All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG and RPGnow. Bring these games to your table!
[Post Mortem - 1 year later]: I managed to ship 6000 copies to stay in business - by Constantin Bacioiu
In early 2016, Wizards of the Coast and OneBookshelf launched the Dungeon Masters Guild, a site with a new kind of license that allows fans of D&D to publish and sell their own D&D content. I began publishing on the Guild in October of the same year, and in the last two years, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Do you want to publish on the Guild? Because I’m here to share what I’ve learned and what I’ve gleaned from others so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes as we have.The Initial Bubble-Bursting
Do you have an idea you want to work on? Something to write, to publish, to share with other passionate D&D fans? Awesome. Let me get the less-good stuff out of the way now, then, before you start writing.
There are some things you cannot publish on the DMs Guild at all. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Your own homebrew settings – the only settings licensed for publication through the Guild are the Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, and Eberron. I’m sure more are in the works behind the scenes, but this is what we have access to for now. You can also publish things that are “setting neutral” or “setting agnostic” meaning that they don’t have a specific world that they’re linked to.
- Any editions other than 5th – the current edition is the only one eligible for the Guild. WotC is selling PDFs of older edition books through the Guild, but previous editions are off-limits for us regular publishers.
- Work that contains intellectual property for Critical Role or The Adventure Zone or your other favorite D&D show – the licenses for these shows aren’t owned by Wizards of the Coast. ‘Nuff said.
- Vecna – yes, this includes anything mentioning or pertaining to the lich god Vecna, who is technically from the world of Greyhawk and thus not eligible for the Guild. I’m specifically calling that out because I’ve seen more than one product pulled from the shelf for including an Eye or Hand of Vecna.
- Any other intellectual property – this should be fairly self-explanatory by now.
The DMs Guild uses a slightly different licensing system than things published elsewhere using the SRD, or System Reference Document. For example, you can write an adventure in which the player characters fight Xanathar, the renowned Waterdhavian beholder, not that I’d ever recommend going toe-to-eyestalk with him. That could be published through the Guild, because the license gives publishers access to exclusive WotC intellectual property, like beholders, mind flayers, specific places and NPCs, etc.
On the other hand, if you were to publish elsewhere using just the SRD, you couldn’t include Xanathar or Waterdeep or any beholder at all. The trade-off here is that if you were to publish directly through DriveThruRPG, you keep a higher percentage of the royalties as a content creator than you do through the DMs Guild.…they’re more likely to turn to the DMs Guild than DriveThruRPG. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email
It’s also key to mention here that anything published on the DMs Guild is then considered the property of Wizards of the Coast and cannot be published elsewhere. Even if you take it down from the Guild, making it no longer available there, it is still not “eligible” for publication elsewhere.
What I’ve found to be the main benefit of the Guild is that it has a much larger audience of D&D fans specifically than DriveThruRPG. When people want a new, unique monster or magic items to include in their games, or they want a pre-written one shot so they don’t have to prep much for game that night, I find they’re more likely to turn to the DMs Guild than DriveThruRPG.Writing and Playtesting
So, now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s get down to business writing that neat idea of yours! My biggest advice here is to look at how information is presented in the three core D&D rulebooks. For example, if you want to publish a bunch of new magic items, take note of how the magic items in the Dungeon Master’s Guide are shown. The name of the item, the type and rarity, if it requires attunement, and then any other description text. Your readers will already be familiar with that format, and anything you can do to make using your product easier for them is a good thing.
For adventures, look to the published adventure modules – Storm King’s Thunder is my favorite example because I feel it’s the best organized of the current storylines. A description of a location might be the first thing under a new header, followed by events that happen while the players are there under a “Developments” header, and then all that good loot under a “Treasure” header. Sticking to the familiar layouts wherever possible is going to help you, in part because it makes your work look more professional.Sticking to the familiar layouts wherever possible is going to help you… Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email
When it comes to playtesting, I’ll be the first to tell you that while playtesting is good and important, it’s not the be-all, end-all of your product. My bigger suggestion would be to run your work by other players and DMs (both experienced and new ones if you can) and ask them what they think. Ask a DM if they would run your adventure and if anything glaring is missing. Ask players if they’d be interested in your magic items if they happened to appear in a hoard. Don’t try to make your product perfect. Perfect is the enemy of done.Art, Covers, and Formatting
Speaking of looking professional… you don’t want to just upload a plain word document, do you? Of course not. You want a spiffy PDF, complete with the nice D&D fonts. If you intend to publish anything on the Guild, your next download needs to be the “DMs Guild Creator Resource – Adventure Template”. It’s a free resource provided by WotC and OneBookshelf to help you make your products look clean, professional, and uniform with the rest of the D&D brand. Use their official fonts, headers, stat block templates, etc. and you will save yourself a headache later wondering if your document is legible.
