[RPG] What editions of D&D are derived from the d20 system


The tag wiki on this website says:

For questions about the d20 System, an RPG system originally published in 2000 by Wizards of the Coast. The d20 System was developed alongside D&D 3e and is a derivative of it, but it forms the mechanical backbone for a variety of RPGs entirely departed from the D&D system.

And the wiki page says:

The d20 System is a role-playing game system published in 2000 by Wizards of the Coast, originally developed for the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons.1 The system is named after the 20-sided dice which are central to the core mechanics of many actions in the game.

Much of the d20 System was released as the System Reference Document (SRD) under the Open Game License (OGL) as Open Game Content (OGC), which allows commercial and non-commercial publishers to release modifications or supplements to the system without paying for the use of the system's associated intellectual property, which is owned by Wizards of the Coast.

It looks, at least to me, to be more of a trademark/legal matter than just using a d20.

But in any case, which roleplaying systems are derived from the d20 System?

It looks like D&D 4E is not covered by it, or at least the associated OGL, but I appreciate they are not the same thing. Whereas stuff like Pathfinder and d20 Modern do seem to be derived from it.

Best Answer

D&D 3.0 and 3.5, though these inspired later editions.

The article d20 System Definitions: Frequently Asked Questions, published by Wizards of the Coast in 2001, defines "d20 System" as follows:

Q: What is meant by the term "d20 System"?

A: The term refers to the game engine used in Wizards of the Coast's hobby gaming roleplaying game. It is the basis for Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, and other products currently released or in development. The "d20 System" trademark consists of the words "d20 System" and the "d20 System" logo. Additional information about the trademark can be viewed at: tess.uspto.gov, by searching for "d20 system".

Another article, The d20 System Concept: Frequently Asked Questions, provides a more detailed definition:

Q: Is the d20 System just another term for "Dungeons & Dragons"?

A: Yes and no.

The current version of Dungeons & Dragons is the basis for the d20 system. The market research done to determine what gamers wanted out of an RPG game was used to determine what kinds of rules, and what level of complexity, would go into the game.

That foundation was also used to produce the Star Wars roleplaying game, and it will be used to create a number of future products now in development at the company.

Over the long term, the two identities will separate. Dungeons & Dragons will mean the specific brand identity of that game, and d20 System will mean the common shared rules and systems used by many different games.

Given the date of 2001 for these articles, "Dungeons & Dragons" in this context referred specifically to D&D third edition. In other words, the "d20 System" referred specifically to the mechanical basis of D&D 3.0, which was later used for several other Wizards of the Coast RPGs. This includes their versions of Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu, d20 Modern, d20 Future, and d20 Past, and of course D&D 3.5.

It's also important to note that the term "d20 System" was a specific a trademark owned by Wizards of the Coast. This means that even if you were to write your own RPG based on the d20 System (such as the fan-made Naruto d20 and Pokémon d20 projects), you couldn't actually advertise it as such—unless you made an official d20 System licensing agreement with Wizards of the Coast. The d20 System license only applied to 3e-era products, as it was revoked when 4th edition was released.

D&D 4th and 5th edition draw clear design influence from D&D 3.5, but the term "d20 System" is generally not used to refer to those editions.

With the release of D&D 4th edition, Wizards of the Coast no longer offered the d20 System license, instead using the Game System License (GSL) which did not use the term "d20 System". Two factors confusing this answer are:

  • D&D 4th edition first-party rulebooks had a d20 System logo on the back, and continued to assert Wizards of the Coast's ownership of the trademark "d20 System" in their credits sections.
  • The book Dungeon Master 4th Edition for Dummies (2009), erroneously claims on page 27 that products released under the GSL bear the d20 System logo. In fact, they bear a new D&D compatibility logo. Only first-party 4th edition works bore the d20 System logo shown there. The GSL applied only to D&D 4th edition, and no other editions or games.

D&D 5th edition again draws mechanical inspiration from D&D 3.5, including use of the d20-based ability check system as its core mechanic, and so on, but it doesn't use the term "d20 System" to describe itself. It does not use the d20 System license or GSL, but rather allows products to be released using a version of the Open Gaming License (OGL), which was previously offered for D&D 3e as an alternative to the d20 System license (See Is there a OGL or GSL license for D&D 5e?).

Some players use the term "the d20 system" in a generic sense, referring to RPGs which use D&D 3e-like mechanics, a description which would include D&D 4e, D&D 5e, and Pathfinder. However, these are technically not part of the "d20 System", which is essentially a brand for WotC's D&D 3e-based RPG products from 2000 to 2007.

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