The Tablet Takeover for Pen and Paper
You’ve gotten your carefully crafted character sheets and a mile-high stack of D&D books, but when you sit down to play everybody else pulls out a tablet or a laptop! D&D lives in the digital world now, and while there will always be pens and paper in the mix, the online resources are just too useful to be ignored. Stick with us for just a bit as we go over two of the most commonly used D&D resources and show you everything you need to know.
The Dungeon Masters Guild
5th edition D&D isn’t quite as prolific yet as its earlier editions, but there’s already a fair number of official rule books and adventure sources floating around. But there’s also a massive proliferation of 3rd party content. Countless people have written 5e adventure paths, races, classes, magic items, spells, and expansions with content that the original sourcebooks couldn’t hope to cover. So, it may come as a surprise, but somebody actually OWNS dungeons and dragons. Wizards of the Coast (now a subsidiary of Hasbro) owns D&D completely, so how are all these 3rd party companies and homebrewers making any money?
Well, a thriving community full of 3rd party content is extremely profitable for a game system, and so back during 3rd edition, they gave us the “Open Gaming License”. This basically allows anybody and everybody to make D&D content, so long as they stick to a few rules and slap some specific legal jargon in the back of their books.
The OGL led to an explosion of new D&D content, though Wizards of the Coast aren’t without their regrets. The mass of community content helps fuel their core book sales, but it’s also essentially unregulated, with terrible content mixed in with true gems. Not to mention Wizards of the Coast isn’t seeing a dime of those sales.
In comes “The Dungeon Masters Guild”, a digital platform for players and companies alike to create their own new 5e content and sell it worldwide.
Using Dungeon Masters Guild as a Customer
For the most part, you can simply think of the DM’s Guild as a store, albeit one with quite a lot of shovelware. Dm’s Guild is an open platform, which means anybody can have their work published there. This leads to a lot of hot garbage, and a few absolute gems made by extraordinarily talented people. Search through it if you’re looking for something particular, like rules for laser guns, or a race of jellyfish-people, there’s a ton of content and you’ll likely find whatever you’re looking for.
If you want to try and ensure you buy the gems and not the hot garbage, they have a 5-star review system, and an even more reliable medallion ranking system that indicates how well the book has sold. Even a copper medallion (its ranking uses the D&D currencies from copper to adamantine, which is cute) is a strong indicator of quality.
Several names with high prestige sell their wares there, like Kobold press and Matt Mercer of Critical Role. But don’t be afraid to dig through unknown listings to find gold. You can find the Dungeon Masters Guild right here. It provides both PDFs and has a print on demand service for many of its books.
And while DM’s Guild has the official approval, it’s not the only game in town. DriveThruRPG works hand in hand with the DM's Guild, but is FAR larger, containing over 10 times the amount of content across multiple systems including 5e. You can find DriveThruRPG right here. I actually recommend it over DM’s Guild because of its wider selection, and how it treats its content creators…
Using Dungeon Masters Guild as a Creator
So, you’ve decided to write up that adventure path as a proper story, now what? Well, the first option you’ll be presented with is the Dungeon Masters Guild, and it does have a lot going for it as a creative platform.
Firstly, it provides all the templating. DM’s Guild has all the fonts and formatting stuff that you’ll need to make your book look like one that comes down the official pipeline.
Secondly, you get free art! DM’s Guild took a bunch of artworks (mostly stuff that they had held over from 4th edition) and posted it for creators to use freely (but only on DM’s Guild). If you’ve ever worked in any literary field, you’ll know this is a huge draw. Getting a good working relationship with an artist can be insanely difficult to set up and maintain, and simply having access to a few art pieces can make or break a project.
If you want to publish some of your homebrew content and see if anybody is interested, I can’t recommend it enough. A good portion of the groundwork is already set for you, and due to their print on demand model, there’s no financial risk if your book doesn’t sell. I also recommend using The Homebrewery, which is a little janky but saves you from needing InDesign or similar professional page layout programs. It has all the presets for D&D books and will generate your PDFs without too much work or any prior skills needed.
HOWEVER, if you’re attempting to write D&D content professionally, don’t fall into the trap of DM’s Guild. DM’s Guild takes a whopping 50% of your profits, which is far higher than any of its many competitors. It has a far smaller selection, which means your book will technically get a larger percentage of their customers, but it has far fewer customers. Also, remember how that free artwork was only usable on DM’s Guild? Now, because you used their artwork, you can’t sell your new book anywhere else or even try to publish it yourself, it’s trapped.
If you can either partner with an artist or buy your artwork rights, I recommend selling your D&D content on DriveThruRPG. DriveThruRPG has far more customers and lets you choose between exclusive publishing rights at a 25% cut or completely non-exclusive rights at a 35% cut. It has all the same print on demand features, even the same medallion rating systems, but you get to take home way more of the money you’ve earned. I’ve written several books for both DM’s Guild and DriveThruRPG in my career, and I wish I’d been told sooner to ditch DM’s Guild.
If you’ve played any D&D at all in the last few years, you’ve likely heard of D&D Beyond, largely due to their early long-term sponsorship deals with the continually popular Critical Role. D&D Beyond provides digital copies of all the official D&D 5e supplements and adventures, but what it really tries to do is all the work of character creation.
Using D&D Beyond as a Player
Rather than simply providing the PDFs (though it does that too), D&D Beyond has indexed, cross referenced, and worked all the rules together into a character creator. If you buy your digital books from D&D Beyond, you’ll have the power to put your characters together online, with basically no work involved.
It also indexes all the spells, categorizes all the monsters, and generally makes it easy to keep all your D&D data together rather than keeping it between multiple books and notes. A lot of players nowadays keep all their content like this, and even DMs will show up to game with just a laptop.
The biggest downside of all this is the “duplicate purchase” problem. If you’ve already bought several D&D books, digital or otherwise, you’ll have to buy them again to have them together for their character creation systems. A lot of people have implored Wizards of the Coast to start including “download codes” for the D&D Beyond version of their books when they buy them in paper, but until that happens you’ll have to choose between the physical book, the digital book, or buying both.
Still, it’s good value. If you’re new and haven’t dropped any cash yet for the physical books, buying them first on D&D Beyond makes a lot of sense. If, however, you’ve already picked up a few, I recommend sticking to physical copies so you don’t end up rebuying anything. You can find D&D Beyond right here.
Using D&D Beyond as a DM
You get a lot of the same benefits from D&D Beyond as a DM as you would as a player. All the stats are easy to access and it’s nice not flipping through multiple books to find the correct rules. It also allows you to easily set up a “campaign” through D&D Beyond that will make sure your players have their characters set up correctly.
It’s especially convenient whenever you need to balance out future encounters by checking out your player’s character sheets. It’s a lot less awkward figuring out the party’s vulnerabilities when you don’t have to actually ask for the papers.
The biggest downside is the difficulty of incorporating homebrew content. Integrating anything more complicated than a custom background can be exhausting or actually impossible. If your game involves a ton of homebrew, you’ll be better off setting up your adventure elsewhere.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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