Last Friday, Wizards of the Coast published the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the first major release of the game in eight years. During the development of the game, the company has been so generous with confidential information that it got almost 1,000 people locked under non-disclosure agreements.
The company has followed this up with a friendly warning that in spite of the game's release, these people are bound until the end of time by the agreement:
Q: Can I talk about my playtest experiences, or about the playtest versions of the rules?
A: No. That information is still considered confidential and may not be discussed, shared, or distributed in any way.
Q: Now that 4th Edition is on sale, is my NDA void?
A: Absolutely not. Your Non-Disclosure Agreement with Wizards of the Coast still obligates you to "keep strictly confidential all Confidential information" in your possession.
Q: But how is 4th Edition still considered confidential?
A: Once a product is published, the information presented in that product is no longer confidential. However, all prior versions of the rules (as well as playtest instructions and all other correspondence between you and Wizards of the Coast, Inc. regarding your playtest experiences) is still considered confidential.
In the new edition of the game, people who employ excessive secrecy are likely to be followers of Vecna, the chaotic evil god of necromancy and secrets. "He rules that which is not meant to be known and that which people wish to keep secret," according to page 163 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. "Evil spellcasters and conspirators pay him homage. He commands them to: Never reveal all you know" and "Find the seed of darkness in your heart and nourish it; find it in others and exploit it to your advantage."
You're right, this is creepy. Would this be stuff that might just be released in later PHB's? Like the Druid or Monk classes that may have been in earlier editions, perhaps.
Maybe they figure it's easier to keep 1000 people under pain of being sued rather than hope that the entire community won't copy ideas that are mentioned by playtesters before the pertinent stuff comes out.
How is this creepy. Looks like pretty standard practice. Playtesters are part of the development process and you don't just put that out there for everyone to see in any other business.
"Find the seed of darkness in your heart and nourish it; find it in others and exploit it to your advantage."
Sounds like a marraige vow.
It is the hyper criticism, the "it's new, therefore it must suck" mentality which has caught my own game in a total quagmire of resistance to the new edition. In reality, if a company thought it wise to get folks to play their product prior to releasing it, I'm grateful. If they saw fit to bind those lucky few into pacts of servitude to Vecna, I'm sure they'd have little trouble finding playtesters. So be it.