Gaming

The History, Current State of OGL Publishing, Pathfinder, and “d20”

March 2016 Update: Some notable things have changed since this article was first published, and an updated version is forthcoming!

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The History, Current State of OGL Publishing, Pathfinder, and “d20”

The Open Gaming License and d20 System Trademark License were first released in 2000. Since then, other trademark/compatibility licenses for other systems and games have been created, and the use of other open licenses has proliferated.

The Open Gaming License still remains popular (while the d20 System Trademark License was retired in 2008), however most OGL material published in recent years (2010-) is geared towards being support material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game under the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility License.

This article explains the history behind these various licenses, along with some guideline for how they can be used in publishing.

Definitions

Open Game Content: Material that is specifically licensed under the Open Game License, created by Wizards of the Coast.

Product Identity: Material included in a book that includes Open Game Content that is specifically defined by the publisher as not being OGC.

Third Party Publisher: A publisher creating material that is designed to be compatible with another publisher’s game; most commonly used to refer to d20 System- or Pathfinder-compatible product.

Which was the First d20-licensed book?

Freeport Trilogy

(The Freeport Trilogy, a later compilation of the Freeport Adventures)

Green Ronin’s Death in Freeport,  Atlas Games’ Three Days to Kill and Necromancer’s Games’ PDF The Wizard’s Amulet hit the ground on the same Gen Con weekend as Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook did in 2000.

Three Days to Kill was locally available at The Source Comic and Games in the Twin Cities, Minnesota in the week before Gen Con.

What’s an SRD?

SRD refers to System Reference Document: often a Rich Text or HTML document that only includes Open Game Licensed material, designed to be used by a publisher as a starting point of reference or a manuscript. By using vetted System Reference Documents, publishers could help ensure that they were only OGL material.

Wizards of the Coast released multiple System Reference Documents (For 3.0 and 3.5, and d20 Modern), as did Guardians of Order (Anime d20). 

Paizo maintains a SRD for Pathfinder called the Pathfinder Reference Document, and there is a SRD maintained by the public at at http://www.d20pfsrd.com/ which also contains some material from 3rd Party Pathfinder publishers.

It has always been recommended that if you wish to produce material based on Open Game Licensed material, that you only refer to SRDs whenever possible, as opposed to mining material from printed books.

The Open Gaming License

The first thing to understand about the Open Gaming License is it is not designed specifically for any one gaming system. Anyone can write material and place it under the Open Gaming License. However, most commonly the OGL has been used to re-use material placed under it by Wizards of the Coast: the 3.0 and 3.5 SRD, and the d20 Modern SRD.

As far as content licenses go, the Open Gaming License is incredibly simple (it’s shorter than this article!). It allows you to re-use and modify material that has been placed under it, and also allows you to intermingle that Open Game Content (OGC) with closed content, which is described as Product Identity. This allows you to, for example, use monsters from the SRD in an adventure, with you declaring that the “flavour text” descriptions of the other characters, events, and locations in the adventure are your Product Identity.

One of the conditions in the OGL (Section 7) does not allow you to use anyone else’s Product Identity. Be aware that simply using the name of a Wizards of the Coast-published spell or monster that is not included in the System Reference Document may cause you to run afoul of this clause. This includes using that Product Identity “as an indication as to compatibility”—which means you cannot (without obtaining permission otherwise) indicate that your product is compatible with Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or any other game title, trademark, etc. The full list of what is considered by default to be Product Identity is listed under section 1 of the OGL.

Beyond not including material that you cannot include under the OGL in your product, the most important legal aspect of publishing something that includes OGC is Section 6 and Section 10, which stipulates that you must include a copy of the Open Game License in your product, and you must correctly add to and update the Copyright Notice portion of the license to include the Copyright Notice from any Open Game Content that you used in your product, and also append your own Copyright Notice to it. This section is numbered as Section 15 and often referred to as such.

In order to prevent problems, you should keep careful track of when you sourced OGC, and where you sourced it from, and save their Copyright Notice / Section 15 verbiage so you can include them in your own product.

