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Open gaming

Open gaming can refer either to a meeting of game playing where any player is free to join or to the belief in the freedom to manipulate, copy, and redistribute game rules. This article discusses the latter meaning. The open gaming idea relates to the rising popularity of open source software and copyleft licenses such as the GNU Free Documentation License.


Open gaming developed in 2000 from Wizards of the Coast's Open Gaming License, which the company applied to its d20 System used at the core of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Because its heritage is intertwined with the most successful RPG, "open gaming" often refers to the d20 System, but other open systems and licenses have been developed as well.

The initiative for an open license on rules resulted from the many unique sets of rules used by RPGs. To ease the designer's development process and the player's learning process, major RPG developers created generic role-playing game systems, such as Steve Jackson Games' GURPS, for use in the design of their own games. Wizards of the Coast took the idea a step further by making the core rules system free (as in speech and beer) so that game designers could produce games under the d20 umbrella of rules and so that players need not make any purchases in order to learn the core rules. Among other things, game developers believe that this drive will make their games more accessible and that it could further channel the popularity of the RPG industry towards Dungeons & Dragons.

Emergence from the Open Gaming License

Several game designers criticized the Open Gaming License for not being as open as it could be and for being controlled by the RPG market leader Wizards of the Coast. Some of these critics wrote their own open licenses. Lately, drafting new open gaming licenses has waned slightly as it becomes apparent that numerous copyleft-style licenses that could be applied to game rules already exist, such as the GNU Free Documentation License. One open gaming license similar to the GFDL, the October Open Game License, has already been deprecated in favor of a Creative Commons License.


A number of mostly small game developers have since hopped on board the open gaming initiative mostly through the d20 System. Open gaming has been most successful with amateur-designed RPG and RPG supplements. Several licenses have been used to facilitate open gaming. Despite this, the concept has yet to make a significant impact on games outside of pen-and-paper RPGs and still most major RPG developers continue to use their own, non-open systems.

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