Over the time I have been running this blog, I have created a number of posts in various levels of detail about SRDs, System Reference Guides, intended to help new creators make their own TTRPGs. So far these have included Lumen, Five Powers, Harmony Drive, Carta, VEN6, and the Bad Times SRD.
Most recently, I have been transforming this into a YouTube miniseries and so far all of the videos I have produced so far focused on SRDs I had not already explored. Due to this, I wanted to make a blog post that not only gives you access to the YouTube videos in question, but also provides a transcript if you simply would like to read my explanation and thoughts instead of listening. In this first post, we will be focusing only on the initial video that discusses what an SRD is and why you would like to use one when making a game:
Hello, my name is Bryon of Hessan's County and I am glad you could join us today for a TTRPG Talk. This series discusses Tabletop Roleplaying Games and related materials, suggests ideas for your own games, or looks at some of my own materials.
Today we are going to be doing something a little bit different because this is going to be a primer of sorts for an SRD mini-series that I will be slowly adding to.
But first, let's answer that question in the title. What is an SRD? Well, SRD stands for "System Reference Document." Normally an SRD includes all of the core rules that a game system needs to function. This is so that a person could hack the system to create new games from it by adding new mechanics or settings or add to the existing canon of materials for a game.
For example, the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition SRD includes the absolute basics rules that you would need if you wanted to adapt that system or create extra materials for existing 5e games like language explaining ability scores, skill checks, how races and classes work, and so on. While you could, in theory, play D&D using just the SRD, that is not its original intent and you would not get the effect of the full game. With a little hunting, you will actually find that most of the popular Tabletop Roleplaying games out there actually have an SRD kicking around, even if it might not be for the most recent edition of their game.
Some times this is to allow the creator of the SRD to curate the use of their creative works. For example, the Creative Comrades license has a clause that prohibits the use of the licensed material to create NFTs or for use on blockchain enabled platforms. It also prohibits the use of the licensed material by entities that earned more than a million US dollars. A number of SRDs will also include clauses that prohibit their use in creating materials that are bigoted or intentionally harmful toward marginalized peoples, as well as prohibiting promoting harmful ideologies such as ethnic or race-based supremacy movements.
Other licenses have further restrictions on the kinds of materials you can create or how and where you can release your games to the public particularly those that are issued by larger publishing companies seeking to protect their intellectual assets.
A number of SRDs will also include advice for creators. For example, the LUMEN SRD includes information behind the creator, Spencer Campbell's, intent for a number of the mechanics and provides examples on ways you could utilize some of the mechanics differently than he did creating games using the system.
Finally, an SRD will normally include resources to encourage an appearance of uniformity among games mades using the SRD like logos, fonts, page backgrounds, and other assets. This is not just to promote the SRD, but also encourages people familiar with the game system you used to potentially try out your own game! For example, placing the Harmony Drive logo on my own game Sageuk! Roleplay in Joseon means that someone who is already familiar with the system thanks to playing Cat McDonald's Heroic Chord is more willing to pick up my own game. As indie creators, we need to remember that familiarity can sometimes be a critical factor in a player picking up our game or encouraging others to play our games, particularly if the player is not already familiar with our work as a creator. One more thing i wanted to kind of add in our discussion would be why you would want to potentially use as SRD. Whenever you're really thinking about potentially creating a game, you really have one of two choices. You can either utilize an SRD and base it off of a game that someone else has already created or basically start out from scratch. Now starting out from scratch does have certain appeals. One, you can pretty easily create a system that is tailor made for the type of storytelling you want to use. You want to have your game to perfectly match in with the setting. However there are obviously some major downsides to making your own game from scratch. #1, you're going to have to be doing a whole lot more play testing to see if this is even going to work. If you are using an SRD, that means somebody has likely already used it to make games themselves or other people have used it to make multiple games. At least the core elements of the SRD will be pretty well-tested, so you don't need to worry so much about unexpected imbalances and things potentially throwing off the fun of the game
A second issue that doing it on your own has that you would not need to worry about When using as SRD is that you're not on your own! If you're using an SRD, there are communities out there that have been making games based on these rule sets. For example the LUMEN system has a very tight-knit strong, community that's really willing to reach out and help people who are potentially thinking about making a LUMEN game.
Another thing that i would argue that makes SRDs potentially useful for a creator is that it saves you time, Again if you're making a system from scratch. you're having to do lots of testing and brainstorming to figure out the basic mechanics. If you're utilizing an SRD, it saves you a lot of brain time and energy that instead you can spend on building out your setting, adding extra mechanics, or finding ways to tweak the mechanics to make them fit the type of storytelling the type of game you're trying to create rather than having to build it all from the ground up.
Another advantage for using an SRD from a playing perspective is that players are more likely to be familiar with the basics of of how your system works. If I pull up a lumen game, I'm going to know what the basics of the system are. If you made any tweaks to that basic system, it is going to be easier for me to figure out how it was changed and why. Here's the best example. Why are there so many variations on D&D 5e games? Because some people are familiar with 5e games and they like that role system because they find that it is familiar. Therefore, they keep playing games based off of it.
Finally the last thing i just want to bring up is that in reality there are so many there are only so many different ways to invent the wheel. Chances are that there's already a system out there that does what you want your game to do or at least is close to what you want to do.
Some of you might have read blog posts that i have made before or potentially have taken a look at my game, The Tutelary Society. It has the Blossom system in it, Blossom being basically a five-lobed Venn diagram system where you have a base set of different background things that have happened or elements that might exist for a magic system that then then combine together to create the spells or skills that you have. You're relying on backstory building to define what defines what your character is good at or not. Where did that come? It came from me seeing VEN6, which is another SRD that utilizes a four lobed Venn diagram, building the backstory of your character to then inform what your character is good at doing today. Now granted the way i use Blossom is a bit different, stretching it beyond what the original creator of VEN6 had in mind, which is fine.
If nothing else looking at SRD, whether you're creating a game from scratch it is going to help inform your your your ideas of what would be good mechanics to combine together and create something that is new, different, exciting, and informative.
That's the basics of what an SRD is!