Monday, January 09, 2012

an open letter to WotC

Dear Wizards of the Coast,

Today it was announced that you are planning a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons and that you want fan input.

This is a good thing. D&D is the flagship role-playing game, virtually synonymous with our great hobby. A new edition that takes full advantage of the growing interconnectedness of the world sounds to me like a vision full of promise.

It would please me greatly for your new edition of D&D to succeed. I want it to be a fun game. I want lots of people to play it. And I hope you make a nice profit selling it.

I would very much like to participate in the process of shaping this forthcoming edition. I'd love to involve my home game group, my online campaign with 30+ players, the players and DMs of the growing FLAILSNAILS network, and the readers of my blog.

But I don't want to be involved if you are going to insist that my friends and I participate with one arm tied behind our backs. A new edition of D&D shouldn't be just about building upon the successes and minimizing the failures of the previous edition, it should about re-evaluating all the prior work in the field.

Therefore, I am asking that as part of this process you re-release the PDFs of the prior editions. If you truly want the feedback of the fans, then surely it makes sense that you would want feedback from well-informed fans? Additionally, making the PDFs available again would be a gesture of goodwill to the players of prior editions and would go a long way to showing us that you are serious in your desire to reunite the D&D community behind a fan-powered edition.


Jeff Rients
Jeff's Gameblog


  1. I hope you plan on sending that to them. They really need to hear it!

  2. Anonymous10:24 AM


  3. Anonymous10:34 AM

    Asking for WotC to relase the old PDFs was the first thing that came to my mind. I guess I'm a genius too.

  4. Well said. Please wait a few days for more people to comment and then send it to WotC.

  5. Don't fall for it guys. Join the boycott.

  6. Ding ding ding! You just answered correctly what 10 million other gamers were thinking....

  7. I would love to see PDFs of all prior editions too. D&D has a long an noble history, and should be promoted.

    Sorry ADD Grognard, but a boycott is just stupid and achieves nothing. If you don't want to support the future of D&D that's fine, but don't be negative about other peoples' efforts. Thx.

  8. Anonymous11:50 AM

    So, does this mean 4e is going to become a part of the OSR?

  9. Let's go for broke - write to WoTC and offer Flailsnails in all its diverse and incoherent glory as the blueprint for the 5th edition.

  10. My guess is that if they're trying to create an all-inclusive version of D&D, the last thing in the world that they're going to do is make the pdfs of the older editions available. If anything, they're going to try to lock out the availability of older stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw them start to get aggressive about what's going on in the old-school community, although it would be stupid of them to do that until the new edition actually gets released.

  11. Matt, It would be stupid of WOTC to do that, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did. I mean, that is what got them into trouble with 4e. They limited the license so no one else could support it or feel threatened if they tried.

    WOTC, if you have learned your lesson from 4e, you should open up full support for all previous editions and release the PDFs!

  12. Well said Jeff. I hope you do send this to them.

  13. My understand of the PDF issue was less about money and pirates and more about the relationships with the Local Game Stores.

    If that is true, and I have every reason to suspect that it is, then no amount of campaigning from buyers will matter.

    Sorry. Wish it was different since I would love to get my hands on a couple of books from the 2nd Ed era .

  14. I see the new push as using the unpaid work of others in order to make a profit. Jeff's "gauntlet" is therefore appropriate. However, I'd go further. ALL previous editions should be made available as free PDFs. If WotC is unwilling to open up to the community, I see no reason for the community to serve as eager to please hangers on. OSR is partially about empowerment, and I'm sorry, but except for two brief moments (prior to being sold to Hasboro, and in the late 70s) DnD has been handled with the exact opposite mentality.

  15. AMEN brother. I can't tell you how much useless funds I shelled out on Type IV before discovering the OSR.

  16. @Matthew: hopefully they will budget more for the game and its marketing than they do for the C&D letter factory.

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  18. please send them this letter or make online petition!

