The Very Real Possibility and Impact of Microtransactions in One D&D

By RJ on 5 February 2023.

It's no secret that the future of Dungeons & Dragons is riddled with microtransactions and subscriptions. Before Wizards of the Coast and its parent company, Hasbro, officially announce what new methods of monetization shall arrive with the next edition of D&D, One D&D, I think it's best we discuss the potential and prepare ourselves for the sheer ridiculousness of microtransactions in D&D.

What will these microtransactions look like?

What will their impact be on us and the hobby?

Will we support them, or will someone else rise up to patronize this new iteration of D&D?

The Possible One D&D Subscription Structure

As a result of the latest OGL fiasco, it's fair to assume the worst-case scenario for microtransactions and One D&D. Especially with the prominence and success of microtransactions in modern video games, the relatively new leadership at Wizards of the Coast seems to think they can treat this tabletop game like a typical computer or mobile game. Clearly, that's not true, but the decision-making folks charting the course of D&D don't seem to think that in the slightest. So, what can you expect to arrive with this new edition of D&D? Let's discuss what the future of D&D might look like, beginning with the most likely addition: subscriptions.

Subscription-based services are commonplace nowadays. Between Netflix, Disney+, World of Warcraft, Patreon, YouTube Premium, and numerous others, the executives over at Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro would like in on this huge slice of potential revenue. Presently, D&D Beyond exists as a subscription service, but more can be done. Instead of selling physical books, it's speculated that WOTC will sell folks a subscription service that allows people to access the new books and rules for One D&D online. 

Who knows, perhaps it'll even spread to fifth edition D&D, too. With the swap to focusing on virtual tabletops, WOTC could completely cut the cost of printing hundreds of thousands of books, grab millions of people who prefer to play D&D online, and convince many of them to pay a subscription for access to a varied selection. There might be different tiers. 

I'd imagine it will map out like this:

  • Commoner Tier: $6 per month, access to the new Player's Handbook, the limit of 5 characters on your account.
  • Adventurer Tier: $10 per month, access to the new Player's Handbook, previews of other player-based books, and a limit of 20 characters on your account.
  • Hero Tier: $20 per month, access to the new Player's Handbook, previews of other player-based books, a set of virtual tabletop character models and effects, and unlimited character creation.
  • Dungeon Master Tier: $15 per month, access to all the new Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide, plus basic monster tokens and tilesets (more on this soon).
  • Dual Basic Tier: $25 per month, access to all three core rulebooks, plus basic monster tokens and tilesets.
  • Ultimate Tier: $40 per month, access to all three core rulebooks, plus an expanded collection of monster tokens and tilesets, and the ability to preview published and upcoming books like Drizzt's Guide to Icewind Dale.

Essentially, I picture WOTC will allow you to access core books with a subscription. Then, you'll be able to purchase expansion books like Volo's Guide to Monsters, Xanathar's Guide to Everything, and adventures like Rime of the Frostmaiden. If you're a Dungeon Master, they'll give you basic access to their new virtual tabletop. Everything else? New tokens? Visual effects? Cool dice? Music in the VTT? Well, those are the perfect candidates to become D&D microtransactions.

One D&D Player Microtransactions

Regular D&D players are under-monetized compared to other games. Regardless of what you think, it is a fact. The bulk of the spending on D&D supplies and supplements is done by the Dungeon Master. Nonetheless, there are plenty of ways WOTC and Hasbro could go to monetize regular D&D players beyond the basic Player's Handbook:

  • Special dice
  • More player-specific books
  • Apparel (t-shirts, journals, mugs, et cetera)
  • Television shows and movies (they're trying this now)
  • A Hero Forge-like system for building minis

Instead, none of these will be the primary focus. They may eventually occur, like the new D&D movie, but the core concern of executives will be pushing players toward their virtual tabletop and microtransactions.

The Grand Knights by panjool.

As pointed out by Matthew Colville a few weeks ago on Twitter, they will succeed in their task. The next generation of D&D players may never know what D&D once was: a game played around a table in the presence of friends in which a story unbounded by anyone else forms. In this tabletop RPG of the mythic past, you could go anywhere, be anyone, and do anything. 

However, the future of D&D brings limits, limits that can be extended with the purchase of microtransactions. On D&D's VTT, players will likely be able to customize their character much like one can in video games. They might even be able to unlock special effects, new classes, and abilities, or even ways to play. 

While nothing is confirmed completely as of now and this is speculation, I'm confident some, if not all, of this list will show up as a microtransaction in the future of D&D.

  • Character Appearance Modifiers. These microtransactions will allow you to customize the looks of your character. How long are your elf's ears? Do you want your halfling mage to have purple hair? Is your bard's tunic made of smooth black silk or a vibrant green fuzz?
  • Special Effects. These microtransactions will customize the effects of spells and character abilities. What if your wizard's fireball transformed into a draconic sphere? Would you prefer your sorcerer's grease to be a sheet of ice instead? How many shades of mage armor do you think would be unreasonable? Ten?
  • Visually Distinct Magic Items. These microtransactions will allow you to change the look of the items your character wears, specifically magic items. Does Blackrazor need to be obsidian, can't it be crimson red and crackling with colorful energy?
  • Select Ancestries. These microtransactions will give you access to select ancestries unavailable with the purchase of the books/subscriptions. Certain historic races like humans, halflings, orcs, and elves will likely be available, but like certain other games, "cooler" races like tabaxi, kobolds, and tieflings might be gated behind paywalls.
  • Select Subclasses. These microtransactions will give you access to select subclasses only available with the purchase of them, they're not in the books/base rules. There might be a set of 3 subclasses for each class, with 2 or 3 more gated behind payment.
  • Custom Class Abilities. These microtransactions will give your class different abilities, changed from the norm. Do you like the majority of your Life Domain cleric, but wished you had an ability that did a bit more damage? Maybe you can alter it with class ability microtransactions.
  • Homebrew. These microtransactions will allow you to add your own homebrew to your characters, but only a select amount. There cannot be too much home content on the VTT!

