The "e20: System Evolved" project has the goal of designing a genre-neutral roleplaying game whose mechanics allow for fast gameplay, streamlined character creation and advancement, and a cinematic storytelling experience. Its name is inspired by the decade-old "d20 System" license, and this project's intent is to help that venerable rules system evolve into its newest incarnation.
The project's designer, Gary M. Sarli, was editor and developer for the Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Saga Edition Core Rulebook, which won ENnie Awards for Best d20/OGL Product, Best Rules, Best Game, and Product of the Year in 2008. Now that Wizards of the Coast has announced that it will be retiring Saga Edition this year, the designer hopes that the e20 System can emulate the feel of Saga Edition: building on its strengths, compensating for its weaknesses, and evolving into a universal system for any setting and style of play.
At its most basic level, this project is about grass-roots game design. Unlike most game design projects, the e20 Core Rulebook will have the direct input of fans from the very beginning. If you choose to back this project, you will have not only behind-the-scenes looks at the development process but also the opportunity to shape the final product by voting in polls, joining the message boards at http://GMSarliGames.com/forums, playtesting rules to provide direct feedback, and even contributing content for the game.
Why is it so important to bring fans into the process at such an early stage? Years of play have provided substantial hands-on experience with the "d20 System" and all its variations -- thousands upon thousands of hours of play that give significant guidance on not only what most needs to be changed, but also how and why.
Information technology makes it possible to decentralize design and development, but game publishers generally employ designers and developers in small groups, bringing fans in for playtesting only in the latest stages. In other words, they are using a development model that doesn't take advantage of the technological changes of the past decade. An individual or small group might have an innovation, but only a population can evolve through trial and error on a mass scale over years of play. This project is therefore an experiment that seeks to determine if it is possible to change the way games are made.
Since 2000, the "d20 System" license and the Open Game License (OGL) have allowed publishers to share a common framework for creating roleplaying games using the System Reference Document (SRD), which contains the same core mechanics as those found in Wizards of the Coast's Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. Under the OGL, third-party publishers use the SRD as the basis of many different games meant for many different genres: fantasy, science fiction, horror, superheroes, spy thrillers, and many more.
However, the SRD is intended first and foremost as the rules system for a heroic fantasy game, and as such it requires substantial modification to adapt it to different genres. The result is the creation of similar but not completely compatible game systems for each setting. In addition, the last decade has revealed that the rules themselves have some issues with game balance, tempo, and playability; each publisher addresses these issues in slightly different ways, leading to further compatibility issues.
Eventually, Wizards of the Coast abandons the OGL entirely with Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, and the new game is even more focused on heroic fantasy at the expense of other genres. In fact, its strict license requirements allow so little latitude that many third-party publishers choose not to continue creating compatible products. The result is a more fragmented roleplaying game industry, further isolating each game's players and making crossover even more difficult than before.
The goal of the "e20: System Evolved" project is to create a new rules system that supports any genre. Though it uses the SRD and the OGL as a starting point, it is a complete revision meant to address the rules issues that have been found over the past decade. When complete, the e20 Core Rulebook will provide a common starting point for any number of genres and settings created by players and third-party publishers.
The e20 Core Rulebook will be a large hardcover book (at least 350 to 400 pages) with a full color cover, a fully illustrated black-and-white interior, and a target retail price of $39.95. In addition, the e20 Core Rulebook will be available for download, most likely as a PDF for $9.95. (Additional formats, such as that used by Amazon's Kindle, are also being considered.) The target date for publication is late November or early December of 2010, allowing the game to be available for purchase in time for the holiday season.
Patronage and Funding
I have decided to follow the example of Wolfgang Baur and use a "patronage model" for this project. That what means is that those who are interested in the project can "buy in" at the beginning, giving them access to (and influence on) the design process at all stages. Once a sufficient number of patrons have pledged their support, the project moves forward.
The funding goal is to raise $10,000 in 10 weeks. Until now, I have been working on this rules system on a part-time basis, exploring different mechanics to determine if the project would be viable. Having concluded that it is possible to meet all the goals I have for the new rules, I will need to work on the book on a full-time basis to complete it within one year, and even that requires a very ambitious production schedule.
Since the time I spend working on the e20 Core Rulebook is time that I can't spend doing freelance writing and editing, the biggest reason for this funding is to pay the bills while I devote all my time to the project. In addition, a project of this scope will undoubtedly require the collaboration of other contributors (artists, designers, editors, etc.), so I need to have sufficient cash on hand to hire freelancers as needed for the project.
The fund-raising goal $10,000 is the bare minimum that I believe can move the project forward; ultimately, I hope the project will raise several times this amount, primarily through book sales after publication. The amount by which I exceed the $10,000 goal will help to determine how large a print run I can afford as well as how much work I can afford to farm out to freelancers who want to contribute to the game's design.
To provide a starting framework for the project, I am drawing on my years of experience in the game design process, particularly the time spent developing, editing, and providing rules support for the Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Saga Edition, which was itself an exhaustive revision of the rules found in the OGL and an effort to improve gameplay from that found in the two earlier d20-based editions of the game. By the time of the project's funding deadline, a complete outline for the manuscript -- including details of planned changes -- will be ready for the patrons.
From there, the patrons provide input and guidance on what changes work, what changes don't, and (most importantly) what changes I haven't yet thought of. Senior patrons will have particularly substantial influence, and we will experiment with different collaboration tools -- everything from simple forums and discussion lists to relatively recent platforms such as Google Wave -- to find what works best for this project.
In fact, if you contribute design work to the final manuscript, you are paid at the same rate as other freelancers and given an additional design credit on the book -- a great way to gain experience and build a resume for those interested in pursuing a career in game publishing!
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