Debating the OGL

Over the weekend there was a bit of a brouhaha at ENWorld because of a quote from Liz Schuh, the Brand Director of D&D; (and one of the better marketing folk at WotC in my experience). People were asking after the Game System License and Liz gave the following quote:

“We’re still vetting our final policy regarding open gaming. As soon as that process is complete, we’ll make an official announcement. Stay tuned for more information.”

This raised some eyebrows because previously statements had been more along of lines of, “We’re working hard to finalize the GSL.” If you look at this as a carefully worded bit of PR, you might suspect that WotC is rethinking its whole open gaming strategy. Some people began to wonder if this might be the prelude to an announcement that there will be no GSL or OGL of any kind for 4E, effectively closing the game off from third party development. That could be, though it’s also possible that Liz was trying to make a neutral statement and didn’t realize how it might be interpreted.

It’s not the statement I want to talk about but the ensuing debate. What I found fascinating was the almost religious zeal of open gaming advocates. Over and over people would assert highly debatable things not only as facts, but also facts so obvious that a drunk blind man on an acid trip could see them. The upshot of these posts was that if WotC did not embrace open gaming for 4E, they were not only betraying the community but also cutting their own throats.

Now look, the OGL has certainly been good to me, and probably only Monte Cook has benefited from it more, but many of the oft-repeatedly claims of the open gaming advocates are theories, not facts. No one, including WotC, has done the market research to confirm these suppositions. At best people offer anecdotal evidence. I think it might be useful to run through a few of the open gaming theories and see what the facts support.

Third Edition D&D; was a success only because of the Open Game License.

This is the easiest one to debunk because I was at the epicenter of both the 3E launch and the beginning of open gaming. When 3E came out, open gaming was a new concept and barely anyone knew about it. The game debuted after an intensive year-long marketing campaign. It was the first new edition of D&D; in over 10 years and people were excited about it. By the time the first d20 products, Death in Freeport and Three Days to Kill, were in stores, there were already at least a quarter million Players Handbooks in retail channels. The brand power of D&D; at 3E’s launch was enormous; that of the OGL was nil. I think it’s fair to say that 3E would have been a hit OGL or no.

The OGL created a safety net to catch gamers who otherwise would have left the hobby.

The theory here is that gamers who previously would have left roleplaying altogether when they got bored with D&D; were kept around by various OGL offerings. The sheer variety of stuff available and the fact that the rules of many OGL variants were close enough to D&D; that they were easy to pick up kept these gamers in family. In many cases this led folks back round to D&D;, ultimately offering WotC income they would have lost. I’m sure there are folks who fit this pattern. What we don’t know is if the number of them is statistically significant.

Without the OGL WotC would have had no talent pool for recruitment.

It is certainly true that the OGL created a pool of people who garnered a lot of experience working with the D&D; rules. That idea that without the OGL WotC would have had difficulty finding talented designers to hire is pretty ludicrous though. The industry has always had more designers than it knew what to do with and TSR and WotC after them never had any difficulty finding talent. Those D&D; books that came out for 25+ years before the OGL didn’t write themselves.

The OGL made WotC money.

I think this is the most highly debatable belief of the open gaming advocates. The argument from the beginning has been that the OGL would help WotC sell their core books and the PHB in particular. I must admit I always found this idea dubious. It is entrenched gamers–folks have PHBs in other words–who buy third party products. Were there people who bought D&D; core books so they could play Dragonstar or Broncosaurus Rex? Maybe a few but there is not proof that this happened to any great degree. When complete OGL variant games like Mutants & Masterminds hit the market, this clouded things even further. If you like M&M;, I’ve got plenty of books to sell you and none of them require you to own or even be familiar with D&D.;

You can argue that third party products kept people playing D&D; when otherwise they would have moved on to another game and I think that’s a fairly reasonable assertion. The question is whether the revenue generated by those people was enough to offset the money spent by D&D; fans on third party products? Again, evidence is lacking. What we do know if that at the height of the d20 boom, an enormous number of books were sold to D&D; fans and WotC saw not one cent of the revenue generated. Green Ronin alone sold books in the hundreds of thousands. Now add in Malhavoc and FFG and Atlas and Necromancer and Privateer and Goodman and how many books are we talking about (never mind the booming business of PDFs)? People love to say that WotC has no real competition in the RPG field, but I think it’s easy to see how the aggregate effect of the OGL might be perceived as detrimental to WotC’s bottom line.

