Dungeons & Dragons fans, take note: Self-publishing has just come to Forgotten Realms. Wizards of the Coast has just announced the “Dungeon Masters Guild,” an e-publishing site for self-publishing D&D adventures and other content set in the Forgotten Realms. The “What is the Dungeon Masters Guild” page on the site has more information.
The Dungeon Masters Guild seems similar to Amazon’s Kindle Worlds—a way that creators can be permitted to use licensed intellectual property and at the same time make a little money on it. In this case, the intellectual property is D&D’s venerable Forgotten Realms setting. There are just a few restrictions on these adventures. The main restriction is that they must use the 5th Edition D&D rule set. Apart from that, they’re about what you’d expect—no offensive or pornographic material, no copyright or trademark violations, and nothing libelous.
Creators who work within the program will be permitted to use not only D&D intellectual property, but also material uploaded by any other creators taking part in the Dungeon Masters Guild program. If someone uploaded a monster you really want to use in your adventure, or you want to write a sequel to an adventure someone else made, you’re free to do so provided that you publish it via the Dungeon Masters Guild yourself.
Revenue from adventures will be divided three ways, with 50% going to the creator, 25% to Wizards of the Coast, and 25% to OneBookshelf, the company operating the Dungeon Masters Guild site (who also happens to be the parent company of well-known e-RPG stores DriveThruRPG and RPGNow). People who want to publish completely original material using 5th-edition rules, or who want to sell non-Forgotten Realms-based content on their own will still be permitted to publish it elsewhere under the terms of the Open Gaming License (OGL). However, the only way to self-publish Forgotten Realms material will be via the Dungeon Masters Guild program, and it will have to be in the 5th edition rules. (For more information about the OGL, see the Systems Reference Document.)
On Friday, January 15, D&D team members Mike Mearls and Chris Lindsay will host an ask-me-anything session on Reddit to answer any further questions about the Dungeon Masters Guild program.
From the perspective of gamers who want to write Forgotten Realms-based material, this seems like a pretty good deal. Licensing trademarks can be expensive and time-consuming, and people who just want to write their own adventure may not want to put in that much time or effort. While it’s not quite the same as the 70% you can get from self-publishing original work on Amazon, 50% of the cover price is still more than a lot of traditional publishers pay their authors, and the difference seems like a reasonable surcharge for the cost of licensing the use of someone else’s intellectual property.
And from Wizards of the Coast’s perspective, it seems like a small price to pay for having other people create intellectual property for it. It can effectively treat this market as a sort of community-vetted slushpile—if any content becomes really popular, the “What is…” page explains, Wizards can reach out to the creator and license it for further use and expansion.
At any rate, this is certainly a far cry from the time back in the ‘90s when TSR attempted to force fan-created D&D content off the Internet. It’s funny how the development of digital media markets changes things, isn’t it?