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With the release of dndbeyond, and seeing it used a few times around the site, I wanted to ask if we have (or should have) a policy regarding using direct links to a paywall shielded website, instead of referring to physical books.

Naturally, we encourage pasting in the relevant text in case of link necrosis but for quotations that would come out of physical books--if we're going to cite sources, should we continue to cite the actual physical rulebooks? Or is it acceptable to link off to a creator-controlled site that exists behind a paywall, such as dndbeyond, and may thus be inaccessible to the average user?

On the upside...such sites tend to be completely up to date, and we don't have to worry about errata differences between printings. But it does prevent a typical user, who does not have access to get behind the paywall, from actually pursuing the source.

I, personally, think this is fine...but wanted to toss it up to the rest of you. (You have to buy the book to have access to the physical citations, after all)

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    \$\begingroup\$ We had this conversation for regarding D&D 4e and rules links to its DDI paywalled service. I think our conclusions there are still valid, but perhaps revisiting the issue would be useful. So, I think this is a duplicate, but on meta it's sometimes good to revisit these things. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 2 '18 at 20:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Bear in mind, the rulebooks themselves are also paywall shielded: you have to buy the book. A person with D&D Beyond but not the book sees a page number reference the same way a person with the book but not D&D Beyond sees a D&D Beyond reference: "bah, I can't verify that!". \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 2 '18 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's a good point @doppelgreener. But Beyond is still a new service and the vast majority of the site users likely do have books (because that was the only legal way to get this info before they put it online recently) and catering to the majority (ugh!) is probably a good idea. Unless we're the Wizards Salesforce here to increase subscriptions. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 2 '18 at 20:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ The policy we work out here will apply for the foreseeable future though, so the status quo will probably shift to be more even. But then, we can revisit that later if need be. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 2 '18 at 20:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I wonder if Wizards publishes any stats on subscription numbers. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 2 '18 at 21:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I don't think they ever have or will. We know however that during D&D 4e's time, their online subscription service became a major force -- in fact it became far better to have even than the books. A group could split the cost, and everyone would be paying like $2/mo to freely text-search across dozens of books which would cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy outright, with all errata factored in, all of it without juggling ten different heavy manuals. That was a complete bargain proposition. The only book we kept out was the revised core rulebook. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 2 '18 at 21:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ interesting forum discussion from dndbeyond about books vs online \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 2 '18 at 21:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe worth noting that the basic rules content on D&D Beyond is available for free? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jan 3 '18 at 5:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch That forum discussion mirrors the sentiments I saw with regards to D&D 4e's subscription service. I expect within a year, D&D Beyond will be the primary way people access material, with core books being kept around as an at-the-table convenience. Granted, the sentiments there are exclusively from people who uses and values the internet -- but then, that's also the case for anyone we expect to be using our site. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 3 '18 at 17:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener yeah...now i feel like i need to buy it :/ \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 3 '18 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Don't feel pressured to have it -- others can do verification where you can't, just like you can verify book references where others can't. However, from what I can see already of the D&D Beyond website, it's already leagues beyond what D&D 4e's subscription service was like. You can get it, and it will be awesomely useful for finding, say, every single spell ever made in anything that mentions the word "push" for your crowd-control sorcerer to pick from, and that will become more and more desirable the more books D&D 5e releases to sift through. So it looks good to have. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 3 '18 at 18:36
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Use both whenever possible

There's really no difference between the paywall for a book and the paywall for a site.

Whenever I get the chance I cite both the book and online: (PHB p. 245).

Barriers to entry

To someone that doesn't have a book, (DMG p. 270) is exactly as inaccessible as https://www.dndbeyond.com/compendium/rules/dmg/dungeon-masters-workshop#InitiativeVariants is to someone without access to Beyond.

If we are talking barriers to entry, online is arguably lower: they cost less, they are available instantly from a browser, and they are appealing to a generation of people raised in the digital age.

But this is not a book vs ebook argument. I think the greater barrier to entry would be to take a stance against either source.

Discouraging online sources could be very off putting especially to newcomers to D&D who are coming in excited at the possibility of using official electronic resources. WotC gave us this lovely official online resource. Let those who want to use it, use it. Discouraging books would be off putting to the older experienced users (or those of us that just like books).

Accept either

As long as we keep to official sources, I think the best policy would be to just encourage users to use whatever sources they have access to and to use both if they can. Someone else can always add in whatever source one didn't have if they care that much.

