- Gnome Stew - http://www.gnomestew.com -

Running Pay-To-Play (Collectible) RPGs

There’s a change on the horizon in an effort to monetize RPGs—in fact they’re already here, albeit in minor form: the collectible RPG. The RPG where players will need to pay-to-play for specific abilities. Collect ‘em all! This paradigm shift brings with it some new considerations when you sit down to run a game at your table.

Dollars for Powers

Many RPGs over the years have included diverse mechanics and packaged them with the game, typically to enhance or add a new wrinkle. The Torg Drama Deck or the legion of accessories that came packaged in your copy of Top Secret/S.I. are some examples. But what if your copy of the Player’s Handbook didn’t come with a copy of Flaming Sphere? Sure, you got Sleep, Magic Missile, and a few cornerstone spells included in the boxed set on cards, but if you want Flaming Sphere you have to buy the “Spell Codex Booster Pack, Level 1” which includes eight randomized spells, one of which might include the aforementioned Flaming Sphere?

Sounds far fetched? We’re already nearly there.

Currently in D&D 4E there exist booster Fortune Cards, sold in randomized packs of 8 cards. These cards provide minor bonuses during play. Players purchase the cards and build their own decks, shuffling and drawing during play. If you want the card, “Cautious Maneuver”—and its associated power—you need to trade for it or buy it. (Currently going for $9.99 individually on eBay.)

Gamma World takes it even further with its booster packs. While technically optional, if you want any of the powers on the cards—which are not available through any other means—then you have to purchase said cards. Gamma World does this with equipment as well.

Similar is Fantasy Flight’s iteration of the Warhammer RPG. An absolutely stunningly beautiful game, all the powers and effects within the game are on cards. If you don’t own the game—and the associated cards—you can’t play that with that power or ability. Imagine D&D with a core rulebook of the rules, but all the powers and feats on cards. That’s where we’re headed. (Caveat, Fantasy Flight did print just the Core Set powers in individual books, at the request of players, but all other supplements follow the aforementioned example.)


Dave is gainfully employed with modest disposable income. Tim, sadly, does not have any to spare. In most tabletop games both Dave and Tim would likely share—and benefit—from rulebooks at the table. In our new model Dave could genuinely have an advantage at the table by virtue of his ability to purchase booster packs that Tim does not have access to. And, unlike sharing of rulebooks, one does not share cards; they are binary in nature (you have them or you do not).

Conversely, as the GM, you may also be financially constrained (I know I feel like I am!) and not have the ability to vet every card that shows up at your gaming table. Do you not allow Flaming Sphere at the table? Why not? The spell has been around forever and isn’t inherently imbalanced and the player paid for the card to own it and, presumably, use it.

For years GM’s have had to wrestle with this issue of adding expansion rulebooks at their table. But consider the future model where the cards are part of the core game experience and players are expected—and encouraged—to purchase them.

Now expand it even further to equipment. What if the Holy Avenger was a rare equipment card as part of the “DM’s Equipment Pack?” That’s how the current Warhammer RPG does it. You either have the card or you don’t.

Monsters? Traps? Oh my! Think about it.

And would you allow photocopied or “proxy” cards at your table? Tim can’t afford the cards but he can download and print them himself through ill-gotten means. Do you allow it? What about Dave? He paid for his. Bet he wouldn’t be too happy about that!

Brave New World

These hypothetical examples aren’t quite upon us yet but we may have to deal with them sooner rather than later. Some ideas:

The great thing about our RPGs is that they have no expiration date, so those adverse to the next round of RPGs can always sit them out. Myself, I’m actually intrigued by the possibilities. Back in 2001 I outlined an OGL game based solely on cards, but it was a game predicated on mutating powers and “slotting” abilities in a sci-fi future. I’d still like to do it someday with a willing publisher. Perhaps soon?

Concerned or not about collectible cards in your RPGs? How do you intend to handle them? Tell us below!

About  Don Mappin

For nearly 30 years RPGs have been a staple of Don’s life — so that means he’s pretty old. Author of a dozen RPG books, Don has worked with companies such as ICE, Last Unicorn Games, Decipher, and AEG. He now spends his time working in IT management, enjoying his family and two children, or gaming.