Of course, the OGL has further clauses to it: you need to read and understand the entire thing before using it. If you find portions of it difficult to understand, I suggest you look for similar projects and see how they handled things, and if you need clarification after that, try to speak to the creators of those projects.

If you are attempting to re-use something that you believe may be Open Game Content but aren’t sure if it is, or if it’s Product Identity, ask the publisher of that project. Assuming that something is Product Identity is always safest.

The Open Gaming License is irrevocable: if you place content under that license, it is perpetually under it.

The full text of the Open Gaming License: http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/OGLv1.0a.rtf

The d20 System Trademark License

The d20 STL allowed publishers, if they adhered to more stringent rules, to place a d20 System logo on their book, and also to advertise compatibility with Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition, d20 Modern, and a few other Wizards of the Coast titles.

As the d20 System Trademark License is no longer available for use, the details of those restrictions and benefits are essentially irrelevant at this point.

D20 logo1

d20 STL Revocation

In June 2008, Wizards ceased allowing publishers to use the d20 System Trademark License. Publishers with print books were granted a six-month period to sell off remaining physical stock, and six months to remove any electronic books from the marketplace, or modify them to be OGL-compatible.

Some publishers re-branded their books, creating a handful of new logos/brands to identify them as OGL and former d20 titles—but none of those new brands obtained widespread traction. As of early 2015, many d20-licensed books still exist in PDF form with minimal or no modifications to their branding or content.

Game System License (D&D Fourth Edition)

The GSL was announced in August 2007, launched in June 2008 and revised in February 2009. It was not widely adopted  by third party publishers with many—including d20 stalwart Green Ronin Publishing rejecting it for being too limiting and too focused on serving Wizard’s of the Coasts needs.

With D&D Fourth Edition’s relatively short lifespan and lack of third party products, the GSL’s legacy isn’t in what it created directly, but what it created indirectly: Pathfinder.

Pathfinder

If you are interested in the history of Pathfinder and Paizo, I recommend reading Paizo’s 10th Anniversary Retrospective, available here: http://paizo.com/paizo/blog/tags/paizo/auntieLisasStoryHour—it goes into great detail on the company’s history.

Pathfinder RPG cover

For those who want to publish material that is compatible with Pathfinder, you can do so in two ways:

Use the OGL

Pathfinder material is published under the Open Gaming License, as it is derived from the 3.0/3.5 SRD (amongst a few other sources). You can use the Pathfinder SRD to create derived and compatible works as long as you follow the Open Gaming License. However, this does not give you the right to use the Pathfinder name or any other trademarks (as they are Product Identity).

Paizo Inc. Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game Compatibility License

PZOCOMPATIBILITYE 500

This license allows you to use the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility Logo on your product, and to indicate compatibility with Pathfinder and  refer to specific Pathfinder books. You are still required to use the OGL if you include any OGL content, and obey all of its clauses regarding Product Identity, Section 15, etc.

Paizo requires you to submit an application for the Compatability license, including a description of the products you intend to make.

Beyond that, the following page outlines the major facets of the license: how you can refer to Pathfinder and different Pathfinder titles, how you may and may not display the logo, etc: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/compatibility

Paizo also maintains a Frequently Asked Questions list: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/compatibility/faq

Old School Movement / Retroclones

An unexpected result of the Open Gaming License was the resurgence in availability of material that was compatible with prior versions of D&D. Multiple publications used the Open Game Content in the SRD to essentially recreate older editions of D&D and several of those rules sets have been further supported with original adventures and other content—essentially creating one (or more?) ecosystems that harken back to the style of rules and source material of the late 70s and early 80s!

Other OGL Material

Cover 500px1

(13th Age, from Pelgrane Publishing and Fire Opal Media, by Rob Heinsoo & Jonathan Tweet)

Notable fantasy material licensed under the OGL, beyond Pathfinder, includes 13th Age from Pelgrane Publishing and Fire Opal Media. It has a Compatibility License: http://pelgranepress.com/site/?p=14447

Mutants and Masterminds from Green Ronin publishing is one of the longest running complete OGL games, having spanned three editions. It has a compatibility license, Super Powered by M&M: http://mutantsandmasterminds.com/licensing-mutants-masterminds/


1185854 469878409786551 1400406744 n

(Mutants & Masterminds from Green Ronin Publishing, by Steve Kenson. One of the true survivors of the OGL era.)