As for art and fancy covers… opinions vary, to say the least. Some people will say that a beautiful, full-art, full-color cover is the only way to sell a product, to hook a potential buyer. Other people will say that the plain-text cover with the big bold title and the DMs Guild logo is good enough for the Adventurer’s League (see above), so it’s good enough for them. There’s pros and cons to both: art can be an expensive upfront cost for a new creator, and a badly-designed cover is worse than no cover at all. Use your best judgment, and if you find that you’re getting really stressed out about the cover, don’t bother with fancy design. Make sure the title is legible and let everything else go. The same goes for interior art. I personally consider it nice-to-have, but not need-to-have.As for art and fancy covers… opinions vary, to say the least. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email
If a budget is all that’s holding you back from including art, there is quite a lot of free or low-cost art available. Many artists sell bundles of images through DriveThruRPG and only ask that you provide proper attribution in your final product. Other times, you can find public domain and historical art that is able to be used for free (but should still be credited to the creator – come on, guys). I like to use illustrations from old books of fairy tales and folklore, which bring a classic look and feel while still having an element of the fantastical. You don’t have to commission full, unique pieces with exclusive commercial rights. I downright would advise against it, just because you will never see a full return on investment for that.Dotting Your i’s and Crossing Your T’s
A few finishing touches are all it takes to make your product ready for publication. Make sure you have all of the below. Then double check. Maybe triple check, too.
- Legal boilerplate text – a chunk of legal boilerplate is available in the FAQ under the “Content Guidelines” section. Read it and then copy-paste it at the end of your product, tweaking the year if need be. This is to cover you, to cover WotC, and to cover OneBookshelf. No one wants a lawsuit over this.
- DMs Guild logo on the cover – it has to be there, no ifs, ands, or buts. You also cannot include any personal logos on the cover. You can put those inside, but not on the cover. There is a high-resolution image of the DMs Guild logo on that same “Content Guidelines” page (and above!).
- Proper attribution and credits – if you used art, credit the artist. If you had playtesters, list their names. If an editor revised your project, list their name. This isn’t technically part of the DMs Guild Content Guidelines, but if you don’t do it, you’re a jerk.
- Save it all as a PDF, but keep a separate Word doc version to incorporate later edits – yes, you may likely find your product will need edits or revisions later on.
And voila, just like that, you’re ready to publish! If that’s got you a little intimidated, never fear- in Part 2, we’ll talk about publication, marketing, and sales.
Let us know in the comments what you’re working on for the Guild!
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Or how I learned to stop worrying and embrace fans of streaming RPG games
It has finally happened to you. You, the veteran Dungeon Master, are adding a new player to your gaming group. You’re taking in a new player into your home game, your inner sanctum. Your baby. Maybe a player at the table is bringing along a significant other, or maybe a friendly coworker wants to make the leap to tabletop RPGs and has asked to play.
“No problem.”, you think. You’ve taught a lot of people to play. Why would this be any different? This isn’t your first rodeo. You get know the person socially to see if they’ll be a good fit. You ask the questions about schedule and commitment. The stars align, and they look like a good fit. So you ask the tough question, “What inspired you to invest time into a tabletop role-playing game?” (You may even silently think yourself so clever and accommodating to avoid the gatekeeping three letter acronym “AR-PEE-GEE”.)
“I love Critical Role.”
And there it is. It can’t be taken back. They watch streaming RPGs ON THE INTERNET and a million questions form in your brain. “How do they find the time?” “Why would they watch a game of Dungeons and Dragon without ever playing?” Maybe your first reaction is defensive. “Ugh. So Hollywood.” Maybe some self-doubt creeps in. “I’m not as good as Mercer. He’s a professional voice actor. And he has all that DwarvenForge”. Or “I’m not Chris Perkins. I don’t have his encyclopedic knowledge of the Realms.”
“Ugh, why me? This sucks.” How could this happen to you? You’ve been a Dungeon Master for decades. Hell, you still have your Basic Edition Redbox. When people are asked about their favorite artists, your friends say things like “Jackson” or “Picasso”. You mumble something socially acceptable, but inside you scream “LARRY ELMORE”. Have no fear fellow Dungeon Master, we’re here to help you through these difficult times.
How do you, the person who has been DMing for so long you can convincingly lie about liking Fourth Edition, handle this situation?What is all this streaming about, anyway?
