Several TTRPG systems offer a SRD. What exactly does that mean for players and game designers?
Tabletop roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder offer their ruleset and parts of the worldbuilding for free under an Open Gaming License (OGL). The OGL determines how much of a system a game designer can use as legally licensed by the publisher.
SRD stands for Systems Reference Document. A SRD is a free resource for players that offers guidelines for game designers to look up what’s allowed to publish for that system.
Let’s take a look at the Dungeons & Dragons SRD and OGL as an example.
D&D Open Gaming License
The beginning of the D&D 5E SRD includes the OGL requirements. Most systems like D&D allow you to use the rules, but particular people, places, and monsters are off-limits. These rules don’t usually affect players or Dungeon Masters — if you run a homebrew game for you and your friends, the OGL doesn’t apply. However, if you wish to write and publish the adventure or campaign that you created, then you have to follow the OGL and include that copyright information in your final product.
For example, under the OGL you couldn’t set your published adventure in the Forgotten Realms, and you couldn’t use characters like Drizzt or Elminster. But if you want to DM Volo popping into your home game, feel free.
D&D Systems Reference Document
So, how can you find out which parts of D&D you can use for publishing an adventure or what’s available for free for players? The SRD details exactly what is included for your use.
Thankfully, instead of reading through hundreds of pages, the Roll20 D&D compendium is searchable. If you want to use something and it doesn’t come up in a SRD search, then it doesn’t fall under the OGL. Example monsters not in the SRD include beholders, displacer beasts, and mind flayers. Some spells are also unavailable, such as Armor of Agathys or Hex.
The D&D SRD also only covers one background and one feat for players. This may seem like a limitation, but it was intentionally done so that creators generate new ideas instead of using what’s already available in the Player’s Handbook. Several subclasses are excluded for this reason.
The D&D SRD on Roll20
Roll20 provides a searchable D&D SRD for new players to start learning how to play for free(It’s also great for looking up rules while watching your favorite actual play games). You can add it to your VTT Compendium when you choose the “D&D 5E by Roll20” character sheet for your games.
If your players are looking to bring backgrounds, spells, feats, and races in the Player’s Handbook into your Roll20 game, it has to be purchased in the Marketplace (or the DM can share their compendium). If you’re running a game and want to use creatures from the Monster Manual or other official publications directly in the VTT, you have to buy them, too. Once you purchase these books, they will appear in your compendium search results.
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