August 1, 2008

Now Chomp on This...

OK.. to borrow an expression from WoW... /sigh

The 3E vs. 4E battle that is going on in the metaverse is exhausting me. I just can't keep up. How am I supposed to get any work done people? LOL.

At some point, someone pointed to a fictitious conversation over at dungeon_grrl's blog. It was funny - and it made me think. It was the kind of post that just had that effect. It made me think specifically about the two magazines DRAGON and DUNGEON; and how WotC "reimagined them" into some sort of E-subscription service. But before I get into that, I want you to get some background on where I'm coming from.

Professionally speaking, I am a research scientist. In my field there are three big-hitter journals (so-called First Tier Journals). Who knows, you may have heard of them: Science, Nature and Cell. These journals publish the world's most cutting edge science; the kind of science that (supposedly) has the biggest impact on the human beings living in the world. The readership of the journals is massive - as in just about everyone "in science" reads them. Not surprisingly, these journals require a subscription from every single reader. Sure, your institution (where you work) may sponsor your subscription (as does mine), but the journals are still getting their money. And it is not cheap. What is worse is that a subscription is required for both the online-version and the print-version. For example, Nature charges about $200 per person per year. Science charges about $150/year. Like I said, it is not cheap.

Bear with me here, I'm about to make my point.

Well, a few years ago some scientists got together and said basically: "Hey! Knowledge should be free!" They were right too, so they started the Public Library of Science movement. Their goal was to turn the publishing industry on its head by creating a new journal (PLoS Biology) where the published results of world-class scientific research would be free to read for anyone who wanted it. They even published a manifesto, of sorts, that included a set of core principles for publishing research. It was the sort of pie-in-the-sky thinking that makes you feel all warm inside. It was not a new idea, at the time, but I was in grad' school still figuring things out. I do, however, remember thinking: This is AWESOME!

Well, there was loads of criticisms. All the major journals ran editorials that detracted from PLoS for years (and still do). It was downright dirty business. It would never work! said some, It's a stupid idea! said others, and You'll go broke! said still more. Well folks... it worked! It worked so well, that dozens of other journals have followed suite (except for the big three I mentioned above). The sea-change also made a ton of people pissed off too - mainly the elephant. You know, the elephant in the room? Money? Profits? Those people.

OK, now.. back to Dungeons & Dragons.

What if we did something similar? We, as in, the D&D fanbase. What if we created an gaming editorial board that reviewed submitted fan-generated material, selected it for "publication", and then published a monthly online magazine that was FREE for the rest of fandom to read and use in their games. We could even offer the alternative of real printed copies, using (or something similar) at cost. Game retailers around the world could use LuLu to print off as many copies as they wanted at cost; or even just print out the PDFs and offer them for free to their customers. The materials could be "system-neutral", or we could sign the GSL (or not) and simply be a 3rd party D&D eZine. I read the entire GSL today - so long as the whole magazine is D&D related (which would cut out other games of course). It really would not be as hard as you think it would be. It might even be fun. =D

OK, it would be hard - but it would be awesome if it worked!

Now, before you all start telling me that there are tons of these geek zines in existence already - I KNOW. And, I KNOW that there's the Enies (or however that is spelled), etc. This was just a idea-of-the-minute. A fusion of two unrelated aspects of my life: Science & D&D.

What do you think? Impossible? Or.. sign me up!

Final Note Added Later: I think WotC is going the route of the elephant, profits. And who can really blamed them, they have to - its a company and a company is made up of people, but it is NOT a person. Companies have to answer to shareholders; in this case HASBRO. I would not be surprised if, with their shrinking fan base, they cancel DRAGON and or DUNGEON completely in the next year or two. Oh, and by shrinking fan base, I mean to say that the growth of new players is likely smaller than the growth of new products - thus the demand for any one product (like a D&D Insider subscription) is going to be small. Why would I pay $15/month for FRCS updates, when I can buy Kenzer & Co in 1 shot. But I digress...


