The Adventure Conundrum

If you are a roleplaying game publisher, you have to realize is that, as a rule, adventures do not sell as well as other types of books in the current environment. My company is giving adventures one last shot with Black Sails Over Freeport, a 256-page mega-adventure that comes out next month. If that format doesn’t perform, I can’t see us doing much more in the way of stand-alone adventures. It’s too bad really, as our break out product as my Death in Freeport adventure, but the numbers are indisputable.

The accepted reason that adventures don’t sell is that there are more players than Gamemasters and thus more potential customers for player-oriented books. While this is undoubtedly true, that fact alone doesn’t explain the phenomena. Campaign settings sell better than adventures and they too are aimed at Gamemasters. The other factor to remember is that GMs tend to be more “bought into” a game and thus spend more money it than do players. Many players, in fact, don’t even have a have a copy of the game they play regularly.

All this got me thinking about a deeper reason adventures may not sell. Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at RPG purchase patterns. Generally, there are three reasons why someone buys an RPG book.

1) It fills some need in their current campaign and it will be used as is or with minor tweaking.

Examples: “The PCs in my group are 6th level and I’m tired of making up adventures. Hey, Black Sails Over Freeport is for that character level and this’ll keep my campaign going to at least six months.”

“I’d like to add psionics to my campaign, but how to do it without upsetting the established continuity? Hey, I can have the PCs visit this Mindshadows setting and learn about psionics that way.”

2) They find the topic of interest and/or think at least some of the book is adaptable to their campaign.

Examples: “I don’t use Freeport in my campaign, but a book full of detailed NPCs is still very useful. I’m going to pick up Denizens of Freeport.”

“I like pirates, but don’t want to run a historical campaign. I think I’ll use some of the classes, firearms, and monsters from Skull & Bones in my campaign.”

3) They know they won’t really use the book, but think it’ll be an enjoyable read and/or it’ll help keep them up on the game’s current developments.

Examples: “I wouldn’t want to play an unholy warrior because they are evil, but the Unholy Warrior’s Handbook looks like a fun read.”

“I’ve heard so much about Book of the Righteous. I don’t need a new pantheon, but I’m going to see what all the fuss is about.”

Thus, I think one of the problems with adventures is that it’s too easy for purchasers to dismiss them from 1 and 2 above.

“I make up my own adventures, I’ll never use this.”

“This adventure is for 9th level characters and my group is 2nd level.”

And so on. While some adventures do come with source material to give them more utility, that material alone is unlikely to get someone to buy it.

So oftentimes, it devolves on #3: “I have no intention of running this but I want to read it.”

Do some people do that? Absolutely. Do some of them enjoy reading adventures? Without a doubt. However, I’ve come to think that a gamer with no intention of using a particular book will tend to buy a sourcebook far more often than an adventure and this may be the ultimate reason adventures are the poorest selling type of RPG product out there.

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