Friday, July 31, 2009

All Good Things...

It is with no little sadness that I am announcing the closing of the Adventure Games Publishing website, The first "officially business-like" thing I did when putting together AGP was secure the URL and get the website set up.

We are still in business, mind you! Unfortunately, the way things have developed, a fully-fledged website was more than we really needed. The cost and time involved in keeping a website that was not, in itself, generating sales, was a bit much... especially as all my own coding abilities were about 10 years out of date, and limited to primitive HTML code.

So sometime in early August, the website will go dark; as it was not a popular site, I hope it will not be picked up by a spam company, but you never know, so you will likely want to avoid the old links to the site. There's really no information on there that is not available here or on other forums... though there are a few free PDFs and PDF Previews you might want to snag, if you have not already.

Along with the website go my company e-mail addresses, including the Super Secret Subscriber E-mail Address. Henceforth, if you have any business needs, contact me at jamesagp1 at gmail dot com.

I will maintain a catalog of AGP products, Print and PDF, on a separate blog:

Currently it only has the print products, with information on how to order them. Eventually I might put up the PDF products, as well, though those are catalogued well enough over at DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. It is simply a catalog site, not for bloggery, really, though if you want to comment on products there is room for that I suppose.

I think this pretty much takes AGP from the "Small Press" rank to the "Micro Press" level. Maybe here we can find our niche...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Persians of the Wilderlands

A question came up on the Necromancer Wilderlands boards about Persian cultures in the Wilderlands... Here's a map for now, I'll fill in some details later tonight, and likely develop this into a full article for Adventure Games Journal down the road...

As usual, click on the image for a larger, legible version...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monstrous Menaces #4: Hribixul, Memnech, and Quasi-Dragon

Adventure Games Publishing presents the fourth in a series of new monsters for the Castles & Crusades Castle Keeper to populate his dungeons and wilderness. Each installment of the Monstrous Menaces series presents three new monsters for a mere dollar, eminently affordable in today’s economy.

The fourth installment, Monstrous Menaces #4: Hribixul, Memnech, and Quasi-Dragon, presents the Castle Keeper with a 7 HD Magical Beast, a 5 HD Extraplanar Being, and a 1 to 12 HD Magical Beast. Each entry includes complete listings for the monster’s description, organization, ecology, treasure, range, and special abilities.

A hribixul is a creature born of madness, a distant cousin of the chimera — it has the forequarters of a sabertooth tiger, the hindquarters of a llama, two long giant serpent tails, and three heads: sabertooth tiger, llama, and giant serpent. It stands as tall as a warhorse, and the serpent tails are each 15 feet long and can operate independently. The large sabertooth tiger head is central, with the llama and serpent heads to each flank. Though smaller and lighter than a chimera, they are utterly inimical to their distant cousins, and attack each other on sight.

Memnech, also known as “Blades of Vengeance,” are beings from a distant planar sphere of order and balance. They hire out to various deities as mercenaries, but only for missions where the deity is avenging him or herself on heretics, schismatics, blasphemers, desecrators of temples, and the like, never for conquest or to fight in the deity’s other battles. The price is always paid in jewelry, which memnech often wear on their missions.

Memnech take the form of tall, muscular, hairless male and female humans with four arms and glowing eyes that blaze white with righteous fury. Skin coloration is always unusual, such as pure white, ebon black, blood red, lime green, and the like, to set the memnech apart from common mortals. They also have four feathered wings, each feather alternating platinum white or ebon black.

Quasi-dragons, also known as false dragons, dragon-lizards, or dragon-serpents, are large, frilled and finned, scaled creatures with features of both serpent and lizard and dragon. It is thought that they are either a primitive ancestor to true dragons or a distant cousin thereof. In some lands they are plentiful enough that they are considered true dragons, and true dragons are considered to be the royalty of dragon-kind.

The typical quasi-dragon has a body like that of a lizard, with a neck as long as its body, and with a tail as long as neck and body combined. Its legs are short and stumpy, but quite strong, giving them a sinuous serpentine appearance. The head is crocodilian, with many long jagged teeth and a long red tongue. Some bear horns upon their head and frills around their neck, especially old males, and they have a long line of spikes down their back. Midway down their back, on either side of the spikes, are long fins, like those on various species of lizards; in some these take the appearance of vestigial wings.

Monstrous Menaces #4: Hribixul, Memnech, and Quasi-Dragon
By James Mishler
AGP06004, 8-page PDF, $1.00 MSRP

Click here to buy
Monstrous Menaces #4
at DriveThruRPG

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Auction: Warlocks & Warriors by TSR

Warlocks & Warriors
Introductory Level Fantasy Game
by Gardner Fox
Starting Bid: No Bid, No Sale

Bids against the current bidder go against his maximum bid, raising the current bid until the previous maximum bid is beaten by a higher bid. Thus, though the current bidder may have bid a maximum bid greater than $71, the current bid remains at just above the next-highest bid.

Send your bids to:

Up for auction is Warlocks & Warriors, an "Introductory Level Fantasy Game" by Gardner Fox, published by TSR back in the day. From the back of the box:

"Warlocks & Warriors is a fast-paced, introductory level fantasy game. The action is great fun for young and old alike, as players escort the lovely princess Sharanna across parched deserts and through dismal swamps to the safety of her father's castle. Beware the dragon and the demon maze! The hazards are many... But bring the princess safely to her father, and half his kingdom will be yours!

Warlocks & Warriors is a game for 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up."

Box is slightly dinged and lightly crushed in the lower left cover, with slight shelf wear on the back. All pieces are still in the enclosed bag, which remains stapled from the day it was packed! If there was a TSR catalog included in the box, it is long gone, and not included in the auction...

Winning bidder pays all shipping and insurance costs; shipping by USPS only.

Payment required by Paypal, due within 24 hours of being informed of shipping cost and total final cost.

Auction ends Noon CST, Friday July 31st 2009.

Auction: Call of Cthulhu 20th Ann. Edition

Call of Cthulhu 20th Anniversary Edition
Winning Bid: $51
Winning Bidder: Bidder #2
Previous Bids: $10 Bidder #1, $35 Bidder #2, $40 Bidder #3, $50 Bidder #4

Bids against the current bidder go against his maximum bid, raising the current bid until the previous maximum bid is beaten by a higher bid. Thus, though the current bidder may have bid a maximum bid greater than $11, the current bid remains at just above the next-highest bid.

Send your bids to:

Up for auction is the 20th Anniversary Edition of Call of Cthulhu, the green "leather-bound" edition with the red Elder Sign published August 20, 2001. There were apparently several versions of this published; this is the "standard" edition, as there is no signature plate, nor any special additions. It is not in the shrink-wrap. It has two small marks, one minor dent in the front cover base, and one scratch on the front cover above and left of the Elder Sign.

Winning bidder pays all shipping and insurance costs; shipping by USPS only.

Payment required by Paypal, due within 24 hours of being informed of shipping cost and total final cost.

Auction ends Noon CST, Friday July 31st 2009. Note that I might be out of town and thus out of contact for most of the day, so the final bid results might not be posted until Friday night!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

[Ferbieday] Ferbieweek Commences

That blog vacation I mentioned before all this started? Starts today, lasts through the whole week... maybe more. Ciao!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Rambling III: Finale

Well, that all went just wonderfully, didn't it?

And least now, with RPGPundit, I've encountered a living thesaurus of profanity and vulgarity; or perhaps RPGPundit is merely a form of artificial intelligence programmed only with insults? Hard to tell. I have no desire to even touch any of his/its screed; I feel that if I were to say something so simple as "The sky is blue," I'd be called a retard or something. Oh, and BTW, RPGPundit, I didn't reply to any of your posts as I didn't see them... I don't hang out on most forums anymore, specifically because of witless chum-buckets of fecal drippings such as yourself.

The same goes for answering anything put forth by Gareth "King of Snarks" Skarka.