  1. I haven't read the GSL, but I imagine there would serious difficulties in doing this without running into some copyright infringement problems.

  2. Yeah, possibly. It's located HERE. I sort of homed in on a particular clause of the GSL:
    5.5 Licensed Products. This License applies solely to Licensed Products as defined in Section 3 and to the specified uses set forth in Section 4. For the avoidance of doubt, and by way of example only, no Licensed Product will
    (a) include web sites, interactive products, miniatures, or character creators;
    (b) describe a process for creating a character or applying the effects of experience to a character;
    (c) use the terms “Core Rules” or “Core Rulebook” or variations thereof on its cover or title, in self-reference
    or in advertising or marketing thereof;
    (d) refer to any artwork, imagery or other depiction contained in a
    Core Rulebook;
    (e) reprint any material contained in a Core Rulebook except as explicitly provided in
    Section 4; or
    (f) be incorporated into another product that is itself not a Licensed Product (such as, by way of example only, a magazine or book compilation).

    And the rest of GSL basically outlines which terms you can use (e.g. Goblins, Fey step, etc) and that, if you refer to anything in the core books it cannot be reprinted in detail in your licensed product - you must refer the reader to the corebooks themselves. So, for example if you wrote an adventure that involved hordes of orcs - you could only list the orcs, their type, and the the number of them. Stats for the orcs could only be given if there was some change to what was printed in the core book; and then.. only the changed stats/new abilities you assigned. Anyway, I don't think the GSL would necessarily get in the way of a D&D eZine - but I'm not a lawyer: that's your department. Maybe you could take a look at it and lemme know your professional opinion.

  3. Two words: Fair Use

    There is a lot that can be done inside the looser constraints of a fair use clause.

    As to the project, it sounds like a great idea, but there HAS to be a revenue stream, even if it is T-shirts or road maps. People don't do stuff for free (for long) our time is too precious.

    As proof, I would point to the findings that the pool of volunteers in america has been steadily shrinking for years, and that most people who DO volunteer, don't come back the next year.

    Unfortunate, but time is money. It's the american way.

  4. Revenue streams
    1) website ads (Adsense,, etc)
    2) ad spots in the printed journal itself (for WotC, 3rd Party, etc)
    3) sponsors (as in individual donors and companies)
    5) Author Fees (later on once the "street cred" of said eZine is established). Yes, authors will pay to publish if the cost is nominal.

    These are just some ideas. But of course, the whole thing would have to get started first - without any operating budget. Fortunately, much of the costs associated with developing a zine like this would be TIME, not real money. Web space, bandwidth, tools, etc can all be obtained on the cheap (free from Google, for example). The whole site could be set up using Google Pages, and a domain name just $10/year. Comments?

  5. Oh, and i forgot, you mentioned

    Unfortunate, but time is money. It's the american way.

    All start ups start with sweat equity.

  6. Ok, a few of major problems in you project.

    1) Science and RPG are different in many ways. One of them is that science magazines do not sponsor scientific research (mostly sponsored by universities and such) so a science magazine works on stuff already researched with other's money.
    RPG fan creations do not benefit of such money, so talented writers goes to the professional magazines (or such) and not-so-talented writers goes to the free area.
    A possible solution is to allow in the free magazine of yours to publish excerpt of professional independent material.
    An example: Publishers can be interested to publish a free preview, as log you magazine clearly states how to buy the complete version of their supplement. Just to make an example, if it's a monster supplement an author/editor can be willing to publish 1 complete free monster out of 8/10 monsters of the complete version.

    2) A monthly magazine is a very demanding work. You need not only lots of authors of quality material, but a lot of people who does the dirty work (reading, correcting, editing, do the graphics). You have this kind of people? A magazine like yours need professional quality to live. You need not only quality writing and new ideas but also good fantasy art, a catchy graphic, precision in the scheduling and respect of the publishing dates. These things rarely comes for free.

    Remember that in a successful volunteer association, volunteers are always managed by paid professionals by a good reason...


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