The e20 System has prompted a lot of questions, so I am assembling this page to answer those questions that are particularly common, important, or interesting. I will add updates whenever possible to cover a wide variety of topics.
This section of the FAQ discusses the design goals for the e20 System, including answers about how it differs from existing d20-based game systems.
Q: Is the e20 System using the Open Game License (OGL)? Will it be Open Game Content?
A: Yes, and yes. Under the terms of the OGL, all of the e20 Core Rulebook will be Open Game Content except for those sections that are product identity (as it is for any other product that uses the OGL). As such, it will be available for other publishers to use, expand, or modify as they see fit so long as they, too, follow the terms of the OGL when they do so.
Q: Is the e20 System a revision of existing d20-based Open Game Content, sort of like Pathfinder (Paizo Publishing)?
A: In my opinion, Pathfinder is a continuation of the core design philosophy found in Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition and Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 (hereafter "3.0/3.5"). Though it is definitely a revision, it is sufficiently similar that many characterize it as "version 3.75" of those rules.
The e20 System, in contrast, is not meant to be a revision but rather to be a thorough rebuilding and rethinking of the 3.0/3.5 rules. Though many details will be familiar -- you still have classes, levels, feats, skills, and talents seen in d20 Modern (hereafter "d20M") and Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Saga Edition (hereafter "SWSE"), among others -- the way that these mechanics work in the game is changing substantially, both in terms of how game statistics are calculated and what role they play in the game as a whole.
Q: Is the e20 System using the Game System License (GSL) of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition?
A: No. The e20 System is not being made under the terms of the GSL, and it is not compatible with D&D 4th edition products (hereafter "4E").
However, 4E, SWSE, and other games that aren't Open Game Content (Steve Jackson's GURPS, West End Games's D6 System, White Wolf's World of Darkness games, Pinnacle's Savage Worlds, etc.) can and do provide inspiration for different approaches to the rules, design philosophy, and so forth.
Q: What inspiration have you drawn from 4E?
A: There are several different things I've liked about 4E to varying degrees, but I think I am most impressed by their approach to monster design. In my experience, many d20-based games (including 3.0/3.5 and SWSE) suffer from putting too much detail into an opponent that typically is neutralized within a few rounds of combat. Though that level of detail is certainly appropriate for player characters (who will be around for a long time, hopefully) and particularly noteworthy non-player characters (such as a major recurring villain who will be encountered many times in many different settings), it is in most cases a profound waste of effort. I would estimate that 75% (or more!) of all detail put into an opponent's stat block is never used in any given encounter.
To me, 4E's monster design rules are useful abstraction. It's not that the opponents can't or shouldn't be built with level-by-level detail -- it's just that you can approximate many of those details and end up with an opponent that produces almost identical results. I want the e20 System to work toward this same goal (albeit with a different mechanical approach) so that we can reduce the time the game master (GM) must put into writing stat blocks so more time can be put into writing adventures.
Q: Will the e20 System use classes?
A: Yes, but they are somewhat more flexible than the classes encountered in most d20-based games. The classes are based on "talent trees," somewhat similar to those used in d20M and SWSE. Though final decision aren't made until patrons (and especially senior patrons) have had a chance to provide input, the classes are most likely going to be similar to the "generic" classes found in d20M: Strong Hero, Tough Hero, Fast Hero, Smart Hero, Dedicated Hero, and Charismatic Hero.
In addition to the core talent trees for each class, additional talent trees can be added depending on the genre and setting. For example, if you are in a setting that features magic, you might have a "Wizard talent tree" added to the Smart Hero class, and in a modern setting, you might have a "Commando talent tree" added to the Tough Hero class, and so forth.
Q: How will the e20 System handle multiclassing?
A: This is best answered by making a comparison. In 3.0/3.5, if you were a 19th-level fighter who became a 1st-level wizard, it was a complete waste unless you focused on self-enhancing spells like shield or true strike. Offensive spells are virtually useless because the saving throws are almost automatic and/or the damage is so low compared to enemies of your level.
