The Perils Of Open Gaming


So, your gaming group gets together and the newest D20 supplement is making the rounds. Your players are practically drooling over all of the new and interesting things in the book, and they look at you with looks that would put hungry puppies to shame. Someone shoves the book under your nose and points "I want to be one of these! Can I?"

So, your gaming group gets together and the newest D20 supplement is making the rounds. Your players are practically drooling over all of the new and interesting things in the book, and they look at you with looks that would put hungry puppies to shame. Someone shoves the book under your nose and points "I want to be one of these! Can I?"
Do you:
a) Say, "Sure, I haven't even seen it yet but it has the official logo on it so it's got to be OK."
b) Say, "Let me read it over real quick before I approve it."
c) Say, "Leave it with me until next week and I'll get back with my decision."
As tempting as it might be to do either A or B above, C is the best choice by far. I learned this the hard way.

A player of mine in my D&D 3.0 campaign had an idea for a Doppleganger character for a 10th level storyline we were going to start, and he had a new d20 supplement on them. The character concept fascinated me, so I said "Let me read it over real quick before I approve it." I approved it, then moved on. We played a few times; I noticed his character was wading through the things fairly easily that challenged the other characters, both in and out of combat. I finally sat down and looked at the character, later determining he had to rework the character because the EL that was assigned to the "new" Doppleganger was a bit off. Additionally, the prestige class he took was a little over the top. By the time I let him know this he had become so attached to the character that he retired it to NPC status. I could tell he was pretty upset about this because I had initially approved it, but now had changed my mind. If I had taken the time to sit down and read the book in detail originally, I would have caught the problems before they became problems.

I am not the only person in my group who runs, and we are running a shared world. Others who have run games have made the same mistake, though not quite as dramatically as I did. The other GMs consider me the "Head GM", (maybe because I was the first one to run when we started gaming) so we decided to be very careful from now on about which supplements to allow. After learning this lesson, we rarely approve a book carte blanche for our D&D campaigns unless it comes straight from WoTC (Wizards seems to be pretty good about play-testing before releasing, with only minor errata later on).

It turned out, due to issues like this, where classes, treasure, spells, etc. were accepted by us that we ended up starting a brand new game world because we didn't want to go back on a bunch of things we allowed. The clean slate upset everyone equally at first but it worked to clean out the rules we didn't want to allow anymore (though the release of 3.5 by WoTC pushed this along nicely). I am in the process of tying up as many loose ends for our highest-level characters in our 3.0 campaigns so everyone is happy with their character having a complete story from start to retirement. After all, we've played since the initial release of version 3.0 and that's a lot to set aside.

The moral of this story is in this age of Open Gaming you need to be careful what you allow in your games. There are a lot of great supplements out there, but there are a lot of horrible ones as well. Taking an evening to read over a supplement before giving it the nod can save everyone in your gaming group a lot of trouble.

Why not switch to another gaming system if this is such a problem?

d20 has a different flavor from every other gaming system, just like every gaming system. (Their homogenized by their uniqueness!) Call it arcane, inane, complex, simplistic, backwards, or anything else--if you want to play a game of good old-fashioned sword-swinging, fireball wielding, princess saving, dragon slaying fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons is the way to go. I don't suggest the game for anything other than that, but then, that's just me. Basically, not only does using the d20 system for anther sort of game cause problems, so does using another system for Dungeons and Dragons.

(Hoping this is somewhat coherent.)

I totally have to agree with not allowing anything directly from WotC without lots of reading and figuring. But, even then, I'd want to look over any books I don't already have carefully just to make sure the race/class/spell/whatever is what the player says it is.

I've never played D20 but I see no reeason why it should obey a different logic from all other games.

Basically the same advice as wasa given by Gygax in AD&D 1E 1975 and has appeared in countless incarnations since by the wise. 'Any game is a balanced playtested system and you have to be bloody careful what you're introducing before you risk upsetting game balance.

Now some DM's are pretty good at this while some DM's let characters get away with murder.

SSD, I would suggest that the particular problem you have is that you have more than one DM in the same campaign so It could get difficult to keep their judgements consistent. I think its good that they have a senior DM who can try to keep things consistent.

Thats all I have to say on that

Heck I don't even allow all that is in the core books.

I'm always willing to add stuff if it will make a player happy and help tell a good story.

Just like in World of Darkness one doesn't have to allow every Clan or Tradition as PC characters.