Let’s take a moment to review the most influential streams, in case you’re not familiar with the streaming scene.
Dice, Camera, Action! (DCA) is a Skype-based stream produced officially by Wizards of the Coast and run by the legendary Chris Perkins. DCA features the current storyline published by WotC and features four players with an occasional guest star. The game has been playing for several years and features the same characters across multiple published campaign books. The characters advance slowly, deliberately keeping suppressing the power curve to allow the characters room to grow and expand without breaking the power curve of the setting. Each session lasts about two hours and is streamed weekly. DCA is a helpful reference for deconstructing published campaign material into a player focused experience, yet keeping the flavor of the original book.
Acquisitions Incorporated (AcqInc) is a live play game run again by the legendary Chris Perkins played live at the table during most Penny Arcade Expos (PAX). These games are short, lasting about two hours, and feature the founders of the Penny Arcade webcomic Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins as well as noted fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss. A fourth player is frequently rotated in and out of the game. This game started in 4th Edition days and focuses and grand set pieces and largely absurdist comedic in Forgotten Realms. The PAX Acquisitions Inc game can provide guidance for running a classic “beer and pretzels” game with a focus on high action and hilarious moments.
A relatively late entry into the streaming realm is the Acquisitions Incorporated: C-Team (C-team) game. This is also a live table game, DMed by Jerry Holkins. Thematically, it is very similar to the AcqInc main game but features a very different table feel. The game is more chaotic and self-referential than any of the other games on the list and can be challenging to follow due to a large amount of crosstalk and inside jokes told at the table. The game streams for two hours on a weekly schedule. Of all the major streamed games, this feels most like a traditional table game.
The most prominent of the RPG streams is, of course, Critical Role. Critical Role has been streaming for several years and is DM’d by voice actor Matthew Mercer, featuring a cast of more professional voice actors. Critical Role’s success, while polarizing in some communities, has been an important influencer on the success of 5th Edition.Let’s get started
So, where to begin? First, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Showing interest in what excites the player will forge an early bond every Dungeon Master needs to make with their players. Unlike most new players, the stream fan will have a solid understanding of what an RPG is, and how to behave in at the table. Ask them what they like about their chosen stream. Find out who their favorite character is on the show. Do they answer with a character name or with a player name? Answering “I like Liam.” versus “I like Vax.” can tell you a lot about the new player’s expectations. For example, answering with a player’s name may indicate they enjoy strong performances at the table. Answering with the character’s name may show they are more interested in a building a deep, tragic story for their character.
Second, understand watching a stream is a way for a person to be a part of the RPG community. A DM prepping for a game, or players plotting out how to attack the next session are just ways we interact with our hobby away from the table. Taking in a stream is no different. It’s critical to keep in mind playing in a game is just one of many ways we build and participate in our hobby. A person who enjoys talking about Critical Role will almost certainly bring that level of engagement to your table.Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email Armed with this information, you’ll be able to direct your game in a manner enjoyable for your new player. Hopefully, this opportunity can be used to expand your perspective on DMing, too.
Lastly, it helps to understand how RPG streams differ. There are many different streams a person could choose to watch and this will give you helpful information useful for integrating a new player in your game. A Critical Fan vs an Acquisitions Inc. fan could indicate predilection in tonality (a more dramatic tone instead of a more comedic tone. A fan of Dice, Camera, Action might be into world building or enjoy game steeped in lore.Join us
Of course, people are complicated, and it’s not all chromatic orbs and CR 2 unicorns. A player coming to D&D from a streaming background will have a head start over the traditional new player. They’ll understand rules, table protocol, and probably spotlight sharing better. This knowledge will also come with certain expectations one should be aware of to ensure a good experience for you and all of your players. There are some basic steps you can take you help ease the player in your game.
The obvious answer, watch some episodes of the stream, is probably the least practical one. The task before you now is setting expectations. Based on the game you’re running, the player’s expectations may need to be managed in different ways. Running a published adventure comes with engagement challenges to even the most experienced D&D player, much less a player whose only experience with D&D comes from a campaign built only solely around extract the most from a player backstory.
Running homebrew content also comes with challenges. Every Dungeon Master injects themselves into the world they create. Interests, beliefs, or even our aspirations influence our world and might cause friction with the player’s expectations. As with most situations, open and honest communication is the key to working through these situations.
In short, “How do you want to do this?” is a great way to integrate a streaming fan into the participating at a table, be it physical or virtual, and expand our hobby to new fans!
With the influx of new fans to 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, how have streaming shows like Critical Role changed your game?
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