Also a note, but the basic rules are also on Beyond and free and available to all — anyone can see the glyph of warding spell's details. So, I try to use links from the basic rules whenever possible.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't have a D&D subscription thingy but your link works just fine for me... \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jan 3 '18 at 10:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Glyph of Warding seems to be part of the freely-available Basic Rules material. :) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 3 '18 at 12:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I changed my example so that it works "better" lol. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 3 '18 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Now it's broken. Great job! I've re-introduced the working link elsewhere where its working isn't a bug. :) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 3 '18 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is a difference in "paywall" for a book and "paywall" for a site. A book may be freely and legally loaned or shared around a table. There are sharing options for DNDBeyond, but they require greater expenditures of money, specifically, a continuing subscription. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jul 24 '18 at 14:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis: A paywall is just a monetary barrier to access materials. On that level there is no difference between having to pay for something and getting a digital or a physical product for the purposes of what we are talking about (access). I don't see how sharing affects the concept of paywall. Ease of sharing is certainly a great benefit of buying physical materials though (unless you are playing remotely of course, in which case digital wins). \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jul 24 '18 at 14:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ease of sharing directly relates to access. I'm just pointing out that there is a difference. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jul 24 '18 at 15:06
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Use either for convenience, but prefer the physical book if available at hand

My reasoning is that books have a permanence that digital media (in the format of D&DBeyond) lack. Most of the online material for 3rd and 4th edition is either gone, or requires a trip to the Wayback Machine, resulting in many broken or re-directed links. D&DBeyond or other SRD online sources, either WotC's PDF or the numerous hypertext adaptations, are very convenient for citing, since they are always at hand: if you are writing a post, you are at a device that has Internet access, ipso facto. But you may be nowhere near the physical books. For this reason, requiring book citation is unrealistic.

However, if you do have the books at hand, their page numbers are unlikely to change at any point, barring a major re-write. 20 years from now, the books will still exist. D&DBeyond likely will not, or if it does, will be serving 7th or 9th edition. Many people on our site play editions going back to AD&D 1e. We can assume that in 20 years, some people will still be playing 5e. The books will likely be there, albeit banged up, used, or ins some way digitized. I just don't see D&DBeyond having a comparable "shelf life".

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    \$\begingroup\$ That is a really great point. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jan 16 '18 at 3:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Shelf life is a very good point. I might point out that lately I have seen a pretty big increase in the amount of people linking to Beyond and not using book references. It would seem that people with books are going to have to manually edit the book references in whenever they see a link only if we want to be proactive. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 16 '18 at 14:35
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How would you like it if you asked "Can I mount my electrical outlet upside down?" And my answer was

Yes, if and only if you comply with NEC 216.15 Note 3.

(nothing further)

And then you're like "WTH, why should I have to spend $125 on a copy of the Electrical Code?"

And we say "Because it's an essential resource for anyone doing electrical work."

And you say "I am changing a fracking outlet."

You'd be right. Just because someone wants to flip an outlet, doesn't mean they want to design sitewide wiring for a refinery, which is what NEC is mainly for. It's perfectly easy to write answers they don't need the book to understand.

Inclusivity is the biggest reason

These are the meta-messages we would send. "This is a closed club. Pay the club dues, OR GET OUT." There are bona-fide reasons why some people shouldn't do DIY home repairs, but "possession of a secret decoder ring" is not one of them.

Even when ThreePhaseEel and I are having arcane discussions about the fine points of Rapid Shutdown (render-safe for solar panels so firemen don't get shocked, see how I told you what it was instead of excluding you?), we still use our Fair Use rights to quote the relevant snippets for all to see.

So we have the option of making our forum very hostile to folks just entering home repair, or keep people out of the deep insider conversations we are having... and we make a point not to. And nobody told us to do that. Why? Hmm, I suppose because our core drive is to share our passion.

...Although there's also a big problem with obsolescence

That's an SE-wide policy, and it's for two reasons.

First, obviously, is link rot. We too can link the official NEC site, however the site can change their layout anytime they want. And my experience is that webmasters reorganize content at least as often as they change platforms, and only about 5% of them support old links after a reorganization. So there you go, d20 lol. The problem is, if you don't roll a natural 20, every link on the stack breaks at once. It becomes totally impracticable to hand-edit every one, and nobody ever bothers to write an automator. Which you'd have to run everytime, and that's often not even possible even if you do build it.

Second, the rules change. You're going "There is no NEC 216!" Yeah, whoopsadaisy, they removed that rule. Nevvermind! And as you certainly know, in D&D, the rules change a lot.