Spycraft from Crafty Games has a compatibility license, Powered by Spycraft: http://www.crafty-games.com/licensing/spycraft

The Open Gaming License has been applied to other games and gaming material beyond the “d20-derived” style of gaming born from Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. This includes Traveller from Mongoose Publishing, the GUMSHOE System by Pelgrane Press, Fate from Evil Hat Productions (which is also available under a Creative Commons license), and Fudge from Grey Ghost Games. Fudge is notable in that it was first published under a license of the author/publisher’s own devising, and years later was placed under the Open Gaming License—which allowed Evil Hat Productions to truly move forward with the Fate gaming system which was originally derived from Fudge.

Of further note is the Open D6 system, from West End Games. The D6 system first appeared in the Ghostbusters RPG and was later used in the first licensed Star Wars RPG. Decades later the system was released under the Open Gaming License as OpenD6, after a second incarnation of West End Games failed to capture the market with their revamped series of D6-based books.


Fatecoresystem

(Fate Core, from Evil Hat Productions, is available under both OGL and Creative Commons licenses.)

Licenses other than the OGL

Roleplaying games and sourcebooks have also been published under various Creative Commons licenses, but not all of them allow commercial re-use.

A few other licenses, such as the GNU Free Documentation License, have been used on occasion, and some games—such as Fudge, before it was licensed under the Opening Game License—had their own licenses designed to be used by one game only.

Trademark licenses without Open Licenses

There are also a number of games that allow you to publish compatible material with a compatibility logo, but that do not have any open licensed content for you to re-use, or any requirements that your material be open-licensed. This includes Pinnacle’s Savage Worlds: https://www.peginc.com/licensing/

and the Hero System from Hero Games.

Creating Open Content in 2015 and Beyond

If you have the freedom to choose a license for all-new material, I suggest that the following considerations are the most important:

  • Is the license appropriate for the type of material you are going to publish? The Open Gaming License was specifically designed for the text of a gaming book. Creative Commons licensed are aimed at mixed-media works: text + art + design, but you can use a CC license to only license part of a work—such as all the text or all the art or “all of chapters 15, 16, and 17” while not touching the remainder of the work.
  • Does using the license grow the audience for your material—does it give you access to a community of fans?
  • Does the license make your material available to use to others in ways that you find acceptable?
  • If you have bought or licensed work from others to appear in your material (artwork, writing, etc), does the contract you bought/licensed it under allow you to republish the material under an open license? Most publishers buy material from authors and artists under Work For Hire contracts, and thus the publisher owns the copyright and get choose to re-license the work under any open license they choose. Ethically, people creating work that you publish should be aware that you plan on open-licensing it, too!
  • The following are my personal suggestions for how to license material. Please read and consider the licenses carefully; what is right for one person/organization may not be right for others. What is right for one project may not be right for your next project, either!

    —If you want to create material for a game or setting that uses a specific license, use it.

    —If you want to create a new game, not dependant on material already under one of the existing open licenses, use one of the Creative Commons Licenses. These licenses don’t have the d20/fantasy/D&D implications that the OGL tends to have, and can allow for no commercial re-use, no derivatives, etc.

    —If you want to create a new game, not dependant on material already under one of the existing open licenses, but with plenty of open-licensed material available to be used with it or converted to be used with it, use the OGL.

    —If you want to create fantasy material with the widest possible commercial audience, produce material under the Pathfinder Compatibility License.

    —If you want to create fantasy material with some degree of built in audience, but want the least restrictive license possible, use the OGL.

    Publishing your own SRD

    If you are releasing a lot of open licensed content, you should consider releasing it in a System Reference Document style. While originally publishers such as Wizards of the Coast and Guardians of Order released SRDs in the universal Rich Text Format, most are now released as web pages—usually using wiki software so they can be edited and amended by the community. Some SRDs are created and maintained entirely by the fan community.

    Releasing a SRD will encourage people to use your material for their own works, as it will make it even more clear which material is available to be re-used.