As for most other posts about my "rant" in the last 24 hours, once I separate the uneducated snark from the illiterate ad hominem attacks, there's frankly little to answer, and less reason to bother. There are a few points I will address:

"Those Damn Kids" -- Name one other era in history when schools had to be guarded by armed guards, drug-sniffing hounds, and metal detectors. Name one other advanced state in the world where a majority of the "students" in the schools can not identify their own state on a map. Name one other advanced state in the world where the functional literacy of its youngest cadre is so poor. Name one other state in the world, other than maybe Somalia, where the teachers often have to fear the students. Anyone who looks at the crop of youth today as a whole, and does not see the sea change that has occured in the last 20 years, is fooling themselves.

Book Prices -- Some say that my choice of Swords & Deviltry and the difference between the original paperback and the modern trade was either a poor choice or a misleading choice... I chose it specifically because it proves a point. They are the same book... exactly the same book. Same words, same in every way that matters. The trade is a little taller and slightly wider, and substantially thinner... physically, they likely even weigh the same. A difference that makes no difference is no difference. You are getting absolutely nothing more in the trade than you got in the paperback... and yet you pay significantly more for it today than you did then. There is no substantial greater value in a trade than in a paperback... and yet, you pay substantially more for it. Frankly, one must question the intellect of anyone who sees a greater value in a trade over a paperback...

Book Trade Word Rates -- Yes, I likely goofed on these... back when I last priced book trade rates, about five years ago, I dealt with magazines that were paying $0.50 to $1.00 per word. Since the collapse of the magazine and book trade in the last several years, I imagine the prices have dropped significantly. My bad on that one.

"Common Knowledge of the Industry" "Armchair Quarterback" -- Wow, I didn't realize that there were so many other experts out there! How many of you have I seen at the various convention gatherings of industry workers? How many of you ahve attended the trade shows and sat in or presented seminars on the adventure game industry? How many of you have spent the last 15 years working in the adventure game industry trenches? How many of you have ever worked in the industry? I've seen a few posts by Ryan Dancey... a handful of other OSR publishers... and of course, the inimitable Erik Mona (or should that now be the Enmitable Erik Mona?) How many of you have ever in your lives gambled your paycheck on making sure that a game product goes to press? How many of you have ever earned dollar one from writing or editing or publishing or even stocking game books on the shelf? Eh? No? Didn't think so. Being a game consumer does not make you an expert on the game industry. Try working in the industry for a little while, then maybe I'll give a damn about your opinion. Until then... you haven't earned the right to have an opinion.

The upshot to all the rambling is...

I give the role-playing game division of the adventure game industry 10, maybe 20 years, before complete and utter collapse as an industry. And that's presuming the current economic distress is no worse than the Lost Decades experienced by Japan. If things get much worse than that, well, the state of the gaming industry will be the last of anyone's worries.

The hobby will go on. As I've said, the hobby does not need the industry, now moreso than ever. The hobby may well thrive in a mid-level economic crisis, as people have plenty of time and no money.

The industry grew out of the hobby, and filled a certain niche that existed for a specific time. As the hobby grows beyond the industry, the industry fades...

And of course, for those of us who once upon a time planned to make a living in the adventure game industry, it sucks. The fact that I think it sucks does not tint my evaluation of the long-term viability of the industry in general. Why? Because I already recognize that I no longer had any horse in the race. That actually gave me a bit of distance from the whole situation, and enabled me to look at it without bias of still being on the inside.

What I am doing with Adventure Games Publishing is not part of the industry; never has been. My products are not carried in any stores (save for a few local stores, where the owner thought it was neat to have a local author showcased). My products are not available through any distributor or consolidator. Originally, back in 2006, that had been the plan, but that changed over time, as I saw the adventure game industry change over time.

I'm not whining about the collapse of the OGL market; that happened long before I ever even thought of starting AGP. Hell, that's why I went with Castles & Crusades rather than pure d20... I knew C&C would have a growing fan base rather than a dying one, and as far as game consumers go, d20 OGL died a quick and hard death. But the collapse of the OGL market is a part and parcel of the long death of the industry. Wizards waited too long to bring out 4E, pure and simple. As pointed out elsewhere by Ryan Dancey, the cycles of hobby buy-in, consumption, and drop-out run about four years these days, maybe a little longer for RPGs; 4E should have been released in 2004, certainly no later than 2005. ver3.5 was a half-maneuver that only killed off most of the OGL product support base, and precipitated the glut early through the perception that all the OGL products on store shelves were obsolete... and thus any of the OGL support for the new ver3.5 OGL products had to compete for retailer shelf space with unsalable product, killing most ver3.5 support before it even started.

As to serving a nich of a niche, that was a concious decision on my part. I write what I know; I've worked with the Wilderlands for decades now, since I was first introduced to it in high school by our high school D&D club sponsor. I figured it had a modest built-in fanbase, and when combined with the C&C fanbase, I'd be able to sell enough units in the model I had worked up that I would be able to live in genteel poverty, and still enjoy the work I did.

Unfortunately, I overestimated the fan base significantly... or rather, the game consumer portion of the fanbase. And since then, as I was reminded recently by a good friend, I've pretty much made every possible mistake I could, including many that I'd explicitly warned other publishers against over the years. A sad case of not taking one's own advice...

The biggest mistake I made, as some have pointed out, was offering the Adventure Games Journal subscriptions. If there were one thing I would do over from this entire effort, it would be that... go back in time and kick myself, saying, "Don't do that... you'll regret it!" And I have, as I've let a lot of people down (well, some, I should say... had I a lot of subscribers, many of the attendant problems I've had over the last two years may have not come to pass... but that is neither here nor there). I've vowed to never, ever again take anyone's money before I have a product to ship to them.

I've continued at it for several reasons. One, I have an obligation to my subscribers (though the offer for a refund still stands to any who wish to have a refund). Two, my wife is an amazing, incredibly supportive woman who has even more faith in me than I have in myself. Third, I love what I do... really, even when I'm deep in the dungeon covered in trolls and goblins. Of course, not every day is chocolate and roses... some days really suck. Just like any job.

And I'm going to keep on doing mine. Which, I might note, I have been remiss in doing ever since I posted that damned first Ramble. As, snarky bitches aside, yes, people do buy my products. Not as many as I'd like, to be sure, but enough to keep going at it. If you like Castles & Crusades and the Wilderlands, check it out. I'll even make it easy...

For the next week, I'm putting Wilderlands of High Adventure: Imperial Town of Tell Qa on sale. Sorry to say that I am going back on my word from the Wondrous Wedding Sale, and offering this at a dirt cheap price: merely $1.80, rather than the usual $9.

Click here to buy Imperial Town of Tell Qa on DriveThruRPG

And so now, I am done with this discussion.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Rambling II: Replies and Ripostes

I almost stopped reading when I realized he was guessing on 4E’s success based on Amazon rankings. Makes me wonder how much of the rest is just pure guesswork pulled out of his rear.” – Jack99, ENWorld Boards

There are no public sales figures one can make any proper estimates on; the closest we ever came to having any sort of numbers in the adventure game industry was with Comics & Games Retailer, and even those numbers had to be taken with a huge grain of salt, as they were based entirely on the volunteer participation of a sliver of the adventure game retail market. All anyone, other than Hasbro executives, has to base any estimates on is guesswork based on anecdotal evidence and experience.

Speaking with retailers from across the country, sales of 4E in the adventure game market have been mixed at best, and down in comparison to previous 3E sales in general. On the other hand, Wizards of the Coast maintains that sales of 4E have exceeded those of 3E; therefore, there is a discrepancy between the experience of the retailers and the claims of Wizards. If Wizards of the Coast is honest about their sales, the books must be selling elsewhere, ergo on Amazon and similar websites or possibly through Barnes & Noble and other mass-market book sellers. In the case of Barnes & Noble and mass market booksellers, however, the sales figures there are likely not covering the discrepancy.

Here’s an interesting experiment. Take a small piece of paper, about business-card size; preferably something without ink on it, so as to not smear on the pages. Go to your local Barnes & Noble or other mass market bookstore, and insert the card completely in the book between two pages; memorize the page numbers. Do this for each 4E book in the store, and other RPG books such as you might find interesting. Then, every time you go back, check to see if the same book is still there…

I think you will find the results very interesting. In some stores you do not even need to insert a scrap of paper; the dust gathering on the book is indication enough of the number of sell-throughs these stores have had on 4E and other RPG products.