52 Comments (Open | Close)

52 Comments To "Running Pay-To-Play (Collectible) RPGs"

#1 Comment By Warthur On October 18, 2011 @ 1:47 am

How do I intend to deal with collectible RPGs? Simple. I won’t bloody touch the things. The most glorious and wonderful thing about RPGs is that the core rulebook (should) give you everything you need to run the game more or less forever, and paper, pencil and dice is all the other participants need to participate. I simply refuse to buy and play a game structurally designed to squeeze money out of players and DM alike in such a shameless way when there are other games which provide literally infinitely better value for money.

Sure, this isn’t an attitude which will make the RPG industry very happy. But whilst the industry needs the hobby, the hobby really doesn’t need the industry. (When was the last time you met an RPG player/GM who joined the hobby as a result of a publisher’s promotional activities as opposed to being recruited by a friend? I’ve met dozens of gamers in my lifetime and I never met one whose presence is thanks to the industry as opposed the hobby.) I’m not going to adjust my gaming habits one iota as a result of the existence of these things because I have enough complete-in-one-book RPGs to last me a lifetime. If companies want my money, they should produce high value for money and 100% optional supplements for their games. Is that model not working for you, Mr Big Publisher? Well, sucks to be you, because the indie game producers and the old school renaissance guys seem to be doing just fine.

#2 Comment By Warthur On October 18, 2011 @ 4:04 am

Double posting to highlight something that particularly bugs me about this trend which I hadn’t mentioned: I despise the way these systems seem designed to suck away at player/GM creativity. The very design of them seems intended to make it difficult-to-impossible for players or GMs to create their own powers, monsters, items and traps – if the assumption is that you’ll buy those as cards, and if the game system is set up such that it is incredibly inconvenient not to use them as cards, that feels to me like a completely hobbled RPG. If a game doesn’t give me the tools I need to homebrew my own stuff it isn’t complete in my eyes.

Conversely, if it’s no biggie to cook up your own ideas in a particular system and it’s completely viable to go cardless, why introduce the cards at all?

#3 Comment By unwinder On October 18, 2011 @ 4:13 am

While I bear the industry no ill-will for moving in a pay-to-play direction, I’m afraid I’m going to be sitting out any game that requires pay-to-play elements.

I don’t generally have any spending money, and one of the main reasons I’ve chosen RPGs as a hobby, as opposed to, say, video games, or radio-control airplanes, or Magic, is that you can pretty much play them for free.

I’ve been playing off of D20 OGL content ever since I was introduced to the hobby. I have literally never seen the inside of a dungeon master’s guide. The only piece of real paraphernalia I’ve actually purchased is a set of dice. Everything else I’ve improvised or made myself.

I’m not intentionally being defiant here. I’m not trying to stick it to the man or anything. I’ve just never felt like I was lacking anything by not having official stuff. It also helps that I live in a small town, and the nearest game store is fifty miles away, which means if I want a proper battlemat, I’ve got to order it and wait for it to arrive, whereas if I buy a big piece of poster-board with a grid on it, I get it in time for the game I’m hoping to run.

Anyway, I definitely don’t expect the industry to start catering to people who don’t spend any money (that would be a very silly expectation). I’m glad that there are lots of enthusiasts out there who’d spend 9.99 on a fortune card. Even though I can’t bring myself to do it personally, I’m glad to see my favorite hobby supported.

#4 Comment By Blackrat On October 18, 2011 @ 4:35 am

I totally agree with Warthur. I think it’s a shame that games are run on a model which requires constant spending to “keep up”. As a kid, I dropped Games Workshop games and Magic when I realised they were doing this and could no longer afford it. All I need to play is a single £15 rulebook (maybe!), a few dice and my imagination.

Plus, for what it’s worth, I prefer to play games which don’t care about what abilities you have / how powerful you are, but rather care about the way the characters approach the world and the problems within it. Not “can they / have they paid enough” but “how do they”.

#5 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 18, 2011 @ 7:11 am

I feel that 4e is already using this model. Each new supplement has powers, feats, and items that seem to be better than the offerings in the core books of the same level. If you want to GM 4e the D&D Insider web site is practically essential, and that requires a monthly subscription.

