Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Predictions for the D&D 5e Licencing Scheme

Everyone is still in a tizzy in speculation over how Wizards of the Coast are going to approach third-party licencing for Fifth Edition products and the non-commital answers from Mike Mearls in a recent Reddit AMA only added fuel to the fire. The OGL of 3rd edition produced a flood of products, some of which were actually pretty good. The more restrictive GSL of 4th edition produced almost nothing. I think a lot of people are hoping for something akin to the OGL so that they can start working on products for 5th edition, which is fun to write for, but I think that WotC is going to go into a different direction, one that is both more and less restrictive.

First, I predict that there will not be an open licence. You will not be able to put a page of legal text in your PDF and release a product for D&D. Any product that is explicitly for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons will need to be officially licensed, such as Goodman Game's recent Fifth Edition Fantasy adventures.

However, this is not to say that the little guy is going to be cut out of making and even selling 5e content. I expect WotC to be very picky about who they send cease and desist letters to, in an effort to keep people interested in the newest edition of D&D. Going after your most passionate fans is not a good way to grow a brand.

I think it will all come down to whether a third-party, unlicensed product hurts or helps WotC sell copies of books. Adventures, new classes, new monsters and new rules options are more likely to drive up demand for the core books and therefor put more money in WotC's pockets.  On the other hand, a website that practically regurgitates the spell descriptions from the Player's Handbook only deters people from purchasing the physical product. A full-featured character creator app may prevent people from buying the PHB, but a random character generator based on the free Basic D&D text isn't taking any revenue away from WotC.

I'm optimistic about the future of third-party D&D products. I think WotC will embrace the DIY nature of tabletop RPGs while not being explicit about it. This may suck for anyone hoping to slap a D&D logo on their modules, but for the most part this will be a good time to be a D&D fan.

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