Monday, 21 November 2011

Gaming Ain't Cheap: An Old Man's Tirade

I am the Warden and I remember a time when roleplaying games were cheap!!

That's right. Why, when we played RPGs, there was only one rulebook at the table shared by everyone and we liked it. We loved it! There were none of these player splatbooks, character sheets, d7s, miniatures, and such. There was one AD&D Player's Handbook, dice, pencils, and scrap pieces of paper. And that was it.

Now, as much as I'd like to rant about how publishers drove us into a cost-heavy market of product lines and residual marketing, there's only one guilty party we can truly point the finger at: ourselves. That same original AD&D campaign eventually saw the table fill up with multiple PHBs, minis, homemade terrain, individualized character sheets based on your chosen class, and more. As we got older, we got jobs and had loads of disposable income. While all of our "peers" were learning that money could be exchanged for alcohol, drugs, condoms, and bail, we used our resources to construct a massive reservoir of RPG goodness. We brought all of this on ourselves.

Jump to today and take a look at pretty much anything Fantasy Flight Games comes out with and you'd expect a warning on the back of the box reading "This game must be played on a yacht in international waters." $100 for the Warhammer RPG starting kit and that's actually on par with buy all 3 tomes for D&D (which all players feel they need to buy, for some reason). Everything's printed in hardcover, full-colour, with limited edition leather-bound copies, monthly subscriptions, online character generators...

As someone who's never been good with money - and by that, I mean I've never had any significant amount of money to be good with - it can be daunting to look at the RPG section of the Comic Book Shoppe (yes, that's what my nearest FLGS is called) and turn over to the back cover for the price. Even certain PDFs can be a bitch with a dollar sign in front of it. As a destitute player and GM, these things disturb me.

The expenses of today's RPG market is what drives me to make Redpill a truly expansive game at no cost at all. There are plenty of free RPGs out there, each of them worth anything above free, and my hope is for Redpill to be regarded as one of the best. What about free product lines? Is there truly such a thing? I'm sure feasibility plays a major factor in developing a free product line of campaign sourcebooks, adventures, and supplements. What surprises me is how laughable this concept is to so many people.

First off, so many gamers my age and beyond (being 35+) recall fond memories of gaming in their youth. And we was poor back then, no matter how you look at it. Money was not the means to a successful game; imagination, skill, storyline, awesome characters, and good friends were its signature. Couple that with the adaptation of MMORPGs into a free-to-play format based on the success of its predecessors and it does seem quite odd that free pen-and-paper RPGs are not more common.

Hitting the Return button and reviewing that last paragraph really does appear unrealistic as there's a huge gap between online gaming and published gaming. Plus, the MMORPG example does not equal a completely free pen-and-paper system, but one with a free core product followed by pricey supplements and adventures. All very true and I've just dug myself a hole too deep to climb out of... or have I?

Anything I do with Redpill has to be free so that I'm not getting my ass sued off. Even working on a free-to-play principle and charging for additional material would be illegal because I would still be making money off another property. Then why bother? Because I'm not a big publishing company with payroll, lease payments, and offices. For an aspiring designer like myself, getting my name and the name of my system out there carries a greater payment than I can hope to achieve by selling something right off the bat. No one knows who I am or what my system can do. On paper, it seems like the ramblings of a deranged roleplayer. Unlimited actions? Please. These concepts have to be demonstrated and distributed through a familiar concept easily identifiable to as large a population as possible. And if I can sell more copies at a lower price, then putting it out for free means I can access the largest audience possible, right?

Redpill is my way of demonstrating the overall potential of the Optional System and that requires more than just a good core rulebook. I'm not doing all this for a few groups to have a couple of excellent one-shots; I want groups to gather around the table every two weeks and play this game like clockwork. I want the Optional System to become the definition of a roleplaying game and not just another example of one. Such high standards require out-of-the-box thinking, just like the ones Gary Gygax used when he began pushing the original D&D.

What do have to lose? Everything. So I might as well give it everything.