Thursday, June 05, 2014

An OGL for 5e

So, assuming WotC decides they want an OGL of some flavor for 5e, what should it look like?

The original OGL was intended to encourage DMs to publish their adventures. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that adventures were necessary to support an RPG, but in general cost more to make than they brought in. As with “box sets killed TSR” it was part of the conventional wisdom that turned out to be untrue as Paizo and James Edward Raggi IV proved, both building empires on a foundation of adventures.

Granted, the OGL and d20 license didn't work as planned. Instead, they resulted in a rash of splatbooks. If WotC is lucky, they'll get that again with 5e.

It's pretty obvious that WotC is following Paizo's lead with their linked adventure “storylines” like Tyranny of Dragons. They want to continuously publish entire campaigns worth of adventures, teased and supported by their weekly play Encounters program. And they want to keep the barriers to entry into the game low, hence the free-to-download Basic D&D PDF.

And because of that, they need to avoid 4e's new-hardback-every-month policy like the plague. It didn't take long for that to result in needing software to actually generate a character. Keep that sort of nonsense up, and D&D will lose its status as gateway product into the hobby.

(In comparison, notice how Paizo, in the 6 years they've been doing the Pathfinder thing, have only released two additional books of character classes. Frankly, even that may be a bit fast; it'll be interesting to see how far they can ride this train. Conventional wisdom says that they'll need a reboot via a new edition in the next two years, but Paizo's made their money by bucking the conventional wisdom.)

Letting third party publishers generate extra character classes and feats and all of that would allow WotC to keep the core of the game simple and approachable, but still have the variety people will start to desire once the new has worn off.

That said, I do agree with Mythmere that sooner is probably better than later. After all, part of the appeal of 5e is that it's back to being the sort of game we all know and love. So some of us are going to want some sexy newness or oddness right out of the gate.

Which is why I disagree with Matt Finch. The whole purpose of “open sourcing” is to invite variety and adaptability. If the goal is to get as many people as possible playing D&D, then they want a 5e version of Carcosa and they want Zak's nephilidian vampires and Aos' sci-fantasy Metal Earth and Jeff's rule-of-cool Saturday-morning-cartoon fueled insanities.

Because that sort of stuff is where enthusiasm and excitement come from. Because that makes D&D more than just Middle Earth with the serial numbers filed off. WotC can handle Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance just fine. But while they want a 5e Death Frost Doom, the last thing they want is to actually publish it themselves. Letting others do that via an OGL gives them the best of both worlds: edgy and exciting content AND plausible deniability. D&D can be “dangerous” and cool (and weird and silly and steampunky and sci-fi and...) without WotC needing to actually dilute their core product by publishing it.

More importantly, it would allow for a plethora of splat books with variant character classes, spells and magic systems, skills, and whatnot. Again, WotC gets the best of both worlds: the 3rd party splatbooks give D&D the variety experienced players crave, but since they are 3rd party, the game doesn't get buried under a mountain of official material that makes it increasingly harder for new players to join in on the fun.

This would free up WotC to focus on setting material and adventure “storylines,” and the supplemental material players want to make the most of playing in them. It also allows them to focus more heavily on profitable “side projects” like Lords of Waterdeep and novels which grow and strengthen the IP.


Antonio said...

From what Mearls said, it seems the delay in publishing an OGL/licensing framework is to avoid the mass of bad splats which flooded the market back in the first days of 3e. He mentions himself as an example (writing an adventure without having the DMG, so he couldn't follow the guidelines for, e.g., treasure distribution.) I think that getting everybody familiar with the game before putting something out will be of benefit to the game AND the publishers.

trollsmyth said...

Eh, maybe. On the one hand, it's a noble sentiment. On the other, you can lead a horse to the DMG but you can't make him read it. I doubt waiting a few months will allow them to escape Sturgeon's Law.