For the folks at WotC trying to figure out a strategy for open gaming, that is a serious decision. They have to weigh the sales of well over a million books to their fans under a royalty free license vs. a bunch of theories that claim this was of benefit to them but have never been tested by real market research. Then there are the PR implications and the possibility of market fragmenation to worry about. It’s a tough spot to be sure and the longer this drags out the more difficult it becomes.

I’ve said before that I was surprised that WotC was going to continue with open gaming in the 4E era. If they come through with the GSL and open gaming in some form continues for D&D;, great. If they are rethinking their strategy and they do decide to make 4E closed, I wouldn’t blame them either. The OGL has indeed been good to me, but WotC doesn’t owe me or any other publisher anything more.

A Useful Lesson from Junior High

When I was in junior high school, I took this craft-type class. We spent one quarter each in wood shop, metal shop, sewing class, and cooking class. In metal shop we learned about workplace slacking when, on the first day of class, the teacher said, “This quarter you can make a metal box or have a free period; what do you want to do?” We, of course, opted for the free period. The best of the four quarters was the cooking class. My friend Scott Piso and I were the only two guys in the class and it was apparently expected that we’d be dumbasses because cooking was not a male thing. Let’s see, which is more fun, getting sawdust everywhere or eating fresh baked bread? One of the things we learned to make was classic mac and cheese. It was pretty easy, involving a simple rue and just a little patience, and it tasted so much better than Kraft’s krap. I took that recipe home and started making it for myself. As I got older and mac and cheese became a less exciting culinary treat, I stopped making it. It’s probably been 20 years since I busted it out.

Last night I revived my old tradition. Kate and I are on our own this week and, despite her food-loving parents, she’s still a pretty picky eater. The couple of days previous I’d let her fend for herself in the pantry, but I decided I’d make something from scratch for her. Kate loves very little more than mac and cheese. When we go to Stellar Pizza, one of Seattle’s best places for NY-style pie, Kate eschews pizza and gets their mac and cheese (which, she proclaims, is the “best in the world”). Luckily, she was not too curious about what I was doing in the kitchen. I was able to cook the macaroni, make the sauce, layer it into a baking pan, and pop it in the oven without her coming into the kitchen once. Twenty minutes later the timer went off and I called her in. She was delighted and ate a big bowl. Success. I think I should have used a bit less pasta so it would have been a bit creamier but it was pretty good all in all. As a bonus there are enough leftovers that Kate will have something she likes in the fridge for the next several days.

Husker Dungeons

There’s an old Husker Du song in which Grant Hart screams, “What do I want? What’ll make me happy?”

Lately I’ve been pondering this in relation to D&D.; The game and I go back a long way. I started playing when I was 10 years old and this began a journey that led me into hobby gaming and ultimately to a life of game design, writing, and publishing. So while I can and do play many other games, I find that I like having at least a little D&D; in my life. The game has had its up and downs over the years, but it has a core that continues to appeal.

I’ve been trying to figure which of the many games called D&D; is the one I really want though. D&D; has a certain gestalt that it’s hard to pin down exactly. When I look over the various iterations of the game, there are things I don’t like about each one. Each version seems to fix some problems while creating new ones. I had hoped that 4E would learn some lessons from 3E. It has but the direction it seems to have taken isn’t the way I would have gone. While I will certainly give it a shot and GR may indeed publish some stuff for it, I don’t consider it likely that it’ll become my D&D; game of choice (though again, I reserve final judgment until I see the actual rules). Paizo is doing some interesting stuff with Pathfinder but it is going down an evolutionary route that again isn’t quite what I’m looking for. And GR’s own True20 wasn’t meant to be a D&D; replacement in the first place.

