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

Tertullian

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Validated User
#31
I hope this isn't breaking any rules, but there was a very helpful post on another forum explaining the various expansions released so far (spoilered because long)
Spoiler: Show

Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide

What is it: A book focusing on the setting and lore of the Sword Coast, a specific and popular region of Faerun/The Forgotten Realms.

What's in it:
  • A broad overview of Forgotten Realms as a setting including history, regions, and Gods. A much more specific detailing of a number of areas within the Sword Coast.
  • A lot of information detailing setting specific versions of PHB races including rules for new mechanical variants:
  • Ghostwise Halflings
  • Svirfneblin Gnomes
  • Duergar Dwarves
  • Tiefling cosmetic options
  • The following new class archetypes:
    • Dwarven Battlerager Barbarian
    • Totem Barbairan Elk and Tiger totem options
    • Arcana Clerics
    • Bannerette Fighter
    • Long Death and Sun Soul Monk
    • Order of the Crown Paladin
    • Mastermind and Swashbuckler Rogue
    • Storm Sorceror
    • Undying Warlock
    • Bladesinger Wizard

Who should buy it: There's a lot of Sword Coast information for DMs who want to play a game in the region but for anyone interested in Faerun as a setting would be better served buying the 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting which is easy to find used or available on DriveThru. For prospective players, many of the archetypes are reprinted in Xanathar's Guide to Everything. Swashbuckler is a must have option for players who like rogues but is among the XtGE reprints.

Short version: Most of the content in this book is better presented elsewhere. Skippable.

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Volo's Guide to Monsters

What is it: A supplementary monster manual/bestiary with flavor excerpts from the perspective of hapless Faerun wandering bard Volo and nigh omnipotent caster Elminster.

What's in it:
  • Extensive sections on the lore, personality, culture, and ecology of the following monsters:
    • Beholders
    • Giants
    • Gnolls
    • Goblinoids
    • Hags
    • Kobolds
    • Mind Flayers
    • Orcs
    • Yuan-Ti
  • Over 120 new monsters with stat blocks including some common creatures and a number of generic NPCs of specific classes
  • 7 new player races:
    • Aasimar
    • Firbolg
    • Goliath
    • Kenku
    • Lizardman
    • Tabaxi
    • Triton
  • Untested options for monstrous player characters

Who should buy this: DM's looking for expanded encounter options or better design and roleplay context for some popular monsters. Players who are interested in playing any of the expanded races or monsters like Orcs, Goblins, or Kobolds without homebrewing from scratch. People who love reading about fantasy monsters, particularly fans of Beholders and Mind Flayers.

Short version: Must buy, especially if you will ever DM. This is both the best value and maybe best written non-adventure book they have released.

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Xanathar's Guide to Everything

What it is: A compendium of new options and archetypes for players, many reprinted from other materials,some DM advice, options, and clarification on some more common but underexplained mechanics. Dozens of pages of character names for different races including long lists of real world Earth names.

What's in it:
  • The following class archetypes
    • Ancestral Guardian, Storm Herald, and Zealot Barbarian
    • Bard Colleges of Glamour, Swords, and Whipsers
    • Forge and Grave Cleric Domains
    • Dream and Shepard Druid Circles
    • Arcane Archer, Cavalier, and Samurai Fighters
    • Drunken Master, Kensei, and Sun Soul Monk
    • Oath of Conquest and Redemption Paladins
    • Gloom Stalker, Horizon Walker, and Monster Slayer Ranger
    • Inquisitive, Mastermind, Scout, and Swashbuckler Rogue
    • Divine Soul, Shadow, and Storm Sorceror
    • Celestial and Hexblade Warlock including new Invocations
    • War Wizards
  • Tables for randomly generating player backstories
  • Racial Feats
  • Dungeon Master's section notably explaining how to use tool proficiencies, traps, downtime options, and random encounter tables
  • New Spells
  • A Billion Goddamn Names

Who should buy it: Players who want expanded archetype and spell options, or like Traveler style random background generation. The archetypes are WILDLY uneven in power and quality, but Hexblade Warlock and Swashbuckler Rogue are vital for anyone who likes those classes, and this is overall better purchase for players than SCAG. DM's can easily skip this as none of the DM advice or tables are vital. Probably the worst overall value for an expansion book.

Short version: A grudging but necessary purchase for players.

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Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes

What it is: Another supplemental bestiary more focused on higher level threats. It includes large lore sections on some famous races and intraracial conflicts in the multiverse. It has flavor excerpts from the perspective of famous Greyhawk wizard Mordenkainen.

What's in it:
  • Deep lore breakdowns on the following races and conflicts:
    • The Blood War
    • Elves (including Shadar'Kai and the Raven Queen)
    • Dwarves and Duergar
    • The Gith
    • Halflings and Gnomes
  • ~140 monster statblocks including Demon Lords tweaked from their Out of the Abyss stats and some powerful named Devils
  • New races Gith
  • New variants for Elves and Tieflings, reprints of Duergar and Svirfneblin

Who should buy it: DM's looking for more challenging monsters at higher level bands, it also fills in some gaps in encounter design like higher level Drow NPCs. DM's looking for story hooks related to the Blood War or the Raven Queen (though they have altered her from previous appearances in a controversial way that I personally dislike.) Players can skip this as all the player subraces except Duergar and Deep Gnomes are available as UA playtest options but I haven't compared to see what if anything changed in print.