    Special Thanks

    Thanks to the backers of my Patreon project for helping fund this article, including, but not limited to: Brian Allred, Tara Brannigan, Jeff Eaton, Eleanor Holmes, Andrew Kenrick, Adam Tinworth, Lester Ward, Evil Hat Productions, and Melior Via.

    In particular, thanks to John Dunn, Ryan Macklin, Craig Maloney, and Lester Ward for feedback on the initial draft of this article.

    Special thanks to Jason Jensen for editing and access to his extensive collection of d20 titles.

Game Designer’s Workshop: Posthuman Studios Interview

At Gen Con 2013, the owners of Posthuman Studios (Rob Boyle, Brian Cross, Jack Graham, and myself) sat down with the folks at Roleplaying Public Radio to record this episode of Game Designer’s Workshop.

We were a little tipsy when this interview started (it was, after all, after business hours at Gen Con …), and we were moreso by the end of it. The audio levels fluctuate, and Jack Grahaman yells in a way that would be obnoxious if he wasn’t so damned funny.

This isn’t like your standard game-related podcast. We talked about how we all started gaming, how we met each other, how we started working together, and why we’re still working together. It’s hella honest, insightful and even a little bit useful in places.

Making things with people that you love and respect is awesome. I hope you enjoy hearing us talk about that.

Kickstarter Problems That Just Aren’t That Big of a Deal

Here’s a quickie: We let people pick up copies of Tranhuman at Gen Con. In our backer surveys, we asked if they wanted to do so, and from that data we created a handy checklist of people so they could sign off on their copies and I could import that data back by hand into the Kickstarter database later.

Of course, a few people showed up at the booth and wanted to pick up their copies, even though they didn’t say they would in the backer survey.

That was no real problem; we verified that they were backers, had them sign off, and I added that information to the database later.

Here’s the hiccup: one of the people that signed off on their copy has a relatively common first and last name, and there are two people with that exact same name registered as backers. Which one of them picked up their copy? No way to solve this except to go right to them and ask—hey, did you?

In the meantime, I realized that during the first wave of shipping one of those people had a copy of Transhuman shipped to them; and as luck would have it, that person was the one who picked up their copy at Gen Con. So they’ll get an extra book for their gaming group, we eat a few dollars in shipping costs, and life goes on.

Making Announcements: Pitfalls & Products

I started writing this post over a year ago, and have been sitting on it incomplete for a long time. I feel that in the age of Kickstarter and stretch goals and the frenzied changes to publishing and creation, this is more important than ever. But finishing this post has proved troublesome, so I’m throwing it out as part post, part series-of-notes. Maybe with some discussion I’ll rework it into a revised post.

Onwards!

Announcements are fun. They generate buzz and good feelings. So it is tempting to announce many things and announce them early — and also to announce things to “mask” bad news or to cover up a slowness in your production schedule.

But every announcement is a promise. Some announcements have more promise than others — literally and figuratively. Typically, the further in advance an announcement is, the smaller and vaguer the promises are.

Every single announcement you make creates, to using Getting Things Done terminology, at least one “open loop.” It creates at least one — and usually many more — questions that can be asked of you. Each announcement, then, creates more work for you, beyond the actual work in building the project. It also adds more of a mental toll and will wear you down if things don’t go well. There are few things more frustrating and demoralizing than explaining to someone — a customer or some sort of business partner — that a project has slipped.

If you have six different upcoming projects announced, there are going to be fans who only care about one of those projects. They may have cared about projects A and B, but now that you’ve announced projects C, D, E, and F, they have fixated on project E. Anything that doesn’t relate to project E no longer matters. Not only have you created an un-ideal business situation (You want them to ‘ all six projects, not just E!), but any time you post a status update for any of the projects that aren’t E, you’ll be greeted with the question: “But what’s up with E?!?” — and even though that question can be read in a flattering anticipatory way, it can also be frustrating to have spent time and effort on a project to have someone dismiss it with their desire to see the next project.

