Robert Dubois of Dream Pod 9 Follows Up

First, before we get to the content of his reply let me publicly thank Mr. Dubois for taking the time to respond.

Second, let me appologize to him for letting this post sit for weeks.

Now, his response:

We talked it over at the office and will be correcting the price of a few of the titles next week (after the GM’s Day Sale ends) mainly a few of the older books that are priced at 70% off the printed book price they will be reduced to 50% off, for Tribe 8 its only the 2nd edition players handbook that will see the price decease. Our newer books for Heavy Gear Blitz will maintain their current pricing. I read the post you linked below and can understand peoples point of view, we have to live with piracy and we still have to pay all the writers, artists, sculptors, and production staff that work on the products, be they printed books or eBooks. One thing we came up with at the office was the idea of making bundles the eBooks for each gameline and selling them for a special additional 25% off discounted price for people that want to pickup the entire gameline at once. We’ll be putting those bundles up next week after the sale ends. Let me know your comments about our plans.

I’m glad to see they are looking at it. I’m disappointed that are doing so little. As I said in my original post I understand the issues with PDFs of books currently in print. However for PDFs of out of print books different rules apply.

As for having to pay his staff: if five plus years out of print books aren’t amortized off they never will be. If he is depending on PDFs above reasonable price points to fund future projects he also has problems.

The simple fact is, as is proved by a post over at RPG Blog 2 about The Cortex System PDF being over priced, there is a ceiling to PDF prices. If you can’t get under it I would say don’t bother being in the market.

Dream Pod 9 has ceded my business to the used market as has White Wolf. Perhaps I’m unique but I doubt I am. In a business with razor think margins pushing customers to the used market or piracy is not a smart long term strategy.

Names on a Map

One of the more interesting things in looking back at Runequest 2 (RQ) (the Chaosium version, not the new Mongoose one) is how much difference 30 years have made in what is considered a setting. When it was published RQ was considered unique in that it was specific to a setting. While Empire of the Petal Throne predates it for some reason the fact that it had a setting hadn’t registered. I suspect that as TSR’s other RPG it wasn’t considered a major player. Another might be the tight relationship between the system, especially the magic system, and the world. Regardless of why, RQ was seen as a breakthrough game in this respect, as well as others.

From the time I got my first copy of RQ I have been enamored of that world, Glorantha. For someone whose fantasy exposure was Tolkien, Narina, Earthsea, and D&D up until that time it was a revelation. I had always been interested in the ancient world, especially Sumer, and here was an RPG that embraced the Bronze age over the Iron age. Here was a world where gods and myths were an integral part of playing instead of at best a nudge to behave good to get your cure spells. Finally, here was a game that was about going places and doing things instead of looting dungeons.

When I fast forward twenty-five years from that first copy of RQ it’s amazing how different it is. At that point I found a used copy of RQ2 at my FLGS and I bought it. I had the Avalon Hill edition by that point as well as all the Avalon Hill supplements. I’d never had the originals from Chaosium due to lack of money and lack of interest among people I played with. In fact, the only RQ I got to play more than one shots was a Harn game. Getting that copy of RQ2 blew my mind. Maybe three pages of strictly setting material are in the book. There are about another 10 or 15 integrated in the rules in the form of cults, the prior experience appendix, and two maps.

As I prepare for my Big Rubble centered game starting Monday it is those maps that are interesting. On facing pages in the appendices the left/west one covers Dragon Pass and parts of Tarsh, Estrola, and The Holy Country. The right/east one covers Prax and the southern Shadow Dance mountains. Pavis is at the east side of Prax along the River of Cradles which marks its eastern boundary (or not). There are some great place names on the map. Beyond Pavis are five other cities: Laca, Adari, Castle of Lead, Barbarian Town, and Corflu. There are five marked ruins beyond The Big Rubble: Hender’s Ruins, Monkey Ruins, Old, and Winter Ruins. Five named oasises are on the map. Ten named regions are listed. The length of the gazetter for this map is zero. There isn’t one. These maps were included without any explanation.

If you go through the text you have some hints. Pavis Outside the Walls is settled in 1575 according to the one page timeline in the introduction. The map merely lists Pavis so what that means the entry means is open to interpretation. The timeline also mentions the fall of Pavis (just Pavis) to the Lunar Empire. The City of Lead and its surrounding region Dagori Inkarth are mentioned in a paragrah of the Kyger Litor cult write-up. The same write-up also notes cult Rune Lords must ritually consume large amounts of vegetable matter then paranthetically remarks “Elves are considered vegetable matter”. The Rune Lord note is as long as the geographic note.

If you had the contemporary board game Nomand Gods some of these items might be detailed. I played it once a couple of years before I got a copy of RQ. Later products would explain the various Pavis locations (Pavis and The Big Rubble from Chaosium and River of Cradles from Avalon Hill), Sun Dome Temple (Pavis and Avalon Hill’s Sun Country), parts of the Long Dry (Borderlands and AH’s Shadows on the Borderlands), Corflu (Pavis), and Dagori Inkath (Trollpak). As an adult I’ve collected these (except Nomand Gods but they cover the eastern and northern edges at most. They also disagree with that first map, as well. For example, New Pavis on the original map is east of the river aand southeast of the old city. In the boxed sets it is along the north west wall across the river.