Short version: Must buy for DMs, especially those needing a modern primer on the Blood War. Players can skip.

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Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron

What it is: A setting book for the pulp-magic Eberron campagin setting focused on the Khorvaire continent. It is only available digitally and is a living playtest document being actively updated.

What's in it:
  • An overview of the tone, history, and key elements of the setting
  • Tips for adapting other D&D material into Eberron
  • A still broad regional exploration of Khorvaire and its politics
  • The religions of Khorvaire
  • The races of Eberron including new races:
    • Changlings
    • Shifters
    • Warforged
    • Kalashtar
  • 12 Dragonmarked houses which function as new racial variants
  • An in depth look at the city of Sharn as an adventure location

What's not in it:

  • Psionics
  • Artificer class

Who should buy it: People who want to see this made into a proper hardcover setting and help give its creator Keith Baker some money. People interested in a setting where magic is common but low power, where players can quickly become notably powerful in relation to the world around them. Unfortunately for fans of the setting, because WotC has their own internal designs and goals for the artificer and psionics, they are not part of these materials. DM's may find more useful material setting material in the 4e and 3.5e Campaign books, but the rules for the setting specific races are useful for players.

Short version: Buy this if you are interested in the setting and/or want to see it become a more fleshed out, physical product.

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Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica

What is it: A setting book based on the plane of Ravnica from Magic: The Gathering. It is a high magic megacity setting divided into ten ruling Guilds each with their own regions and purviews based on different aspects of society.

What's in it:
  • An overview of the City of Ravnica and it's guild structure and a broad look at life in the city.
  • New races:
    • Centaur
    • Goblin
    • Loxodon
    • Minotaur
    • Simic Hybrid
    • Vedalken
  • New archetypes
    • Order Domain Cleric
    • Circle of Spores Druid
  • An elabroate breakdown of each Guild, their subculutre, function in society, and relations with other guilds
  • New mechanical system for earning Renown and advancing within your organization
  • New Backgrounds specific to each guild
  • New Guild Spells mechanic, a list of always available spells for casters of that specific guild
  • Maps and descriptions of the Tenth District as an adventure region
  • A section on adventure hooks and complications based on each guild
  • 16 new magic items ranging from good to incredibly powerful
  • A handful of NPC statblocks for each guild including stats for the powerful, high level leader of each guild.

Who should buy it: Anyone interested in an wild and varied cosmopolitan setting that doesn't have to be Sigil. DMs not interested in the setting can still coopt many ideas, items, and monsters from the book including the new Renown system. Players should buy this if they want more racial and background options, like extra lawful clerics, or want to beg their GMs for blatantly broken items.

Short version: A must buy for fans of the setting. A solid buy for anyone just curious about the setting or wants to co-opt a number of aspects from the book.
Calling the densest book of actual crunch and official playtested options for both players and DMs (including the largest number of player options, many essential subclasses that fix up the existing classes, cool stuff like the section on tool proficiencies, and sections that feel like they're just straight-up fixes for DM systems in the core rulebooks like encounter and trap design) "Probably the worst overall value for an expansion book" is very bizarre, and makes me think that the person who wrote this has some weird axe to grind, like he's still mad that Xanathar's reprinted stuff from SCAG or something. But otherwise that is a very helpful post.
 

Hammel

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Validated User
#32
The 3E splatbooks had a very poor ratio of useful content to things no one would ever use - mostly piles of pointless PrCs and feats. 4E splatbooks were better, I think, but content bloat was still an issue. I can understand not wanting to repeat that.
When it comes to splats, is there a big risk of making content useless to players like this? Could some of the mechanical bits just not be playtested well enough in how it interacts with the greater system and have poor quality control? If so, it's good that WOTC seems to be trying to avoid this.
 

Endless Rain

Member
Validated User
#33
I think the 5e strategy was primarily decided in reaction to what happened with 4e, where lots of books were produced and the majority of those didn't sell very well and occupied a lot of shelf space.

In the end, 5e strategy is to propose less books, and sell every unit produced.
Well, they're failing when it comes to adventures. They've been making a lot of hardcover adventure paths, even though adventures sell much worse than player/setting/monster books like Xanathar's, Volo's, and Wayfinder's Guides. My FLGS is full of unsold 5e adventures, but regularly sells copies of the other 5e books.
 