Grant Hart’s answer in that song is, “Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!” I’m trying not to be that cynical.

Now I have, off and on, been tinkering with a rule set that tries to capture what it is about D&D; that I like. I’m sure that’s a surprise to no one; it’s what designers do if you give them half a chance. The thing is that I don’t have time to go writing a new game while working two jobs unless I’m going to do something with it. And let’s be frank, does the world need my interpretation of D&D;? This is ground so well-plowed that it’s turned into mud. So I tinker a bit and then I put it away. It doesn’t make any sense to pursue it, and yet I find myself thinking about it on the bus and making notes when I get home. I suppose I either need to find a way for it make sense as a published product or just forget about it. At the moment I am, as the Replacements would say, “stuck in the middle.”

Question Answered

Six weeks ago I posted this:

“I think the big question is whether any of the prominent third party publishers will decide to just skip 4E and the GSL and continue to publish 3.5 material. I think Paizo is best positioned to pull this off but it would be a gamble for sure.”

Paizo announced today that they are taking that gamble. They will continue to publish under the 3.5 rules and are beginning an open playtest to lead up their own core rulebook based on those rules for August, 2009. This is a ballsy decision and I have to salute Erik Mona and company for rolling the dice. I think they are approaching this in the right way too. They are not trying to put out new rulebooks in the face of 4E. Instead they are doing what WotC did not: conducting a long open playtest. They are also making backward compatibility a big goal, so folks can continue to use their large library of 3.5 material with Paizo’s new stuff.

I’m sure that some fans will think this is a foolish move on Paizo’s part. How do you fight against the 800 lb. gorilla after all? Here’s the thing: they don’t have to. If Paizo can peel off even 20,000 current D&D; fans and make them Pathfinder fans, that’s a great business for a company of Paizo’s size. WotC is likely going to lose at least that number of fans anyway, so at the end of the day I doubt it’ll really affect 4E. I can easily envision 4E and Pathfinder both being successful for their parent companies.

Less good for WotC are the PR implications of this announcement. Third party companies have been waiting and waiting to see the new Game System License and here is a major player in the field saying, “Sorry, can’t wait any more.” If WotC is going to support third party publishing, they really want companies like Paizo as allies. Now Paizo is still Necromancer Games’ publisher and Necro says they are going 4E regardless, so if the GSL allows it Paizo will be publishing 4E books as well. That really can’t mask the shock waves this is likely to send throughout the world of third party publishing. Interesting times.

For the record Green Ronin’s position remains the same: we’d like to see the GSL before making any decisions.

Vancouver Report 2: Food

As of Friday we didn’t really have any firm plans on where to eat. It’s always tempting to go to old favorites like Tojo’s or Rasputin but we also like trying new places and Vancouver has so many to choose from. I did some research in the afternoon and left Seattle with a post-it note in my pocket with some dining options. I specifically looked for a place that’d be open late on Friday, since we were going to leave late and not arrive arrive until 10 or so. My first choice was a Spanish place called La Bodega (a name I’m sure other New Yorkers also find funny). This is a tapas place that’s apparently 37 years old, pre-dating Vancouver’s “small plates” revolution by several decades. Getting a table late was not a problem, so we hunkered down with some sangria and checked out the menu. We ended up ordering the plato variedo (a selection of cold tapas that included ceviche, mussels, pate, jamon, and a smoky and delicious chorizo I could have eaten a lot more of), hidago de pollo (chicken livers in a cream sauce), alcachofas vinagreta (baby artichokes in a vinagrette), pimientos al cabrales (roasted pimentos in a blue cheese dressing), and a daily squid special. It was all tasty but the squid was the winner. It was extremely tender squid cooked in rice and served with a sauce made of its own ink. I would go back to La Bodega for that dish alone.

