An open letter to WOTC: Save 3rd Party D&D Publishers

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Originally posted on, this is an open letter to Wizards of the Coast in a bid to stave off the flight of GSL companies and promote an atmosphere of mutualism to better all parties.


Dear Wizards:


I’ll attempt to word this letter in a fashion that promotes compromise and expresses my understanding of the situation. It starts with the declaration that Wizards of the Coast are not obliged to follow anything mentioned here. They don’t owe anyone, and I am neither demanding action nor contending that what I request must be followed. I am suggesting a course of action that will benefit all parties involved.


On Friday, February 25th, I received a phone call from a writer experienced in 4th Edition wishing to produce his product. He had previously been tied to another major publisher that had recently dropped its 4th Edition lineup in favor of Paizo’s Pathfinder which they claim had been growing in sales to the extent of surpassing their 4th Edition products. This is not an isolated incident but only the latest symptom, following in the wake of similar announcements from Mongoose and Goodman Games. Despite declarations from fanboys on both sides about whether Pathfinder or D&D is the better seller, it is now glaringly obvious that from a 3rd party publisher outlook, the winner has been decided.


This wasn’t always the case. It’s important to mention that I am not threatening to cut my ties with the mother company. If DEM fails to make an impression with its 4th Edition lineup, we won’t be abandoning it in favor of Pathfinder. Most likely, if our 4th Edition products prove to disappoint, it may be the end of products from the DEM universe. This is not a threat; it’s simple fact of life. Dias Ex Machina made its name with 4th Edition D&D. We already created an Amethyst 3.5 in 2008. We switched it to follow 4th Edition; stepping back to 3.75 feels…exactly that.


I am offering suggestions to make the 4th Edition D&D multiverse a welcoming place for 3rd party publishers, most involving D&D’s online presence. This is not like the days of the OGL, where companies could access and copy the entire rules system, a'la Linux. Third party companies need to reference original WOTC products. This encourages sales. Additionally, more 3rd party products available increase D&D penetration in the marketplace. It may not be a significant increase, but the investment is negligible, making an increased return virtually guaranteed. You wouldn’t even have to offer these to every publisher, only to those you believe have reached a certain level of quality—perhaps companies that are producing truly original products over those only offering variations on elements already created by D&D.


Third party companies can keep up with the pace if you dare them to. Changing the rules through an errata is not as damaging as you might think. As a metaphor, I would offer that a 3rd party product (at least Amethyst) is a car using WOTC roads. WOTC can change the laws and the limits, where and how fast you can go, but we don’t have to rebuild our car. The problem is WOTC uses an express lane and refuses to open it to those following them.


So here are my proposals:


Simply put, with the many blogs and official press releases WOTC issues, reserve a section to mention the products being released by third-party companies. This could include the many newsletters and online articles dealing with official WOTC products. This would not be a one-time occurrence but a recurring practice so that players will know these products and companies are ever-present in the community. Currently, WOTC has a single page mentioning 3rd party companies and one forum group called GSL. We would like something prevalent and dedicated—one blogger a week, one page in a newsletter, maybe even space in an issue of Dragon. You would be surprised the amount of free content 3rd party publishers would offer in exchange for a bit of free advertising.


In the many products released by WOTC, they put aside space for advertisements. Although we would imagine costs would be astronomical, offering a discount or a single gratis communal page dedicated to everyone (like those small market advertisers at the back of a Road & Track) could work wonders. Banner ads on the website would never come to pass, but allowing some advertisement, side by side with D&D, could muster up considerable leverage in convincing third-party companies that they are under your umbrella, not standing beside you in the rain.


Although there are perhaps dozens of products that may not reach your level of quality, if one does come about, acknowledge it. Perhaps even special awards dedicated to only 3rd party products. You could offer accolades for artwork, layout, writing and originality. You won’t even need to make plaques; a simple GIF would suffice.


File this under improbable, but opening an online store is something Wizards still insists on not creating. They offer DDI as the compromise. But selling 3rd party PDFs via the official Wizard site would not only promote our products but also offer revenue for WOTC. If you think this is unprecedented, it is important to know that Amethyst Foundations (a 4th Edition 3rd party book) is available for sale (and does sell) on Paizo’s online store. If Paizo can sell a 3rd party D&D product, why won’t the creators of D&D. There is revenue there to be had.


The DDI is the single biggest feature that sets 4th Edition apart from the rest of the RPG community, allowing up-to-date content a finger-tap away. Trying to get 3rd party content into Character Builder has been a poster-protest since the debut of the controversial application, something that WOTC has never been receptive to. They have come close, with the frank answer being that even though they are not against the idea, WOTC is not sure how to implement it. Meaning they could if they spent a large amount of money on programmers to enable the system and still keep it secure…ergo, they won’t do it. I am not talking about Character Builder; however, I am talking about all the other aspects of DDI, the exclusive content. Allow 3rd party products to post artwork, classes, and monsters. It would be part of DDI content and showcase the products offered by 3rd party companies.


The last proposal is to keep us 3rd party companies in the loop. With the exception of the first GSL license update, there has not been a single email sent mass to the companies signed under the GSL. There has been no attempt to keep them—us—informed of future products and changes in the rule structure. We are not told about rule updates until after they have gone up. We had no warning about the potential rule changes coming with Essentials.  If we were, we could make an effort to support those very same product lines. 