No one in this business, from the smallest one-man publishing operation to the biggest wholly owned subsidiary of a multinational corporation, is entitled to a successful career in gaming.” – Erik Mona, Publisher, Paizo Publishing

This is very true; I hope I did not come across as feeling entitled to the ability to make a living in the adventure game industry. I have said before and will say it again; no one is by nature entitled to anything in this world. You have to go out and seize your own success. If any such sense of entitlement appeared in this or any other of my posts, it is merely my love and concern for the adventure game industry as an industry, as well as as a hobby, that bleeds through.

I don't argue with the numbers. My issue is with the assumption that he should be able to make a living of his hobby and that Paizo and others are insuring that he can't. James has talent, lots of it, but talent doesn't ensure success, or even the potential to make a living of said talent.” -- Tenkar

Once again, I am not saying I deserve anything… I am simply showing the basic truths of the way the economics of the role-playing game market of the adventure game industry work. My point about the “Pathfinder Effect” is that it will have a decidedly negative effect on the ability of not only Paizo, but also other companies in the industry, to be able to charge what they need to make for their products in order to keep publishing. Maybe you do not care about that, as many have made the point to note… that does not change the fact that the industry is still here, now, and that these are the events that are contributing to its demise.

And as far as the "Pathfinder Effect," I find your statement on PDF pricing regressive and myopic. If Paizo is not worried about the effect our subsidized Core Rules PDF pricing will have on even our other non-deep-discounted PDFs, why is it that other publishers are so convinced it will affect their business?

Lastly, if you're in the business of selling core rules, getting those rules as widely distributed as possible and then making money off of the support products sold to that audience is, I think (and hope!) a very viable business strategy
.” -- Erik Mona

My concern comes from the very real history of the adventure game industry itself. One of the decisions that contributed to the demise of TSR back in the day was the use of such loss leaders; that is, the sale of an entry-level product at cost or even less, with the hopes to gain a wider audience who would then buy the products that supported the loss-leader. The most notorious example I know of for TSR was the Planescape core setting boxed set, which was sold at a great loss (I cannot find the quote on this, I think it was from either David Cook or Ryan Dancey, but don’t quote me on that).

With the print version of the Pathfinder RPG at $50 MSRP, and the PDF of the very same book with the very same contents merely $10, this sets up a vast value discrepancy in the minds of consumers, most of whom already grossly devalue any product published in PDF format (if they place a price on it at all other than zero). If nothing else, this sets Paizo up for pricing issues with future PDF product releases; the consumer will balk at paying full price for a PDF of a supplement or module when, so obviously from the cost differential of the core rulebook, a PDF cannot be as valuable as a print book! This reinforces an already downward trend in PDF values in this and other publishing industries. This is not even considering the devaluation of the Pathfinder core book due to the rules being available for free through the Pathfinder OGL SRD.

It is, of course, it is Paizo’s right to price their products at whatever they feel is needful to sell them. If they want to sell their core rules dirt cheap in order to widen the all-important initial adopters, then that is what they will do. But I maintain that this will have negative long-term effects not only for Paizo, but the adventure games industry in general (or rather, the role-playing game market of that industry). Paizo will and must do what it feels is best for Paizo, without concern for the industry at large; that is of course their right. That does not mean that I have to agree with them or cheer them on, especially as I love the overall industry as well as the hobby. Many companies in the past have not been worried about the effects of their actions on their other products, or most especially, other companies in their industry; that does not mean that their decisions make any sort of business sense in either the short or long terms.

Lastly, if you're in the business of selling core rules, getting those rules as widely distributed as possible and then making money off of the support products sold to that audience is, I think (and hope!) a very viable business strategy. You've got to have an audience if you want to make any money, in this business or anywhere.” – Erik Mona

True, as the old example of giving away the razor and selling the blades shows; but in this and any other industry, the continual race to zero or less on profit margins is a suicidal tendency. If you offered your core rules for free, and gave everyone who took a copy a $20 bill, I am certain that you would have a massive initial number of takers on those core rules! But does this guarantee you a consumer market for later products sold at full MSRP? This is where the razor and blade comparison fails in the role-playing game market. As I mentioned in the original post, once players have the core rules, they do not need to buy anything else, unlike with razors and blades, where the razor is useless without blades.

You may find in the end that you have a lot of people playing Pathfinder RPG, but unwilling to buy any further support material at anything resembling a full mark-up. You may call that bullshit if you want; I merely call it prophecy.

"In 2008, board game sales climbed 23.5% to about $808 million, and they're expected to grow more this year…” From a CNN.Money article posted by Stuart

Herein lies the interesting thing with quoting an increase in sales in dollar figures. According to this claim, in 2007 board games sales were at about $618 million. Nowhere does the article in fact state the number of units sold, a far more important indicator of sales trends. If the average game sold in 2007 sold at $6.18, and in 2008 the average game sold at $9.00, then in fact, board games experienced an overall decline in absolute sales! And considering the increase in popularity over the last three years of European board games like Settlers of Catan, which are generally priced upward of three or more times the price of mass-market games like Monopoly, it is very likely that absolute numbers of board games sold have decreased.

Without more data on that, however, there are no real conclusions one can draw.

Some dumb curmudgeonly remarks about the 'kids of today'...” – Mallus

Yes, we oldsters have been whining about getting the damn kids off our lawn for untold generations, but there is more truth in there than many would care to admit. This is worthy of a whole post in and of itself; I may or may not get to it eventually.

His ‘4E is really WoW on the tabletop’ trolling wasn't much better either.” -- Malreaux

It is unfortunate that one cannot speak of the role-playing game market without mentioning 4E; otherwise I would gladly ignore it altogether, as I tire of dealing with fans that willfully ignore the realities of the game they play. Call it trolling if you will, it is simply base, bald fact: 4E was designed to capture the WoW experience on the tabletop. It can be adapted for use for other game styles, to be sure, but that is not what it was designed to do.

I almost stopped when he said comparable products have increased at a much higher rate than RPG books. I don't think that's true. I've been buying paperbacks as long as I've been buying RPGs, and they've paced each other fairly well, I think. Which makes sense, as in a sense, they have most of the same cost inputs.” -- Hobo

Novels do not have remotely the same cost inputs as role-playing games. Most novels require a single author, a single editor, and a single artist painting a single cover; this could not be further from the inputs of most role-playing game products, which usually require twice as many people in order to maintain the quality desired by the consumer. As for the MSRP math, it is simple; look it up. My copy of Swords & Deviltry by Fritz Leiber published in 1985 had an MSRP of $2.95; the same paperback published in 2007 costs $12.95 (though the current version is a slightly taller and a little wider, it is only 160 pages vs. 254 pages for the 1985 edition). That’s a 22 year jump of $10, or 339% increase. By the CPI alone the price should have increased only to $5.61, merely an increase of 90%. On the other hand, the 32-page TSR module X9: The Savage Coast, also published in 1985, had an MSRP of $6, which by CPI alone should cost $11.42, an increase of 90%… and yet today, a similar 32-page module published by Goodman Games, DCC #2: The Lost Vault of Tsathzar Rho, runs only $10.99, a mere 83% increase, not even meeting the basic increases in costs due to price inflation! Look everywhere in the book and game trades; the increases are the same or worse. Role-playing game prices have not even kept up with the basic rate of inflation, let alone accounted for the rises in costs specific to the market and increases in quality of printing and product development.

What's also happening in the Old School Renaissance arena is that part-time publishers are producing RPG products they don't depend upon for a living.” – Matt Finch

And perhaps there is a note I should have made… while I believe the role-playing game market of the adventure game industry is doomed, the hobby is probably as healthy as ever, if not healthier. The role-playing game market of the adventure games industry, in which there are scores of game companies operating under the premise of making a profit, sponsoring large conventions, and attending a trade show, with full-time professionals working exclusively on role-playing games as a vocation – this will die out in a matter of two decades or so, if not sooner. Any surviving companies that are in it for the money will either be extensions of mass market corporations, such as Wizards already is of Hasbro, or reduced again to garage status. There may be a handful of companies that survive, as in the wargames industry, that support a handful of full or part-timers, but more likely, due to the more ephemeral nature of RPG production, even these companies will be vanity based hobbies for their owners, rather than going financial concerns.