In my system, everything scales by level. So, if you are a 19th-level fighter/1st-level wizard, you'd be able to throw a 20th-level of a magic missile.
So what's the advantage of being a 20th-level fighter or a 20th-level wizard? That's where talent trees come in -- someone who stays in one class can access all the talents from that class, but someone who merely dabbles can access only the first tier. The higher-level talents aren't necessarily more powerful than lower-level talents ... they're just different, and they're exclusive to the specialist. So, a multiclass 10th-level fighter/10th-level wizard has tricks the other guy can't do (e.g. a good collection of spells to complement his fighting abilities), but the same goes for the fighter 20 (e.g. exclusive exploits the lower-level fighter hasn't learned).
Again, the power levels are comparable, and both have the same number of tricks up their sleeves -- they're just different tricks.
Q: How do e20 System class features work in comparison to 4E powers?
A: Unlike 4E powers, talents in the e20 System will be fairly varied (i.e. there will not be a firm line between "attack powers" and "utility powers").
Also unlike 4E, the e20 System uses talent trees to organize class abilities. I think this approach keeps options nicely organized along thematic lines, and that also makes it easier to compare higher-level versions of lower-level talents (something that is a bit difficult with 4E powers).
Q: How do e20 System class features work in comparison to SWSE Force powers?
A: Unlike SWSE, I don't think I want powers and the like to be an extra thing you buy with a feat (as with Force powers or starship maneuvers); I would prefer that major abilities that are central to a character's design be built into that character's class and level.
Q: How do e20 System class features work in comparison to class features in 3.0/3.5 or talents in SWSE and d20M?
Unlike class features in 3.0/3.5 or talents in SWSE and d20M, talents in the e20 System will be distinctly different from feats: Talents are active (i.e. the character activates them as a specific action); in contrast, feats are more passive, generally enhancing another action or ability. In addition, talents are not exclusive to classes, though that is where characters will get most of them.
Q: How about skills?
A: The e20 System is using skills similar to those found in 3.0/3.5, d20M, SWSE, and 4E. Unlike 3.0/3.5 and d20M, we will not be using skill points because I've found that the flexibility gained is not sufficient to offset the complexity added. Instead, skills will be "trained" or "untrained" -- much like in some of the variants in Unearthed Arcana, or in SWSE or 4E -- and skill bonuses increase as you gain levels.
Also unlike most d20-based games, skills are truly universal -- everyone can use every skill. Some skills do have "trained-only" applications, and some genres might add extra applications to existing skills, but skills are fundamentally available to everyone.
One of the biggest departures of the e20 System from earlier d20-based games is the inclusion of weapon skills. There is no longer such as thing as "weapon proficiency"; instead, each weapon group (a fairly broad category) has an associated skill; if you're trained in it, you have a higher skill modifier (which in turn is used to make attacks, etc.), just as you would with any other skill.
Finally, one concept under consideration is de-coupling skills from ability scores. A given skill might default to a particular ability score for most applications, but it could nevertheless work with a different ability score depending on the situation. For example, a character's skill with a rifle is paired with Dexterity to make an attack roll, but it might be paired with Intelligence if attempting to repair or maintain the weapon, and it might be paired with Strength if you're wielding a bayonet mounted on the barrel. (This is a more experimental concept, so the details are going to be greatly influenced by patron input.)
Q: How will the e20 System handle damage and healing? Will it use hit points, Vitality/Wound Points, Toughness saving throws, or some other mechanic?
A: We will use hit points, but there will be a lot more depth to this mechanic that we're used to seeing:
Q: How will the e20 System handle level progression? How often are new abilities gained?
A: An early draft of a level chart, showing advancement benchmarks, is shown below. But first, a little explanation:
Q: How will the e20 System handle experience points?
A: Ideally, a character will need to participate in about 10 encounters to gain a level. We are using level-independent experience awards (Unearthed Arcana) because this allows the Game Master to use some encounter-building shortcuts similar to those used in 4E (e.g. using an "XP budget" that makes it easier to mix challenges of different levels).