Been here, done this :)

"Chaos Magic" from Mongoose did this to our group. Looked good at first (and even second look). Turned out to have some very large, exploitable holes in it that made it very, very unbalanced in our campaign.


I'm not sure about the rest of you but the consistent problem I have seen is material rushed out without any playtesting by the publishers taking advantage of the open license. This is made especially hard when players purchase books to add to the group 'library' and you don't want to tell them their purchase was a complete waste for this campaign.

We have one player who loves his arcane casters, but when as a GM you hear from him another request for a spell from some minor book he has bought, you cringe. If he had his way then he would only take spells from other sources than the core as they are generally more powerful or at least easier to compound the advantage with other spells. Even wizards haven't been innocent of this with little abuse-able snippets on their own web page of spells that enhance familiars, letting the PCs have Improved Familiars without paying for the feat.

Once you realise the pattern you can't keep a balanced game without boosting the other players a bit more along the path with items and spiralling into power character gaming.

This really isn't even that new to D&D, for those that recall 2nd ed AD&D if you wanted the potent spells you would seek out the other source books written by authors who wanted to make the best addition to the game they could, and didn't compare consider exactly how potent what they were putting in print is.

But enough complaining. One thing I like to keep in mind in situations like this is though it can be great to start with a clean slate, there is always the option of penalising a character in story to bring him or her back down to the group average without any real loss to the character, returning him to full strength as the other characters gain levels and catch up. It is often better to the player to not strip him of his prized character, or at least give him this choice, and if it adds to the group story, so much the better.


I have noticed this problem myself. What I do is give a gesounding NO to everything I am not familiar with untill I have read it and then chooses to approve it or not. My players tend to not stray too far from the core books of whatever d20 incarnation we're playing anyway.

We solved the problem of the Arms Race by using only the core books. We agreed beforehand that all other supplements would be verbotten - no handbooks and other supplements.

Not that this belongs here, but I think you should know that the Realms of Kaos board has been hacked and is now broken.

Seems the programmer over there doesn't like bad reviews so he just breaks into whatever talks bad about him that he can't control.

If you're going to leave it up, please fix it.

Well, while I agree with the sentiment, I don't think it's unique to Open Gaming and the d20 spat. My experience is that the moral has always been be careful what you let in. I remember the same point with some early Call of Cthulhu materials from independent publishers.

Having said that, there sure is a whole lot of Open Gaming stuff out there, and so the "problem" is amplified. Myself, I won't make any spot decisions, although I may - if I can quickly skim the materials on the spot - allow it for the evening. Depends on the source. Items by Monte Cook (barring the new Arcana Unearthed) I'm more likely to trust. Individual DMs no doubt have their own levels of comfort with specific authors and product lines.


is this site dead, or what? Seems like there are never any new articles...


There are two articles being edited at the moment, and should be posted any time now. If you're interested in becoming a writer, send me an email and I'll go over the requirements:

Is one of those mine?

Wow, bad grammar or what?

What's that about my gran?


I send my article nearly four months ago (it was the new version). I don't have received any kind of reply after that. I send it again nearly three months ago because I thought that there may have been happened some kind of error.

I became very frustrated about that. Could you tell if you have even received those posts. I suppose that some kind of spam-protector identified my posts as spam and rejected them. Perhaps I should change my main email to the another one I have...

Well, I am not sure about English of this post, because it is nearly three months ago when I last time wrote anything in English.

That's okay VBM, Olly is the only one who speaks English properly around here. I think that is because he's the only one who is.

In all seriousness I had the same thing happen to me, about the articles. I know Salvatore was getting a little behind for a while there. Something about moving offices of servers or something like that. But, I speak no ill will of Salvatore, I live within driving distance of him so he might show up at my house and kick my ass.

Hey Olly!

"Talk British to my kids!"

No takers on the "Salvatore Kicking My Ass" event? Damn, what the hell am I gonna do with all these tickets now and I allready booked the opening act.

As you wish, Ass...

'Ello, 'ello, 'ello, kiddies, what 'ave we got 'ere then. Apples an' pears, frog an' toad, I larve London Tan. Up yer eye, mud in yer bottom. I'm all sixes and sevens, and I'm just going back to me lodgin's to read the diary of Anne Frank, and 'ave a little Tommy Tank. And then she shat on a turtle.

Yeah, now that's what I'm talkin' about!

Go Olly! Go Olly!

Ev'nin' all.

Care to be the new opening act on the "Salvatore Kicks My Ass" event. I'll gladly fire Peter, Paul And Mary.

What? The Amazing Olly will now recite English.

