What the RPG Community Should Steal from FOSS

Software engineers regularly jump into others' open source, and help out, but the RPG community do not do the same, because they do not have the right tools.

Look throughout the history of any number of software projects and you'll find a slew of apparently random people, unknown to the software's creator, jumping in to lend a hand. Look at calcure (the open source calendar) and you'll see healthy discussion on the board, about fixes and features people want to see.

Having a look at the history, we have 183 changes ('commits') from Roman (apparently the person creating the calendar), but also a number of other small changes from random people.

  • Diego added Brazillian Portuguese support.
  • Evan fixed a bug.
  • Melih added Turkish language support.
  • Yujian added Chinese support.
  • Neal let the calendar add ics files from a URL
  • Kayak added a new hotkey

...and so on.

This is normal for open source software, but not for the RPG community.

The difference of course is not that the RPG community is full of selfish, awful, people, while software engineers are all very charitable with their time. The difference is in tools and licensing.


If you want an RPG in Spanish, you must wait until Wizards of the Coast magnanimously decides that language's 'marketspace' is worth their time. You may not translate the book yourself.

When it comes to open source software, if you want a translation, you can make it.

Tool Usage

Of course, licences alone are not enough. Getting permission to change a pdf will not magically give you the ability. You would still need to rewrite the entire book, learn publishing software, et c.

This is not so with software engineers. Without any idea which programming language something was written in, I've looked at projects which have irritating spelling mistakes, and fixed them. Then I pushed the 'pull request' button, which automatically sends a message saying 'I request the following changes', and shows the person with the project what those changes are.

With this simple workflow as a standard, people are then free to add whatever they find useful.

RPGs have none of this.

  • We can laugh or shout at White Wolf for their complete inability to make an index, but we cannot add one.
  • We may not like D&D adding dark-skinned cousins to all of the playable races, with 'Racial Alignment: Evil' in their stat-block, but the community could only impotently share Buzzfeed-style articles about how D&D is racist - we could not change a blessed thing until the corporation decided it was profitable to change.
  • We can write blog posts about how to interpret a Skill, but it's nothing but house-rules, without any expectation that this could be changed. There is nothing remotely similar to an issues board, where the people using and making the project can occupy a single space where they discuss ideas.
  • And the OSR community seems doomed to create 1,000 clones of old D&D, all to add a couple of new rules, instead of just copying the book and making those rule changes.

Knave's Attempt at Open Source

Knave is an OSR RPG with the sources files (well, just one 'file') made available. Unfortunately, it's a Microsoft Word document, so it won't be properly visible unless the user has a Microsoft 365 licence, and there is no way to make proposed changes, or to share and compare those changes, with the same ease as open source software developers.

It has gained at least one clone I know of, so that's at least a step in the right direction.