Here is an early draft of what the experience chart might look like; it shows challenges of up to 30th level for the sake of completeness and to account for the possibility of truly epic battles.
Q: Do I have to pay for it immediately when I make a pledge?
A: No. It's called a "pledge" because you don't have to pay for it unless the project reaches its $10,000 goal by March 15th. At that time, if we have enough pledges, everyone is simultaneously charged for their pledge. If we don't have enough pledges, no one pays anything at all.
Q: Isn't $10,000 a lot to ask for a project like this?
A: $10,000 is actually a shoe-string budget for a project of this scope. For example, Super Genius Games is hoping to raise $65,000 to $75,000 for a Pathfinder-compatible upgrade to d20 Modern. That would presumably be a project of comparable scope and size, being a core rulebook, and it would even be designed by someone (Owen K. C. Stephens) who worked on a lot of the same things I did -- he and I did the Star Wars RPG's Saga Edition Core Rulebook, Ultimate Adversaries, Starships of the Galaxy, and Scum & Villainy together.
I'll be honest: I was a little afraid that by asking for only $10K, people wouldn't take the project seriously. Having worked with Wizards of the Coast (WotC) extensively over the past decade, I have a good idea how much money goes into this process ... and even Super Genius Games's cost estimate, as high as it might seem to the casual observer, is a lot less than WotC would spend up front on such a book.
To put the $10K in perspective: That's enough to pay me minimum wage for 40 hours a week -- before taxes and expenses (such as printing costs or hiring other freelancers) -- for the 8 months from March 15th to November 15th, at which point the book would be off to the printers. (And, speaking from experience, I know for a fact I'll be putting in more than 40 hours a week on this.)
Doing freelance work is a full-time job for me, and it is currently my only job. (Since being laid off in December 2008 -- thanks, recession! -- I don't have a "day job" that pays the bills while I do freelance work on nights and weekends.) So, to commit to a project of this scope for such a long time, I would have to turn down freelance opportunities (which pay considerably better than minimum wage) during that time ... and that means that I literally wouldn't be able to pay the rent. (I'm not exaggerating at all on that point -- having been laid off over a year ago, what meager savings I had have long since been exhausted, so if I stop doing freelance work without replacing that income, I get to live in my van.)
Q: Is the suggested price point -- $39.95 for a hardcover copy of the core rulebook, or $9.95 for a PDF -- a bit high?
A: I did research before I set the target price, and I felt that Green Ronin's True20 Adventure Roleplaying was probably the closest extant analogue to my project: It's relatively universal in design, it's a substantial revision of d20, it's a hardcover, it has a black-and-white interior, and its first printing sold for $34.95 ($9.95 for the PDF). The revised edition (which obviously had lower overhead costs because it was a revision rather than starting from scratch) sold for $29.95, and it's 272 pages long (8.5 "module units," in game-publishing speak).
Right now, I'm planning on the e20 Core Rulebook being 384 pages (12 module unts), selling for $39.95 ($9.95 PDF). That's actually lower, on a per-page basis, than even True20 Revised, and it's a lot lower than the original. Furthermore, I'm not even adjusting for inflation (about 10.8% between 2005, when the original True20 was written, and 2009 -- here's the Bureau of Labor Statistics's nifty inflation calculator, for anyone who's interested).
Given all this, I honestly think the price is a fair starting estimate. Could it be lower in the end? It's possible -- assuming the typical 60% discount that RPG distributors would demand from most small and/or new publishers (if they take buy your stuff at all), the wholesale value of a $39.95 book would be $15.98. However, I wouldn't be able to get the per-unit cost too much below $10 unless I had sufficient demand for a huge print run, and that's obviously not a realistic assumption. As such, I'm already looking at a per-unit royalty of something in the $6 to $8 range -- dropping the price to $34.95 would trim another $2 off each book, reducing the per-unit royalty by 25% to 33%. Therefore, if I came to the conclusion that demand would jump by an equal or greater percentage by going to the lower price, then I'd certainly do so. (More importantly, I'm almost certain the price wouldn't need to go any higher than the $39.95 hardcover / $9.95 PDF target that I'm setting.)
