Dungeons & Dragons to go open-source?

A gaming executive ponders an "open gaming license" for role-playing games.

Published March 10, 2000 12:00PM (EST)

The open-source march to world domination never stops: Thursday, a Web zine devoted to the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game posted an intriguing interview with a long-time D&D executive who explained his plans to create an "open gaming license" for role-playing games.

The interview in Eric Noah's 3rd Edition News is a must-read for anyone who has ever played Dungeons & Dragons and might be interested in how the open-source concept is affecting the gaming industry. Ryan Dancey, brand manager for D&D at Wizards of the Coast, the trading-card game titan, explains how a few years of hard thinking have led him and a growing number of other RPG experts to believe that the future of role-playing games requires a new approach to licensing the intellectual property at the heart of such games.

The plan is to release basic information on how to create characters for a D&D-like role-playing game under a license that allows anyone to build games based on those rules. Right now, suggests Dancey, a surfeit of conflicting game systems has resulted in market fragmentation which is partly responsible for the decline in RPG sales over the past decade. If other gaming companies started developing games that adhered to the basic D&D format, Dancey argues, that would encourage more gamers to play D&D; eventually those new D&D gamers would want the advanced player's guides that are currently the main revenue producer for D&D.

Of course, the rise of ever-more sophisticated computer games is an obvious reason for the slow death of paper-and-dice style games, a fact that gives rise to the suspicion that the "open gaming license" could be just another canny public relations move to grab a little open-source media attention. But Dancey's interview rings with the authority of someone who has thought deeply about how to move forward in a tough business. And since a not inconsequential number of today's open-source pioneers can recall those happy days of yore when they too rolled the dice to see whether they lived or died on the field of battle, they should take notice of Dancey.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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