There are several other financial models that are developing today, which may or may not succeed in the future, but none of these maintains the "industry" portion of the role-playing game market adventure game industry. An example brought up elsewhere is the sponsorship system as developed by Wolfgang Bauer and others, in which sponsors pay a writer to produce a specific product; this is not an industry, it is patronage, no more or less than the various noble families of Renaissance Italy sponsoring artists. This supports individual writers, not an overall industry structure.

I believe another problem which most people in the industry would be loathe to admit, is that there is simply too much product out there.” -- Rognar

If they stop making everything for gaming right now, I still have enough rules books for what I want to run, and enough material in my head, to keep my campaigns going for many years. Gaming won't die if these dudes stop making and selling game stuff.” -- Brunomac

This may well be true; it was certainly true at the end of the d20 OGL boom, and many retailers are still choked with tons of unsalable d20 OGL product. But as I’ve said, there is no need for any gaming products… consumers only buy game products if they want them, they never need them, whether they only own one or a thousand other products.

When I started out as a freelance game designer and writer in 1996, I was paid five cents per word. Here we are in 2009, and the best I could be paid is.... five cents per word.” – Ross A. Isaacs

A friend of mine in the industry once said, “If you were working in this industry 10 years ago and making $20,000 per year, and are still in the industry today, odds are you are still making only $20,000 per year.” That was almost 15 years ago… and probably as true today as then. But this is the price one pays to work in an industry that has minimal barrier to entry and many, many fans who would love to work in it full time. It is very much a buyer’s market for services in the industry, and so compensation is accordingly low, a trend that is not helped by everything else I mentioned in the initial post.

That said, I suspect and that hope he's wrong about some of this stuff (esp. global economy going forward). Tabletop gaming tends to pick up in a recession. I can see why Erik's pissed off, and how it pushed some of his buttons. And I'm thrilled that we'll all get a chance to see if Paizo can prove him (Mishler) wrong in the very near future.” -- Delta

To be honest, I sincerely hope that time proves that I am wrong, both on the economy and on Paizo’s method to try to gain greater market share. If being wrong on both counts means more people get to enjoy more games, and more companies get to publish more games, and more employees of game companies profit more from their labors, then I will gladly be wrong.

But I don’t think I am. I have spent 15 years studying the inner workings of the adventure game industry, and almost for as long, studying the overall developments of global markets and the global economy. I have been wrong in the past, and I sincerely hope I am wrong now. Only time will tell.

As to the point of game sales picking up during a recession, we are not in a recession, we are in a depression; very different sets of economic circumstances obtain, and in this case, it is even different from the Great Depression. The Great Depression was described as a time of want in a time of plenty; this depression, the Greater Depression, is a time of want in a time of penury. Maybe I’ll eventually get around to posting about the general global economy and where things are going, but there is so much basic background that needs to be set before even a basic understanding of all the elements can be obtained, that the time involved would be prohibitive… and every moment I spend working on these blog entries is a moment I fail to spend on working on a product that actually pays. Because believe it or not, I do have a small market for my products...

I’ll tackle more of the commentary on this tomorrow. One final word I’d like to say at this point, though…

I read it mostly as sour grapes from a guy who chose to serve a tiny, tiny niche, and who is now disappointed that he can't make any money off of it… It is not our job to price our PDFs in a way that supports James Mishler's niche business. It's his job to make books people want. From my point of view, it's as simple as that.” – Erik Mona

As I noted above, I feel no sense of entitlement to the right to make a living in this industry. This is not at all about sour grapes; I was asked an honest question about why prices and compensation stood where they do in the industry, and I answered it to the best of my knowledge and experience. My answer draws on 15 years of working in the game industry, most of them not spent as a game designer, but instead in sales, marketing, and journalism, working with companies both small and large.

Anyone who read my “Year in Gaming” reports in Comics & Games Retailer from 2001 through 2007 knows that I’ve been hammering on many of these issues long before I ever took up the pen to publish my own games. They know my love of the industry as an industry, as well as my love for the hobby as a hobby.

What has happened in my own particular case is irrelevant to my views of what has been happening in the industry at large.

And as mentioned here and elsewhere, the role-playing game hobby will go on today whether there is a role-playing game industry or not… whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your own point of view. But the reality is that due to advances in technology, particularly home publishing and the Internet, a role-playing game industry is no longer needed. And while the intent of the original post was at first to point out the whys of certain price and compensation realities in the industry, it evolved into something broader…

The Doom of RPGs: The Rambling

An honest answer to an honest query:

I'd honestly like to hear more about whether and how you think we can correct the artificially low selling prices of RPG materials that prevent smaller companies from hiring professional editors and thereby narrowing the gap between WOTC and Paizo and everyone else.

I think Zack and others have a valid point as consumers who don't want to purchase shoddily edited products - the way this sounds to me is that they'd be willing to pay a premium to get quality. My gaming dollars, reduced though they are, are in the same predicament.

What kind of changes in your market would there have to be for you to offer this sort of stuff, James? Please don't take this as a request to change your business, just a fairly sober assessment of what would be involved with someone like you being able to make money by switching and doing things in a way that's sustainable.
-- Neal Hebert

The short answer: the changes that would be required are impossible to achieve.

The long and rambling answer:

There is one core issue that keeps adventure game industry small and micro press role-playing game companies from being able to charge what they need to in order to be able to afford all the bells and whistles much larger companies can afford: the price sensitivity of the gaming consumer. All other measures of what goes into the pricing decisions of game companies remaining equal that is the only issue that can change what small and micro press companies can effectively charge.

Here are the basic inputs that go into determination of a role-playing game product price (MSRP):

Cost of writing/design/development
Cost of editing
Cost of art
Cost of graphic design
Cost of advertising, marketing, and sales
Cost of printing
Cost of shipping
Cost of distribution mark-up
Cost of retailer mark-up
Willingness of the game consumer to pay the final MSRP

The relative inelasticity of all these inputs, especially that final input, is what keeps the small publisher down.

Cost of writing/design/development: In the adventure game industry, if a writer gets more than five cents per word, he’s doing well; at 10 cents per word, he is counted among the RPG demi-gods. At that point, the much, much, much better rates in fiction and other genres become more attractive and such opportunities open up, regardless of his or her desire to continue writing for games (a writer can earn 10 to 20 times or more this rate writing even poor fiction). And with so many people clamoring to get into RPG writing, the lower end of the scale is effectively zero. So the basic cost of writing on a game product for most game companies in this industry ranges between zero and 10 cents per word, whether we speak of a micro company or Wizards of the Coast… I’d say today, the average is around four cents per word. Obviously, the writing element of price is not avoidable completely, as there must be a writer for every product, even if it is a monkey chained to a word processor.

Cost of editing: Historically, the cost for editing is about half that of writing, or two cents per word, or up to double that for the large companies with an editor on-staff. And as mentioned, this is one of the first expenses that many companies either go cheap on or cut out altogether, counting on play testers, if any (who are never, ever paid cash money) to find these errors.

Cost of art: Cost ranges wildly, from zero to exorbitantly stupid pricing levels. I’ve encountered start-up companies who have spent so much on art from top-name artists that they’ll never, ever recoup their costs… but they have some really beautiful doorstops. However, as even poor artists are far rarer than poor writers, even poor art is relatively expensive, so if any art is included, it can be a major factor in the cost of a product.

Cost of graphic design: This is one element of cost that over the years has decreased dramatically, thanks to the development of software that can be used on a home computer (InDesign, Quark, even Word with a PDF maker). Cost of this has gone down effectively to zero when the cost of a program can be amortized over many products and units, and the publisher can do the work from home; of course, a major complaint of many consumers is just that, that many products look like they simply went from the author’s Word file to the printer, and many these days do. A good graphic designer can cost as much as an editor or even writer, as like regular artists, graphic designers are not as common as writers and require training.

