (Wonderland, Has Not and C-13), they’re great!

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 30, 2009 @ 11:37 am

[16] – I’ll check it out. I’m always itching to read new material when it comes to game engines.

[17] – As a Fudge fan thank you for the work you have done on Agyris. I hope to see more Fudge based settings like yours continue to pop up on the Net.

#8 Comment By Scott Martin On June 30, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

[16] – Sounds interesting. Since you’re an author, care to comment on how much you’d like for others to contribute organization, linking, and reports of play? Any thoughts on how you’d approach someone else publishing material for your system on the web or in print?

[18] – Yup, lots of OGL out there. I always wondered how the OGL Babylon 5 game was…

[19] – That’s the same boat for me. FATE is closer to where my groups and I play, but tSoY would make for a great change of pace. And it’s very flavorful.

[20] – Interesting. Reign looked good, but we haven’t played so I don’t know how the system really would appeal. Are you thinking of it as a future game to run?

[17] – Thanks for putting in so much effort– Agyris is a nicely detailed and original world. I’ll have to visit it with characters someday soon.

[21] – JAGS sounds interesting, but it also sounds like a system I’d rather play before I try to run it. Do you play at cons?

#9 Comment By Gregory On June 30, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

@Scott – I’d love to have links or play reports; reports could be sent to [22] . Under the CC license I picked, folks are free to publish any material they want using my system as long as it uses the same license and is noncommercial. I’d definitely encourage that. Character sheets, tools, adventures, goodies, these are all welcome. I’ve already had a couple of folks express interest in writing sourcebooks.

If someone were to approach me about licensing the system for commercial use, I’d be happy to discuss terms with them. I’m not sure what I’d do if I found out someone had violated the license without my permission; it would depend on the circumstances, but I’d probably start with a friendly e-mail.

Generally, if a creator releases something under a CC or GPL-style license, I’d assume that they’d encourage folks to take advantage of the license. Personally, I’d be overjoyed if someone picked LORE for a project like Matt discussed, and by picking the CC license that I did, I’ve already given the world permission to do that.

#10 Comment By DocRyder On June 30, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

[20] – ORE has a couple of other variations, including Wild Talents, a more modern version of Godlike, and Monsters and Other Childish Things. I like the system, although I haven’t taken the time to do much with it. More here: [23].

[24] – I notice the WuShu link above is set up as a Wiki, and their print to PDF function is broken. I hate reading Wikis 🙁 There’s a lot of hoops to jump through to get a look otherwise, as their print to PDF code is broken. Had to join the Yahoo Group to get a PDF I can read offline.

I know you run FATE a lot, and I’ve had issues with their extended resolution system. My issues are mainly that (unless you run SotC) the suggestions as to how to resolve extended challenges are pretty vague and without true direction. I found myself lost and eventually gave up on the game. It looks tempting, but unfinished and incomplete.

#11 Comment By BryanB On June 30, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

[24] – REIGN is very high on my list of potential games to run. I am keen on the system, after reading through it twice. My biggest hangup with REIGN is the somewhat wonky default setting, although that is certainly subject to individual tastes.

More recently, I’ve considered setting the game in a pseudo-Roman setting, drawing upon Roma Imperious (Hinterwelt)for source material. I think REIGN would be excellent for roleplaying the intrigue and conflicts (internal/external) that would be experienced by the members of a large and prominent noble family in Rome or another nearby town.

#12 Comment By BryanB On June 30, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

[25] – It is a shame that we don’t have the RPG meetups anymore. REIGN might have been a worthy one-shot just to try out the system. But I’m in the same boat as you. I haven’t really taken the time to experience REIGN yet, and it seems to be a game that would be worthy of more effort on my part. 🙂

#13 Comment By adam On July 1, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

It seems that what Matt (and others with the same inclination towards open systems, like myself) wants is something like the OpenD6 Project. It’s basically the owner of the D6 system (of Star Wars fame) releasing everything (even pre-published stuff!) under the OGL, and then throwing everything onto a website where others can submit their own rules, compile their own rulebooks, and save them as a custom PDF. There’s probably going to be other tools available as well, eventually. It’s not up yet, though; the people in charge say they’re releasing everything at GenCon. More info at the [26].

#14 Comment By MattCruikshank On July 2, 2009 @ 10:18 am

Hi everyone, Matt here.

[24] – Thanks so much for this article, and drawing attention to CC gaming!

[27] – I’ll take a look! I’m not as flexible in trying out new gaming systems as I’d like to be. The group I game with is also fairly reluctant to change gears, but if I find something I like, I might be able to drag them along with me.

#15 Comment By niall On February 17, 2010 @ 4:40 am

Matt – found your post after I googled “open source creative commons roleplaying game” 🙂

I’ve just recently gotten back into gaming, have picked up a bunch of 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D books (ahh the memories), and gotten caught up on the whole PDF publishing phenomenon, Pathfinder, HackMaster – haven’t played for 15 years so there really was a lot to catch up on. And I’m excited!

As far as the industry has come, though, it seems awfully fragmented. While D&D seems to be kicking along (I’ve not played 3/3.5/4E – took a brief look and didn’t like the feel and the direction it was taking) there are heaps of competitors (which is great) and a whole heap of content publishers (which is even better) but from my limited exposure so far it seems like most publishers are releasing either 4E or Pathfinder content?

We still seem to be severely limited by the system’s licensing.

What I have in mind is the following: a Creative Commons licensed project (Attribution Share Alike in my opinion – allow commercial derivatives as long as they are licensed the same and attribute the core project); an open and flexible system allowing modular replacement of rules – e.g. a skills point system OR a proficiency system OR any other solution for this part of the rules; all rules stored in a version control system like subversion or git; automated export and markup to PDF based on which subset of the rules you want to play; …

As far as genre goes, I can’t help but continue the abstraction – something generic like GURPS that can be used for fantasy, scifi, modern, horror, historical etc. campaigns. Generic rules, generic terminology. Keep the rules separate from the content – publishers could come up with campaign settings, classes etc. specific to their world, while making use of the open rule system and not having to re-invent the wheel. I figure this should “change the rules” – instead of us buying dozens of rulebooks which become “obsolete” the next time a monopoly publisher wants to kickstart another decade of revenue… instead our money could go to the creative talents coming up with actual content – campaign settings, races and classes, adventures etc.

People could even publish commercial derivatives of the core rules, e.g. branded with their terminology and intertwined with classes, races, spells, their contributed and preferred rules, artwork etc. while still participating and supporting the open rules project.

A truly open system – where anyone can contribute, modify or improve any rule they see fit. The best ideas would rise to the top – there could be tens of different solutions for “skills”, the same for character generation, combat etc. but the most elegent, simplistic (and FUN!) rules will become popular and our collective efforts could go towards further improving them or consolidating the many options down to 2 or 3 main options (while allowing anyone to choose otherwise or come up with their own solution – which may become the most popular solution at some stage in the future).

When it comes time for a GM or group to choose which rules they’ll be playing by, a simple web interface could allow them to select the rules options that they want and then generate a marked up PDF document for them to download or print out, containing the latest version checked out from the rules repository e.g. “v1.2.3(XYDFWDF)” (the letters perhaps indicating which rule subsets they selected).


I’d love to hear from anyone interested in discussing this further by email and maybe contributing to a project proposal doc which we could publish far and wide to attract as many like minded people (even commercial publishers) to get involved for a truly open rule system.