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Open licensed RPGs that are great alternatives to D&D’s OGL

Open licensed RPGs that are great alternatives to D&D’s OGL

Recent announcements from Wizards of the Coast, the current producer of Dungeons and dragons and subsidiary of Hasbro, has apologized for and backtracked on leaky plans to make more money from DnD brand with a new Open Game License (OGL) that would force third parties DnD developers to pay royalties from their earnings. Even with new promises to return to DnDits former OGL and releasing the basic rules under a Creative Commons license, many players have been looking for alternative tabletop RPG systems – fantasy adventure games with a similar feel to DnD and available basic rules players and other developers are free to hack and adapt.

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The original Wizards of the Coast OGL, published for DnD 3.0 and 3.5 editions, stripped of the core game mechanics Dungeons and dragons from their medieval fantasy context and turned them into a generic, free-to-use set of tabletop RPG rules. This free d20 system and its successors encouraged third-party developers to create DnD-compatible campaign setting books, dungeon modules, and even d20-centric systems like the superhero RPG Mutants and masterminds. This and future OGLs increased the popularity and prevalence of DnD in the tabletop gaming scene, and also encouraged indie developers to create open-license TTRPGs like the ones listed below.

Related: Fantasy RPG Alternatives to D&D (and Their Unique Strengths)


Table of Contents

a dungeon game is like D&D but boiled down to its bare essentials

Artwork for a dungeon game, showing a dragon made up of multicolored triangles in front of a grid similar to that of a TTRPG battle mat.

Designed and published by indie developer Chris Bissette, a dungeon game essentially takes the classic dungeon crawling sword and sorcery game DnD and boils it down to its purest, most intuitive form. Player characters i a dungeon game (available at itch.io) have three basic attributes called Agility, Brawn, and Cunning, and they succeed on d20 ability checks if they roll below their ability rating.

Unlike DnDits potentially absurd class combinations, there are no classes in it a dungeon game (beyond a profession that grants advantage on certain ability checks), allowing any PC to create and learn new magical rituals at the cost of reducing their maximum health or an attribute’s strength. Permanent damage called Scars can increase or penalize a player’s rolls depending on the context.

The open license rules for a dungeon game allow anyone, whether players or developers, to use and hack the system’s rules as long as they adhere to these two guidelines:

  • Says their game is an independent production and is not affiliated with the Loot The Room company.
  • Does not use any of the text in a dungeon game verbatim.

The simple rules and open license of this OSR system make it a solid choice for newcomers to RPGs and content creation, and DnD veterans looking for a new system to play that can be memorized quickly.

MÖRK BORG is a humorously edgy take on D&D and Old School Revival RPGs

Mork Borg written in black on a yellow background with a scary skeleton-drawn creature with horns and an upside-down cross on its head in front.

One day everything will blacken and burn,” goes the tagline DARK CASTLE, a very colorful and gloomy heavy metal fantasy game about a doomed world. The core book of DARK CASTLE, full of grungy fever-dream heavy metal album imagery, describes a dark, crumbling fantasy world on the brink of apocalypse, with a cube diagram/religious prophecy dictated by a two-headed basilisk detailing several ways the world will end. Players can adventure through this melodramatically doomed fantasy world with Old School Revival-style RPG rules to quickly create and portray villains and goons with dubious magical powers and physical ailments like rotten teeth.

OGL for DARK CASTLE is simple and to the point. Players and game developers cannot reuse any book artwork they claim their content is made from DARK CASTLE‘s publishers, or create DARK CASTLE NFTs. Otherwise, they are free to use and re-mix the basic rules for DARK CASTLE (and its cyberpunk RPG spin-off CY_BORG) to create third-party games or dungeon scenarios with an (optional) “Compatible with MÖRK BORG” logo. The core gameplay mechanics of this RPG work especially well for one-shot or short-lived tabletop RPG campaigns, and online character/dungeon/monster creation generators make it easy to throw together dungeon crawlers on the go.

Related: Cy_Borg Review – Violent cyberpunk RPG that’s so, so good

Quest is a beginner-friendly RPG and kid-friendly version of D&D-style Fantasy

Key art for TTRPG Quest, showing an adventuring party of four standing atop a hill on a battlefield, with the ground strewn with arrows, banners, and a shield.

Fantasy tabletop RPG Assignment, published by Adventure Guild, is an accessible RPG in several senses of the word. The basic d20 game mechanics are simple, easy to understand, and require no calculations related to attribute points or dice pool sizes. The design of Assignment the core book is full of colorful illustrations and concise text in large print, making it a beginner-friendly RPG for in-person and online play. The traits of each character class can be printed as compact playing cards and allow players to truly customize PCs to their heart’s content (Quests The Fighter class, for example, can be a raging berserker, brash tactician, disciplined pugilist, or bloody warrior poet).

The core rules for Assignment is free to download in PDF format. Further System Reference Document for Assignment is published under the Creative Commons 4.0 license. Anyone can freely share, adapt or rework the basic rules for Assignment as long as the creator credits the original creators of the game and doesn’t try to imitate them. The Assignment RPG site SRD even offers some helpful tips for indie game developers trying to hack Assignment rules or create third-party content; for example, would-be game hackers should not introduce new rules where players can upgrade PC health, add bonus numbers to dice rolls – as with Dungeons and dragons‘ saving throws and other rolls – or upgrade a weapon’s damage beyond 2.

Cairn mixes Old School D&D with modern game mechanics

Cairns title written in stylized medieval script, surrounded by twisted branches covered in thorns.

As a dungeon gametabletop RPG system Ward trying to boil down the winning formula Dungeons and dragons down in a simple, accessible form. As Assignment, Cairn also happens to be published under the Creative Commons 4.0 license. The core game mechanics of Ward is aimed at telling the story of magical but vulnerable fantasy adventurers who explore mysterious forests and ancient tombs in search of magic, treasure and glory. The artwork of Ward RPG rulebook (free on itch.io) is black and white, unshaded and reminiscent of vintage first edition illustrations DnD campaign books and manuals, while the basic rules include detailed dice charts for creating character names, backgrounds, traits, equipment, etc.

Cairn, Quest, DARK CASTLE, and a dungeon game are just a few of the many indie tabletop RPGs on the market designed to emulate the iconic charm of Dungeons and dragons without being bound by IP’s core rules or fantasy setting conventions. These indie RPGs are unlikely to surpass the popularity of DnD OGL, although relations between DnD players and Wizards of the Coast continue to deteriorate. The bright fodder for the ever-changing DnD However, OGL 1.2 controversy is how veteran RPG players have been inspired to seek out other RPGs as well Dungeons and dragonspatronizing once-overlooked indie game developers and expanding their perception of what tabletop RPGs can do or become.

More: Will Pathfinder be affected by D&D’s OGL changes?

Sources: a dungeon game/itch.io, MÖRK BORG, Quest SRD, Cairn RPG/itch.io, Free League Publishing/Youtube

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