January 7, 2011

Rambling, RPG Prices, and Tag Team Powers

Friday means Free-For-All, which basically means I could talk about anything. Today, it’s going to be me rambling about various topics.

First of all, my process. When I write my Free-For-All post, I rarely go in with a plan. I surf my Twitter feed, check Facebook, and Feedly, my RSS reader, looking for something to write about. Sometimes I see a great blog post and I use that, other times, I’m forced to come up with something, like my designer’s notes for FRE.

The first thing I found this week is an email from Steve Wieck of DriveThruRPG. He talks a little about Price Anchoring and a few of the downfalls of extremely low prices on DriveThruRPG. The price he calls out specifically is $1, I assume in reference to Adamant’s somewhat regular sale. The quick version is that at $1, it costs DriveThruRPG one cent after only paying for Paypal and the Publisher of the work. Not including other costs they incur transmitting the work to the purchaser, or even having the website up. Obviously, this would not be sustainable over a long period.

The problem is, if people all wait around for things like Adamant’s sale, the ‘value’ of RPGs would eventually drop, leaving us with almost nothing in way of potential dollars. As a developer, and eventual self publisher of RPGs, this is a problem, and something I wrestle with internally an awful lot. I know pricing is going to affect sales. I also know that lower price sells more. But how low? Obviously, one dollar is too low if I plan on using DriveThruRPG exclusively (I haven’t decided on my distribution model yet.), as I don’t want my distribution channel to fail. I also feel that fifteen dollars for an e-book is way too much.

One of the other things I study as a hobby is fiction writing, and recently, publishing as a whole. One guy I’ve found who likes sharing his views and experience is J.A. Konrath. His experience on the Kindle has led him to believe that the ‘sweet spot’ for ebooks is $2.99. I’ve discussed the idea with a few people, and I’d venture to say it’s likely between that price and $3.99. That’s fiction, though, something we buy in physical form between $6 and $13 in softcover, and upwards of $25 in hard cover.

So what’s the sweet spot for RPGs? I honestly don’t know. I can make an educated guess. We know that the price anchor for RPGs is between $15 and $30 for physical product. If I keep the assumption that ebooks are not as ‘valuable’ as hard copies, what would I aim for? I think somewhere between $5 and $15 is going to end up being ‘the right price’ for electronic products. You can bet I’ll be trying different price models with my games, so hopefully sometime in the future I’ll be able to tell you exactly what price is ‘right’ for RPG products.

The next thing I want to talk about is a post over on Nevermeet Press by shinobicow about ‘tag team powers’ in 4th Edition D&D. His idea was feat bought powers that required the teammates to act on the same initiative count. I like the core idea, but hate the concept of forcing players to delay to do something awesome. 4th Edition is definitely the ‘be awesome, all the time’ edition, and delaying is decidedly not awesome.

So, how do I counter his design? Simple: Look at Arena Fighting. Arena Fighting feats offer you a bonus to specific powers for a feat. Why not make tag teams like this? The first idea was one of the iconic attacks from the X-Men: The Fastball Special. Thinking about it, I realized we already had a power that represents the throw, and the attack could be just about anything, really.

The Warlord’s Knight’s Move lets an ally Move their speed. Perhaps, the feat changes Knight’s Move to a shift with a bonus equal to the Warlord’s Strength, and a fellow party member with Fastball Special gets to make an attack with a specific Exploit before they move before the end of the next turn. That would of course need an additional benefit, perhaps treat the attack as if they had charged, or lay in some extra damage for the Special.

Obviously, a very rough idea, and I plan on writing up a few of these and trying them in a one shot game to see how they fair. After I’ve got some balance, I’ll see what I can do to make them available to you guys!

So, RPG pricing, what do you guys think?

How about team up attacks in any RPG?

Update 2011-01-09: Chuck Wendig, freelance penmonkey, covered the topic of e-book pricing on his blog on Friday. Some interesting insights and Gareth from Adamant made a comment as well.


  1. So many things to respond to!

    I both love and hate the micro-payments model. While I'm all for it in theory, even iTunes (arguably the leader in micro-payments) has issues making money off of micro-payments. I'm all for $5 and under PDFs, but once you try to go below $2, you're asking for trouble.

    Unfortunately, I believe heavily in printed books, as the only thing I'd purchase online (PDF or otherwise) should be a resource, not reading. I don't read on my computer - that's where I type. If I'm going to read, it's because I'm elsewhere. Real RPG products should be in print. It's the only way you can build a following and get retail support (which is how games build momentum).


    As for team attacks, the basic initiative, turn-taking system used in most games is highly restrictive to team attacks. My absolute favorite thing to do in an RPG is for one person to set up an attack, and another person deliver it. Unfortunately, that is almost impossible to build in the standard turn system. Team attacks are a little easier (because you just mess with the turn order a little bit), but delays can be confusing.

    I will say, though, that I fundamentally disagree with your statement that delays are boring. Who wants to delay the fun? Well, when the fun is going to be way more fun because of the delay, it's worth it.

    Back in the day, I built a ritual system in D&D that required turn delays, as you've said. Now, in the D&D system, it was nearly impossible to get players to delay their turn in order to go at the same time. Nobody wanted to, unless the ritual was powerful enough (key words here). Unfortunately, if it was powerful enough to actually use, then it was probably overpowered.

    So, my thought is that turn-based game design is the flaw. Designers need to find other ways of creating RPGs that don't use the classic turn-based system. What is it? Well, I'll let you design that one.

    Cheers & Gears,

  2. Now that you point it out, you're right, the turn based system is a key problem with it. A side project I got the idea for last night may hold the key to 'the new way' but I'm not sure I'm ready to tip that hand.

    As for pricing, it's a subject that will be debated for a while yet, I'm sure. I'm actually going to update the primary post with a link to Chuck Wendig discussing this same issue, with special note that Gareth of Adamant games chimed in on the topic in the comments.

    I do disagree on some level about print being the only way for RPGs, but I don't think PDF (The current 'standard' for electronic games.) is the format to make the move easy. As e-readers become cheaper, and e-ink and LCD screens both become cheaper, more powerful, and easier to view we'll see a more marked shift in the market. We're not there yet, but it's coming, and the same changes that the publishing industry at large faced this last decade, I believe the RPG market will face in the coming days.

    All of that said, and I will come back with the simple reality that books, especially hardbacks, are not going away any day soon, and that is definitely a good thing.