Cost of advertising, marketing, and sales: If there is one input that is dropped faster than editing, in all likelihood it is advertising/marketing/sales (which I lump all together here, as most publishers do, but are all in fact very different things). Today, most publishers consider having a Website and maybe, just maybe an entry in Game Trade Monthly (Alliance Game Distributor’s monthly catalog magazine) to count as all three. A full and proper budget would include money for ads in game magazines (if such existed today), ads on Websites other than one’s own, ads in game convention registration books, product and event support at game conventions, consumer questionnaires and circulars, and all forms of sales, from regular friendly calls to distributors to cold-calling retailers. As things stand today, even the big boys spend minimal attention to and dollars on any of these (in the RPG market; organized play in the TCG market is a core requirement of success). The most that many small press companies manage is maintain multiple sock-puppets to boost their reviews on various Websites…

Cost of printing: While the cost of printing has gone down over the years on a relative level when quality is concerned, the absolute cost of printing has gone up considerably. While in its heyday Judges Guild could get away with printing a 32-page book on newsprint with a two-color cover and black & white interior, today that would not cut it in the wider market, and anyone who tried to get that sold into distribution would be laughed out of the business. The equivalent today is the home- or Kinkos-printed, hand-stapled product, which never, ever gets into distribution in that form. Quality of printing has gone up, to the level that was undreamed of in Gygax and Bledsaw’s time, but the cost has also gone up considerably thereby, as the gains in print costs for earlier modes of printing are lost due to the requirement of publishing in the new glossy, full-color, hardcover form, in order to remain competitive. And still, save in the lesser quality of printing, costs per unit remain very high until you reach ~1,500 units, which is about three times as many units as most RPGs sell these days, sometimes many times more. This is the biggest input for setting the base price.

Cost of shipping: Though it is a minor thing, the cost of freight of a printed product from the printer to the publisher and thence to the distributor (or direct from printer to distributor, or more likely these days, from printer to consolidator to distributor), must be factored in, as well as the shipping and handling cost of selling a product direct to consumers. Though a minor cost, if not accounted for in the final cost of a product, due to very slim margins, this cost will eat into what little profit is made, if any.

Cost of distribution mark-up: Here we need to look from the MSRP backward; the distributor effectively takes 10% of the final MSRP, i.e., if a book has a final MSRP of $10, the distributor gets $1 of that.

Cost of retailer mark-up: Here we need to look from the MSRP backward; the retailer effectively takes 50% of the final MSRP, i.e., if a book has a final MSRP of $10, the retailer gets $5 of that.

Profit: Somewhere in there, one must account for making some sort of profit.

Willingness of the game consumer to pay the final MSRP: Here’s the biggest problem. Once you have all the other inputs, you can try to figure out what your MSRP will be on a product. But regardless of all these other inputs, you have to realize that the willingness of the game consumer to pay your final price will determine whether you sell anything at all. You could get the most expensive authors, the best editors in the world, the demi-god of artists, and have gold-foil covers and full-color 3-D effect interior pages, but if the final result is a book that is going to cost the consumer $1,000, you will maybe sell one copy, if you catch Peter Adkison’s attention.

The basic reality of the situation is that though most other products in publishing have increased their MSRP almost ten-fold for similar products over the last 30 years, games generally have only been able to increase their cost for similar products two to three fold, maybe, and that doesn’t really take into account the cost of inflation. For example, if that Pocket Book that sold for forty cents 30 years ago were still around, it would retail today at $4; however, it is not, as most paperback books today are double that length and run $8. However, a 32-page game module with a color cover and black and white interiors that sold for $5.50 back in 1979 generally today retails at $11… even though every single cost that goes into that product has increased dramatically!

The basic example in this is Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics, which in every way emulate the classic dungeon modules published by TSR back in the day. A 32-page module by Goodman Games retails at $11, double the cost of the original modules at $5.50… even though by the basic costs of inflation alone, a $5.50 module from 1979 should retail today at $15.52. The problem therein is that the costs are not the same for today’s publisher as for the publisher of 1979. Cost for every other input has gone up as well, beyond even the rate of price inflation, from writing and editing to sales and marketing, and especially printing costs, as rather than printing in the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of units, he can print in maybe the high thousands of units… if he’s lucky. And this is when price inflation in print has skyrocketed compared to general price inflation… while printing in China is now dirt cheap, the price of paper, until recently, skyrocketed (one of the major reasons for the much, much greater rise in non-game book prices…).

The rule back in the day was the Rule of 10… you could multiply your basic print costs per unit (the cost of printing the book and freight from the printer to your warehouse) by 10 to derive an MSRP on your product. Considering that even then, distributors and retailers took 60% of the MSRP for themselves, you knew that per product, your other costs had a total budget (known as the gross margin) of 30% of the MSRP (remember, cost of printing was 10% MSRP). So with a module that cost 55 cents per unit to print, you had an MSRP of $5.50, with a gross margin per unit of $1.65; this is why the old Judges Guild products were cheaper than TSR products, because their cost of printing was so low, as they printed on newsprint with fewer cover colors (this also explains their odd prices, as Bob usually went with a strict 10 to 1 ratio, damn how pretty the final price looked).

Unfortunately, though prices in virtually every other sector of the economy and especially in other markets that publish on paper have increased at a rate greater than the general rate of inflation, not so for role-playing game publishing. Why? Good question. Are role-playing game consumers spoiled? Have role-playing game consumer incomes not kept up with the incomes of other consumers? Were role-playing game publishers unwilling to increase prices due to competitive fears from other game markets? Is there a natural downward pressure on role-playing game products due to the infinite re-usability of the core rulebooks? Probably a bit of all these things; but the end result is, gamer consumers expect to pay less today for their games, in relative costs, than most any other leisure market. And with the advent of PDF products and game piracy, there has been even further downward pressure on price points for RPGs, especially in the PDF market.

So with this downward pressure on MSRP from the consumer, and increasing costs in every other input, something needed to give… until today, unless one goes with the dirt-cheap printers out of China, the typical role-playing game product commands merely Rule of 5, a five-fold MSRP over unit printing cost. So today, that same book that cost you 55 cents back in the day probably costs you around $2 to print, and you can only charge $10 MSRP… upon which you get a gross margin of only $3.

Now we get into the total units factor. Back in the day, Judges Guild sold upward of 10,000 units on even a bad product, and 50,000+ units on a good one; today, unless you are Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf, and maybe Green Ronin, Goodman Games, Mongoose Publishing, or Steve Jackson Games, you are lucky to sell 1,000 units on a good product... very lucky. At the beginning of the d20 OGL run, sales of 10,000 units were not impossible; by the end, 1,000 units were the norm.

So at a minimum, back in the day, on a $5.50 MSRP product Judges Guild made anywhere from $16,500 to $82,500 gross margin; today, on an $11 MSRP product, your typical small publisher at best will bring in $3,300 if he manages to sell 1,000 units; more likely, he can sell 500 units, for $1,650 gross margin. Even in the d20 OGL heyday, he was still looking at best at $33,000 on his best-selling product, only double the gross margin of the worst selling product from Judges Guild. And remember too, these are not at all the same dollars… $16,500 in 1979 would be equivalent of upward of $46,000 today, just at the normal rate of inflation.

And none of this considers if the publisher has to eat any inventory… even a small inventory overstock means that all profitability is lost! For example, in the case of the publisher who sold 1,000 units on a 1,500 unit print run (the dead least he can print at a “regular” printer and get a decent per unit cost); he now has to eat the cost of 500 units; at $2.2 per unit, that’s $1,100, which drops the $3,300 gross margin down to $2,200 before he even pays a single contributor! And that’s not counting the cost of warehousing these unsalable products, which can range from a portion of a monthly storage unit fee (not the best idea, as most such are not climate controlled) to merely the opportunity cost of keeping it in your garage or basement.

It is just simple math from there…

A 32-page module probably runs around 32,000 words… at two cents per word, cost for writing is $640. A more professional writer at five cents per word runs $1,600. Let’s say that the author of this book cost merely three cents per word… round it up to $1,000. Out of $2,200, that leaves $1,200 in the budget.

Editing… let’s say he pays an editor half what he paid the author, or $500. That leaves $700 in the budget.

Graphic design… let’s say he pays a semi-professional graphic designer $5 per page (let’s not forget the four-page cover), thus $200. That leaves $500 in the budget.

