In early 2016, Wizards of the Coast and OneBookshelf launched the Dungeon Masters Guild, a site with a new kind of license that allows fans of D&D to publish and sell their own D&D content. I began publishing on the Guild in October of the same year, and in the last two years, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Do you want to publish on the Guild? Because I’m here to share what I’ve learned and what I’ve gleaned from others so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes as we have.
The Initial Bubble-Bursting
Do you have an idea you want to work on? Something to write, to publish, to share with other passionate D&D fans? Awesome. Let me get the less-good stuff out of the way now, then, before you start writing.
There are some things you cannot publish on the DMs Guild at all. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Your own homebrew settings – the only settings licensed for publication through the Guild are the Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, and Eberron. I’m sure more are in the works behind the scenes, but this is what we have access to for now. You can also publish things that are “setting neutral” or “setting agnostic” meaning that they don’t have a specific world that they’re linked to.
- Any editions other than 5th – the current edition is the only one eligible for the Guild. WotC is selling PDFs of older edition books through the Guild, but previous editions are off-limits for us regular publishers.
- Work that contains intellectual property for Critical Role or The Adventure Zone or your other favorite D&D show – the licenses for these shows aren’t owned by Wizards of the Coast. ‘Nuff said.
- Vecna – yes, this includes anything mentioning or pertaining to the lich god Vecna, who is technically from the world of Greyhawk and thus not eligible for the Guild. I’m specifically calling that out because I’ve seen more than one product pulled from the shelf for including an Eye or Hand of Vecna.
- Any other intellectual property – this should be fairly self-explanatory by now.
DMs Guild Licensing and the SRD
The DMs Guild uses a slightly different licensing system than things published elsewhere using the SRD, or System Reference Document. For example, you can write an adventure in which the player characters fight Xanathar, the renowned Waterdhavian beholder, not that I’d ever recommend going toe-to-eyestalk with him. That could be published through the Guild, because the license gives publishers access to exclusive WotC intellectual property, like beholders, mind flayers, specific places and NPCs, etc.
On the other hand, if you were to publish elsewhere using just the SRD, you couldn’t include Xanathar or Waterdeep or any beholder at all. The trade-off here is that if you were to publish directly through DriveThruRPG, you keep a higher percentage of the royalties as a content creator than you do through the DMs Guild.
It’s also key to mention here that anything published on the DMs Guild is then considered the property of Wizards of the Coast and cannot be published elsewhere. Even if you take it down from the Guild, making it no longer available there, it is still not “eligible” for publication elsewhere.
What I’ve found to be the main benefit of the Guild is that it has a much larger audience of D&D fans specifically than DriveThruRPG. When people want a new, unique monster or magic items to include in their games, or they want a pre-written one shot so they don’t have to prep much for game that night, I find they’re more likely to turn to the DMs Guild than DriveThruRPG.
Writing and Playtesting
So, now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s get down to business writing that neat idea of yours! My biggest advice here is to look at how information is presented in the three core D&D rulebooks. For example, if you want to publish a bunch of new magic items, take note of how the magic items in the Dungeon Master’s Guide are shown. The name of the item, the type and rarity, if it requires attunement, and then any other description text. Your readers will already be familiar with that format, and anything you can do to make using your product easier for them is a good thing.
For adventures, look to the published adventure modules – Storm King’s Thunder is my favorite example because I feel it’s the best organized of the current storylines. A description of a location might be the first thing under a new header, followed by events that happen while the players are there under a “Developments” header, and then all that good loot under a “Treasure” header. Sticking to the familiar layouts wherever possible is going to help you, in part because it makes your work look more professional.
When it comes to playtesting, I’ll be the first to tell you that while playtesting is good and important, it’s not the be-all, end-all of your product. My bigger suggestion would be to run your work by other players and DMs (both experienced and new ones if you can) and ask them what they think. Ask a DM if they would run your adventure and if anything glaring is missing. Ask players if they’d be interested in your magic items if they happened to appear in a hoard. Don’t try to make your product perfect. Perfect is the enemy of done.
Art, Covers, and Formatting
Speaking of looking professional… you don’t want to just upload a plain word document, do you? Of course not. You want a spiffy PDF, complete with the nice D&D fonts. If you intend to publish anything on the Guild, your next download needs to be the “DMs Guild Creator Resource – Adventure Template”. It’s a free resource provided by WotC and OneBookshelf to help you make your products look clean, professional, and uniform with the rest of the D&D brand. Use their official fonts, headers, stat block templates, etc. and you will save yourself a headache later wondering if your document is legible.
As for art and fancy covers… opinions vary, to say the least. Some people will say that a beautiful, full-art, full-color cover is the only way to sell a product, to hook a potential buyer. Other people will say that the plain-text cover with the big bold title and the DMs Guild logo is good enough for the Adventurer’s League (see above), so it’s good enough for them. There’s pros and cons to both: art can be an expensive upfront cost for a new creator, and a badly-designed cover is worse than no cover at all. Use your best judgment, and if you find that you’re getting really stressed out about the cover, don’t bother with fancy design. Make sure the title is legible and let everything else go. The same goes for interior art. I personally consider it nice-to-have, but not need-to-have.
If a budget is all that’s holding you back from including art, there is quite a lot of free or low-cost art available. Many artists sell bundles of images through DriveThruRPG and only ask that you provide proper attribution in your final product. Other times, you can find public domain and historical art that is able to be used for free (but should still be credited to the creator – come on, guys). I like to use illustrations from old books of fairy tales and folklore, which bring a classic look and feel while still having an element of the fantastical. You don’t have to commission full, unique pieces with exclusive commercial rights. I downright would advise against it, just because you will never see a full return on investment for that.
Dotting Your i’s and Crossing Your T’s
A few finishing touches are all it takes to make your product ready for publication. Make sure you have all of the below. Then double check. Maybe triple check, too.
- Legal boilerplate text – a chunk of legal boilerplate is available in the FAQ under the “Content Guidelines” section. Read it and then copy-paste it at the end of your product, tweaking the year if need be. This is to cover you, to cover WotC, and to cover OneBookshelf. No one wants a lawsuit over this.
- DMs Guild logo on the cover – it has to be there, no ifs, ands, or buts. You also cannot include any personal logos on the cover. You can put those inside, but not on the cover. There is a high-resolution image of the DMs Guild logo on that same “Content Guidelines” page (and above!).
- Proper attribution and credits – if you used art, credit the artist. If you had playtesters, list their names. If an editor revised your project, list their name. This isn’t technically part of the DMs Guild Content Guidelines, but if you don’t do it, you’re a jerk.
- Save it all as a PDF, but keep a separate Word doc version to incorporate later edits – yes, you may likely find your product will need edits or revisions later on.
And voila, just like that, you’re ready to publish! If that’s got you a little intimidated, never fear- in Part 2, we’ll talk about publication, marketing, and sales.
Let us know in the comments what you’re working on for the Guild!