So whats the trouble with Table Top RPG’s?

I mentioned in yesterdays post that Table Top RPG’s are facing the biggest challenges right now, and sort of left it at that. Well I figured I had better come back and explain what is going on how I see it.

  1. Printing costs have gone up a lot in the last several years. You can see it in everything from magazines to novels. Back in 1980 a paperback novel would cost you about 2.99 if you bought a big one now the same book will cost you 7.99 at the very least. A Players Handbook for TSR’s AD&D would cost you about 10 bucks. Now it runs a minimum of 50. Admitidly the book is bigger and has color art now and the paper is more prestigious, but adding all that together, that is still fifty bucks, plus tax if you live in a place with sales tax like I do, and that drives interest down.
  2. Console and MMO games are readily available and sort of cheap. This gives the anti-social and the tech geeks (no I do not say that with any malice or ill will, I am a game geek, a comic geek and several other kinds of geek as well so to me geek is a good thing) a means of playing RPG’s that says they no longer have to get together with others.
  3. Book stores, hobby shops, and specialty stores like comic book shops that used to carry RPG materials are going out of business in droves. With the advent of companies like Amazon, there are less and less places to find RPG materials. Usually when you do find a place that still sells them they only sell the top two or three games by sales volume, or they sell the games that are most commonly played in their store. The reason this is bad for the games as a whole is because most gamers that I know want to preview a game first, looking it over checking the art, glimpsing the rules and seeing if the bindings will fall apart before they buy. You can’t do that on Amazon and you really cannot do that if the store will not stock the game you have an interest in.
  4. With all the above small press games (the ones that usually get a small cult following and back in the 80s and 90s that little cult could actually keep a company in business) cannot actually afford to put books to print without running something like a Kick Starter first. And without something to show right off the bat, or unless they are resurrecting an older property (looking forward to the newest version of Paranoia by the way) it is hard to get legs.
  5. Print vs PDF. Those small press guys started selling their books in a PDF digital format, others caught on and now it is a big industry. Places like RPGNow online can get you PDF copies of a lot of materials. Some publishers refuse to join the bandwagon though, either not selling PDF versions at all (and yes Palladium I do consider you only selling preview documents and items that you have no intention of reprinting as not selling PDF’s) or only selling them through their own websites (Yeah Mr Jackson I am looking at you and your team with a -_- right now). The lack of a central resource actually does hurt the business community over all, and there are people who have no way of getting online and getting books that way. This divide hurts gamers everywhere. And personally while I love to have print copies, over the last five years I have come to rely more and more on PDFs just because they are so much easier to carry around, well there is also the price difference too. Yeah that’s right, PDF copies are usually cheaper, about 25-75% cheaper than a print version (with a couple of notable exceptions) and they can allow companies to resurrect old titles and reprint them for a new audience (Thank you WOTC for finally pulling your heads out of your bumms and making so much of the older material available.)
  6. License and Title problems. This part gets more than a little sticky. Consider that TSR (before being bought up by WOTC) had two versions of role playing games for Marvel Super Heroes, now the property is held by another company and the rules system for the first version of the game is in the hands of yet another company. DC comics has had versions done by Mayfair Games, West End Games, and most recently Green Ronin. Star Frontiers (an all time favorite of mine) originally was published by TSR, the character races and some of the gear later appeared in d20 Future by WOTC, but WOTC has not resurrected Star Frontiers in their PDF sales. I am not sure if they don’t have the license to the property or what, but there is a website out there that has the original rule books for free download, and the copies are good quality. Guardians of Order licensed a lot of anime properties for their TriStat / Big Eyes Small Mouth system, but once they went out of business and White Wolf picked them up all the licensed properties went away. Star Wars and Star Trek have gone through many hands as well. See the thing here is that with a licensed property a publisher can draw fans of the property to their work, sort of like a gateway drug ;). But with the complex relationships between publishers, copyright holders, original authors, and the use of foreign printing companies (yeah sorry but printing in Canada or China can cause issues for US distribution) can make it hard to know who has what, and what can be published or used.
  7. Shared materials. This is not shared by publishers or authors but shared by the users. Loaning others books, photo copying them (yeah its old school but we used to do it all the time), making copies by PDF or sending a purchased PDF to twenty of your friends, this is where the problem lies. If people do not buy the games the company goes out of business. No company, no game. RPG’s are a pay to play world folks. I know there was a time when I was guilty of it myself, but blast it all I love these games and want to see them stick around for a long time, so now I advocate for PAY… PAY YOU EVIL MONKIES!!!