Art… man, where is he going to get semi-professional art for a 32-page module for only $500? A pro second-run cover costs more than that. With one full page of art in eight, we’re looking at four full interior pages (from 16 quarters/spots to simply four full page pieces), plus at least two full-page maps, plus a full-color cover, plus a full-color back splash… yeesh. So he goes to DeviantArt, chats up an aspiring artist, and gets a full package deal for only $500. So now he has… nothing in his budget. Hmmm…

And remember, that all was “best case scenario,” where he actually sold 1,000 units of his 1,500 unit print run. If he sells even a single unit less, he’s out of pocket… effectively, subsidizing the gaming habit of other gamers. So he has no advertising, marketing, or sales, and he makes damn sure that every consumer he sells to directly pays full shipping fees, or then he’s out of pocket… and still, the publisher hasn’t made a penny.

Of course, if the publisher is the author, he makes $1,000, but gets paid nothing for all the effort he put into publishing the product in the first place… which is a LOT more time and effort than just the writing. So what is he to do to make a few extra bucks? Where can he cut? Should he cut? Should he not be satisfied with making $1,000 on a 32-page module? If he cuts out the editor, he makes another $500… if he does the graphic design himself, another $200. Cut out the art, there’s another $500… but cut out the editing, your sales drop a bit. Cut out the art, and sales drop even further… and indeed, it can be a death spiral, depending on how many units you print, and the method you use to print them.

Now, if he goes with print on demand, he has no worries about inventory (well, mostly… even with print-on-demand you need to keep a little inventory, as gamers these days do not go for the four to six week ship time that would be required if you did true print-on-demand). However, print on demand is more expensive per unit, with little or no discount for more units, so your gross margin per unit is even less… which means you still have to cut the costs of your other inputs.

And don’t get me started on Lulu, where the printing cost per unit is astronomical!

So unless a publisher is in it for vanity (and many are), it is extremely difficult to make dollar one in this industry.

So what can change all that, and make it possible for everyone in the game industry to make a “living wage?” As you can see from the various inputs, you can do one of two things to change total income, either lower the cost of your inputs or raise the price of your products. As lowering the cost of your inputs is actually the opposite of what you want to do, there is one way to increase income… and that is to raise the MSRP so that all these inputs can be better compensated.

Unfortunately, that has proven almost impossible, as role-playing game consumers are extremely price-sensitive, some would even say, "price entitled." You can create a “premium” product, like Nobilis or Ptolus, but then you also limit your market, as there are few consumers willing to pay $100+ for a single book… and then, it had better be a pretty damn good-looking and valuable book, which itself again raises the cost of inputs. There was, until recently, a good way to improve your income on a per-product basis… PDF sales. With PDF sales, your printing cost is zero, and distribution cost is much less than normal channels (significantly less if you sell them yourself rather than go through DTRPG/RPGNow or another seller, but then you are only preaching to the choir and have a very limited market). Gross margin on PDFs was quite nice, when you were able to charge full MSRP. Unfortunately, that is becoming less and less of an option, in the race toward zero that has become the PDF Price Wars.

Already, game consumers wondered why, if they were not getting a print book, they should have to pay the equivalent price… and so many publishers slashed their PDF prices, some drastically. Now, with Paizo offering the Pathfinder RPG PDF at merely $10 (1/5 the price of the actual book), begun, the PDF Price Wars have. Essentially, Paizo gets only half their normal gross margin on the PDF version of the product… more or less giving it away, or at least, subsidizing each and every purchase! Now for them, I am sure they view this as a loss leader… but it sets a very bad precedent. Now game consumers will wonder why they can’t buy every PDF at the same ratio; they will neither understand nor care that Paizo is using the PDF as a loss-leader to get consumers to buy into Pathfinder, with the hopes that they will, down the road, buy Pathfinder products at the full MSRP (print or PDF). They will begin to demand that other publishers follow Paizo’s lead… which may well be the final nail in the coffin of publishing role-playing games as an industry, rather than a hobby. Yes, the industry is that strained, especially in the current economic conditions in which leisure dollars are at a minimum.

And with an ever greater portion of role-playing game company income coming from the sales of PDFs, what effects will ripple through the industry with even a 10% overall drop in prices due to this Pathfinder effect? This is going in the very opposite direction that prices need to go in this industry.

Of course, there is another way to improve publisher and thus editor/author income… increase the number of gamers, and thus the gross number of sales; this lowers the per unit cost and increases the gross margin. But I do not mention this, because this is the Holy Grail of gaming. More companies have fallen tilting at this windmill than any other. The mythical “introductory boxed set” that will ignite consumer imagination and sales has broken more game companies than I can recall. The problem is, everyone (well, all the oldsters) remembers the great success of the Moldvay Basic Set for Dungeons & Dragons, and seek to recreate that feel and success; the latest in this long line is of course HackMaster Basic from Kenzer & Company, who have gone so far as to hire the original cover artist, Erol Otus, to create a cover in homage to that legendary king of starter sets. Some of this is out of a desire to evoke the feel of the original for the OSR crowd, but I’m sure there is an element of hope with HMB that it can somehow catch fire, just like its hoary predecessor.

The problem is that when Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons released back in 1981, the market was very, very different. There was no Internet, and there were no computer games; heck, D&D is the granddaddy of World of Warcraft, after all. There was then in the United States a larger group of moderately well-educated semi-curious young men with more leisure time and more discretionary income and an interest in reading and in fantasy than at any other time in world history, who had nothing better to do than to sit around and play a table-top role-playing game with their friends. I would argue that the vast majority of today’s youth are not remotely as well read (hours spend on the Internet notwithstanding), utterly incurious, have less leisure time, less discretionary income, no interest in reading other than what’s up with Britney Spears and Megan Fox, no interest in fantasy save for watching LotR on DVD and checking out hot dark-elf-chick ass on WoW, and little or no interest with actually physically hanging out with friends (after all, that’s what Facebook is for, right?) And that’s not counting the amazing push D&D got with the whole “D&D is Evil” campaign, which proved the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The advertising and marketing required today to crack into this current market is simply cost prohibitive for the return gained, as Wizards of the Coast has discovered much to its chagrin.

And I should note, a repeat of the Third Edition miracle is impossible. Third Edition did not succeed based on new acquisitions in the youth market; the bulk of their market was in gamers returning to the fold. Third Edition hit just as all those gamers who started playing back in the early ‘80s were once again looking around for something to do; they had started their families, were well into their careers, and wanted something to do with friends once a week that would not get them in trouble with their wives. Gaming was a perfect solution… and when they went around seeking new products for AD&D (some not having played since 1E or even OD&D), they discovered that there was a whole new edition! And so D&D struck gold a second time, as the same generation that had such extensive leisure time and discretionary income in their youth now had more of the same in their 30-something stage… and often vastly greater discretionary income than in their youth, even if they may have had slightly less leisure time. And so they fueled the Third Edition miracle and the d20 OGL boom and eventual bust. There is no “third time’s the charm” for D&D; it has run its course. Even with Wizards pulling out all the stops with transforming the D&D experience into a table-top replica of the World of Warcraft experience did not draw in remotely as many new consumers as had been hoped; and D&D is the primary mode of acquisition of new role-playing game consumers, likely by an order of magnitude over all other role-playing games combined.

And it should be noted that today, with the Greater Depression we are entering, discretionary income simply does not exist for the vast majority of consumers… the “savings rate” in the US has gone from negative (i.e., spending future earnings through debt) to a robust 6%+ (mostly not true savings, rather, the money thus "saved" going to pay down existing consumer debt, i.e., credit cards). Ask any retailer what most of his customers used to buy games in the last 10 years, and you will hear him answer, “credit cards.” And of course, that’s what folks generally buy PDFs with, too. With consumer credit in collapse, jobs in free-fall, state budgets being slashed (or in the case of California, debt being issued in the forms of IOUs), the lack of discretionary income will only get worse. [Note: I maintain that we are entering an economic dislocation the likes of which has not been seen since the Roman Crisis of the Third Century.]

