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Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Is the DM's Guild a Threat to the OSR? Or Will WoTC Be Doing The OSR's Job For It?

So the big news of the week is that Wizards of the Coast have released a D&D 5e OGL, and have opened up the Dungeon Master's Guild, a vehicle for fans of D&D 5e to self-publish material with some official backing, but which has caused a lot of controversy.  Especially, it has been controversial to the OSR, some of whom are highly critical of what they feel is like an attempt by WoTC to do a takeover of the independence and creativity of the OSR. Others are also suggesting it is potential exploitation of creative independents by WoTC.

So here's what is clear about the DM's Guild:
-to publish under it, you will have to write material for 5e D&D. It will have to be set in the Forgotten Realms.  So this means that there won't be very much room for creativity in system, and almost none in setting. You'll be able to make new items or spells, but you can't publish your own setting as a 5e product, or make a highly-altered set of rules; nor can you make an 'OSR' D&D and publish it under this banner.
-Publishing under the DM's Guild will mean that OBS and WoTC will take FIFTY PERCENT of your profits.  This is considerably more than the 30-35% you normally pay for selling your book on OBS.
-It appears that what you write under the DM's Guild will become open content, which means that other writers, or indeed WoTC itself, will be able to take it and use it without paying you anything further for it. In essence, it is idea mining for Wizards.
-It also appears that WoTC could take down your product if there's any reason they don't want it up. If there's controversial content, or if there's just content not fitting their agenda, it's out.  Not really surprising for a big corporation, but its worth noting that this is not going to be the "avant garde", it's going to be bowdlerized stuff.

But is all this a threat to the OSR?

I don't think it is. Unless Wizards tries to pull some kind of ridiculous legal maneuver and this whole DM's Guild is cover or justification for that.  But this is conspiracy-theorism, and the much more logical situation is that this is what it looks like: an attempt to a) Idea-Mine without having to pay creatives and b) Make a fast buck off other people's work by granting them the theoretical 'privilege' of using their mechanics, using their world, and using their logo/page.

Nor do I think that this will in any way replace the OSR.

But on the contrary, what MIGHT happen is that some content creators from the DM's Guild, that end up getting a little attention for having made something good or interesting, doing well for themselves in the strictly controlled environment of the DM's Guild could end up later moving to the OSR! People who didn't dare publish for themselves before, or who were overlooked, might be able to use the default 'publicity' of the DM's Guild to draw some regard.  And they might, once they've made a rep for themselves, switch to independent publishing, doing stuff under the OSR aegis, where they get to keep more of their own money and get more legitimacy as designers.

In other words, Wizards aren't the only ones who could end up using the GM's Guild.  WoTC might be doing free idea mining for us, over here in the OSR, finding creatives that we can later subvert and embrace.

The OSR might really be the ones getting something for nothing out of all this.


Currently Smoking:  Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia


  1. It's pretty obvious that the DM's Guild is a bad deal for anyone who is serious about owning and self-publishing their own work, or producing work of striking originality. It's equally clear that that isn't what it's for - that's why Wizards have put out a separate OGL and SRD for those people.

    On the other hand, if you are a Realms fan and want to give your homebrewed Realms stuff a chance to make you some extra beer money, influence the fan community, and potentially catch the eye of Wizards and become part of the canon, it's actually a really good deal.

    People who are griping about it seem to be universally the sort of people who wouldn't ever have been interested in working in the Forgotten Realms anyway - or at least, not interested in working in the Forgotten Realms under any of the sorts of terms and conditions a sensible publisher would impose.

    Think of it this way: had they just put out the SRD and OGL, nobody would have been especially unhappy because that's all they needed to do to make putting out third-party 5E material in original settings viable. Nobody seriously expected the open licensing arrangements to include an opportunity to work in any official Wizards settings, let alone the flagship setting, because no previous version of the OGL or the D20 licence offered you the opportunity to do that either.

    However, Wizards have not just given us a 5E OGL and SRD, but they have also, on top of that, given an official platform for people to not only put out their Realms fanworks, but actually earn a bit of money from it and maybe add a little something to the tapestry of Realms canon. They are giving us more than anyone ever dreamed they would give us. And people are griping and complaining about it because they don't like the conditions of working in the DM's Guild, despite the fact that the OGL is right there and ready for you to put out whatever original work of genius you want to come out with.

    I have come to the conclusion that some people just want to complain about Wizards because they are Wizards, and want to complain about 5E and claim that it is failing just because it is 5E, and generally just piss and moan because they can't fumble their way to within a square mile of understanding what a great deal they're being offered.

    Yes, the DM Guild stuff gets owned outright by Wizards, is available for other writers to tamper with, and you only get 50% of the money from it. Guess what: the constraints you are under in the DM's Guild are no more restrictive (and in many respects are much less restrictive) than those any freelancer penning Realms stuff for Wizards or TSR under previous editions were working under, and 50% of the take is a way better deal than any of them got.

    1. Exactly. People will always complain even without knowing really what they are complaining about.
      This is a great deal and a great deal better than anyone expected to get.

    2. I largely agree. I'll say this: some people have said that they felt like they wouldn't have been able to self-publish stuff because they wouldn't get enough attention, not having the right connections or hobby-fame. And that the DM Guild might allow them to get an audience they could never otherwise have reached.

      There may be something in that. As the RPGPundit, I can get almost anything published, and immediately heard of, and I know it will sell (how well it will sell will obviously depend on many things, but it'll sell enough that its worth all the effort). If I wasn't though, if I was just some schlub, I might have some of those same fears some of these people would express.

      If some of them turn out to make good products, this might give them a leg-up that will let them go on to do their own projects independent of WoTC.

    3. While I will be keeping doing my own stuff. I do have a handful of works for Greyhawk that I would publish in the DM's Guild when they open that up to Greyhawk material.

    4. Have they confirmed whether they will be doing that, yet?

    5. They said they will be adding other settings in the future. It in the FAQ. Of course the future may mean 15 months from now or 6 months from now. Who knows, but to me it makes sense in terms of how 5e is playing out.

  2. The DM's Guild thing doesn't sound like it's meant to produce anything I'd be looking for out of the OSR... so I don't see how it's a threat. None of the my favorite OSR authors are likely to be tempted by it.

    1. A few OSR writers have already said they are considering trying to make something for this. There's a lot of OSR writers who are also 5e fans and who are curious to see if the pre-made audience could be profitable in spite of Wizards' cut.

      For the record, I almost certainly won't be one of them. The rules are too restrictive.

    2. That is just the DM's Guild. You could produce an OGL 5e version of Albion and sell it right next to your current version and get the same cut you get now.

  3. WoTC is the Standard Oil of D&D and has tried to crown itself as the Standard Oil of Role Playing Gaming in general. They have succeeded in getting the lay public to associate "fantasy games" with D&D. They are brilliant marketers. They have used shops that carry their products to train customers to play D&D 5th Edition. They use their retailers as their marketers. They are stroking the hobby. I saw their guidelines for the kids who want to write a dungeon adventure for them. I didn't like their tone - it was slick, soul-less, told then that if they want any chance of seeing their work in print, they better promote the D&D Minis as well and make them a part of their writing. Also I heard that WoTC work place offers great comradery, but pays less than the average wage for the professions that they employ.

    Bad deal all around. If you want to make money off your writing, become the next Stephen King.

  4. The benefit of this announcement is that we are going to have a translation in French of D&D5 ... by an "official" editor (black-book-editions) : Heros and Dragons.
    lot's of people who do not read English are longing for it.

    A question: do you think that the language for this DM's Guild is fixed ? (English) or that we may see coming contents in Frog tongue ? :)