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Open Source RPG Pioneer
What makes them special: Open source in the computer software world is hardly new to anyone. Chances are that you use at least one piece of open source software directly or indirectly every day you use your computer. But open source for a role playing game is an all new ballpark. Enter Dominion Games as the first out of the starting gate with an interesting set of RPG rules for a fantasy world and you've got someone computer game developers need to know more about.

After you finish reading our interview if you have more questions you would like to ask Dominion Games please send them to me at john@gamedev.net. I'll collect some of the best ones for a follow up interview.

1: Tell me about the world that the Dominion Rules are set in. I noticed that the actual rules aren't as specific about the world as say Chivalry & Sorcery or RuneQuest. Is there a very specific setting or is it more free-form what the world looks like?

We make a distinction between Rules and Dominions. Dominion Games produces both Rules and Dominions, though the main focus of our work so far has been the Rules.

The Rules (Dominion Rules 1.0) are simply game mechanics. They were created with the traditional fantasy roleplaying setting in mind, ie a Tolkeinesque, fairy tale world of chivalry, sorcery and monsters. But the Rules are not attached to any particular Dominion. You can view Dominion Rules 1.0 online at http://www.dominiongames.com/dominionrules/index.html.

By Dominion, we mean the fantasy setting in which the Rules are used. This is sometimes called the campaign setting. A Dominion can be a high-fantasy, high-magical world. Or it can be a more low-fantasy, pseudo-mediaeval setting. Or, for that matter, it could by cyberpunk or western or sci-fi or whatever. For the moment, Dominion Rules is geared towards fantasy roleplaying settings, but it could easily be adapted to other settings. Dominion Games currently operates one Dominion, the Kingdom of Gwenil (http://www.dominiongames.com/gwenil/index.html). We have others in development (http://www.dominiongames.com/dominions.html).

2: What parts of the rules are the least fleshed out? I see that you have few "monsters" in your bestiary but by comparison you seem to have quite a few spells available.

That's right. The game's strongest suits are the Combat system (which is quite elegant by tabletop roleplaying standards), the Witchcraft system (a combination of free-form rules and about 100 spells), and the Priestcraft system (a very original take on priests and deities).

The bit that needs the most development at the moment is the Bestiary. The Armoury could also be expanded. But DR was built to be modular and easily developed. Adding new Skills, Spells, Beasts, weapons and armour, etc. is very easy. And we encourage players to do it.

In fact, we're moving to an open source model, where DR will be generously licenced for developers to copy, change, and distribute it. We have a draft open source licence posted (the Dominion Rules Licence: http://www.dominiongames.com/drl.html). But we may end up adopting the Open Gaming Licence (http://www.opengamingfoundation.org). We want to wait and see what the final version of the OGL looks like.

3: What other RPGs have you played? Did any particular ones influence your design?

Dominion Games is the brainchild of two roleplayers from way back (say 1984 or so). We played a lot of games, but especially AD&D. After many years, and after experiencing other RPG systems (particularly West End's Star Wars), we became dissatisfied with AD&D's mechanics. AD&D was too clumsy, too arbitrary, too slow. So we began designing our own RPG system, what is now Dominion Rules.

4: Have you given any thought to converting your rules set for use in computer games or were any parts of it designed with that in mind?

The main computer-based inspiration for Dominion Rules was the internet, not computer games. We had been designing Dominion Rules for ages, just as a hobby. Then when the internet arrived, we realized that it offered us a way to distribute DR almost for free. Then we began to think that the internet could change roleplaying in much more significant ways, such as through open source game development and virtual, real-time Dominions. So we formed Dominion Games, both as a vehicle for Dominion Rules and as an experiment in how the Internet and RPGs can be combined.

Having said that, I think there is potential for converting DR, and our Dominions, into computer games. The main thing we've got going for us right now is that we're catching on. People are very excited to be able to download a complete, professional fantasy RPG system for free. We're getting a lot of traffic and a lot of compliments. As the market for the pencil and paper version of DR grows, a market for computer versions may build.

5: How would you feel about it if developers started adapting your rules to online or single player games?

We've teamed up with RPG Archive (http://www.rpgarchive.com) to develop OpenRPG, an Internet application that allows people to play traditional roleplaying games in real-time over the internet. OpenRPG will have tools to help facilitate character tracking, miniature battles, and adventure building. It's an open source development to be released under the GPL. And it'll be free. Developers who are interested in helping out should go to http://www.openrpg.com. We're particularly looking for people familiar with Dominion Rules to create XML docs.