As long as you require, by word of GSL, to reference your products without copying information within them, then consumers must own those books to use ours. It’s a symbiotic relationship, not unlike the clownfish swimming around an anemone. All we’re asking is to open that umbrella just a teeny bit more to allow us the same protection, show us that we’re connected, not holding on for dear life.


Hoping and Optimistic (as they are different)
Chris Dias
Dias Ex Machina Games


I saw this on too. I thought it interesting. Not that I really pay attention to this too much, but I didn't realize that Goodman Games had stopped producing 4th Ed stuff alll together. Disappointing really.

I agree with this letter. I think it would be nice to have WotC follow through not only with the 3rd party game companies but with us a bit more too. I want to support WotC as much as I can, I do love D&D... its been my hobby for years, and God willing will be for years more.
I like the spirit of this letter. It'll never happen, but I like it. I'd prefer they license out the D&D name. You know for a fee you can put the D&D logo on your adventures and quote directly from the books, but you gotta submit the product to WotC R&D and have it pass the (I admit, lacking) compatibility and balance tests.

They'd make money, 3rd parties would get the D&D name. Its win-win, but WotC/Hasbro doesn't want to do this.
"Unite the [fan] base? Hardly. As of right now, I doubt their ability to unite a slightly unruly teabag with a cup of water."--anjelika
1-4E play style
The 4E play style is a high action cinematic style of play where characters worry less about being killed in one hit and more about strategy and what their next move is and the one after it. The players talk back and forth about planning a battle and who can do what to influence the outcome. 4E play is filled with cinematic over the top action. An Eladrin teleports out of the grip of the Ogre. The Fighter slams the dragons foot with his hammer causing it to rear up and stagger back in pain. The Cleric creates a holy zone where their allies weapons are guided to their targets and whenever an enemy dies the Clerics allies are healed. 4E is about knowing when to lauch your nova attack, whether its a huge arcane spell that causes enemies to whirl around in a chaotic storm, or if its a trained adrenaline surge that causes you to attack many many times with two weapons on a single target, or a surge of adrenaline that keeps you going though you should already be dead. Its about tactics and the inability to carry around a bag of potions or a few wands and never have to worry about healing. Its about the guy that can barely role play having the same chance to convince the king to aid the group as the guy that takes improv acting classes and regularly stars as an extra on movies.
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The Stormwind Fallacy, aka the Roleplayer vs Rollplayer Fallacy Just because one optimizes his characters mechanically does not mean that they cannot also roleplay, and vice versa. Corollary: Doing one in a game does not preclude, nor infringe upon, the ability to do the other in the same game. Generalization 1: One is not automatically a worse role player if he optimizes, and vice versa. Generalization 2: A non-optimized character is not automatically role played better than an optimized one, and vice versa. ...[aside]... Proof: These two elements rely on different aspects of a player's game play. Optimization factors in to how well one understands the rules and handles synergies to produce a very effective end result. Role playing deals with how well a player can act in character and behave as if he was someone else. A person can act while understanding the rules, and can build something powerful while still handling an effective character. There is nothing in the game -- mechanical or otherwise -- restricting one if you participate in the other. Claiming that an optimizer cannot role play (or is participating in a play style that isn't supportive of role playing) because he is an optimizer, or vice versa, is committing the Stormwind Fallacy.
The spells we should getLook here to Check out my adventures and ideas. I've started a blog, about video games, table top role playing games, programming, and many other things its called Kel and Lok Games. My 4E Fantasy Grounds game is currently full.

Nice letter. I am hoping that WotC releases a statement soon as to their intention with 3PP (I have these visions of an overworked Brand/Product/Project/Program Manager with a pile of things on his/her desk with a Post-It note saying "Update GSL to include PBH and/or Essentials" somewhere between middle and bottom of the stack.)

You've got great practical suggesions. Hope they bear some fruit.
I read and re-read this letter and agree with every part of it, we need more support from the "Big Guys" of the industry, after all, TSR was one of the little guys once.

"Is that your final answer?"

-Frequent quote from my side of the DM screen

I think even some really simple things, like allowing 3pps to tap into the CB (this would have been easier before it went to online only), would have gone a long way. I find it odd that they took the time to showcase some 3pp material (MM2 included some monsters from the Swords & Sorcery Creature Collection and WotC put out quite a bit of information on the OGL in general) despite the mass influx of material at that time, including quite a bit that completely ripped off the PHB and created their own self-contained games, yet now that there is significantly less 3pp stuff and they still require the core books to use, WotC doesn't want to even acknowledge their existence)
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Personally, I would love seeing DDi content for the occassional 3PP. Not to mention seeing the ability to add stuff to your CB, or a paid addition to the compendium or something. I love Amethyst, but it feels strange to have access to the CB and Compendium, and then have to make all my characters on paper because Amethyst isn't included.

Not to mention I miss the houserule element button. Cant even find it anymore on the new CB.
The lack of a reply here tells its own story.  I love 4e but WotC stopped listening to the community some time ago and is paranoid about giving up any rights to its material.  This is killing any goodwill that's out there and resulted in reduced sales for everyone.

Is it any wonder that Pathfinder is outselling 4e?
Necroed and Bumped!
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