Q: How does a potential patron know that all the pledges are legitimate? For example, couldn't you pledge on your own project to make it look like it has more support?
A: You can be absolutely certain that none of the pledges are from me -- that's expressly forbidden by Kickstarter and Amazon Payments, and it would shut the whole project down automatically.
In fact, only a handful of the pledges have even come from anyone I know personally. The vast majority (90% or more) are from people I've never met, and only a few of those are even people who I've known for any length of time online (e.g. patrons on the Wizards of the Coast message boards).
Q: If we commit money to this patronage project, how do we know that you'll be able to deliver? What's to stop you from giving up on the project or otherwise being unable to finish it?
A: This is a fair question, and you're absolutely right to ask how you know I'd actually finish the project. In my opinion there are both positive reasons and negative reasons that should give you some confidence:
Positive: I have a track record of working on a lot of RPG books of various size over the past decade. Most importantly, the project I'm best-known for (Star Wars RPG: Saga Edition) is itself a core rulebook, and a major revision of the basic d20 ruleset at that. I have therefore worked on a project of similar scope from the very earliest outline-and-brainstorm phases all the way through to looking over printer's proofs. I know what's involved, and I have shown that I can do it.
Negative: If I were to literally take the money and run (which wouldn't even be possible unless I raise at least $10K by the deadline), that would be theft by fraud ... and it's across state lines, so that means I'd have the FBI after me. So, yeah, that's not going to happen.
If I were instead to work on the project and find myself utterly unable to complete it (despite having completed a similar project in the past), I'd have to give the money back or be in breach of contract -- not only could you sue me (a nice big class-action suit for everyone who contributed and got the shaft), but it would also irrevocably and permanently end my professional gaming career (which, as I said, is currently what pays the bills). It would absolutely and utterly destroy my entire life if I didn't deliver. (I'm suddenly wondering what I've gotten myself into!)
Finally, if the unthinkable happened (e.g. I go to that Big Game Table in the Sky), there are some mitigating factors that will help the project reach completion:
First, I've already written between 150 and 200 pages of material, so this project isn't starting completely from scratch. (I actually don't know the exact number offhand because I have a lot of placeholders for art, page breaks, etc., and those inflate the page countbut if I took all that out it would be somewhere in that range; the word count -- currently 180,000 -- would indicate roughly 240 pages, but about 20-30% of that is not-yet-revised stuff from the SRDs.)
This project started as a long collection of house rules and modifications I made for my own Saga campaign over the years, and when I started codifying them so others could take a look, I realized that I had a ridiculous amount of material -- at least enough for a small supplement, maybe enough for a larger book. Once I had that realization (last summer), I started working on the project as a sort of d20 reboot -- originally it was going to be a space opera genre similar to Star Wars, but it didn't take too long for me to decide that I wanted a universal, cross-genre system.
So, for the past six months or so, I've been working on the manuscript in what spare time I had (usually between freelance gigs) to see if such a grand scheme was actually viable. By late November, I came to the conclusion that it was indeed doable, and I was certain I could finish a high-quality product within a year if I worked on it full time (40+ hours a week). That's why I decided to launch this fund-raising drive.
Second, being a one-man operation is definitely risky, but there are a few details that reduce the risk. First, by bringing patrons in on the project at all stages and including them in all phases of design, I hope to cultivate a good team of backups who would be able to bring the project in for a landing. Second, since the patrons generally wouldn't be experienced designers and editors, I've already been thinking about all the other gaming professionals I've worked with over the years and considering who might make a good "executor of the estate," as it were, allowing them to help guide the patrons toward a successful conclusion.
It's all a little morbid to think about, but rest assured that I am already thinking about this sort of worst-case scenario to make sure that I don't leave behind an "unfinished symphony," as it were.
So, there you go: I have plenty of experience to show that I can complete the project, and there are plenty of consequences and safeguards in place to make sure that I do complete the project.