As for other developments, we're all ears. Just send us a line at opensource@dominiongames.com. We're always interested in new ways to get people into DR.

6: Have you played any of the recent computer RPGs like Diablo, Baldur's Gate, Ultima Online, Everquest, or Asheron's Call? If so, what did you think of the experience vs. what you are used to from first person gaming with dice/paper/pencil/rules?

These are great games, and we wondered at first whether they would kill off the traditional RPG. But we're confident now that they won't. The experience isn't the same. There's something very enjoyable about reading through an RPG manual, learning the rules, drawing up character records, rolling the dice, and basically doing all those things that computer RPGs automate. Don't get me wrong, I think CRPGs are fabulous. But they're different.

7: How do you plan to make money from a rules set that anybody can print, extend, write modules for, etc? How did you decide to open source the rules?

The million dollar question! The truth is that we're not really worrying about how to make money right now. You're right that it seems tough to make money when we give all our hard work away. But what is clear to us is that we'll never make any money until there's at least 100 000 playing our game. So our strategy right now is to get as many people playing as possible by giving it all away. We think this will create a market for DR, a market that otherwise may not have existed.

Once we've got lots of people playing, I think there's lots of revenue potential. Dominions are one source. As it stands now, DR is moving to an open source model, but our Dominions are remaining proprietary in the traditional sense. We think there's huge potential in real-time, constantly growing fantasy worlds. We'd like dominiongames.com to become a sort of CNN.com, with a constant stream of news, stories, and information--all about DR-based fantasy worlds.

One thing we will NOT do is quit giving away DR. DR should always be free to download. We don't have any objection to selling hard copies. But we want it always to be available free from our site.

8: The current d20 license (viewable here: http://www.opengamingfoundation.org/d20.html) restricts access to the part of the rules devoted to character creation and experience application. You haven't chosen a similar course for your own RPG so I'm curious what your reaction to that limitation is.

We're concerned that the Open Gaming Foundation's licences are drifting somewhat from the Open Source model. As you point out, Wizards (who are behind the Open Gaming Foundation) seem to want to keep certain elements of D&D out of open development. They argue that D&D has to retain something of what it currently is, or it won't be D&D anymore. So they are trying to reserve certain portions of the game which they consider integral.

We will not take this approach. Whether we release under our own DRL, or under the final version of the OGL, we will put everything up for development. The whole point of open source development is to trust developers to come up with something better.

Nothing in the OGL encourages development of the rules. Let me explain that. Open source is not just a licensing agreement. It's a way to encourage development by ensuring that improvements to code (or game rules) are made publicly available. The current draft of the simplified OGL lets content creators deem certain parts of their work OGL and other parts not. Therefore, they can reserve their innovations under proprietary rights rather than licensing them to all under an open source licence.

In contrast, the current draft of the DRL contains provisions to require certain materials (namely, game rules) to be subject to the DRL. We do this in order to ensure that Dominion Rules continues to develop and improve.

9: How much interest have you had so far? Have you been getting a lot of positive or negative feedback?

Ever since we released DR 1.0, people are downloading it like mad. This is all the more amazing considering that we haven't done any advertising. We're getting hits from all over the world. The feedback has been terrific. People really like the rules, and are getting interested in our Dominions, too.

One of the most amazing things has been to see how people volunteer to help. We've got people all over the internet helping us: creating PDF files, doing artwork, advising us on open source issues, and more. They're just volunteering to help, and they're making a big difference. We have now launched a Dominion Games Development Team that people can join onto to help develop all aspects of Dominion Games: the Rules, Dominions, even the web site. We're very excited about this. You can check it out at http://www.dominiongames.com/development/index.html.

10: Where to from here? What expansions, changes, or new projects are in store for Dominion Games?

The next big hurdle is to sign on with one open source licence or another. As I said above, we're waiting to see what the final OGL looks like before we do this. (It is meant to be out by the end of this month.)

After that, we've got a few short-term goals: the Development Team, a much more elaborate PDF version of the Rules with artwork and good layout (the current version is just a web capture of the online version), and continued work on OpenRPG.

Our long-term goals concern the Dominions. We really think that real-time virtual fantasy worlds are the next big thing. Once DR is firmly established, we'll start working on Dominion development in a big way.