I'd love to do it. Just as long as I can have a spangly jacket and a lovely assistant. Preferably Sophie Ellis Bextor, but if needs be, Mystic Assassin with a placard round his neck, reading 'I'm Sophie Ellis Bextor' will be just as good. Just as long he's shaved his legs, and sings Murder On The Dancefloor at the end.

*looks down*

Well, you'll have to teach me that song...

Although, given the hideousness of the latter option, I strongly suggest somebody get in contact with Sophie's agent at the first opportunity.

*sob* was...beautiful

Well, there was going to be the Allyson Hannigan stripshow but I suppose we could go with the shaved Ass instead.

I don't have any index cards so can we maybe put him in a thong and stick a 'Hi My Name Is:' tag on his chest instead? Oh and remember to do your best John Lydon. You know tell folks to piss off, shove it up their arse and all that. Wait, you do that anyway, just be yourself then.

Oh and the lawers are having some problems with song royalties so can we have him sing Michael jackson's Blood On The Dance Floor? Michael's agent said he needed our money to pay legal fees. And I thought he had given all that up after he got ordained into the 'Church of Kindness'.

Look, Ass... Don't cry... It's not you, it's me. Well, actually, no it's not me, it's you. It's all your fault. You're not Sophie Ellis Bextor, are you? In all honesty? No, you're not. NO! SHUT UP, YOU'RE NOT! She is a very hot, sexy, choice piece of ass, whereas you... well, you're just an ass.

Eater, tell Ally to keep her keks on, and get her ass back to band camp. And stay away from that Jason Biggs fellow. HE'S CROSSED ME ONCE TOO OFTEN! Someone get on the blower to Sophie Ellis Bextor's agent now, and get her to this event, or you can fuck it, the whole thing's off! I'm not going to go out on stage and speak English to you philistines without Sophie Ellis Bextor standing next to me, preferrably in a skin-tight leotard, covered in sequins! You can just find somebody else! AND WHERE'S MY SPANGLY JACKET!

And Eater, be nice to Michael Jackson, all right. I would think that you of all people should know better than to pick on a fellow, lanky, pale, slightly odd-looking individual.

Right, now I am going to go back to my trailer, to sip on my specially imported Coca-Cola from Prague, and watch last week's specifically recorded episodes of Coronation Street, when I come out again I expect to see Sophie Ellis Bextor in a skin-tight leotard, covered in sequins, ready to go out on stage, THEN IT'S ALL OFF!


(RADA also teaches outrageous demands and diva-ism, by the way.)

Well there always me.

You don't count, Chief, you're under five feet tall.

Hmmm, how about a blow up doll with the name tag we were going to give to Ass? She can't sing but you could have your way with her after the show.

Not even if I wear my platform shoes?

Platform shoes..... maybe, just maybe we won't need the RAPA Diva after all......

I could be a Diva!

Wait! I have a great idea! Could you shave your legs and wear a 'Hi My Name Is' tage and a seqined leotard?


I refuse to work with such amateurs! Either get me Sophie, or I'm not doing it! I went to RADA for god's sake. My Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream was unparellelled! I played Lophakin in Chekov's The Cherry Orchard, and even Bernard Hill said I was great! I was the Doctor in A Streetcar Named Desire! DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM? You insect! You peice of excrement! Get me Sophie Ellis Bextor, or I'll be on the next plane back to London. Kapeesh?


I mean, who do I have to sleep with to get the right costumes given to me at the right time around here! I mean, I knew I would have to deal with a number of bumblind, American incompetents, but honestly...

You have to sleep with me.

Me or pretend that Dave is Sophie.

Um... Mabey not then

Um... Mabey not then.

You sure Dave, it pays well?
We could just fire Olly.....
Do you need a spangly jacket and an ugly assistant?

Why did that happen to me?!

Now before we sign you on Dave, we need to be sure you can speak British.

It can't be Dave. She's tall, female, Caucasian and doesn't have a plate in her bottom lip. People will be able to tell the difference!

I don't know, Olly. If we stick to the American circut we'll be all set, Americans are stupid like that.

And really, what's the difference between one British speaker and another. Unless you wanted to dispaly some of your RAPA skills and do it all naked.

Can you top that one Dave?

Um... Mabey. And It's English not British and I don't mind you fellows borrowing it but i really wish you wouldn't change it about quite so much what with the whole "Jam, Jelly, Jello" thing it really is quite annoying.

That was good but I was hoping for something a little mor extravagant for the stage show.