Inspired by d20 and fate accelerated. Let’s get this out of the way up front: this system is highly derivative, uninspired, and breaks no new ground in game design. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. For the reasons stated above, it has to feel familiar. The way it operates has to be simple and intuitive. That gives us common ground for discussion, and opens up more possibilities to tinker with it.
To me, all arguments about tabletop roleplaying systems come down to the balance of wargaming versus storytelling. There are players that want heavy rules with the merest suggestion of plot and characterization sprinkled in as a light seasoning. Others want as few rules as possible, and those mechanics have to justify their existence by supporting the interactive fiction.
Some people will say that it doesn’t matter. You should let your preferences guide you, and play whatever you want, how you want. For the record, I like those people. They tend to be fun to hang out with. Others will loudly, and quite forcefully, tell you that there is only one correct answer. It’s usually their personal tastes, militantly expressed as absolute and objective truth, and that frequently makes them less pleasant to be around.
I want to explore the oft-overlooked middle ground. The focus here isn’t on the eagle, which in this metaphor is the storytelling, with its artistic hopes and lofty ideals. It’s not on the horse either, the wargaming-predigreed rule set with its steadfastness and dependability. I want to look at the whole creature. The Hippogryph. Rather than get caught up with distinct and separable parts, I want to look at what this allegorical beast can be.
The system you’re about to read began as a hybrid of the D20 SRD and Fate Accelerated, another contrasting pair. Wargaming and storytelling. Locked-down and free-form. The horse and the eagle. What I’ve tinkered with was never a conversion of one to the other, but incorporating the strengths of both. Over time it evolved into its own thing, albeit with the marks made by the original influences still clear. It eventually became the thing that I needed it to be, and now I feel it’s in good enough shape to share with you.
Why don’t I just write material using the Open Game License? Both D20 and Fate Accelerated have System Reference Documents, allowing me to cut and past huge swaths of material. Since this is essentially a thesis on tabletop roleplaying design (surprise!) I might as well share my methodology.
Not to insult anyone, but no one’s ever become rich and famous knocking off other peoples’ intellectual property. I don’t want to sound hypocritical because I’ve been a third party publisher. What I’m doing now is creating a derivative work based on someone else’s games. But I long to create something that’s legally and philosophically my own. I don’t want to be yet another person publishing his home-brewed material or pouring his heart out into yet another fantasy heartbreaker. That’s why I’m taking a step back from straight-up editing the OGL into a “frankensystem”.
This is more about how I want to be perceived as a creator, and how I want my work to be seen as well. There is a huge difference between taking inspiration from other peoples’ work and using that as a springboard, and simply riding their coattails. People are going to take offense, and none is intended. I’m not throwing shade. If you’re a hobbyist and use an open license to create material for your favorite game, you’re the backbone of fandom. Good on you.
If you’re a third-party publisher making material to support another publisher’s game system, good luck and godspeed. Had I wanted to create material for D&D, Pathfinder, Fate, or other systems, I would. There are pros and cons to this in terms of the whims of editions, the expectations of fans, and the limits of what you can and cannot do. For all manner of reasons, I just want to have my own thing, do things my own way, and build my own audience.
There may be some content that will use the OGL in future issues. Never say never. This was conceived as an ongoing zine for a reason, after all. I haven’t entirely made up my mind at the moment, and that’s the great thing about this type of project. If in the future I want to publish something that requires the OGL, I will use it. Spoiler alert: that will mean devoting probably two pages of a 32-page zine to the damned license, unless I use a microscopic font size. I’d rather write everything, own it, and give you two more pages of content to boot.