The Gassy Gnoll: Living Documents transitioning to Finished Products

Welcome to The Gassy Gnoll, a new editorial column that should prove interesting to say the least…

Every GM has their own methods for managing a campaign. Some scribble on scraps of paper. Others keep huge notebooks stuffed to the gills with maps, NPCs, encounters, props, and more… So the concept of a “Living Document” is nothing new or different in the gaming world.

(Stand-in Image until I get an ACTUAL Gassy Gnoll picture)

The fun part comes when a GM wants to make their campaign notes public. At one point the copy machine was your friend. Then came the advent of the personal printer. And then the web changed everything.

I’ve known gamers who, in the dark ages of web development, hand-coded HTML and distributed their notes on CDs. Others created their own domains in corners of the Internet, publishing those laboriously created pages and only letting a select few know they were there. More recently, Wikis (think Wikipedia, but for your campaign) and blogs have become very popular for disseminating information more widely.

Following on the wiki trend are services like Obsidian Portal, which has been offering an online platform for all your campaign documentation needs for a couple of years now. GMs can have private islands in the Obsidian Portal system or open it up more widely so everyone can get a glimpse behind the curtain. All for a small fee of course, since it costs a bit of money to support the hardware and the software it’s all running on.

These are great for groups and GMs who want to share their material more publicly – for their players as well as other GMs. I’m sure the Internet is dotted with treasure troves of information about campaigns old and new.

For gamers with more time and money, you can dive into publishing your game as a PDF or hardcopy book (or both!). Sites like offer thousands of PDF (and now POD) products created by publishers big and small hoping to carve out a small corner. Some of those products are free, others cost a chunk of change. But creating the products in the first place takes time, tools, and money as well, so like Obsidian Portal, you need to be prepared to shell out a few dollars to make and market your books.

However… I’m starting to see a bit of a blurring between finished products and living documents. Some are fan-based and offered as free products like the Legend of Zelda RPG from DVOID Systems. Others, like Mince Pies & Murder from 6d6 RPG are a bit harder to pin down.

So let’s start with Zelda. As Da’vane points out in a recent article, the Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game Revised Sourcebook is being released gradually as new material is finished. The original version was released back in 2004, had more than 270 pages, and took three years to finish. This was quite an effort. And the new effort is more focused on rewrites, balancing game elements, and updating/adding material as appropriate.

I’m all for this sort of evolving approach creating roleplaying content for a console game series that started more than 20 years ago on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The Zelda games continue to have devoted fans young and old play as new games have been released. The Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game grew out of these console games and a collective group of people who want to roleplay in those worlds.

Anybody who wants to can download a PDF of the sourcebook so far and run with it. It’s free. And it’s a labor of love for DVOID Systems. As time allows, they will continue to edit and add more content and make that available to their fans.

Now let’s shift over to 6d6 Online Tools from 6d6 RPG. They take a bit of the Obsidian Portal approach, with password-protected Wikis of campaign details, and mix that with an Open Source kind of approach, where those background details can be used for freely by other GMs. Where things get really interesting is that the 6d6 Online Tools can be used to generate a PDF from selected wiki pages. The PDF can then be printed out or shared electronically. Or you can sell it online, as Chris has done with Mince Pies & Murder.

I work in Open Source software, so I’m definitely intrigued by this “open content” approach. My biggest concern is with licensing and what happens when bigger collaborative projects are involved (as Chris suggests in his article “such a ‘Big Book of Nasty NPCs’ or ‘Encounters for Parties on Long Journeys'”). Managing the collective approvals of all authors might get more than a little hairy.

And for the 6d6 Online Tools PDFs, as I mentioned in my review of Mince Pies & Murder, that approach really comes down to content. The final products aren’t the prettiest things in the world, but if the content is top notch, people will probably pay for it. An entire side industry might appear again interested in cleaning up and republishing content with art, better layouts, and so on.

As far as the end result goes, I suspect that the Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game Sourcebook will eventually get to a point where it more closely resembles a finished product. It will just take time to get there. And I’ll be curious to see if there are more products like Mince Pies & Murder that find their way into RPGNow.

In the end, I think that the fact that this kind of process is even going on alongside other more traditional publishers is terrific. We need these content creators to step up to the plate and show their stuff. Fan-created, GM-generated, or traditional – most gamers are simply looking for the cool ideas to spawn more roleplaying. Will they ever reach the market share of more mature products?  Maybe. Only time will tell.

Got a beef with the Gassy Gnoll? Drop him a line at gassy (at) gameknightreviews (dot) com.

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2 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Living Documents transitioning to Finished Products

  • This is a great article, Fitz, and not just because it mentions our labour of love, the Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game Revised Sourcebook! I did wonder a bit at a sudden influx of new downloads over the past day or so.

    I agree with the need for content designers, and there is another form of “living document” which does deserve to be mentioned – the SRD or Standard Reference Document, the hallmark of open gaming systems. Many players seem to be preferring open systems as opposed to closed ones, simply for the
    ease with which their rules can be accessed online, and any updates and errata are easily incorporated into their very structure with minimal fuss.

    The success of D20 thanks to Wizards of the Coast’s Open Gaming License have prompted many other companies, especially independent companies, to follow suit with their own open systems, with the idea that the rules matter more than the products, and this is a trend that will hopefully increase over time, and will be adopted by more of the bigger publishers as well, as it opens up gaming for both customers and developers.

    This is putting a bigger focus on service than ever before, and in the end, living documents will have this advantage over traditional products. You know that when you buy a living document, the content will only ever improve with time, rather than simply being left behind, incomplete and obsolete by newer products.

  • You are right to highlight the licensing issue with our (the 6d6) approach. It could get complicated.

    There are two parts of the issue – attribution (as required by the licence) and whether the content is licensed in the first place.

    Fortunately, the first issue is easy to solve. Taking a leaf from Wikipedia, attribution can a single link to the Wiki page for the content. As that contains a full record of who edited it, it is a valid form of attribution.

    The second problem, making sure everything in the PDF is under the creative commons, is harder.

    In the first few months this will come down to vigilance and, to a certain extend, trust within a small community. As the community grows we will add licensing tools to the Wiki so that users can clearly state what licence (if any) they are releasing the content under. The PDF generator can then check these and only include suitable content.

    It is early days and we certainly have many problems to solve but I really think the 6d6 online tools can be something exciting in the RPG world.
    Chris Tregenza recently posted…Two More Great Reviews of Mince Pies &amp MurderMy Profile

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