  19. Bravo! Bravo indeed!

  20. Releasing the pdfs would be a great olive branch. Let's hope they hear you.

  21. Anonymous9:18 PM




  22. You do not need to own all the pdfs to give constructive feedback into the process. Speak from your experiences thus far, not from what you wish to gain as an aside in the process.

    I think you are asking too much - a company is meant to give away IP for free to the world, when only a small percentage of the population will give effective feedback? Nope, its silly. These people have families and lives too.

    The post was ging well until you got emotive - "one arm tied behind our backs". I can respect that you are an advocate for OSR and passionate about the topic, but this is unreasonable.

  23. Timothy Brannon said: My understand of the PDF issue was less about money and pirates and more about the relationships with the Local Game Stores.

    And changing editions within 4 years is supposed to build a good relationship with local game stores? The local game stores get screwed again with their stock of now obsolete gaming books (4E and Essentials). So no PDFs, but we will leave you with a glut of physical books nobody will buy.

  24. 123 said: So, does this mean 4e is going to become a part of the OSR?

    Two words:




  25. Good post. It would be nice, yet I doubt WotC will do it.

  26. Anonymous2:09 AM

    Now we will see if they want the opinions of well-informed players or not. Jeff threw down the gauntlet with that wording (and he's also right.)

  27. Great words, Jeff! Please, send a copy of this letter (and comments!) to them! I'm more than willing of buying lots of older products in PDF format that I can't buy any more in dead-tree version.

  28. I totally agree with this letter! Send it on to the WizBros. Great idea, Jeff!

    @TyphoonAndrew:'a company is meant to give away IP for free to the world, when only a small percentage of the population will give effective feedback? Nope, its silly. These people have families and lives too.'

    Dude, Jeff's letter asked to make the PDFs available again, he didn't say that they should be given away.(That was Mel, actually...) Also, this 'IP' is apparently of little to no value to WOTC anyhow(or they WOULD sell it!), and distribution, free or otherwise, will hardly take food off their table. This isn't the 70s-90's, where stuff out of print was relegated to discount bins, flea markets, yard sales, game collectors, etc... and as such no longer viable rulesets(due to neophilia about copyright dates as much as disappearing from the supply chain, as if paper RPGs have an expiration date![people seem to be more accepting now ;-)]). Trying to artificially restrict the dissemination of say, AD&D 2nd Edition Core Books, doesn't help WOTC one whit.(And this attitude does foster ill will!) People will simply torrent this stuff if they really want it. WOTC can't force Rule Set upgrades due to scarcity of previous Editions anymore, and thank the IPU for that!

  29. TyphoonAndrew,

    I neither asked for the PDFs to be free nor did I assert that knowledge was prerequiste to being able to give feedback. I have no problem with them charging for the PDFs as they did before and I think they should elicit feedback from people with no D&D experience at all.

    You're absolutely welcome to disagree with me, but please disagree with what I wrote.

  30. Also: WOTC, please quite making your books looking all cracker-jack like Affliction shirts.

    The last time a buddy and I looked the 3.5 PHB we just about peed ourselves laughing at the layout, over the top photoshopping, etc.

  31. WotC republished a handful of old modules for D&D 3.x for free (e.g. Tomb of Horrors, others (e.g. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil) they adapted for sale. Probably one (or both) are on their radar.

    Considering every other RPG publisher is gungho on e-books its a very odd that the publisher with the largest catalog won't sell any. I personally thought they were dropping sales through other channels to create their own, maybe that's in the cards.

  32. Anonymous5:11 PM

    It would be, I think, in Hasbro's best interest in regards to D&D to do as Jeff indicates. This would benefit them in the manner Jeff describes pertaining to the new play-test, and also as a new revenue stream.

    Sadly, I am simply having a bit of a difficult time in remembering the last time Hasbro did anything in D&D's best interest.

  33. @Jeff - fair point, I apologize. I mistakenly combined your suggestion of the Pdfs with a comment below that about Pdfs being free.

