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The State of the GSL

There has been some interesting discussions going on lately about the GSL, or Game System License, which allows third-party publishers to produce and market products for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition.  Under the GSL, 3rd Party Publishers (3PP) can market their own adventures, character classes, monsters, and other source material within certain guidelines as provided in the GSL System Reference Document.  If you have never checked out the GSL rules, you can download all the information here from the WotC site.

But it has been noted that there is a certain dissatisfaction amongst the 3PPs trying to publish material under the GSL.  In fact, there is a thread on the Wizards of the Coast Community forums asking if “Anybody here is earning money selling his/her own GSL products? “ Given the responses to the thread, it does not look like many publishers are finding it easy to create products compatible with D&D 4E.

It becomes starkly apparent that publishing 4E compatible products under the GSL is not a popular undertaking, particularly if one looks at sites like and, which provide a sales “storefront” to market PDF versions of role-playing game and game products.  Just comparing the products available, one can find over 5000 third-party published works available for d20/OGL (i.e. 3.5 and 3rd Edition), but only few hundred products for D&D 4E.  Considering the 4E has been out for over two years now, it seems like quite a disparity in the numbers of published product.

As it happens, I have begun doing some research into how the D&D 4E Community feels about Third-Party Publishers and GSL products as a whole for an editorial I will be publishing in a few weeks.  In additon, I am also gathering information on the problems that D&D 4E publishers have making their products available to the 4E gamers out there.

And so, in the spirit of US Election Week, here are some polls about GSL for the 4E gaming community to weigh in on about 3rd Party Products and GSL published material.  Please feel free to fill out the polls, and to also leave your comments as well, as any and all feedback will be very helpful in creating my exposé!

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

I’ll buy GSL products so long as they…

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I prefer GSL products that are…

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I prefer products (Official or GSL) that are…

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This past year, I have purchased…

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About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


7 Responses to “The State of the GSL”

  1. Wyatt says:

    I think you should include an option whereby I can say I haven’t purchased GSL products, but because none of them interest me SO FAR, as opposed to this stemming from some sort of allegiance to WOTC. I haven’t bought a WOTC product since Martial Power was in PDF. And I won’t buy anymore. I’d love to buy a GSL product that interested me.

    I think particularly, the fact that GSL-published stuff won’t be in the character builder, the character builder doesn’t really meaningfully allow homebrew to be added, and few people anymore do characters without the character builder, are one of the biggest reasons for 4e getting less product. A ton of OGL product is new feats, character class options, prestige classes, magic items, etc. None of that can be meaningfully published for 4e anymore.

    I don’t really care about the types of products that can feasibly be made for 4e under the GSL and CB regime: modules, monsters and DM-side stuff like that. I’m honestly totally uninteresting in modules and you could not sell me a monster book even if you priced it so it would give ME money. What I’d like is to see some trippy alternate magic system or whatever, that’s the kind of stuff I like. But it’s not profitable under 4e so it won’t be made. And even if it is made, and I (the target audience) buy it, nobody will let me use it because it’s not in the character builder.
    .-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Classic Monsters In Eden I- Vampires =-.

  2. Dave says:

    The Character Builder has undoubtedly curtailed sales of 3PP sales, but it has been my experience that 3rd party content has also been woefully pathetic. I got Expeditious Retreat’s first product that presented the Bard, Barbarian, Monk, and Druid before WotC published the official versions of those classes in PHB2 and 3. They were all lamentably generic and barely different from the PHB1 classes. When WotC showed that they have incredible design talent behind their rules system, it was clear to see what utter trash Expeditious Retreat’s product was. Since then I’ve bought a few other 3PP and looked at lots of stuff friend’s have bought. Without exception the offerings have been tragically flawed. Some of the stuff exhibited discontiuties with 4e basic design precepts. Maybe if the 3rd party industry can grab some of the talent that WotC has laid off over the last few years they would see their sales increase. Poor design seems more to blame for their current state than a lack of support by the digital tools.

  3. Simon says:

    I’m happy to buy adventurers – but I really, really, want to be able to sample before I buy.

    I would be perfectly happy to buy things like classes, feat books, magic items, races etc… BUT since they won’t work in the character builder, I don’t.

    I would be perfectly happy to buy monsters etc… but I would really want to be able to import them into the monster builder (which, unlike character builder stuff, is a much more reasonable request).

  4. For “I prefer GSL products that are…” I wish I could have done multiple votes. I would have also voted for “other DM Sourcebooks.”

  5. From conversations with friends and store owners, it seems that the main stumbling block for a lot of people that would normally buy PDFs is that it can’t be easily supported by DDI.

    Almost everyone I know who buy PDFs also have a DDI account.

    I also recall someone at Goodman games mention that the success of RPGA/WotC Organized Play actually hurts them somewhat. In stores where there are living campaigns, the sales of their 4e products are actually lower than normal because it can’t be used in the “official” campaigns.

    I also did a poll recently among my readers to see what game systems they play (they can choose multiple times). It seems that most actually play multiple systems with over half still playing 3.5e. Pathfinder and 4e tied at about a third each.
    .-= Cedric Atizado´s last blog ..Time Goat =-.

  6. UHF says:

    Rumor has it that Goodman is getting out of 4e. There are almost no new products for 4e, and he’s been play testing a game which is more suitable for his hack and slash style of play. (Its not called Dungeon Crawl Classics for nothing.)

  7. Chuck says:

    4E has raised a very strange culture that practically worships the DDI… With out 3PP ability to “get in on that” then 3PP that cater to players will see limited use (which is really, really sad).

    The way the GSL has been worded, it basically pushes 3rd Parties to go the rout of adventures which, sadly just are not that profitable.

    Also I’d like to note that I have only purchased a handful of 3PP for 4E because a) there’s simply not a large offering compared to the days of 3.x and b) I can’t find any, not in my FLGS’s nor in book stores. :(

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