I, and companies I have worked for, have made every single possible mistake when announcing projects. Here are some of them:

  • Announcing something at a time that takes attention away from another upcoming project. If you are planning on releasing a new book on January 15th, announcing on January 8th that will be releasing an entirely different book in August is likely to reduce attention on the shortly-upcoming title.
  • Announcing too many things at once, making none of them seem important.
  • Making announcements too complicated. A complex announcement should be structured in a way that broadly introduces things, then narrows focus to talk about specifics, and in the end sums up the announcements and leads to a call for action (preorder a book, vote in the ENnnies, etc.) If you give people too many choices, they are more likely to make the simplest choice, which is to do nothing!

Here’s some ways to do it right:

Announce consistently. Establish a list of standards — information that you must know before you announce something, even if that information is not yet disclosed. Do not make announcements that are out of scale with the size of the project; t-shirts going on sale is not the same weight as signing a well known author to a three book deal. If you shout from the rooftops about everything, people will stop paying attention. Establish a plan for how you propagate your announcements through your social networks and try to point people towards your “home base” — probably your website, but perhaps your Facebook page, etc.

Don’t make major announcements in a row without actually releasing something, even if that something doesn’t relate to those major announcements. Too many announcements looks like vaporware.

Anticipate questions you will be asked and answer them in the announcement. If the announce/situation is complex, you may want to include a FAQ in the announcement, or have it at ready to dole out as necessary. Quickly update your post (new info where necessary, note at top linking down to change) if necessary.

Proofread that bastard. Three proofreaders, every time — looking for spelling, grammar, wrong/outdated info, bad hyperlinks, etc.

If you are correcting misinformation, do not repeat the misinformation. Especially when posts are often only seen in part (people skimming, partial RSS feeds, those awful previews on Facebook) you don’t want to raise the chances of people seeing only the old information. State the correct information, don’t repeat or restate any incorrect information.

Don’t give people a chance to hop away from the announcement too early.

If you are working with a partner, licensee, etc, give them a copy of the final announcement as soon as possible and let them know when you plan to post it. They can help propagate it, and won’t accidentally spread misinformation.

If this were a finished article, it would have a conclusion. Help me write it?

Gen Con Highlight

On Friday morning, a woman walked up to our booth. She said: “You guys look like you know what you’re doing. Do you have a bandaid?”

And I replied: “Yes, let me get our first aid kit.”

As it happened, I had needed a bandaid myself earlier that morning and had opened the brand-new kit, thinking to myself “Good thing, because if there was an actual emergency, I sure wouldn’t want to be pulling the plastic off in a rush.”

This wasn’t an emergency either, but it felt good to a) be recognized as a place where we would have the necessary supplies, and b) to actually have them, know exactly where they are, and be able to quickly offer a variety of bandage choices to the con-goer—who, like many, had given herself a blister walking the show floor!

Making a TODO list for your next convention? Whether you’re an attendee or an exhibitor or a special guest or anyone else: get a small first aid kit. Hopefully you’ll never need it!

Kickstarter, Freeport, and Real Costs

My friends at Green Ronin are currently running a Kickstarter to fund a new Pathfinder-compatible edition of Freeport: The City of Adventure. They are into the last week of the Kickstarter project, and they are just under $10,000 away from their $50,000 goal. Ronin head Chris Pramas just made a very interesting post about their Kickstarter campaign.

When Kickstarter first launched, I hoped it would be a service that could help publishers be more transparent about their costs, including the often invisible fixed costs that running a publisher entails. This has turned out to be true only in very specific situations. Instead, many Kickstarter campaigns have moved to a model of setting a low “base goal” that satisfy’s Kickstarter’s requirements but does not actually fully fund the project, and stretch goals that push the dollar total higher to fully-fund the actual project. I’m not placing a value judgement on this (I’m working on a Kickstarter campaign that does the same thing), but it’s nice to see this level of transparency from Pramas and Green Ronin.

Their new Freeport book is ambitious, and Green Ronin is up-front about that. Instead of starting at a small book and building more into it with stretch goals, they’ve outlined exactly what they want to do, and they’re either going to do that book or not.

I’ve enjoyed both previous versions of Freeport, but have never actually played or ran a game of it. A new Pathfinder-compatible edition makes that more likely to happen, and it could well be the version of Freeport. That’s something that is well-worth having.