Nelzie

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#34
Well, they're failing when it comes to adventures. They've been making a lot of hardcover adventure paths, even though adventures sell much worse than player/setting/monster books like Xanathar's, Volo's, and Wayfinder's Guides. My FLGS is full of unsold 5e adventures, but regularly sells copies of the other 5e books.
They don't need to create piles of adventures though. It's really easy and quick to update existing modules, of which they have a "few" out on Print on Demand and Full Hard Copy back stock order sites for OD&D, BECMI/RC D&D, AD&D 1e and 2e to use them with 5e Rules. Heck, while I did pick up the SCAG, I'm also going to be using both my hardcover 2e Forgotten Realms Adventures and the Revised 2e Forgotten Realms Boxed set to add so much more already mapped out and heavily described areas to my current campaign.

Now... I don't need to go out and buy that, but newer players/gamers can and WotC still gets money for PoD transactions, which makes their whole back catalog, nearly "Free Money".
 

Chikahiro

Neo•Geo Fanboy
Validated User
#35
Well, they're failing when it comes to adventures. They've been making a lot of hardcover adventure paths, even though adventures sell much worse than player/setting/monster books like Xanathar's, Volo's, and Wayfinder's Guides. My FLGS is full of unsold 5e adventures, but regularly sells copies of the other 5e books.
I'd be curious what the print runs are though. If I remember right my copy of The Dragon Queen's Hoard isn't printed on as nice a stock as my PHB. So, if its cheaper to make and they're running less, it might be working out? I dunno.

Granted, we'd need data we won't have access to. Anecdotally, my local book store has lots of core books that don't seem to move either. Anecdotes aren't the same as data.
 

Grumpygoat

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#36
Granted, we'd need data we won't have access to. Anecdotally, my local book store has lots of core books that don't seem to move either. Anecdotes aren't the same as data.
I suspect core books move at a good enough clip that they're just replaced. Of course, I don't know what's a good clip for a bookstore - they're obviously not flying off the shelves, but if two copies sell every month, there's reason enough to keep them there, even as the stock never seems to budge because they're sold then replaced.
 

WistfulD

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#37
When it comes to splats, is there a big risk of making content useless to players like this? Could some of the mechanical bits just not be playtested well enough in how it interacts with the greater system and have poor quality control? If so, it's good that WOTC seems to be trying to avoid this.
Well, 3e certainly showed how that could happen. Regardless, there are two not-good options available to them, 1) that they make a bunch of new crunch in their splat that players can no longer live without (meaning that there are now four essential books to adequately play the game, then five, then six...), or 2) they create a bunch of stuff that players can totally live without (and probably will). So long as keeping the game accessible to new players, minimizing the barrier to entry, and keeping this edition evergreen are primary goals, they really can't make a huge sling of splats of good quality or bad.

Well, they're failing when it comes to adventures. They've been making a lot of hardcover adventure paths, even though adventures sell much worse than player/setting/monster books like Xanathar's, Volo's, and Wayfinder's Guides. My FLGS is full of unsold 5e adventures, but regularly sells copies of the other 5e books.
They've made less than a dozen AP books. Compare that with the number of books in the (let's just say) 2e AD&D's lineup, and there is no comparison. If the store has 2-3 copies of each, and they take a long time to sell, that's unfortunate. Having a whole 50+ book library of splats and different worldbooks, and needing each of them because who knows which one the next person will be looking for, and so on and so forth... well I think they made the right decision. Particularly in how, even if the edition 'ends' with them having 2-3 of each of 12-24 APs on their shelves, at least an adventure path doesn't contribute to the eventual obsolescence of any of the other books on the shelf (like the splat mill has tended to do in the past).
 

Old DiceMan

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#38
Splat bloats editions. This makes new editions necessary much more frequently. Frequent edition reboots generate more edition warring, which fragments the consumer base. Edition bloat also stymies new player on-boarding.
In sum, splat is short term gain (if that) for long term loss. The current 5e strategy will pay off over longer timeframes.
 

Endless Rain

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#39
They've made less than a dozen AP books. Compare that with the number of books in the (let's just say) 2e AD&D's lineup, and there is no comparison.
I'm basing this on relative numbers of adventures compared to other books. Out of the sixteen post-release 5e books, ten of them are adventures. This means that 67.5% of all official 5e books that have been released (other than the corebooks) are adventures. 2e had many more adventures, but 2e had much more of everything, meaning that its production and marketing strategy was much less adventure-reliant than 5e's. The best comparison would actually be 1e, which used a similar strategy of focusing on selling the corebooks and making lots of adventures, though 1e typically made a lot of short adventures rather than a smaller number of long adventures.
 

Alter_Boy

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#40
I'd be curious what the print runs are though. If I remember right my copy of The Dragon Queen's Hoard isn't printed on as nice a stock as my PHB. So, if its cheaper to make and they're running less, it might be working out? I dunno.

Granted, we'd need data we won't have access to. Anecdotally, my local book store has lots of core books that don't seem to move either. Anecdotes aren't the same as data.
Looking on some of the on-line sellers (Nobleknight Games), they seem to be sitting on a large pile of Core Books. The massive discounts the big online bookstores continually give on the Core Books makes me think they bought in bulk. And I think what sold them on buying so much was a feature WotC touted heavily: a longer lasting edition. Book sellers could afford to buy more now if they thought they could sell them all as 'current product' over the next decade.
 
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