Recommendation: Quote and cite

Certainly, quote the essential snippets of text. This is allowed under the Fair Use doctrine of copyright law, in fact, it's an open-and-shut case. When you quote a section, definitely attribute it, of course, with a reference to the content (version # and findable reference point ideal, e.g. "NEC 310.15" or "5E MM under displacer beast"; URL to dndbeyond secondary).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like your answer as an illustration that different users can have different relationships to the source texts even above and beyond modes of access. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Oct 2 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's also important to note that while links to dndbeyond may reside, the relevant text is almost always quoted when it's necessary to include. When not, the link (or book/page citation) is just there as supplemental to show the legitimacy. In the answer that may have started this for you, this is indeed the case. And your recommendation to link to wikipedia does not provide the information relevant to 5e, but older lore. It's the 5e rules that are important and why i quoted and linked (and V2 cited.) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 2 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm still a little unclear as to what your actual answer is here. Are you saying don't link at all to the paywall content on dndbeyond? DOn't like to the free open access content? Only cite physical books and pages? Don't cite at all? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 2 at 19:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think there are any legitimate 3rd party sources of paywall content. That's not a great recommendation. Seems like you're advocating more for only cite the physical books. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 2 at 19:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm saying that a quote without a citation on where it's from is problematic. If you're quoting, you need to cite your source so that others can find it, use it, verify it, etc. Are you saying a quote without a citation is enough? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 2 at 20:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Has anyone done that, though? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 2 at 20:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Constantly. If something is referenced I'd say a 20-30% chance the reference will be dndbeyond, and broken, and I will have to go on a snipe hunt to see what they're talking about. If you logged into dndbeyond and they set a cookie, it would be impossible for you to notice that; it would seem like a normal link to you. That's back to, y'know, the "club members" thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Oct 2 at 20:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ You should flag those! Or put up a comment asking them to add the page citation (or cite it yourself if you can.) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 2 at 20:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have to downvote this as long as it is suggesting to cite 3rd party sources. These are unreliable at best and blatantly illegal at worst. A broken link to the official source is better than promoting pirated content. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Oct 3 at 0:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ 9/10 of your answer is good. The problem is that any site that you could reference for rules other than the official ones is likely untrustworthy or piracy. See this question on danddwiki for just one example. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Oct 3 at 1:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm sorry if my vote hurt you. That isn't my intention but I won't be changing it as long as you suggest 3rd party citations over official materials. The last thing I want to see is someone citing official rules off wikipedia or some well curated forum. This question is specifically about citing official rules and it is my firm belief that they should only be cited from the official sources. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Oct 3 at 1:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Citing rulings from other questions or forums as support for your answer is fine. Citing the rule from them is not. What happens if they edit out their rule? Or how do I know they didn't paraphrase it? What if the cite gets a take-down notice from WotC? Official rules are available and we should be linking to them and citing the book if possible as per Rubik's answer. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Oct 3 at 1:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ The answer regarding Vecna needed the official source cited. The Wikipedia wasn't relevant as the entry in that doesn't utilize 5e only material (and in fact, doesn't use it at all.) Even "well curated" sites, like Roll20, can have errors in their transcription. Language, capitalization, and punctuation all matter and even Roll20 has errors in that. Citing directly from the source is the standard, and not linking to sources that provide behind-paywall content is not something we should be doing. Recommending book only citations is absolutely fine, though! \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 3 at 13:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin can we meet halfway, at the idea that official sources should be adequately quoted so people can follow the discussion? \$\endgroup\$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Oct 3 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin You've convinced me. I went 100% your way on the third party content, which is not my fight. Quoting cited content enough that readers can follow along is what this answer is about. I am agnostic to how that's done. \$\endgroup\$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Oct 3 at 15:01
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Common Sources are the best sources

Since the Wizards site is new and we don't have any known subscription numbers, I don't know if we want to be pushing our knowledge behind that wall. Given that everyone who comes here should have had a legal physical copy (as that's been the only legal copy), it's best to provide citations that the majority have access to.

Online sources are absolutely easier, but citing evidence that is hidden behind a new paywall (even if the source is legitimate) makes life harder for those using the site. It is best to cite something that everyone/anyone have historically had access to.

If there are online legal resources, you can use those as well, but if they are 3rd party you risk errors that might not be there with the originals.

Linking to the paywall resources is totally legitimate, it just sets a higher bar for access than it needs to be in comparison to the physical status quo that was in existence before the recent development of D&DBeyond.

Forward Thinking

I agree with Rubiksmoose in that moving forward we should be using both. But if you are picking one, one should pick the one that more people use and/or have access to.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Given that everyone who comes here should have a legal physical copy (as that's the only legal copy)". Well no, because dndbeyond.com IS a legal copy. No reason someone on here couldn't only have the online PHB and nothing else. That is perfectly legal. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 2 '18 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose It is now, but what I was trying to say is that DNDBeyond is new. The vast majority of the users on the site probably haven't signed up for it. Maybe they have, but they definitely should have a physical book if they've been on here since before Dndbeyond.com was released. If someone was brand new on here, they could quite easily only have dndbeyond. But expecting everyone to have moved from physical to online and paid again I think is most likely incorrect. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 2 '18 at 21:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Having said all that, I think Rubikmoose's answer is the optimal choice. Do both. But my point remains in that historical access was by the book and if you are choosing (but why choose), go with the more common option. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 2 '18 at 21:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course everyone should not have a physical copy of a book. Around where I come from, usually there is around one physical core book around the table, and often it is the GM's. Also, someone might play with just the basic rules and SRD. \$\endgroup\$ – Tommi Jan 15 '18 at 10:12
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I would say, definately not - at the time of writing. Its not yet a complete product, being still in beta and its missing a huge amount of key rules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It has been out of beta for a while now. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jan 8 '18 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ And also has literally all the rules including some that are updated from the standard print version. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 9 '18 at 21:01

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