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Getting Started on the DMs Guild – Part 1: Your First Product

A screenshot of the Dungeon Masters Guild homepage

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:

dmsguild.com

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.

 …they’re more likely to turn to the DMs Guild than DriveThruRPG. 

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.

dmsguild.com

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.

 Sticking to the familiar layouts wherever possible is going to help you… 

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.

dmsguild.com

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.

 As for art and fancy covers… opinions vary, to say the least. 

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.

DMs Guild Logo

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.

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!

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Getting Started on the DMs Guild – Part 1: Your First Product"

#1 Comment By Glen Hallstrom On November 12, 2018 @ 10:42 am

Thanks for the warning. I don’t publish, but I was thinking of purchasing some of the newer 3rd party stuff. If it’s all 5E, I’ll pass. With me it’s OSR or nothing.

#2 Comment By John WS Marvin On November 12, 2018 @ 1:49 pm

Great information.

One thing I’ve seen time and time again is people who think they can crowdfund (Kickstarter, etc.) using the DM’s Guild license. I see the game go up on Kickstarter and then vanish a few days later. You can Kickstart using the OGL, but you must then follow the OGL rules Jennifer talks about. When it comes to picking a license, choose wisely. 😉

Also note that if you sell on DMs Guild, they keep 50% of the sale price. On DriveThru, they keep 35% (or 30% if you go exclusive). Neither one is a bad choice, but you should go in with eyes open.

#3 Comment By John large On November 13, 2018 @ 6:07 am

Think I’ll give it a miss given the restrictions.

#4 Comment By R P Davis On November 14, 2018 @ 8:52 am

For me, it’s worth it just to have access to A., the single largest captive internet market for 5e materials, and B., nearly the full panoply of D&D IP. My product can gather dust on DTRPG or my own website, or it can get in front of D&D players. I’ll give up 20% of MSRP in royalties for that.

When I *do* write OSR stuff, I’ll release it on DTRPG, to be sure. =)

#5 Comment By Rob Twohy On November 14, 2018 @ 10:57 am

Great article. The DMs Guild can be a wonderful place to publish adventures, tools, art, etc. I find that if you’re doing 5E it’s much better than DrivethruRPG. Although the percentage is lower, publishing on the Guild is like throwing a rock into a pond whereas Drivethru is like a pebble into the ocean.

I have had success on the Guild with plain covers, spending zero dollars, and collaborating with other creators too. I am approaching 100 items on the Guild and I’ve made mid five figures

I encourage everyone to try it.

#6 Pingback By DwDnD#169 – Dragon Heist Five. Chapter 4. Part 1 – Misdirected Mark Productions On November 28, 2018 @ 1:17 pm

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