Really what should any product submitted to the Ennies be judged by? In my humble opinion, it should be what the product offers that advances the reach of RPGs or offers something novel or innovative to the community. Although the Ennies official criteria is “Excellence” that’s a pretty murky definition. I will concede that it gives them flexibility but not much focus.
The free RPG community is upset about the Ennies this year. There were several free RPGs submitted but they were passed over in favor of a few quickstarts and modules from some of the largest RPG publishers. These free products are fine and all, there’s a lot of decent work put into these products.
Now by my suggestion, the quickstarts do offer something for the reach of RPGs since they improve the accessibility of RPGs. At the moment though, we have “Excellence”. So let’s go with that.
I can’t rightly say if the artwork that went into them is original art or not. If it isn’t, I’d urge the Ennies judges to look at these entries as having no artwork in them at all. My reasoning is this, if the products are borrowing art from their paid counterparts, they’re the same as a free game using stock art that’s available to them.
Now let’s think about the quick starts. Really, the system already existed so is there any real quality that these products embody? Yes, there is. It takes skill to pare down a set of rules into a quickstart. Again, I would encourage the Ennies judges to consider this as the main platform to judge these products.
Why Free RPGs Deserve Special Consideration
A free RPG made by anyone, even a big publisher is something special. It gives a new option to existing RPG players and an easier entry point to new players. They are also an expression of love of the hobby by a special breed of dedicated role players. Many dedicate years and even decades to producing something that they give to the rest of the community. Is that not excellence? Is dedication to role playing something to be celebrated? If the Ennies’ answer is yes, they will consider that free RPGs are something special.