The big news in gaming this week is that Wizards of the Coast have finally released their updated Open Gaming License for D&D 5th Edition. Since they promised that they would do something like that, this was not totally unexpected, even though many of us had given up hope by now.
What was totally unexpected is the announcement of the Dungeon Masters Guild, an online market place for fan-created D&D material. It's basically a subsite of DriveThruRPG, and for the privilege of publishing there they (that is, DriveThruRPG and Wizards of the Coast) keep 50% of the revenue, with the other 50% going to the publisher. Here are some details on how it works.
That in itself would deserve a big "meh" from publishers, since the standard deal offered by DriveThruRPG for site-exclusive publication is that DriveThruRPG keeps 30% while the publisher gets 70% of the revenues. However, there is one important difference:
The Dungeon Masters Guild allows you to publish and sell new Forgotten Realms material.
Think about it. In the old days, if you wanted to publish Forgotten Realms material and get paid for it you would first have to make a name for yourself to get a commission from Wizards of the Coast, or submit something to Dragon or Dungeon magazine and hope you get accepted. Now you can just write about whatever Forgotten Realms-related topic you want and publish it instantly with the Dungeon Masters Guild without any kind of formal submission process where the content has to be reviewed by the under-staffed offices at Wizards of the Coast.
Yes, they reserve the right to pull products that are "offensive or pornographic", but I consider that to be a standard "anti-asshole" clause. Treat the IP with respect, and it is unlikely that they will go after you (though if your publication is nothing more than a long, graphic description of how Elminster is stabbed to death, you have no one but yourself to blame if it is pulled. Not that I believe the guy deserves that...). And again, this review is reactive, not proactive - your product will go live as soon as you publish it, and it is likely that Wizards of the Coast will only become active if they receive complaints about your work.
Given that Wizards of the Coast gives you permission to use their biggest sub-IP of the Dungeons & Dragons brand and make money from it, the added 20% of the revenue they ask for really is not very unreasonable. In fact, I consider it very generous - most freelancers working for publishers get paid significantly less.
An added wrinkle is that your work can be expanded upon by other Dungeon Masters Guild publishers, though they do encourage contributors to give proper credit to other people's work. They might also consider including your work into the Forgotten Realms "canon", though that will require a separate deal and is not automatic. The closest comparison I can come up with is how Disney, upon the acquisition of Lucasfilm, declared the Star Wars "Expanded Universe" to be "Legends" material - non-canon, though something that they can draw upon for added material and ideas at need (as it has happened quite a few times in Star Wars: Rebels). With this setup, they can observe what fan works are popular and use them as ideas for future "official" Forgotten Realms material (assuming they get the author's permission) - a good situation for both authors and Wizards of the Coast.
Don't get me wrong - if you have your own setting and your own rules material that isn't related to the Forgotten Realms, you should stick to the OGL which gives you more freedom for publications. But if you do want to write for the Forgotten Realms, then this particular deal is awesome - so go for it!
As for myself, I am also contemplating using this - I have an idea for a project which I will call "Returned Maztica". Stay tuned for further details.