Increasing the absolute number of role-playing game consumers and raising prices, the only viable solutions to increasing the income of game publishers, writers, editors, artists, and so forth, are essentially no longer possible, or so improbable as to be virtually impossible. The former is possible, but only with an advertising and marketing campaign the likes of which would bankrupt even Wizards of the Coast; the latter has become impossible due to general economic conditions. Unfortunately, the adventure game consumer market, which until recent developments I viewed as open and expandable, has become a zero-sum game, save for within very small, niche markets, where much blood, sweat, and tears (and usually treasure) can generate a handful of new players. It is in the beginning of the death spiral that struck wargames 25 years ago. For every dollar that a game consumer pays for the product of one game company, another game company loses. Thus the current “Edition Wars,” which make all previous edition altercations pale by comparison.

Every game consumer now struggles to ensure the survival of his preferred game system, consciously or no. Without enough support to a game system, the publisher collapses, and support ends, and thus for many gamers who vest their interests in the continued support of a game, so ends all the fun. With the rise of the OSR and the veritable bifurcation of the D&D market between 3E and 4E, overall purchasing trends in the RPG market have collapsed. The OSR consumers buy only the rare OSR product, and many of these are free or virtually free, completely subsidized by the publisher. The 3E market has collapsed, though many gamers still play 3E; many of them have more game books than they could ever use in a lifetime, purchased during the heyday of d20 OGL sales or at pennies on the dollar following the glut and collapse. Some d20 OGL games, notably brands such as Pathfinder, Castles & Crusades, Conan, True20, and a few others, still have moderate support. 4E is selling whatever 4E sells, which from anecdotal evidence, barring Amazon sales, is not much better than what 3E sold near its end (though these days, Amazon sales might be picking up a good bit of that slack… we have no way of knowing the truth). On the fringes are a few non-OGL based games, with their own niche markets.

Note that I have mentioned that the “adventure game consumer market” is now a zero-sum game, not the “number of people playing role-playing games.” With unemployment likely to hit 12% at the end of the year (U-3; U-6 is likely to be more around 20%, and True-U likely to top 25%, with even those working “full time” only getting 30 hours per week on the average), there will be plenty of leisure time to go around. Though there will be plenty of leisure time, of course, even those living on unemployment will be hard-pressed to pay their regular bills (and pay down existing debt), let alone purchase games! And so, though many might be playing role-playing games, and there might even be a great number of players generated in the coming years, most of these will not be role-playing game consumers. And therein lies the great truth and, for the industry, the tragedy of role-playing games.

As Gary Gygax may have said, “The secret we should never let the game masters know is that they don't need any rules.” Frankly, with most games, all one needs is the core rules… modules, supplements, sourcebooks, campaign settings, all is fluff, and for a game master with enough time and creativity, completely unnecessary. Personally, with the Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert D&D sets, I have everything I ever need to run every kind of role-playing game genre or scenario I would ever contemplate running. Some could do this simply with the original D&D boxed set. And of course, at its most basic, you don’t need any books or even dice at all, just a handful of friends and a common understanding of the ground rules so that the game doesn’t descend into the classic, “I shot you!” and “No you didn’t!” arguments.

Gamers do not need us and our products, the writers, editors, artists, and publishers of the adventure game industry. They may want us, but they do not need us.

Like baseball, once you buy a bat and a ball and a glove, you’ve got everything you ever need to play the game a thousand times over; heck, my father still used the glove he had when he was a kid when we threw the ball around when I was a kid!

And that’s the reality of the situation, sans rose-tinted glasses. I have seen the future, and it isn’t pretty… in general, but most specifically, for any sort of leisure market, particularly adventure games, and most especially role-playing games (though I think we’ll do better than anything that has “collectible” in the title… that’s for damn sure!)

That’s the long and rambling of it, from Septimius Severus to Gary Gygax…

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ferbiedays Are Here Again

With the extended hiatus of Adventure Game News, Ferbie has found a new home... here on Adventures in Gaming.

As with AGN, Ferbie will provide a weekly coda to my posts; I plan on keeping weekends post-free, and ideally Internet-free, for some time at least, to better spend them with my lovely bride.

So give Ferbie, your new lord and master, a fond welcome... and perhaps he will be merciful!

EDIT: You know, I've come to the conclusion that I need a bit of a break from blogging. I'm letting things get to me too much these days, and wasting good writing time going off on people when I should just turn away and let things slide. So for a while, this blog will simply be for posting announcements about Adventure Games Publishing products; I'm also going to basically quit reading other blogs for a while, too, as it is usually the posts there that tend to make my blood boil and drag out the snark in me. So no offense to everyone, but you won't see me around much here, or posting elsewhere, for several weeks at least, maybe longer. If you need to contact me, you know the drill.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rhadamanthia Map Originals Auction

Final Bid: $86
Auction Winner: Bidder #2
Previous Bids: $20 Bidder #1, $70 Bidder #3, $85 Bidder #4

Note: As with eBay, bids against the current bidder go against his maximum bid, raising the current bid until that bid is beaten by a higher bid. Thus, though the current bidder may have bid a maximum bid greater than $71, the current bid remains at just above the next-highest bid.

I'm offering for sale through auction two original maps used to develop the Rhadamanthia Continental Map for the Wilderlands of High Adventure.

The process that went into the construction of this map was long and convoluted.

First, over a period of several weeks, Bob Bledsaw sent me his original hand-rendered maps of the continent of Rhadamanthia. There were 26 maps of a total of 30; the original Wilderlands (north and south) was placed in the center, and the southeastern-most district, the Infinite Islands, had no complete maps, as the countless islands were too small to each indicate on a map of this level.

Each of these 26 maps were then scanned, cleaned, and expanded upon, then the 26 maps, together with the Wilderlands proper, were stitched together and printed as a single map. Upon this map, using rice paper, I traced the final color version of the map, which was itself then scanned and sent to Peter Bradley for full artistic rendering.

The winner of this auction will receive:

* The original 11" x 11.5" print of the stitched-together maps (made from two standard 8.5" x 11" sheets taped together), along with a certificate of authenticity;

* The original 11" x 11.5" hand-traced and drawn color map (made from two pieces of rice paper taped together, drawn using color markers), along with a certificate of authenticity;

* A copy of the pre-production map, of which only a handful were made, most of which were given to friends and family of Bob Bledsaw at his funeral;

* Two copies of the final production map (AGP00104).

The first two are UNIQUE ITEMS, not available anywhere else in any way, shape, or form. The sale does not include any right to reproduce the map, or any rights or interest in the Wilderlands intellectual property; it includes only the original physical items.

In this picture, at the top, you see a copy of the final Rhadamanthia map; to the bottom left, the original print of the stitched-together originals from Bob Bledsaw; and to the bottom right, the original hand-drawn version of the map on tracing paper (there is a white paper behind it to tht the yellow tabletop doesn't bleed through).

Bidding begins at $20.

Please contact me at to place bids.

The current bid will be updated here regularly. Bidding ends at Noon Central (Chicago) time on Friday, July 17th. Payment will be required within 24 hours of the end of the auction.

Winning bidder pays all shipping and insurance costs. Maps will be shipped flat or rolled, at the winning bidder's request.

Payment will be required via Paypal.

Good bidding to you all!

P.S.: Before anyone asks, I should note that the original Bledsaw maps are not for sale.

No longer wasting time on 4E

Well, that was educational... again. I have been reminded of why I no longer bother wasting time in various game-related forums (that shall remain nameless). Also have been reminded of why I didn't allow comments for the longest time. And so henceforth I shall avoid discussion of 4E. I shall spend my time writing of more pleasant things.

Monday, July 6, 2009

100 More Calamitous Curses

From Adventure Games Publishing:

Castles & Crusades
100 More Calamitous Curses

100 More Calamitous Curses follows the original 100 Calamitous Curses product with 100 new unusual and interesting curses the Castles & Crusades Castle Keeper can use in his campaign. These can be bestowed upon player characters through mischance and misfortune or used by player character clerics and wizards on hapless non-player enemies. While designed for use with Castles & Crusades, the curses are easily adapted to any fantasy role-playing game system.

Few of these curses are of the immediately deadly sort, save perhaps to 1st level characters; they are all designed to fall within the parameters set by the bestow curse spell, the reverse of the remove curse spell which is useable as a 3rd level clerical spell or 4th level wizard spell.

