Early this year Green Ronin was approached about a new promotion, Free RPG Day. The idea was to do something like Free Comic Day, but for roleplaying games. This sounded like a great idea to me, so I immediately agreed to participate. As it happened, we had an introductory product for our Mutants & Masterminds RPG, the M&M; Beginner’s Guide, in production at the time and we were printing extra for promotional use such as this. We told Aldo, the organizer of Free RPG Day, that this was a perfect item and we’d like to use it. He had decided, however, that all items for the promotion had to be brand new and without a printed price. Since the M&M; Beginner’s Guide was out four months before the promotion and had a printed MSRP of $7.99, he would not take it. We found this a bit frustrating, but decided that we still wanted to participate because it was a good marketing opportunity. We agreed to provide the requested 1,000 copies of a new item.
My first inclination was to do a quick start set of True20 rules with an introductory Freeport adventure. While that would indeed have been ideal, reality soon intruded. I had planned to write it but by April it became apparent that getting the project finished and in the warehouse by June 4 was going to be a dodgy proposition. I didn’t have enough time to write and Hal was already so backed up with layout projects that adding another to the mix was just asking for trouble. We decided therefore to take a project already in the pipeline, Bleeding Edge Adventure #5: Temple of the Death Goddess, and make that into our Free RPG Day offering. This wasn’t as sexy as a True20 Freeport quick start, but getting the word out about the Bleeding Edge adventures and promoting GR generally was still desirable.
Hal asked our b+w printer if they could have the print run done by June 4 and they said they could. By this point the requested number had risen to 3,000 and we agreed to provide the full amount. Then things went off the rails. The key piece of information the printer had failed to tell us was that if we made any changes during proofing we would miss our print window. When the proofs showed up, Hal found a couple of minor things and, as is standard practice with GR, fixed them. No one at the printer double checked with us to make sure we wanted to make those changes, since it would mean missing the June 4 date we had told them was very important. So come the all important day they had printed the insides but hadn’t even done the covers yet.
At this point we went back to Aldo and explained what had happened. We told him that we still wanted to participate, and offered up M&M; Beginner’s Guides. Since he had planned for 100 stores and gotten 300 signed up and thus was short of product, we figured he’d agreed to the last minute substitution. It’s not like we were trying to dump some 5 year old d20 book on him. This was a purpose built and full color introduction to our most popular game, just the sort of thing a retailer would want to give out on Free RPG Day. And at this point his choice was light boxes and no Green Ronin participation, or bending his rules slightly to address adverse circumstances.
He would not take the M&M; Beginner’s Guide.
I must admit I was flabbergasted. Here we had been promoting this to our fans for six months and now we’d have nothing in stores for the day. After mulling it over (and swearing a lot), I decided to do two things. First, I wanted to give away Bleeding Edge #5, the M&M; Beginner’s Guide, and the full core rulebook for True20 Adventure Roleplaying in PDF form on the Green Ronin website for 24 hours. I figured I’d take Free RPG literally and give away True20, so folks would really get something of substance. Second, I told the printer to halt the print job on Temple of the Death Goddess, so we could supply a new cover. We would offer it for $2.95, so it could still serve as a good introduction to the Bleeding Edge line. None of this was ideal, but I figured it’d still be good marketing.
I wish this was the end of the story, but the pain continued. On Free RPG Day way more people than we expected came to the GR site to download the freebies. Gamers, they love free stuff. Our server was choked all day. While a lot of people did get the freebies, many did not and our custserv address was flooded with complaints. I sure didn’t expect we’d get complaints about giving stuff away for free! The next day I decided to turn Free RPG Day into Free RPG Week. We offered the freebies again, but one at a time on different days, and combined that with a PDF sale. That chapter at last ended on a happy note.
The saga of Temple of the Death Goddess did not, however. The revised covers were printed, the books bound, and the finished product sent to our warehouse. There it was discovered that the back covers had been misprinted! Every instance of the letter Y had been dropped out and there was a weird grid over the art. This was not how the proofs looked. So now the printer has agreed to ship the books back, where they will tear off those covers, print new ones, and rebind them. If we are lucky, we can actually release this thing by the end of July.
All of this makes me laugh when I look back six months. A 32 page product for Free RPG Day? How hard could that be to put together? This is a lesson for the ages in publishing. Whenever you think that a project is going to be easy, it will find a way to vex you until you think your head will explode. Despite all this, however, we are planning to participate in Free RPG Day for next year. We already have the product planned out and dropped into our schedule. That should help things along, but I will not jinx it by saying it’ll be easy.