Saturday night my plan was to try out Vij’s, an Indian restaurant I’ve heard a lot about. They do not take reservations, so you just have to show up and hope you can get a table. I had wanted to get there as close to opening as possible, but by the time I got back from Trumpeter Salute and got ready for dinner it was nearly 7. On arrival we had to go through the restaurant to the small bar at the back and fight through the crowd to talk to the keeper of the list. We were told it was a two and a half hour wait. Ouch. As we had no other plans for the night, we decided we could amuse ourselves elsewhere while we waited, so we put our names on the list. We walked down the street to a place called the Red Door, which seemed kind of like a Canadian PF Changs. We figured we’d have drinks and a couple of appetizers to tide us over until dinner. They gave us a table on the condition that we be done by 8, as they needed it for a reservation. We said it wouldn’t be a problem as we were not having a full dinner there. We did not count on their hectic kitchen and overwhelmed staff. We ordered some salt and pepper prawns in the shell and some lettuce wraps. The prawns came out after a half an hour and then we waited. We could see the kitchen from our table and it was chaos. No surprise then that our lettuce wraps didn’t come out until 7:55. The hostess did come to reassure us that we could stay as long as liked, as they found another table for the reservation. We left around 8:30 and checked in at Vij’s. They told us to come back in half an hour so, so we walked down the street to a Chapters and browsed books for awhile. I always like checking out the history section of Canadian bookstores because it has many titles you’ll just never see. I resisted the urge to buy a book about the Canadian experience in the Italian campaign of WWII and returned to Vij’s at the appointed hour. We were seated about 15 minutes later. At last!

Now normally if you tell Nik and I there’s a two and a half hour wait, we’ll just go somewhere else. I’m glad we didn’t. Dinner at Vij’s was, quite simply, the best Indian meal I’ve ever had. The contrast to the Red Door was stark. Both places were equally busy, but the staff at Vij’s was much better trained and kept everything running smoothly. Again we could see into the kitchen and I watched the four Indian ladies in charge turn out dish after beautiful dish with a Zen-like calm. No yelling, no rushing, no sweating–just precision and serenity. The food they made was outstanding. We started with a South Indian lentil pate with ginger date pickle and two spoons of Dungeness crab with coconut, cilantro, and candied beets. The pate was more of a spread, but it matched perfectly with fresh naan and was spicy and delicious. The crab was fresh and tasty, and was well-complemented by the beets.

I probably could have left satisfied at this point but then came the main courses. Nicole had the eggplant and papaya curry with black chickpeas and roasted almonds, while I had the grilled pork tenderloin and back ribs in fennel seed, ginger, and coconut curry with cashews. Now I understand that the chefs at Vij are all vegetarians but you’d never guess that from my meal. The pork was perfectly cooked and the curry was amazing. Nik’s eggplant was also great, very tender and flavorful. The whole menu looked fantastic and we defininely want to go back and try some other dishes.

But wait, the tale of Vij’s isn’t quite over; we also had a ridiculous celebrity sighting. There were three guys at the table next to us and they were clearly movie/TV industry people by their conversation (“Juno was lucky it came out in a weak year.”) and the way the staff was giving them extra attention. I kept looking at the two guys I could see but I didn’t recognize them. Then the guy with his back to me went outside to take a phone call. When he came back, Nik whispered to me, “I think it’s the Chairman.” And it was indeed Mark Decascos, the guy who is the Chairmain of Kitchen Stadium on Iron Chef America. Too funny. The staff loved him and many of them came around to chat and give extra tastes of this or that. I can’t really complain though, as Vikram himself (the owner) came to our table three times during the meal to ask how we were enjoying the food. It was really easy to be honest.

