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[5E] WotC's Production & Marketing Strategy For Fifth Edition (Where are the splats?)


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So, and this is a thread full of correct me if I'm wrong, so srsly, correct me if I'm wrong...

I "bought in" to 5E only recently. 3.X was a super comfortable place for me for a very long time and it sort of took the explosion of the entire social group I might play it with to knock me out of that comfy rut. I was playing Pathfinder with some peeps for a while before that also blew up badly, and that was pretty cool, it felt more or less "3.X but not" which had actually been my criticism of Pathfinder in the past, but was okay for the time being. Around the same time I had a Magic: The Gathering relapse and happened to notice the 5E Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica, and I felt a tingle in my gamer bits. WotC Corporate was finally letting its bloated cash cow (MtG) play around with its legacy baggage (D&D)! This was exciting. It felt like D&D was being treated like a "big boy" IP for the first time since the early '00s (which I know of really only secondhand).

So like I said, I bought into 5E and played part of a session of it (obviously I'm looking to play more and thus form a more compleat opinion). In general, I think I really like how everything has been put back "on the RNG", the philosophical change in attitude towards magic items is fascinating (a 12th level character can start with just two "Uncommon" magic items? uh...okay!), all seems good. But when I looked into the D&D 5E books that have been printed in the several years since its debut, I was faintly astonished to find no "Complete" or "Ultimate" equivalents for martial, divine, arcane characters or anything else, no advanced player's guide or PHB II, no magic item compendium, no spell compendium, in short, no player-facing products that I could identify. I mean, I frankly have no idea what is in "Volo's Guide To Everything" for instance so maybe someone can enlighten me. But every sourcebook I saw published seemed to be squarely DM-facing, for the most part offering adventures/campaigns/challenges to confront the party with. IIRC, even among DM-facing staples, I couldn't find a lot of the usual suspects (I didn't see a Monster Manual II or III for instance).

This strategy goes against 100% of the "conventional wisdom" I was appraised of while working in the industry, which was that player-facing crunch sourcebooks sell (at least) twice as well as any other kind of supplement. So what does it mean? Has WotC made any announcements or explanations about this new philosophy/policy? Where does this new focus on DM-facing supplements come from and what does it mean?

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
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Their goal is to increase the value of the overall brand and attract new fans. The supplement threadmill would only scare new players away.


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The current design team has turned against "splats". They say things that offer partial explanations: they don't want to obsolete the PHB, they don't want people to feel forced to buy new books, they don't want to put up high barriers to new people who want to get into the game. Mike Mearls, the current boss of D&D (I forget his exact job title) says that he's okay with the idea that in every group of 4-6 players, maybe 1-3 of them buy the books.

The new "rules" books aren't exclusively DM-facing. Volo's Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes are basically half new monsters and half lore stuff about existing monsters. Volo's in particular has rules for a bunch of new PC races, including fairly popular choices like tabaxi. Xanathar's Guide to Everything has a ton of new class options and some new spells, along with some DM stuff like encounter tables and random name generators.

They're slowly ramping up the release schedule, so maybe at some point they'll turn the splatbook firehose back on. I really hope they don't. I like things much better this way.


up to no good
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The other reason not to do many splats instead of the adventures and broad books they currently release is that the reward on the effort for making splatbooks that don't significantly mess with the underlying system is high to the income generated. A few large books that are mainly descriptions or plot hooks won't cannibalize each other like splats do, because individual splats like class specific books have fewer interested players that want to purchase them.

Plus if a group only tends to buy one of each book for the group focusing on the DM is a good investment as they tend to accumulate different kinds of stuff while players may only want to buy that one splat book.


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The current philosophy is to put out relatively few books, but to make them books everyone will want to buy and really up the production values. As such, each of the three currently released supplements to 5e contains content usable by both players and DMs:

- Volo’s Guide to Monsters (Our Monster Manual II, as it were) features a ton of lore on selected monsters, as well as new monsters and a lot of new race options.

- Xanathar’s Guide to Everything contains both new archetypes for every class and new spells, magic items, supplementary rules and random tables generating encounters and characters.

- Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes includes new subraces to PHB races, the Gith as a race, rules to customize fiends and fiend cults, and a ton of new monsters, most of them intended for high-level parties.


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“Xanathar’s Guide to Everything” is the closest to a proper traditional splatbook they’ve released for 5e. It has sub-classes for every class, racial feats for for all the PBH races, and a whole bunch of “common magic items.” And spells. It’s been pretty well-received.

“Volo’s Guide to Monsters” has several races, including optional “monstrous races.”

“Sword Coast Adventurers Guide” has relatively few sub-classes, and they reprinted a couple of the more popular ones in Xanathar’s, but it’s the most player-facing of the remaining books. Also lots of handy lore and character backgrounds if you are playing in the Forgotten Realms.

They do seem to have been slowly increasing the size of their team, and the frequency of their releases. A recent interview from some team members indicated a 24-person D&D team with 3-4 books coming this year. They also teased a ship-themed (but NOT Spelljammer) non-adventure book due for Speing release, but know official announcement has been made so far. ( http://www.enworld.org/forum/content.php?5944-Spring-s-D-D-Release-Will-Be-Ship-Themed )


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A few thoughts that I am not able to organize atm;

First off, their strategy has worked excellently, the books are selling very well and the core ones are doing phenomenally. The PHB surpassed 3,3.5,4e, years ago now and somehow isn't falling off in sales (currently the #36 best selling book on Amazon.com).

They did research prior to 5e and it showed that people overall didn't really want to buy all that much stuff per year.

They wanted to avoid the "wall of books" barrier to entry that has been seen before.

Adventures are great, they are much less of a barrier to entry, don't add bloat, are entirely optional, etc. They also go along with "event" marketing where they can have a stream for instance and have many people playing the adventure. Mearls talked a lot about "story" being fundamental to their strategy with 5e and adventures do this obviously.

They have said they don't want to make books named PHB 2 or the like, Mearls mentioned potential confusion among the most casual of consumers ie; you don't buy your grandchild Diablo1, you buy them the most current version.

Book like Volo's are presented as very optional, even to the point of having an unreliable narrator, and have a lot of story in them. About the most harmless way to add stuff to the game (though I am a bit concerned since Xanathar's personally).

Truly player facing books might sell well, but there are costs associated with them that are often at odds with a strategy that wants to increase the number of people playing the game, and doesn't want to have to start from scratch every few years (the two things are linked of course).


Be inspired!
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Yeah, plus this edition has a new angle in the form of Dmsguild. which has a ton of new class options and classes and stuff.

I think the idea is that WOTC provides the core framework and the main adventures/campaign layouts, then you can use fan content to fill in the gaps.


Registered User
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One more thing: we, the old hands, aren't necessarily the focus group for business decisions anymore. And, as common wisdom tells us, the numbers seem to prove WotC right.
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