Everything will be tracked. Everything will have limits. If you play on the virtual tabletop made by WOTC and Hasbro, you'll need to abide by the limitations or pay the price to push them back. I wish I was being satirical, but I'm not. This is a realistic look into what Dungeons & Dragons might become, given the statements by leadership there. It's not the game designers, it's the third-party publishers, and it's not the general public who play the game cheering for this: it's the executives who see an untapped diamond mine in D&D.

Luckily, D&D isn't the only tabletop RPG around. However, some groups will remain playing D&D and perhaps move to the VTT. Many new players and Dungeon Masters will enter the hobby, more accustomed to a virtual play environment already. While we've looked at what WOTC and Hasbro might charge players, what about the Dungeon Masters?

One D&D Dungeon Master Microtransactions

The primary payers in every D&D group are the Dungeon Masters. Already, they buy most of the books, purchase miniatures for monsters and even some player characters, collect and curate battle maps and setting maps, sometimes prepare food and drink for everyone at the table, and spend great lengths of time preparing the adventure everyone will experience around the table. Even if they spend minimal time preparing the campaign, it's still in their minds at some point, trust me. Most Dungeon Masters put a lot into their D&D campaigns and adventures between money and time. I theorize One D&D and the virtual tabletop may increase the former and decrease the latter.

Wyvern by YuliaZhuchkova.

Virtual tabletops automate a lot of the calculations done by Dungeon Masters and players. Plus, if WOTC's VTT is as content-rich as they've promised it'll be, minimal prep will need to be done by the Dungeon Master...if they're willing to spend some cash. 

Here are just a few of the possible Dungeon Master microtransactions in One D&D's virtual tabletop:

  • Tilesets. These microtransactions will give Dungeon Masters access to easy-to-use or generate maps for the virtual tabletop.
  • Monster Tokens. These microtransactions may provide Dungeon Masters with awesome-looking monsters for the VTT, fully three-dimensional and perhaps even customizable. I'd imagine the base tokens included might be low-quality or even two-dimensional.
  • Special NPC Tokens. These microtransactions will allow the Dungeon Master to include legendary characters like Drizzt, Bruenor, Elminister, Volo, or Mordenkainen in their virtual games.
  • Music. These microtransactions allow access to a unique set of music, grouped into playlists for each campaign or adventure published by WOTC. Imagine a sinister, creepy ambiance for Out of the Abyss, a track of epic wilderness songs for Storm King's Thunder, and heroic, uplifting music for Rise of Tiamat.
  • Voiceover. These microtransactions help the Dungeon Master narrate the game. They might be available for pre-existing adventures, the typical block text but narrated by a professional voice actor or someone who represents a specific NPC. Imagine Chris Perkins reading all the dialogue in a block text for Volo, or Matthew Mercer voicing all the NPCs in an Exandria adventure book.
  • AI Assistance or Takeover. These microtransactions generate and act on anything the Dungeon Master might want to offload. This is a big maybe, as who knows how advanced AI will be by the time WOTC's VTT releases. However, it seems they may be interested in completely transitioning the role of the DM into the hands of AI...which is less than ideal and transforms D&D into a video game.
  • Generic Special Effects. These microtransactions customize the virtual tabletop in some special way. Would you like a mist shaped like circling bats to wash over the map? How about a storm of fire? Perhaps an abyssal darkness or an angelic light?

Essentially, this is turning D&D, a dynamic, physical experience into a video game with lots of ways to customize it...for a fee. Some of this is appealing if it's in addition to a fully-fledged base product, but WOTC and Hasbro seem to be aiming for a barebones base game with tons of additional content in an attempt to monetize D&D as much as it can be. 

If this does end up being the future of D&D, beginning with One D&D, I definitely won't be playing, even if WOTC reverse their OGL stance and game design choices. I'll stick to tabletop games that revolve around a tabletop, limitless imagination, and creative freedom. Games with barriers? That's what video games like Path of Exile and Guild Wars 2 are for.

In Summary

Depressingly, the future of Dungeons & Dragons is bleak if you would like to keep up with the version kept by Wizards of the Coast. Remember:

  • The new edition of D&D will have microtransactions. Players are currently under-monetized, the executives at Hasbro and WOTC know that and will build the next edition with this front of mind. Dungeon Masters will be further milked if they want to create the best experience possible for themselves and their players in this new virtual format.
  • You don't need to keep playing D&D. Try different systems. Play older versions. Stay around the physical tabletop or use one of the many superior alternatives to what WOTC will be trying to sell you for a premium. You are not forced to follow WOTC forward.

In case you missed it, my last article discussed the importance of character customization in RPGs. Give it a read, it's an introspective piece on both game design, character building, and Orrery.

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  1. It seems that this approach will take One D&D off the tabletop. In which case, I will continue to play 5e, both on VTT and at the table. With the OGL 1.0a still in place and the 5.1 SRD in creative commons, VTT's should still be able to support 5e. Am I missing something?

    1. 5e should be good to go, but One D&D is unlikely to be under the same SRD/OGL. I'm with you, I'll likely continue to play and publish 5e once One D&D arrives, which sucks. I do enjoy grabbing the latest D&D stuff, but it might end with the be all end all of Dungeons & Dragons.

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