Sunday we picked up Kate and had some veggie dim sum at an old favorite, Bo Kong. Then we continued the veggie theme at Cafe Deux Soleils in the afternoon, where we met up with some of Nik’s old Vancouver friends. It’s probably no surprise that we weren’t all that hungry by the time we got to the cafe, so it was mostly coffee drinking and hanging out. We left Vancouver relaxed and satisfied. We always have a good time up there and talk about how easy it’d be for us to live there if we ever had to move.

Vancouver Report 1: Gaming

Nik and I spent the weekend in Vancouver and had a nice, relaxing time. I’ll divide my report into two entries: gaming and eating. First, gaming.

I spent Saturday at Trumpeter Salute, a wargaming convention put on by Vancouver’s venerable Trumpeter Tabletop Games Society (established in 1964). I’ve been meaning to go up for this con for many years and finally had the chance. It took place at a community center near the Metrotown mall and I’d guess there were 300 attendees or so. My goal was simple: play some damn games. I got there at 9 am and was able to get into a WAB game which pitted ancient Egyptians vs. Assyrians, with two players per side. I was on the Egyptian side, which was fine by me. The game started off badly when my co-general sent his chariot unit racing unsupported towards the enemy battle line. It was charged and broken by Assyrian cavalry, routed back to our lines and rallied, and then was charged and broken again. The ensuing panic caused half our infantry to panic and start to run. I used our chariot-mounted general to destroy the cavalry and then reform the battle line. Things went much better after that and the enemy generals capitulated at the end of the session. The game was fun, the other players and the GM were friendly, and the game was in the quietest room of the con. Good start.

In the second session I had to decide between playing Blitzkrieg Commander or a Legends of the Old West game set in the Firefly/Serenity setting. Since I’ve played BK many times but never got to try Legends of the Old West, I chose the latter. I also knew the GM, Lisa Smedman, who worked with Nicole on Adventures Unlimited Magazine back in the 90s. The rules worked well for Firefly, requiring only a few changes for some of the higher tech items. The basic scenario had six groups in a small town with individual goals, but on turn two a Reaver ship showed up and chaos ensued. I was playing the local sheriff and his posse of townsfolk. Other players controlled the various Firefly characters, a gang of outlaws led by Patience, an Alliance squad, and a loading crew of Rasta-looking dudes. Lisa had built out Serenity using downloadable scifi terrain packs and it looked pretty good. My crew’s job was to maintain law and order but with multiple rivals and Reavers in the mix, that was not happening. The Reavers were insanely tough. On several turns I’d have 7 or 8 of my posse unload on one Reaver and if I did even a single wound it was a rousing success. The game was fun but the system strained a bit to handle six players and a GM faction. I have some Western figs I got ages ago from the Foundry; I should bust them out for a Legends game with Rick some time.

Those two sessions kept me busy from 9 am to 6 pm, so that’s all the gaming I got to do. I did have a chance to look around at some of the other games being run and there was some beautiful stuff on display. The Pulp Figures people were there and they had a stunning table set up with gunboats, big Buddha statues, and even a waterfall if memory serves. The Blitzkrieg Commander game I did not play in had really well-painted 20mm Germans and French forces in a 1940 battle (it also won “best of session”, so I guess it was pretty good). I was amused to note that every single Battletech game there was played on Heroscape terrain. Oh, and one guy was running a Warhammer 40K Apocalypse game of ludicrous proportions. There were a dozen Baneblade tanks on the board, along with 30 or more Leman Russ tanks, and a horde of Tyranids. It looked like tactics were non-existant, basically line up 18 inches away from each other and charge. Still, quite a spectatcle.

So that was the gaming. Food later.

