NDAs, 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons and RPG Media Sell-Outs

Non-disclosure agreements protect games during development from idea/concept theft and premature release of less-than-perfect versions. All well and good, but the recent flood of NDAs signed by various web sites regarding 5th Editon (or whatever the final name is ) D&D I find troubling.  Some  RPG blog sites, which I shall not name, got early access to the Wizards of the Coast development process. Good for them! Nothing like getting an early look at an exciting new game. I am always on the lookout for a new release too. Sadly, these same sites also signed NDAs and in doing so proved that they are little more than marketing organs for Wizards of the Coast. Why? Because the NDAs required for the early access resulted in reports like this


“I got a look at the new D&D game under development. I think you are going to like it because the system and ideas are really keen. Too bad I cannot tell you any more than that because of the ironclad NDA I signed.”


That is not good journalism. Hell, that is not even good blogging. It is great grass-roots marketing though. Hints of great things without providing one whit of  significant information that might invite criticism.  By signing the NDA these sites  announced to the world that they are beholden to “Wizards of the Coast” for access and unwilling to defy the corporate juggernaut of gaming.  In short, they sold out.

Now, an argument that the sites in question do not aspire to any journalistic standards and this is probably true. That said,  there is a patina of independence around blogs that implies some detachment and balanced analysis of games that evidently does not exist here.

For my part, I consider livingdice.com to be a journalistic, if amateurish endeavor.  I rant often (clearly labeled as such), but when it comes to actual reporting of current events I strive for a fair and detached approach. I also take my integrity very seriously. Gaming is a fun hobby for me, but I would never whore my standards out just to see a new game early.

So, here is the deal I will make with my readership. I will never report on any upcoming game release that requires an NDA.  Either the company lets me see the game with no strings attached or I simply do not write about it.


I cannot promise you will like my scribblings, but be assured that I am beholden to no one.



Trask, The Last Tyromancer






Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

24 thoughts on “NDAs, 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons and RPG Media Sell-Outs

  • January 29, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    I would’ve signed in a heartbeat to be in their shoes. Consider me completely sold out and on integrity backorder!

    • January 29, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      Ha! Hard to dislike a dog that wants a leash…;-)


    • January 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      Same here. I don’t see a problem in what they’re doing. For the most part, those blogs didn’t even have to say anything, and I bet most people would be just as excited about D&D Next right now.

  • January 29, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    If it is that important to you, sign the NDA, get information and then simply break it.

    • January 29, 2012 at 9:01 pm

      Ah, Therein lies the rub. My overdeveloped sense of ethics will not let me promise to not disclose and then break my word. There is also the ever-present “we can sue you into poverty” clause in most NDAs.


      • January 29, 2012 at 9:23 pm

        But your “overdeveloped sense of ethics” has no problem accusing other blogs of “selling out” and “whoring out their standards” for signing NDAs, even though there is *no* evidence at all that WotC has said that the blogs cannot report negative things, only positive.

        I guess that all of the people that signed up to play in the playtesting at DDXP (most of whom were probably not bloggers) are also sellouts and are whoring out their standards?

        Whether you intend it or not, it really comes across as you being bitter that you weren’t invited to sign an NDA.

        • January 29, 2012 at 9:31 pm

          Players at DDXP are not reporting on the game. They are participating in the beta. My argument is the media is compromised by the NDA that prevents them from discussing salient points of the game, either negatively or positively. All we get now is “vague.” That is control and it is wrong.


          • January 29, 2012 at 9:46 pm

            And by participating in the beta, they will have positive and negative things to say about it. Unless you assume that no-one in the beta who had a bad experience will tell someone “you know, I didn’t like some parts of the playtest.”

            As for “the media”, every media outlet in the world has signed an NDA or something like that at some point in the time. Not reporting on something right now is often the price that one pays for being able to report more in depth and in greater detail at a later date. Not to mention have, in this case, more of an influence on the future of the game.

            However, I am glad to see that there is at least one blog out there (yours) that would rather sit on the sidelines and complain about the process as opposed to trying to shape the game to a way that they would like from the inside.

          • January 29, 2012 at 10:12 pm

            Players are not the issue here, the media is. I encourage players to sign away their life to whatever game company excites them and get deeply involved in the game design process. Large-scale beta tests make for better games. My argument was and is that NDAs are a problem when signed by the media. As for participating in the process, I would be more than willing…just as soon as there are no restrictions about what I can talk about.