Kickstart Narosia: Sea of Tears, one of my upcoming projects!

One of my projects this fall is the HERO System fantasy game, Narosia: Sea of Tears. The Kickstarter launched on August 1st and closes on August 31st!

Narosia is a gritty fantasy RPG, designed by Shane Harsch of Legendsmiths and Marc Tassin, with artwork from Universe M, and contributions from Kenneth Hite. I’m especially excited because this is actually the first project where I’ll get to work with Ken!

I’m also excited about seeing what sort of new graphical takes I can do on a HERO System game, without alienating the diehard HERO fan base … I do suspect some samples will end up hitting this blog over the next couple months!

Narosia: Sea of Tears will be published by Silverback Press, the new publishing company run by ex-HERO Darren Watts. The core rulebook will be complete with HERO System rules and setting information, not requiring a distinct HERO System core rulebook to use!

Dwimmermount Preview and Kickstarter!

It’s going to be the most elegant and epic heavy metal dungeon crawl ever, isn’t it? It’s like a 3-hour Kirk Hammett guitar solo sending the party to war with the power of a hundred bards!1 Hell yes!

Several years ago I sent James Maliszewski the above, as I asked him if I could work on the eventual publication of Dwimmermount, his long in-progress megadungeon campaign.

And now that’s reality. James is working with the folks at Autarch, creators of Adventurer Conqueror King, to run the Kickstarter campaign and project manage Dwimmermount.

We are late into the Kickstarter campaign; it ends on Saturday, April 14th. And the campaign has reached the initial funding goal and three bonus goals, but we’d be very happy for more funding in these last few hours so we can push to make the book even better!

We’re still tweaking the graphic design of the book (most notably, some icons to help convey info in the sidebar), but here’s a two page preview of Level 1: The Path of Mavors. James has also posted a different preview of the same chapter on Grognardia. Check them out, let us know what you think, and remember: the Dwimmermount Kickstarter finishes on Saturday the 14th of April! As I post this, 30 hours to go!

1. I am not one of those “Heavy Metal is the music of D&D” guys … but neither is James, so that made it funny to me. To me.

Shadowrun Returns

A long time ago, the SEGA Genesis version of Shadowrun introduced me to the Sixth World. A few weeks later, my pay for babysitting my young nephew was a copy of Shadowrun, Second Edition. Good games, bad games, fandom, fanzines, being published, working for the publishers, and the 20th Anniversary Edition all followed. My nephew is nineteen years old now. The Sixth World has been dear to my heart for a long time.

I wouldn’t be here, doing what I do, without Shadowrun. As I once said to Jim Nelson: “I blame you.”

And now, Shadowrun is returning to the computer/video gaming world, with Shadowrun Returns from Jordan Weismann’s Harebrained Schemes. And I’d be remiss to say that this is really, really awesome. In just over a day, the Kickstarter project has been fully-funded, and it will surely go much higher with 23 days to go.

Harebrained’s approach is interesting: they’re rolling back the setting to 2050 and moving on from there. On an initial level, that kind of hurts—my work on Shadowrun appears to be in no way integrated into what they want to do. But on logical reflection, I’m fine with that. I think rolling back the world to 2050 gives Harebrained tons of room to tell stories that weave in-and-out of the existing metaplot that Shadowrun fans are familiar with. And on the personal side, I fell in love with that 2053 datajacks-and-rockers Shadowrun, so playing through a computer game set in it appeals to my tastes as well. I know I have some fresh stories to tell in the setting.

A fresh start for a game in a completely different medium sounds like a good move to me. Keep it familiar to old fans and accessible to new ones, and take the best of the existing canon material while sliding the rest under the rug.

What great news for Shadowrun fans, and what an amazing show of support by them!

Creating Playtest Kits for Card Games

I started this article a long time ago and it’s sat in my drafts folder for months. I’m working on the same task today and figured I would finish what I had written about the subject and get it out there, instead of waiting until I could finish everything I want to write on the subject.