Monte Cassino Taken At Last

I have finally finished reading Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy 1943-1944. I got this right when I came out and started reading it in October I think. It’s the sequel to An Army at Dawn and the middle part of Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy. The reason it took me so long to finish has nothing to do the merits of the book itself. It is an engaging read and a worthy follow-up to the first part of the trilogy. Atkinson has a great way of taking moments from 60 years ago and making you feel like an observer. He has a real eye for detail and knows how to paint a scene. This helps make the narrative quite gripping, even though you know how the story ends.

So yeah, no problems with the content of the book. If you are at all interested in WWII, do not miss out on the Liberation Trilogy (though I curse the several years it will take before part three comes out). My problem with The Day of Battle was its physical size. It’s an 812 page hardback and that made it unwieldy. I get most of my reading done on the bus but I found the book simply too big to read comfortably when wedged into a bus seat. After a week of trying that I put it by my bed and began reading a few pages at night before going to sleep. I rarely was able to dedicate more than 15 minutes at a time, except on a couple of weekends. This is why it took me longer to read this book than it took the allied armies to fight all four battles of Monte Cassino.

Yesterday I got An Army in Exile in the mail. Took me awhile to get a copy, but I think it’ll be worth it. This is the memoir of General Wladyslaw Anders, who led the II Polish Corps in the Italian campaign. It’s a really epic story that is little known in America. Polish soldiers who were captured by the Soviets in 1939 were released by Stalin after several years of imprisonment and mistreatment. They made their way to the Middle East, joined with other Polish soldiers who had escaped their country after the German/Soviet takeover, and organized themselves under the auspices of the British army. The II Corps then fought in Italy in 1944-1945, most famously taking the abbey of Monte Cassino after many other allied forces had failed to do so. Then the survivors, after years of struggle, were betrayed at Yalta and could only watch as Stalin took over their homeland. Anders wrote this book in 1949, when memories were fairly fresh. I’m looking forward to reading a first hand account of these historic events.

The Seven Stages of Gygax

Joy: Wow, this is exciting. I’m having adventures in a magical world of gods, demons, and dragons. I love magic missile because it hits automatically! Weapon specialization? Cool. Double weapon specialization? Hell yeah! Hey, who’s behind these giant attacks? Drow? Awesome!

Discontent: How come in basic D&D;, elf and dwarf are classes? That’s really stupid. “What do you do, good sir?” “Why, stout yeoman, I am an elf, professionally!” Duh. And speaking of classes, why are they so restrictive? And why are so many fighters exactly alike? If psionics are so rare, why is there at least one character in every party who has it? And someone with an 18/00 strength for that matter.

Anger: I need a frickin’ dictionary just to read the DMG. This Gygaxian prose is killing me. And a harlot table? What the hell? That barbarian from Dragon Magazine should be called the super-fighter. And don’t even get me started on the cavalier. And what’s up with Greyhawk? It’s geography makes no sense at all. And why does magic missile hit automatically and get better as you up in levels? That’s totally broken. In fact, this entire game is broken!

Abandonment: Gygax was nothing but a hack with a thesaurus. Did you ever try to read one of his so-called novels? To hell with him and AD&D.; He screwed over Dave Arneson anyway. I’m off to greener pastures. I hear Runequest is skill based and Glorantha is so authentically mythic. And Champions has point build character creation with advantages and disadvantages. And in Traveler, you can die right in character creation!

Exploration: All popular games are crap! I need to go to the furthest reaches of the imagination to find the game best suited to the unique snowflake that is me. What, you can find it in a store? That’s not obscure enough! Keep on roll-playing, you drones. I am an artist and roleplaying is my form.

Nostalgia: Man, being artistic can be fufilling and all, but it’s also hard work. I’m coming out of sessions emotionally wrung out and tired. Isn’t this supposed to be my hobby? Remember when we used to play AD&D; and we took on those slavers? Yeah, that was fun back then.

Return: It’s true that Gygax could be a pompous ass at times, but whatever. He also took a tiny niche hobby helped spread it to millions around the world. And hell if playing some AD&D; isn’t still fun, even with its restrictive classes, arcane rules, and tortured grammar. Thanks for everything, Gary. We wouldn’t have gone on this journey without you.