  • January 29, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    So i debated even getting involved in what was obviously a bit of baiting, (perhaps the picture of the hook is a subtle sign) but I’ll bite.

    I was invited to go see 5e in the now famous december meeting in Seattle, but due to scheduling concerns, I couldnt make it. As a blogger that has tried for the past three years to maintain myself free of fan boyism and of being a mouthpiece, i take exception to your article. I is both an overly generalized piece and pretty insulting. I guess the NY Times, Wired, Forbes, are also sellouts?

    I am nda’d for 5e. Saying so may cost me future opportunities, but i feel pretty strongly about being called a sellout, or that some bloggers I know well and call friends are as well. I signed an nda because it gave me early acess tothe development process of the game, hell yeah. Why? Because when i write my review, either ripping it to shreds or praising it to high heaven, i can incorporate insights I gathered from the playtest. Does that make me a sellout? No, it makes me a blogger that apparently rpg publishers value as being fair and impartial when the time comes to write about their game.

    Ive written articles ripping Wotc for a few things. I’ve also praised them. I dont cosider myself a sellout for being a part of the 5e process. It’ll make me better informed, and not some hack writing half truths and inacuracies. (not saying you are).

    I hate to say that this comes across as a petty article that stinks of sour grapes. I read your blog, i read your tradeshow coverages, and I expected more from Living Dice.

    • January 29, 2012 at 9:22 pm

      I stand by what I wrote, though in retrospect my language may have been harsh. Attached strings call into question the independence of the site in question. As for sour grapes Newbie, you read the site and my skepticism of WOTC is pretty clear. I will never be on their Christmas card list.


    • January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      A compromise then. Sign the NDA as a fan so you can participate, but take the company at its word and publish nothing about the product until the NDA is lifted. Absolutely nothing. My ethical problems disappear, but at the same time all the free spin the company wants ceases as well. It makes me wonder if they would bother even bother inviting press if the NDA itself did not drive some free advertising.

  • January 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Was LivingDice given the opportunity to become one of the early playtesters and therefore asked to sign the NDA? Or not?


    • January 29, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      No. I did not get an invite from the big man on campus to the Spring formal. Oh, the horror. 😉


      • January 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm

        Now tell us the one about how you wouldn’t sleep with that supermodel even if she begged you.

        Sounds like a whole bunch of sour grapes to me.

        • January 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm

          I have no way to prove this is not a “sour grapes” post except to say I consider “Dungeons and Dragons” to be just a role-playing game, not the game. I played and enjoyed the game over the years, but it is one vintage among many to me.

  • January 29, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    The “NDA” is only the tip of the iceberg. If you look back historically, you have the blogs that get review products before the release date. You have blogs that get review product after the release date. And you have blogs that have to buy their own product. We are talking about WOTC here, but this can be said for most companies. This is a great marketing maneuver by WOTC. Why not give your “loyal” reviewers the product early to spread good cheer. Makes perfect business sense. Those sites can say they are impartial, but if you bite the hand that feeds you too many times, I guarantee you will be looking for food elsewhere.

    However, from the bloggers standpoint, it is also an awesome endeavor. You get free product, for a game you love, before any one else! Who would not be a little envious of that? And I am not saying you are sucking up and writing positive reviews only to get the free stuff. You probably love the game, and are impartial regardless of the free stuff. (I am too, I can’t review Dragon Age stuff anymore, for me it woud always glow)

    So where does that leave us? The onus of good reporting relies on the reader. The reader needs to watch the sources and decided for themselves on what they want to trust as unbiased reporting. Same with any news outlet. I will never turn on Fox news. I love NPR. You pick it all the way down to your RPG blogs.

    So, if a blog wants to “sell out”. More power to them. Their readership will change (probably go up if it is for WOTC).

    For me, I will stick with the blogs that I trust. It is a personal decision for everyone.

    • January 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm

      The irony is I have no issue with WOTC’s approach. It makes good business sense. I just take issue with the issues that NDAs present.

    • January 29, 2012 at 10:31 pm

      And the blogs that get the free swag?? Those are the blogs that consistently give fair (not positive) reviews to 4E products. That have a fairly high readership. And can be counted on to not go off haring on tin-foil conspiracy theories and to not throw out blanket accusations against others.

