I received an email over the weekend bemoaning the fact that latest versions of Seth Drebitko’s revision of Microlite20 seems to be pulling a “DnD 4e” — publishing an almost completely different game under the name of an older game and that you had to pay to download copies of Microlite20. I was somewhat surprised by this because the last version of Seth’s revision I saw, which he was then calling Microlite20 Prime still seemed quite derivate of D20 and able to run D20 material without a lot of work — even if it was beginning to incorporate some non-traditional storygame-like elements.
However, I went over to Seth’s Microlite20 site and sure enough it does look like you have to pay to download. Fortunately, this is not true. Seth is simply requesting donations. However, he’s using Gumroad to automate the progress. While Gumroad’s interface is great for selling downloads, it is horrible for “pay what you want including zero” as it starts by asking for credit card info. Fortunately, I’ve used Gumroad before and know the “trick” for paying $0 for “pay what you want items”: fill in your email address, skip over everything credit card related, and put 0 in the price blank. The credit card info part of the form disappears and you are good to go. I can’t blame Seth for requesting donations, game design is work and hosting web sites isn’t free, but I can blame Gumroad for an interface that makes it look like you have to pay something even for a product that is priced at “0+”. (Note: if you do give zero, you can come back later and give something if you like the product — Gumroad actually handles this part of “pay what you want” quite well.)
Having jumped through Gumroad’s hoops, I was able to download a copy of the latest playtest version of Seth’s Microlite20 revision. Unfortunately, the email I received was correct, Seth’s latest revision of Microlite20 really is a very different game: a game that would be very hard to use as a simple version of the D20 system which can still easily be used with most of the material published for the D20 system. While Seth’s Microlite20 revision still has some D20 in its DNA, the majority of its DNA comes from games like Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Numinera, etc. This mix is interesting in its own right, but isn’t very compatible with all the D20 material out there, which very important to many long time Microlite20 fans. Calling this game “Microlite20” will probably cause as much confusion and argument as calling “New Coke” “Coke” did — which is a shame because what Seth is working on is a nice “microlite” version of “Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Numinera” type systems. It just isn’t a “microlite” version of D20.
However, what I found most upsetting wasn’t the poor UI on the donation system or the non-D20 Microlite20 revision playtest, but how broken the web site was. Many of the Microlite20 third party game download links on the site lead to errors. While almost all the third party Microlite20 games are available from the RetroRoleplaying Forum’s download area, this isn’t a lot of help for people who go to the logical place to find Microlite20 material: the Microlite20 web site. Sadly, the new Microlite20 (Vanilla-based) forum seems to have disappeared completely. The old and now closed (SMF-based) Microlite20 forum is still there if you go to its URL directly. Unfortunately, this means the small community of players and designers now no longer seems to have a real home on the Net.