For a lot of gamers, Dungeons & Dragons serves as something of a default game system. Certainly, it is by far the most popular, though some would argue the system suffers in comparison to other RPGs. After all, there are countless systems out there, some of them very different than D&D. For instance, game designer Jonathan Tweet created Over The Edge, a system with no skills or attributes, as well as Everway, a game with no dice. Of course, fans of the White Wolf’s World of Darkness series of games prefer their system, and GURPS-players like theirs.
However, in the end, D&D’s ubiquity won out. Wisely, D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast licensed out the game system, calling it d20 and inviting small publishers to design products for it. The terms of the agreement, called the Open Gaming License (OGL) even allows publishers to tinker with the rules.
True20 started as a d20 variant designed for use in Blue Rose: The Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy. In the True20 rulebook’s introduction, developer Steve Kenson describes the game this way: "The idea behind Blue Rose was to introduce new players to fantasy roleplaying with an untapped genre and a simpler, more self-contained system than is currently available under the Open Gaming License."
True20 keeps the OGL rules but has simplified and consolidated them. Every roll only involves a single 20-sided die. Attributes aren’t absolute numbers, like in D&D, but rather serve purely as modifiers to that roll — for instance, my Strength could be +2 while my Constitution -1. Skills work as modifiers as well, maxing out at the character’s current level +3. Most of the rules will seem familiar with veteran d20 players, there are levels and feats, and the attributes are the same as D&D. However, the rules’ simplicity has put a unique spin on d20 that a lot of people like.
"The release of Blue Rose met with success," Kenson continued in his intro, "and the True20 system found many fans even among those who weren’t interested in a Romantic Fantasy RPG." Eventually, True20 publisher Green Ronin decided to sell the standalone rules in PDF format, and that PDF quickly became their #1 electronic product. Meanwhile, they had released a print version of the rules complete with coverage of multiple genres (e.g., sci fi, etc.)
Not only does Green Ronin have numerous True20 products, the system has become so successful, it has even spun off its own license to help game designers create their own products using the rules. Here are a couple of examples:
Roma Imperius, by HinterWelt Enterprises, an alternate Earth:
What if… magic had been discovered by the Romans of the third century? What if the Chinese had developed their alchemy and discovered immortality during the Han Dynasty? What if the Scandinavians had Thor, Freya and Odin living amongst them, guiding them?
Blood Throne, by Reality Deviants, a dark setting where a typical fantasy world has been utterly ravaged by demonic invaders:
For ten long years the people of Simarra have lived in fear. For ten long years the people of this war torn world have hidden themselves away from the evil which spreads across the land, the vile Keza-Drak — invaders from another world — have come to Simarra seeking nothing short than the total domination of this world. Their forces, bolstered by the dreaded Sundaari, have spread across the face of Simarra, bringing slavery and death to all who oppose them.
If you’re interested in learning more about True20, check out the game’s website, which has information and a number of free PDF downloads that can get your feet wet.