    I find it an odd concept that the older material is needed to make an assessment of what is useful in feedback to a new edition.
    I don't own any 1st through 3rd ed books anymore, but I am still well placed to give an opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of the systems. The detail of the mechanical effects or what classes had what I think is too deep level, I'd sauggest that is not the type of feedback that I think dnd is looking for.

    If you were going to go back and actually playtest a significant amount of old version that is new to you then that makes sense - sure, I'd buy that as a reason to re-distribute as pdf. On principal I agree totally, it would be great to have the material there as pdf. I buy pdfs regularly now for rpgs, and plan to keep doing that in the future.

    They also have a judgement call to make on the cost of making these available for a small fee vs the revenue that would be gained. There is certainly a market, only they can know the effort in prep'ing and distributing the products in this manner. I wonder if they even have pdf versions of the dnd 1st edition.

    Do you think the communities mindset would be changed significantly if they did make the pdfs available - regardless of initial cost as a gesture of connection to the community? Interesting point you raise to consider. What is the commercial value of good press to dnd?

    I don't think the bittorrent discussion is really useful in the discussion of distribution (its almost a moot point imho) as most people who use BT will use BT regardless of if the material is available for a small fee elsewhere.

  34. @Velaran - "Also, this 'IP' is apparently of little to no value to WOTC anyhow(or they WOULD sell it!)"

    The IP has real value (or else people would not be asking for it). It is the cost to distribute vs expected revenue is the nut of the pdf issue.

    I think it will cost far more to do make available the old material than they will earn. I think it would be wonderful, but I can accept that it is darn expensive to do too.

  35. First off, bravo. I would sign my name to this letter.

    Second, TyphoonAndrew: the cost of distributing pdfs over a network connection that already exists for other purposes is so near zero as to make little difference. It's not like they have to pay anyone to do layout or scan them or anything, as the pdfs already exist. It's simply a matter of adding a set of links and a shopping cart to their previously-existing webstore. It would be trivial for them to get some money out of my pocket, money that, I want to emphasize, I want to give them, but they refuse to take at the moment.

  36. @faoladh - As I said, I'd love them to do it. We're really debating an issue where we don't know all the facts. I've been on the production and distribution side of software, where older software products were too much work to have in the catalog due to organisational issues. Technically it was easy to put them on the servers and upload them, but the rights, agreements on %, and overheads made it very difficult to justify.
    That was all I was saying (perhaps poorly) - the organisation might be the blocking point, not the intent of the game devs.

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  38. @TyphoonAndrew:
    'IP' value:
    I agree it has value to potential customers. But, the 'IP' can't mean all THAT much to WOTC, if they yanked it a while back, imo.

    'as MOST people who use BT will use BT regardless of if the material is available for a small fee elsewhere.':(emphasis added by me)
    Assuming this statement is 100% accurate, WOTC will STILL get cash for already existing PDFs of products that TSR/WOTC stopped making money off of long ago! :-)

    spot on! Took the words outta my mouth!

  39. Inkhrn8:45 AM

    I guess I missed the point of your letter. You had me all the way up to the point where you state you feel that WOTC is having you and your friends participate with one hand tied behind your back.

    I would think most of the people who would be involved in the process to that level already have the prior printed books or PDFs from when they were available before.

    Although the PDFs of all prior works would be very nice, I am not sure if the justification and indignation at the as of yet undefined process is valid reasoning.

  40. Another "amen" coming your way...

  41. I think the idea about getting the past additions via PDF (paid of course :) is a GREAT one.

    Frankly I can't recall all the "experiences" I've had over the years. Even Grognardia James is finding rules he's read a million times before.

    Plus, how the hell can you talk about stuff if you don't know what you don't know. I own both the Mentzer and Holmes box sets--but not OE or some of 2E books--so maybe there's some brilliance there I'd LOVE to have in the game.

    Can't make a decision without choices! :)