The First One’s Free

So, to update from my last post: Next is now going to have a free shareware edition, D&D 5th Basic, that will be a .pdf released for everyone for free come July. It’ll have full 1st-20th level rules for all the basic classes (fighter, wizard, rogue, cleric) and four races (human, elf, halfing, dwarf), and things like monsters and magic items will be added after the books release. It’s meant to evoke ye olde Rules Cyclopedia, and while not unexpected, is a huge step in the right direction toward marketing Next.


I did a quick skim of the comments section and like how the responses fall into three general categories:

  1. They’re releasing 5th Edition’s core for free! This is the best thing ever!
  2. They’re releasing 5th Edition’s core for free! This is the worst thing ever!
  3. Well, they can’t rationally call it BASIC D&D, because in MY Basic D&D, you can’t have races because those are types of classes, and… [AKA: What “Basic D&D” Means To Me]

Good lord. The amount of looking-gift-horses-in-the-mouth…

I think there’s two key things here:

First off, I like the idea of being able to see the rules before you buy them, especially since the system is supposed to be modular as fuck and cater to all styles and types of play (e.g., all D&D flavors)—plus, the playtests had the habit of gaining and losing mechanics with each update, to the point where nobody really knows what made the cut. For me, seeing the rules before I drop $150 is a huge selling point—as in, making a character or two and maybe hosting a one-shot to try the rules, rather than skimming the books at B&N before heading online.

Second, it would not surprise me to learn that Wizards—or at least the executive side—felt they needed to do it to compete in the e-marketplace. Paizo has to release Pathfinder into the open source arena by virtue of using the OGL; they one-upped that by not only releasing their material online in SRD form, much as Wizards did with 3.x D&D, they also added the majority of their staple/hardcover content to it. And Paizo doesn’t have a problem with fans uploading other open game content from the various Pathfinder softcovers onto a fan-run website. Wizards’ prime market competitor already releases their content for free and still makes bank, and that’s not even looking at the non-D&D game systems that have went freemium as a marketing strategy: 13th AgeEclipse PhaseFate Core, ICONS, etc., etc.

So, while I still balk at the idea the core rules just to run the damn game costs almost as much as Onyx Path’s premium, limited, gilt-edged, bookmarked, bathed-in-the-blood-of-firstborn-virgins OWoD re-releases, I rest assured that everyone can paw over them for free. It also makes me wonder about an alternate route not travelled—or at least not yet announced—packaging this “D&D Basic game” content as a cheaper all-in-one rulebook to solidify D&D as the entry-drug brand. Sure, it only has five classes, and monsters numbering in the dozens and not hundreds, but at $25-35 you can throw them at your players or grandkids or whatever.

As an aside, there’s also a $20 D&D Next starter kit releasing with the $150 core books this summer that I failed to mention. D&D 4th also had a $20 starter kit, that took a limited spread of characters all the way to 2nd level, using a sliver of the rules and a side of kobolds. I’ll wait and see on that front. Though, who knows, Wizards could make it into a Beginner Box-quality product and eat the costs from their core rules profits. Doubtful, but they’d sell out in minutes.

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