That is why I do not GM 4e anymore. I can afford these things, but I want to own the game and not be “leasing” it from the creators. Like others have already stated, I too want to be able to design and create content for the game systems that I purchase. If I cannot use home brewed stuff but must use only the official product line I feel like I am being mistreated as a customer.

Switching over to a collectible RPG model is just a race to the bottom IMO. These offerings do not make me want to play the game at all, and they just make the games more expensive for fans in the long run. I doubt that this business model will be very successful for RPGs (although it does work very well for some types of products).

Besides, these types of products are only going to result in smaller publishers having an advantage. Big companies might be able to pull off this type of business model for the short run, but smaller companies will now be able to market their products as being “complete one time purchases”. Now the smaller company just needs to focus on better rules and content, and those are the qualities that I am in interested in when choosing to purchase an RPG.

#6 Comment By froodbuffy On October 18, 2011 @ 7:20 am

I currently GM several D&D games, including this season’s Encounters. I strongly dislike the notion of having to buy cards for the same reason as others have stated. I don’t want my players’ fun to hinge upon financial output.

I bought a few packs when the Fortune Cards came out and have been given several packs as a “reward” for GMing for my group. I now have a pool of 50+ cards that I allow players without cards to draw from. I allow 2 cards for use and let my players pick them rather than building decks and drawing randomly.

I also use the cards like “bennies”. Do something cool in game, I’ll toss you a card. My players seem to like this, even if they don’t get a chance to use the card. (Cards revert back to me at the end of the session. I keep mine in pink card sleeves so I know which are mine.)

#7 Comment By Keianna On October 18, 2011 @ 8:46 am

Collectable rpgs are just not my thing. They are too limiting. It is hard to create your own material. Also, if I am going to spend $50-60 on a book, I had better be able to play the game. It is like mmorpgs to me. I bought the game and now I have to pay per month just to play. Forget it.

#8 Comment By dborne On October 18, 2011 @ 8:53 am

There are too many good existing game systems and too many promising indy developers for me to worry about this.

#9 Comment By Eric Wilde On October 18, 2011 @ 9:41 am

I agree with many of the sentiments already stated here. I totally understand and can sympathize with the need to earn recurring profit; but, I’m personally not likely to ever be involved in such a pay-to-play game.

My main reasons are: (a) this limits the ability of some folks to play at our table and I’m not going to stand for any such limitation; and, (b) I find the use of props unnecessarily limiting on creativity.

Then again, at our table people don’t even need to buy a book to play (though we do as a group discourage illicit use of books.) Show up to play. Bring dice if you can. We’ll sort out the rules/characters/what-have-you on the fly.

#10 Comment By Eric Wilde On October 18, 2011 @ 9:42 am

I should clarify: props in-and-of themselves are just fine. Cards seem more like a crutch than a prop.

#11 Comment By fredramsey On October 18, 2011 @ 9:52 am

I’ll just hold on to my current books and never buy them. Or go with the myriad of PDF systems and free systems, or roll my own.

This will… Fail…

#12 Comment By XonImmortal On October 18, 2011 @ 10:01 am

They won’t be allowed at my table. Period.

When I got into RPG, my dad shrugged and said, “At least it’s a cheap hobby.”

It’s not anymore. With the frequent releases of new supplements, new core books, new editions (invalidating everything else already on my shelf), etc., I can’t afford it. And I’m not going to require players to buy it either. Either it’s available to everyone (like the books on the table) or it’s not.

The problem with pooling the decks is that you are taking cards away from players who could afford to buy the cards, and giving it to people who couldn’t. Yeah, sharing is nice (or at least it was when I was a kid), but I still feel like I’d be robbing somebody.

Next time somebody asks me to buy int to this kind of things, I’m tossing a tin-foil packet on the counter and saying, “Sure, here’s eight randomized pieces of my credit card. You can buy it for only $39.99.”

Either I get to buy the game, or I don’t. And with Wankers of the Cash, you can bet it’s “don’t”!