Quick recap, pay for your games, buy them however you can, and encourage the companies that sell you games to vary how they sell (both print and PDF please), encourage property holders to offer up cheap licenses so that RPG’s can be made, oh yeah and if you can create your own game, your own adventures, your own new rules and send them to the publishers. New material keeps the game world alive and may result in a new and fulfilling career for you.

Game On! Gimme the Dice I gotta see if my squirrel shooter jammed.

  1. #1 by Xenzirril on April 26, 2015 - 6:30 pm

    Wouldn’t Star Frontiers also conflict with their Star Wars property? Might explain why they do not want to have to Space settings on the market.

    Loving the articles. Keep ’em comin’!


    • #2 by authortao on April 26, 2015 - 6:42 pm

      Actually Fantasy Flight Games currently has the Star Wars property (they stopped publishing with the end of the 3.0 3.5 generation of D&D), and since they have dropped the d20 Modern/Future property (well they dropped it almost as soon as they published it really) and they have done nothing sci fi since they did the Gamma World based on 4th edition rules (only version of the 4th ed I care to approve of) there should be nothing holding them back from at the very least putting up PDF versions of everything online. Actually I would love to see all the old properties of TSR online, Boot Hill, Top Secret, Gamma World and Star Frontiers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. #3 by dantherpgman on April 26, 2015 - 7:43 pm

    Being more of a computer/console RPG guy, I have to point out many of these points apply to that arena as well. Computer RPGs (especially Japanese RPGs) are in a bit of a funk currently as well, for essentially the same reasons:

    1. Physical games are a rapidly dying species in the electronic world due to printing costs as well. It’s almost a big deal when a company announces a new RPG that will have a physical printing. And many RPG players are OCD collectors that turn their collective noses up at digital releases.

    3. Video game stores are dying out as well. There’s still The Great Evil that is Gamestop (of all the video game stores how is it that one that survived?), but the smaller chains are gone and the mom and pop places just can’t make it due to the ease of getting games online.

    4. Because the video game industry has adopted the movie industry model of business (a few blockbusters that pay for everything and a bunch of other productions that basically break even), developers aren’t very interested in making RPGs due to the limited audience; companies aren’t interested in smaller games and no one is greenlighting RPGs with huge budgets, although there are some exceptions (Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, Fallout, etc.) It’s hard for a small company to get the go ahead to even make an RPG, unless like you said, there’s a Kickstarter or something.

    6. Electronic RPGs used to have a lot of problems with licensing and title ownership, but much of that has been straightened out in recent years.

    7. And this is the one that may ultimately kill the video game industry, or at least certain aspects of it. Piracy is a HUGE problem, and RPG players are no exception. It always amazes me how casually people on message boards talk about pirating games, and how offended they get if you point out it’s illegal and unethical.

    But then again, it really is a golden age to be a computer RPGer. With things like Steam, GoG, PSN, Virtual Console, compilation disks, remakes, ports, etc, etc, etc. it’s really pretty easy to (legally) get your hands on almost any old game for cheap. The lack of new RPGs (especially on consoles) is cause for concern, but there are still many options to get your RPG on.


  3. #4 by authortao on April 26, 2015 - 7:49 pm

    I agree fully. I only hope that there is a way to get the games back on track. There has to be some kind of middle ground that can pull things up.


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