I’m working on playtest kits for some card games right now. It’s not my first time doing so, but I think it’s my smartest time. Here’s some notes on how to build playtest kits more easily.

What are the goal of playtest kits? Playtesting the game, of course! You want to spend as much time as possible playing and analyzing that play, and less time building and rebuilding kits.Here’s some priorities when breaking that down:

Playtest kits should be:

  1. As easy to make as possible.
  2. Quick to modify on the fly.
  3. An accurate representation of the current state of the game rules and all card text.
  4. A factual representation of the physical game item (correct colors, rough icons, etc.)

Here’s the game-specific stuff you need to build a playtest kit:

  1. A spreadsheet or database that contains all the necessary information for each card.
  2. A list of how many of each card you need to print.
  3. Printable cards, 9 per page. There are a million ways to turn your spreadsheet/database into a printable page like this. As you can probably guess, I use InDesign for this. Data merge is hot!
  4. A copy of the rules to be printed. These rules should be in a state where a group of people who have never played the game can lean the game from them.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need from your Game Designer’s Toolkit:

A whole bunch of excess cards from dead CCGs. Go to your local game store and say “Hey, I need a 800-count box of the absolute worst, dead, totally terrible CCG cards you can get me, from a variety of terrible CCGs.” Your game store clerk will say “Are you serious?” and you say “Yup! What do you want for them?” You should be able to get this box of cards for 10 bucks or less—many game stores have boxes of these cards that haven’t sold in years. If the store offers to sell you more and you have the storage space, go for it. You want the games from a variety of CCGs to make your different playtest sets easier to tell apart if you use clear sleeves.

A smaller bunch of CCG sleeves. There are two routes to take with this: the cheap clear sleeves that Ultra Pro sells for a penny each, or the nicer colored/opaque/textured sleeves that typically run about 5 cents each, retail. Advantages to the penny sleeves: they are cheap and you can use different CCG cards in them to easily distinguish between different types of cards in your game. Advantages to the more expensive sleeves: they typically shuffle better, slide around less, and can take more wear and tear. I prefer the Ultra Pro matte sleeves, as they’re quite durable and don’t get marked very easily. You’ll need a few different colored types of sleeves to distinguish between different types of cards (or different games, or different versions of games.) If you want the nicer sleeves but are on a budget, ask your local game store to sell you all the sleeves that, for whatever reason, have not sold well to the local player community. If you’re willing to take those slow-moving sleeves off their hands, they may well cut you a bargain. They might also have a bunch of used sleeves that they’ll sell to you cheaply—many people who sell off their CCG collections leave the cards sleeved, and so stores end up with boxes of these used sleeves (if they don’t just throw them away.)

Cheap printer paper. This paper will be going inside a sleeve and against a card, so it doesn’t need to be sturdy. I think I paid $16 for 2500 sheets last time I bought paper: if each of those sheets turned into 9 playtest cards, that’s 22,500 playtest cards you can build before you need more paper.

A printer. I have a HP 2605dn color laserjet. Being able to do color is very useful in playtesting, and the cost savings over time for a laserjet printer are very clear over an inkjet.

A paper cutter or scissors. You’re going to be cutting a bunch of paper, and a proper paper cutter will make your life better. A paper shredder for all those scraps is great too, if you’re not a recycler.

A bunch of counters. Most games require counters of some sort, for life or other resources. During playtests, poker chips usually do a great job of this. If you’re getting fancy, print out graphics and glue them to both sides of a poker chip.

Sharpies in a couple different colors for annotating cards during play or between sessions. Reprint them when the annotations become more confusing than the lack of them!

Print all the cards, cut them out, fill every sleeve with a CCG card, and then add the paper cards. Double-check the proxies with your list of cards, and you’re good to go!

One final word on organizing this stuff: make sure all of your playtest files have dates on them, and keep all the physical components in a single bag/box/container, with a list of everything that should be in it and the playtest kit date/revision number. There are some large deck storage boxes designed for Magic: The Gathering that are big enough to fit 100+ cards and some other components, or you can simply use the smaller white 400-count card storage boxes.

This may seem like a lot of stuff to buy and have kicking around, but you can get it all for under $50, and most of it is reusable!