#13 Comment By Don Mappin On October 18, 2011 @ 10:43 am

So based on the comments here I can infer that no one here owns (or plays) the latest Warhammer RPG? Why? Because it has cards? It really is a very good role playing game, the format be damned.

How many other good games are you willing to pass by simply because you don’t agree with the format decisions? Curious.

#14 Comment By Roxysteve On October 18, 2011 @ 11:09 am

People who make RPGs have always understood that to make money they need to publish often and get people to either buy the game all over again or to buy it a piece at a time.

I cite: White Box D&D, the game that started it all. You might argue that Greyhawk was a necessity. You might argue the same for Blackmoor. But by the time Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demigods and Heroes hit the stands the object was not only “filling the void” but filling the pocket – and why else get into a business, any business? Would you/will you do whatever it is you do/will do for a living for subsistence wages, at least, voluntarily? Most publishers are not “in the game” for fun. Those that are don’t last long.

Traveller was a good example of the beast too. I own an old-style LP case full of those little 8×5 (ish) books. Rules, supplements, campaigns, scenarios, after-market magazines like JTAS etc etc.

I’ve spent a small fortune on games this year, mostly acquiring Savage Worlds stuff, a system to which I’m addicted. But even so, I’ll not be buying any more “dolls house” systems that require repeat purchases to “tune”. Not because of any stifling of creativity – mine is the match for any off-the-shelf product and I find they usually work well together – but because I can’t ask anyone to buy more than a rulebook (and I usually don’t ask them to do that).

That goes for board games too. Miskatonic Horror – which is an Arkham Horror expansion for the other AH expansions and thus pretty much defines “too much of a bad thing” – has cured me of that collecting habit.

Adding a Collectible Card aspect to RPGs is cheesy. I would hope the gaming world could reject such a move en masse, but people flocked to buy the most awful rubbish produced under the D&D 3.5 imprint, and as others have mentioned, there’s Goons Wonkshop showing that people have money to burn, even in today’s dismal economy.

And even I bought extra cards for Gamma World, damn me.

#15 Comment By Roxysteve On October 18, 2011 @ 11:14 am

@Don Mappin – I think for me the key decision is how fiddly and crowded my place at table is going to be. I dislike having more than a sheet of paper, some dice, and maybe a mini in front of me most times.

Otherwise, where do I fit the sodas, chips, pizzas and Quiznoze?


Seriously, I don’t like fiddly mechanics or components in RPGs. In other styles of game I might live for that complexity.

#16 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 18, 2011 @ 11:56 am

@Roxysteve – Publishers are obviously in business to make a profit, but in order to make that profit they need to bring something to the market that consumers want at a price consumers are willing to pay. All of the product lines that qualify as a collectible RPG fail both of those criteria IMO (and I am not suggesting that you feel differently). I just hate hearing the “We need to get paid!” argument as a way to justify bad business models and product lines, and I am sure that you and others are too.

@Don Mappin – Yes, I have played it. It is alright, but not good enough to get me to buy into this kind of model.

#17 Comment By Warthur On October 18, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

@Don Mappin – Reasons why I don’t play WFRP3E? Oh boy, here we go.

– WFRP 2E was a very complete product line; Black Industries and Fantasy Flight, between them, produced pretty much all the support I could ever want for the game line. I have all I need to run WFRP 2E until Chaos comes south and kills us all.

– More than that, were I to buy an equivalent amount of WFRP 3E I’d have to invest a considerable amount of money, it would take up an enormous amount of space, and they haven’t even covered a fraction of what 2E covered yet. The 2E supplements were often incredible value for money – Realm of Sorcery, Tome of Corruption, and Tome of Salvation in particular were absolutely phenomenal on that score.

– I prefer roleplaying sitting down on couches, comfy chairs and bean bags around an open space rather than sat at a table like a business meeting. The amount of components required by WFRP 3E makes my preferred seating arrangement prohibitively difficult.

– As I mentioned previously, I believe card-based systems stunt creativity. Both in terms of GMs creating things, and player action – I’d rather players come up with ingenious strategies and unexpected tactics in combat than pick which of their listed powers is most useful, for instance.

