Thursday, January 17, 2013 and the Oncoming Pdf Storm

If you've been paying attention to G+ today, you might have noticed a strange phenomenon going on: a series of incautious or well-placed (depending on how you look at it) leaks, it has come to light that WotC is very close to releasing pdfs of their back catalog, starting with modules B1-4. While a post earlier today (where it was demonstrated that WotC had a publisher's page on RPGNow/DriveThru but no products) set me to wondering, Mr. +Jeremy Deram confirmed (after a fashion) my speculations here by exposing the existence of (which was quickly covered up after Jeremy pointed it out; I'm not linking the picture here, so go see it over at Jeremy's blog). A while ago, WotC announced a "digital initiative" where it would make available electronic versions of previous editions and products, so this really shouldn't be a surprise, particularly in this day and age of "collector's editions" re-releases.

Now, as Mr. Deram reports, thefirst pdfs available will be modules B1-4, and for these, I'm not terribly excited (since I already have copies of them all in print), but it does open the door for a rules set to use them with. Specifically, I expect that this will be the Moldvay BX box, particularly with all of the attention paid to that edition with retroclones like Labyrinth Lord and LotFP and the fact that modules B2-4 were all designed for BX (B1 was originally designed for Holmes Basic and replaced the dungeon geomorphs and monster & treasure assortment included with the early versions of the Holmes boxed set).

My pdf collection of TSR D&D materials is pretty damn extensive, but there's some things that the prior WotC scans (from when this stuff used to be available on RPGNow) missed or didn't get well enough or are missing pages or whatever. I'd love it if many of the old materials were OCR'd and cleaned up to avoid the awkwardness that infests a lot of poorly done OCRs (my pdf of OD&D are like this and it makes them difficult to read).

Now, as far as what WotC's release schedule will be, it seems clear to me that on the heels of B1-4 will come a rule set to play them with. This could be BX or even Mentzer BECMI or even, if we're going to get excitable, both. I could see WotC then releasing some of the X-series followed by the Moldvay or Mentzer Expert rules, the CM-modules followed by Mentzer Companion rules, and so on. Or they could just circumvent the whole thing and release a pdf of the Rules Cyclopedia.

Of course, there's an entirely different bit of business logic that WotC could be using. What if they plan on releasing pdfs of modules to support material that they are rereleasing. Consider, they're releasing the Slavers modules and the S-series in support of AD&D, so what if they are going to start selling B1-4 because they're going to reprint Moldvay Basic, Mentzer Basic or even the Rules Cyclopedia? Finally, reprints I can use!

So, what do I want to see released as a pdf? Here's my top 5:

  1. Mentzer Basic & Expert 
  2. Moldvay BECMI (all of it; the pdfs I have suck)
  3. The UK-series of modules 
  4. OD&D + supplements (terrible OCR job on the ones I have and missing a page here or there)
  5. The DA-series of modules (MOAR BLACKMOAR!)
Let's see how and when all of this unfolds. My money is on "relatively soon.

As an aside, I realize that there are lots of versions of D&D I've never played and would, at some point, like to give a shot to. Which makes crazy ideas run through my head. Wouldn't it be fun to do an "edition tour?" To start with the '74 white box/LBB version and then proceed to play every published edition for at least one session? Sounds to me like it could be a blast. It could be done with retroclones, but wouldn't it be more fun to do it with the actual rules? To make it even better, make it a FLAILSNAILS event so you could use the same characters in successive games. Hmm... 

[UPDATE] +Dak Ultimak, publisher of the best damn rpg zine on the planet, CRAWL!, tells us that is owned by DriveThru (after a fruitful WhoIs), which makes a lot of sense out of the organizational style of Jeremy's screenshot. (I can't imagine WotC having a "Free Stuff" button that happens to look exactly like the DTRPG one were this not the case).