Examples of curses include:

#16: Curse of the Noxious Noma: The accursed one’s face begins to rot away, with all flesh from the ears forward sloughing off horribly over a number of days equal to the accursed one’s Charisma. Every other day of the rotting process he gains a penalty of -1 to any Charisma attribute or ability check or saving throw, to a maximum penalty of 1/2 his Charisma rounded up. As the lips and cheeks are very important in proper speech, the accursed one also develops a severe speech impediment. If the accursed one seeks to convey anything complex, or must cast a spell that requires a verbal component, he must make a level-based Intelligence check with a CL equal to the Charisma penalty, or he fails to convey his meaning/the spell fails. Though it is a painful process, unlike real sufferers of noma, the accursed one does not thereafter die; he lives on with his face rotted away.

#30: Curse of Piratical Preoccupation: The accursed one believes himself to be a pirate of the high seas. He speaks only using pirate speak (and now knows it and its intricacies, even if utterly unfamiliar with it before), refuses to do anything else until he is dressed as a pirate and has his equipment stored in a sea chest, seeks out a parrot to wear upon his shoulder and a jug of rum to carry at his belt, and once thusly prepared, makes with all haste to the nearest pirate haven, there to find a ship on which to serve as a pirate. Once upon a pirate ship, he will seem to be the best pirate known to history or legend, able to do feats that others only ever dream (leap from mast to mast, fight sharks bare-handed, etc.). His first goal thereafter is to work the men into frenzy to follow him as their captain, mutiny against the true captain, and then lead the pirate ship into glory, hunting the largest and best-defended prize ship known to sail the seas. Once the pirate ship is engaged in battle with the defenders of the prize, the accursed one forgets everything that happened to him from the moment he became accursed, and in addition, forgets how to swim.

#52: Curse of the Danse Macabre: All creatures the accursed one slays rise 24 hours later as skeletons and zombies; these undead never attack, even to defend themselves, for if destroyed, they simply rise again 1d10 minutes later. They reconstitute even if burned, though if disintegrated, they are destroyed permanently. They dance and pirouette, cavort and sashay, slowly but surely making their way toward the accursed one, and when they arrive at the accursed one’s location, they dance continual circle around him, calling out his name with their dead voices. If he flees, they follow, forming a long conga line of death and undeath.

#98: Curse of Rider’s Ruin: Whenever the accursed one rides a horse, donkey, camel, elephant, or similar mount, or uses such to draw a wagon, cart, or other vehicle in which he rides, upon the accursed one dismounting from the steed or disembarking the vehicle, the creature(s) must make a Physical saving throw or die on the spot.

Rules for removing curses and details for including cursed scrolls in treasure troves are also included.

Castles & Crusades: 100 More Calamitous Curses
By James Mishler
AGP00652, 15-page PDF, $3.00 MSRP

Click here to buy
100 More Calamitous Curses
on DriveThruRPG

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wilderlands of High Adventure Player's Guides

Okay, here's a question for subscribers, mostly, but those of you who have bought Adventure Games Journal otherwise might be interested in answering.

As you've seen from Player's Guide #1: Tharbrian Horse-Lords, I am working on a series of supplements detailing the cultures of the Wilderlands of High Adventure.

Which of the following human cultures would you most like to see in a Player's Guide in the next issue of Adventure Games Journal? The plan is to include at least one in the Journal, which will be made available in PDF format later in the magazine PDF and separately, for those who do not want the whole Journal.

Aelphen Woods-Folk of the Elephas
Alryan City-Folk of the Roglaras
Altanian Highlanders of Altanis
Amazon Mercenary-Clans of the Southern Reaches
Amazon Savages of the Beast Lands
Amazon Warrior-Women of the Roglaras
Antillian City-Folk of Antillia
Avalonian Northern City-Folk
Cavemen Wild-Folk of the Wilderlands
Chaelo Peasant-Folk of the Roglaras
Dorin Desert-Folk of the Infinite Desert
Dunael Woods-Folk of the Roglaras
Elphan Mountain-Riders of the Elephas
Elritorn Forest-Folk of the Ament Lands
Garmani Heath-Folk of the Roglaras
Ghinorian River-Folk of the Southern Reaches
Gishmesh and Paldorians of Tarantis
Karakhan Horse-Born of the West
Karzulun Hill-Folk of the East
Lenapashim City-Folk of the Southlands
Mamlukim Warrior-Lords of the Southlands
Markka Forest-Folk of Valonaria
Mengkhan Sea-Rovers of the East
Mgona Lizard-Riders of the Southern Reaches
Moonraker Moor-Folk of the Roglaras
Norkka Viking-Folk of Valonaria
Orichalan Dragon-Lords
Orichalans of Oricha
Orichalans of the Isles
Ralluvim City-Folk
Roglo River-Gypsies of the Pazidan
Shardan Beast-Riders of the Western Barrens
Skandik Sea-Wolves of the Wilderlands
Smyrian Meadow-Folk of Viridistan
Sverkka Eldritch-Lords of Pokrantil
Tarshian Forest-Folk
Tharbeo Wain-Rider Gypsies
Tharbrian Savages of the Beast Lands
Tharbriana Cottage-Folk of the Roglaras
Thygami Hill-Folk of Viridistan
Tlanitlan Pyramid-Builders of the Southlands
Tulamite Forest-Folk of the Southern Reaches
Viridian Commoners & Greenbloods

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Monstrous Menaces #3

Castles & Crusades
Monstrous Menaces #3
Akhlat, Oogloog, and Woodwose

Adventure Games Publishing presents the third in a series of new monsters for the Castles & Crusades Castle Keeper to populate his dungeons and wilderness. Each installment of the Monstrous Menaces series presents three new monsters for a mere dollar, eminently affordable in today’s economy.

The third installment, Monstrous Menaces #3: Akhlat, Oogloog, and Woodwose, presents the Castle Keeper with a 4 HD Aberration, a 5 HD Ooze, and a 7 to 9 HD Monstrous Humanoid. Each entry includes complete listings for the monster’s description, organization, ecology, treasure, range, and special abilities.

An akhlat is a chimerical creature, possessing the head of a man, the feathered body and wings of a vulture, the legs and feet of a monkey, the arms and claws of a tiger, and the tail of an ass. The human head is overly large for the body, and bald; its eyes are black and beady like those of a vulture, its nose is large and long and blackened with warts, and its mouth is filled with tiger-like teeth and the forked tongue of a serpent. Its flesh is as hard as bronze, its teeth and claws like steel, and its breath is noxious like swamp-gas.

Oogloog are giant alien amoeba-like beings with a cruel, inhuman intellect. On a humanoid scale, their Intelligence would be placed in the High to Genius categories; however, their form of sentience is significantly different from that of other organisms.

Oogloog naturally take the form of a giant amoeba-like structure, essentially a bag of slimy acid filled with small globules of foreign materials (i.e. food). They have great control over their shape, however, and can take on the form of a bipedal humanoid, complete with head, two arms, hands, fingers, two legs, feet, and toes. Some possess a most cruel sense of humor, and enjoy preserving various body parts of victims, such as eyes and teeth, and using those to affect possession of such body parts (though having “eyes” and “teeth” in this way provides them no extra abilities to see or bite).

Also known as almas, bigfoot, sasquatch, wild men, yeren, or yeti, woodwoses are seven to nine foot tall humanoids covered with thick brown, brownish-red, black, or white fur. The hair covers it everywhere except on the palms of its hands and feet, which are thick and calloused. They look mostly human, with an apish cast to face and build, and with very apish teeth but very human eyes. Woodwoses never wear clothing or jewelry.

Some exhibit elvish blood or human blood, others orcish, ogre, or even hill giant blood, or even a mix of two or three other blood lines; woodwoses are able to breed with all five races, though one in eight of such crossbreeds are sterile, and one in eight of those with other blood go insane upon reaching puberty.

Monstrous Menaces #3: Akhlat, Oogloog, and Woodwose
By James Mishler
AGP06003, 9-page PDF, $1.00 MSRP

Click here to buy
Monstrous Menaces #3
now on DriveThruRPG