– Because WFRP 3E is not backwards compatible, it would take a lot of conversion work to use classic 1E material in it. Conversely, 1E and 2E are close enough that you can use old material in 2E without too much fuss.

– Similarly, a lot of the absolute best WFRP fan-produced material came out for 1E/2E, including the justly praised Warpstone fanzine. The collectible aspects of 3E mean that producing fan-made content of the calibre Warpstone produced is prohibitive.

– Special dice which aren’t useful for any other game and which you’d have to buy multiple sets of to avoid slowdowns caused by people passing them around. Ugh.

– Almost every WFRP player I know greatly prefers 2E to 3E.

Enough reasons for ya? 😉

#18 Comment By borfaxer On October 18, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

This is the next incarnation of the collectible miniatures approach, and I don’t think this argument has been directly stated yet: a big reason not to buy something labeled “collectible” is because you don’t get what you pay for, since you have no control over which ones you are actually buying. Buying cards or miniatures individually doesn’t help much, because their price is still determined more by the rarity of their production instead of the cost of actually producing them.

From a different perspective, there’s no good reason that the use of certain powers or miniatures in your game should be dictated by their rarity in collectible packs, so it makes it that much harder to run the game you want. The GM should be the one to decide what is rare or common in their game.

#19 Comment By schlake On October 18, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

I run a pay to play Pathfinder! I let my players give me a dollar to reroll things. I’ve got a big jar full of dollars now!

#20 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 18, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

@borfaxer – I have a huge issue with “collectible” being used instead of “lottery” as a way to describe products like these. A collectible item by definition is something worth collecting. Whether or not it is a rare item is irrelevant. Collecting coins and stamps are good examples, because even though there are rare coins and stamps those items became rare usually for reasons other than by design. Mistakes in production, unintended destruction of stock, or just items lost to age.

Yet you can collect stamps, coins, decorative plates, and other items without having to acquire the rare items. You can enjoy your collection without having to add rare items to it. You can enjoy it for what it is.

But these “collectible” games are absolute bullshit. The “rarity” is built into the product. There is nothing really “rare” about the items at all, because if the product is successful more “rare” items will be produced to keep up with demand.

Add to the conundrum that these are game components and now you have an even greater perversion of the original intent of an RPG. These cards are not only artificial “collectible” items, but they are now unfair advantages for those who can afford to play the game versus being an enhancement for everyone at the game table.

Luckily not every publisher is going down this route, and I hope that is always the case.

#21 Comment By CalebTGordan On October 18, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

I am honestly not surprised. It is something that I could see several companies trying out in several different ways.

Paizo has their Item, Plot Twist, Chase, Critical, and Condition Cards. While not required for the game, I have bought many of them to use in my own games. The Critical hit and miss decks have really added a different flavor to combat. The item cards give me a good way to show what type of loot is in the game. Plot twist cards are fun rewards to give to players.

But do you need them? No. They are optional, but still really fun to use.

Would I play Pathfinder if they were required? Maybe, but I think it would really depend on if someone else had the cards first and I had been given an opportunity to try them out. As it is, most of them were birthday and Christmas gifts.

I can barely afford one game system as it is. I also collect and paint miniatures as a hobby, which is probably more expensive than the games I play. If I were to have to continuously buy spells, feats, and other single character options in the form of randomized packs I would be spending even more money I should be using elsewhere in my life.

I also feel that, unless the GMs are given special access to all of the cards in some way, the GMs who want to create their own encounters are going to be limited in their options. Because of that, I may very well not run any of those types of games at all.

Would I play them? I will if I can find a group willing to let me use their cards for my characters. I would try it out, but I can’t say beyond that if I would purchase any of the cards or part of the game.

I understand that companies need to make money from the products that they produce, so I can’t say they are evil or wrong in moving in the card direction. I also cannot say if it will be successful, seeing as there are collectible miniature and card games already that people absolutely love. Who knows, maybe there is a market for it. Maybe it will take off.