For me this is liberating. One of the knocks against Glorantha as a world that it shares with Tekumel and Jorune among others, is it is so detailed that you can’t play it. While there is some truth to this the fact remains that I have very little to go on for a Prax game. I don’t have places described to any degree. Even the supplements leave dangling ends such as where does the Pavis road terminate in the west. If you just take RQ2 you are roughly in the same place, in terms of setting, as someone who has a white box, the four supplements, and a copy of the Outdoor Survival map. The setting is less generic but still almost completely implied. The only part more detailed is the mythology and some cults, but the latter are tied to the rules and the three offered cults provide about the same amount of usuable material as the sample dungeon in the white box.

I’ve taken some notes from the published products I have and I’ll be using Pavis and The Big Rubble quite extensively. The later is mostly empty space for the gamemaster to fill. The rubble of Old Pavis is the largest enclosed space in the world at its time, has nearly twice the populace of the new city and is represented by seven adventures. I will certainly take advantage of other materials, especially the extensive cult write-ups.

The fact remains, however, that in the end I have a bare outline. I have something that is arguably the best of both worlds for a sandbox. I have the openness of an DIY outline without the “white space panic” that a full DIY would create. I’m looking forward to finally being able to say one of the most common sayings of the old Runequest and Glorantha mailing lists “in my Glorantha”.

Because all Glorantha is, for now, is names on a map.

PDF Costs and Screwing Up the Long Tail

Yesterday reading MJ Harnish over at Gaming Brouhaha reminded me of a game I always wanted to run: Tribe 8. Now, my books are somewhere in Connecticut but I figured a trip to RPGNow could net me a low cost PDF. This was doubly true after I learned in the Wikipedia article on the game that the second edition player’s handbook moved the timeline ahead fifteen years. Now, instead of wading through metaplot books to see where the world was going naturally I could build a quick timeline. Given one reason I never ran Tribe 8 was just how damned metaplot heavy it was this was great.

I haven’t bought any Tribe 8 PDFs. Why? That second edition player’s handbook that retailed for $29.95 is available for $24.95. Most of the rest of the line is a little better with the PDF selling at half the cost of the original print product. This still leaves the most inexpensive book at $7.95.

For comparison several of the books are available on eBay with shipping for less than the original cover price. That’s for a physical item with no need to print out pages I need or want to mark up (although admittedly I often photocopy pages for mark-up). One book, Warrior Unbound, is actually available for exactly the same price with shipping from eBay as the PDF (it’s a “Buy it now”, not an auction). Moving to Amazon three copies of the first edition rulebook are under the $13.95 price of PDF. Given the second edition required an external rulesbook this isn’t trivial. Finally, Alibris who is already courting me with a coupon has nearly the entire series as physical books for less than the PDFs.

Right now the PDFs have one advantage, immediacy. This would have been a huge score as the trip to RPGNow was an impulse. However, when getting the rules in PDF, with all the disadvantages for that format (readability, requires a machine at the table or printing out) is comparable to buying the physical product in terms of price I won’t be buying. If the interest continues I’ll purchase physical books at comparable or slightly higher prices.

While I’m concentrating on Tribe 8 Dreampod 9 is far from alone in this. White Wolf follows the same policy for the old World of Darkness. Contrast that with Fantasy Flight Games. Their very popular Midnight setting for D&D3 has no product priced at more than $10 and that’s for the core setting book. The supplements are uniformly $7, a price nearly a dollar less than the cheapest Tribe 8 book. When it comes to impulse buying of PDFs $10 seems to be a good ceiling. At $10 I would be reading the core book again instead of writing this.

I understand that the pricing of PDFs as primary products or when they are directly competing with brand new, in print books is a complex subject. However, that’s not what we’re discussing here. Both the old World of Darkness and Tribe 8 last saw a physical book printed in 2004. Neither line is currently in print nor will be in the foreseeable future. For new players of the game lines or continuing players looking to add or replace material there are two markets: used products or publisher PDFs. Actually, there is a third, pirated PDFs. Only one of these three makes publishers any money.

These products have either been fully amortized or never will be. They are not major profit centers nor do the PDFs directly compete with another product stream from the publisher. In WW case they might compete against nWOD but then again so do used oWoD books and the same issue arise. Dreampod 9 and WW have both lost PDF sales from me due to their pricing. I suspect I’m far from alone. Reducing these lines to $10 for core and thicker books and $5 for adventures and thinner books might look like a large loss. However, given the probable sales volume at this point compared to the volume in the secondary market finding a sweet spot that increases sales while not leaving the money on the table shouldn’t be that hard.

And everyone likes more revenue.