      • January 29, 2012 at 10:41 pm

        The NDAs exist. Website owners signed them. They limit what certain people can say about a given topic. These are facts. That I do not like them is also a fact. Since I did not mention cryptozoology, pyramid power or fluoride as a mind control chemical theories in my post, please list specifically what you thought in the post met the criteria for a “tin-foil conspiracy?”

      • January 29, 2012 at 11:17 pm

        Readership has nothing to do with impartial reporting. Neither does getting review material. Being on a companies “inner circle”, well, they are there for a reason. And there is nothing wrong with that. The consumer has to decide who to trust. And bloggers must realize the implications of thier gaming ties.

        Sarah Palin is in Fox News inner circle. Sarah Palin fans probably love Fox News. I am not going to trust Fox News’ analysis of what Sarah Palin does though.

        • January 29, 2012 at 11:20 pm

          Ahh crud! Now you have gone and done it. You mentioned politics! And I was hoping to keep this comment thread reasonably civil. 😉

  • January 31, 2012 at 10:25 am

    “Hints of great things without providing one whit of significant information that might invite criticism. By signing the NDA these sites announced to the world that they are beholden to “Wizards of the Coast” for access and unwilling to defy the corporate juggernaut of gaming. In short, they sold out.” – Trask

    No, I do not think it is the case. Once the game is going to be published, everyone will have a right to put a review out, be it a praise or a rant or something in-between. Having signed an NDA or not will have no impact on this. Until the game comes out, though, no one will have a right to review the game, because there will still be no game to review. At worst, people having played the game (so also having signed the NDA) will have a harder time speculating on the content of 5e, because they will already know a lot about what the game actually is, at least in its actual stage of development. But I do not think that speculating is “good journalism. Hell, that is not even good blogging. It is great grass-roots marketing though” (Apple marketing strategy, anyone?) If the NDA signed was stating “you only have the right to talk bout you experience if it makes WOTC shine”, that would be selling yourself out. But it’s not what’s in the NDA (well, I suppose; I did not see it, but I would be very, very surprised to learn the contrary). I think you misunderstand the purpose of an NDA.

    Here is the problem : as a publisher, you want to gather some feedback from players and game masters and all-around rpgs enthusiasts to make a better game, but you also want to make sure your ideas and mechanics and whatnot making your game (the one you’re planning to sell in the future) are not made widely available to the public before you officially release them. The NDA serve precisely the purpose of solving this.

    Does signing their NDA makes a blogger a “sellout” to WOTC? I don’t think so. They would be sellouts if they agreed on not being critical about the product. They would be sellout if they agreed to make their future posts basically advertisements for WOTC. They would be sellouts if they agreed to never talk about their 5e experiences, even when the game will be out (shutting their own right to speak). I am pretty sure this is not the case. Signing the NDA makes you a part of the creative process (I am pretty sure that designers and freelancers signed something like it too, probably even more restrictive), not a “WOTC-approved reviewer”. Every review will come out after the game is released to the public, and having signed an NDA to participate earlier in the process will not bind you to make a good review; actually, it will only give an edge to those reviewers because they will already have played the game in an earlier form. If they think the result is bad, or great, or lukewarm, they will be totally free to tell the world that, NDA’d or not.

    It’s purpose is not to silence opposition. So when you say “Either the company lets me see the game with no strings attached or I simply do not write about it”, you are not understanding what the NDA is for. WOTC is not letting people see the game before its release to put good reviews out before bad ones have the possibility to be written; it is asking for feedback while barring ANY TYPE of reviews to be disseminated. You totally have the right to NOT want to give your feedback to WOTC about the game they’re making; but accepting to do so ansd accepting to not tell publicly tell what the game is before it’s release is not selling yourself out.

    So, well, I like your blog and all, I follow it since at least a year (probably more). But I think that you calling out a lot of good and honest people “sellouts” and implying that they are not “fair and detached” and not taking their “integrity very seriously” is displaced and frankly quite offensive to them.

  • January 31, 2012 at 10:36 am

    It does not limit what you can say about the game in any way. Either you do not sign the NDA, and you do not know what the game is before it is released, so you cannot talk about the game until it is released, or you sign the NDA, know what the game is before it is released (at least in its beta form), and cannot talk about the game until it is released. To me, it seems like you can’t talk about what the game actually is until everyone can buy it, NDA or not.

    If you sign the NDA, though, you can give your feedback to WOTC, hoping it will help make a better game; if you don’t, well, can’t.

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