Miniatures for Sale: Flames of War

Have you been looking for an excuse to get into Flames of War, the 15mm WWII miniatures game? I have some figures and accessories that I don’t need, so I’m offering four starter forces for a reasonable price. You’ll need to pick a few things to complement what I’ve got here, but these should get you going. All figures are by Battlefront, the makers of FOW. I do have one extra core rulebook. If you want to add that in, it’ll be $40 (MSRP is normally $50.00).

I’m offering troops for a Late War American Airborne Company for $110, an Late War American Rifle Company for $120, a Mid-War American Rifle Company $120, and a Mid-War Italian Fucilieri Company for $100. For starters I’m offering them to American buyers only to make it easy on me. Add $10 shipping and handling for each company purchased. I’ll send these via Priority Mail. Payment is via Paypal. If you are interested, drop me a line at chrispramas [at]

American Airborne Company, Late War (Total MSRP $139; Sale Price $110)
1 Parachute Rifle Company boxed set ($65.00)
2 57mm anti-tank guns ($17.00)
1 Parachute Rifle Platoon ($18.00)
1 Parachute Mortar Platoon ($14.00)
D Minus 1 Intelligence Handbook ($25.00)

American Rifle Company, Late War (Total MSRP $150; Sale Price $120)
Rifle Company boxed set ($42.00)
Landing Craft boxed set ($45.00)
1 Machinegun Platoon ($9.00)
2 M10 3 in GMCs ($18.00)
D-Day Campaign Book ($25.00)
1 set of Gale Force 9 American FOW Tokens ($11)

American Rifle Company, Mid-War (Total MSRP $156; Sale Price $120)
2 Rifle Platoons ($36.00)
3 M3A1 Stuart Tanks ($27.00)
2 T19 105mm HMC ($18.00)
2 M5 3 in anti-tank guns ($17.00
2 M3 Half-tracks ($18.00)
Afrika Intelligence Handbook ($40.00)

Italian Fucilieri Company, Mid-War (Total MSRP $130; Sale Price $100)
1 Company HQ ($9.00)
2 Fucilieri Platoons ($36.00)
1 Machinegun Platoon ($9.00)
1 Mortar Platoon ($9.00)
1 M14/41 Tank Platoon boxed set ($45.00)
1 set of Gale Force 9 Italian FOW Tokens ($11.00)
1 set of Gale Force 9 8 Million Bayonets Tokens ($11.00)

Print Run Follies

When deciding how many copies of a book to print, it’s so easy to talk yourself into overprinting. You think, “Ah, but for only a little more money we could get 1000 more books and if we sold them we’d make a much greater profit.” It’s a common trap and one I’ve fallen into more than once. It does not help that the pre-order system is completely worthless. In theory pre-orders are supposed to help you set your print numbers, but so few retailers actually pre-order RPG books these days that every print run is basically an educated guess.

Recently, I had to set the print run for the d20 Freeport Companion. This is our last D&D; 3.5 book. At first I thought if I advertised that fact it’d be a selling point. We began our crazy d20 journey with Death in Freeport and now eight years later it would end with another Freeport book. There was interest from the Freeport fan community but I didn’t see anything from the “3.5 forever” fans that made me think the book would buck the trend in d20 sales we’d seen for the past couple of years.

So I did a short print run and figured that’d cover demand. Then the orders started coming in from distributors. One order alone asked for 90% of the print run. Another distributor who had barely ordered d20 stuff in the past couple of years suddenly ordered this one. It quickly became clear that we had nowhere near enough books. I probably could have doubled the print run and still sold out. Now I face the ludicrous prospect of reprinting a 3.5 book three months before 4E comes out. The danger being that in a month when the next print run comes in the demand might not be there.

Sometimes you just can’t win.