#22 Comment By borfaxer On October 18, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

@Patrick – you’re absolutely right. In these cases, “collectible” is a euphemism for “buy this and gamble that you might get what you want”. I’m only using the term because that’s how they are self-described. And in any case, this kind of model conflicts with what the items are used for – a tabletop roleplaying game where imagination and rules are supposed to be the limits, not the supply of gaming materials. You note that the supply is artificially limited, and that’s not what I would buy them for. I don’t go buy a randomized set of tools at the hardware store in the hopes that I’ll get the ones I want to do a project.

I mentioned that this has been tried by WotC before – with their miniatures line. I never bought any because the whole randomized distribution was at odds with what I would use them for (playing a roleplaying game where I’d want to pick which miniatures I used in the adventures). I went with counters instead because they were cheaper and I got exactly what I wanted, and I suspect the miniatures lines ended because they weren’t serving the core group they were meant for.

#23 Comment By OberonViking On October 18, 2011 @ 3:17 pm

I’ve never played wargames because of the cost. I’ve often had friends try to get me to play with a conversation like, “I think you’ll enjoy it… you should see my new Jack, only around $100, but now I’ll be invincible.”
Wargaming always seemed to me to be Rich Kid Wins.
I won’t go that way with RPGs. We have a good group where we share our books around. If the system works really well more of the players will buy the core book(s) and maybe an expansion or two.
I applaud Paizo for what they have done with Pathfinder. Whilst I don’t like some of the expansion stuff and how it modifies the CoreRulebook stuff I don’t need to buy the expansions to keep up because of Power Creep. The expansions (mostly) offer more choice – choices which do not (usually) create a more powerful player, do not (usually) unbalance the game. With their OGL all my players have access to all their stuff without having to pay for it. And this makes a great business model because most of my players have bought at least one book because they know it works, they see its value for money and they want to support the company. Yes, they want to support the company.
I see the same thing for smaller publishers amongst our group – quality material means that we want to support the company.

#24 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On October 18, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

As has been mentioned, there’s a sliding scale here. The Paizo and Pinnacle approach of “hey, these additional things might add flavor to your game” is a far cry from “your game will suck without our expansion packs”. Everyone has to decide what’s worth it (and as any economist will tell you, there’s rarely a single answer to that question).

As a counterpoint, a pay-to-play system like the latest WHFRP that was easy, fun, deep, expandable, and required little or no prep would be worth it to me. Yes, I like the custom campaign, but time is a valuable resource to the grown-up gamer, and some will definitely say that time is more valuable than money.

In other words, I suspect that this will just add another option to RPGs. If the companies producing these will turn their increased revenue into attracting better talent, then they might be onto something.

#25 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 18, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

@borfaxer – I completely understand why you used the term collectible, and I think that both of your comments do a great job of explaining what is wrong with this model. So many companies are going this route but not enough are producing products worthy of their customers’ money IMO.

#26 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 18, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – I don’t feel like Paizo or Pinnacle are doing what Don has described. Those companies are giving me options, but they are not doing so by rendering earlier products obsolete. Nor are they requiring those options in order for people to play their games. Comparing the Savage Worlds line to what you need for Gamma World is comparing apples to oranges IMO.

#27 Comment By Warthur On October 18, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – Low prep? Only if you don’t count the time taken to pack and unpack the components! 😉

Seriously though, there’s more or less nothing lower prep than a traditional single-book RPG with a rules-light system and a GM who’s honed their improv skills. And the current generation of RPGs seem calculated not to cultivate those improv skills but actively erode them.

#28 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On October 18, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

@Patrick Benson – That’s what I’m saying – one is the low-profile wheel and tire package for a new car; the other is like a car without wheels and tires.

@Warthur – True, but not everyone is a good improv GM. If this product gets folks into gaming, they can always take that next step. I do agree about the erosion of skills; that’s one of my soapboxes.

#29 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 18, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – I see your point, but to me one is like a car model with really cool options available and the other is like a microwave oven without a few basic features (but you can acquire them via additional purchases). I just don’t even see them being in the same league! :)

But you make a very strong point that if these types of products bring in more people to gaming that would be a good thing. I just do not know if that is going to happen. In fact, I fear these kinds of models will drive people away from gaming. Time will tell.

#30 Comment By danroth On October 18, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

@schlake – I like it!

I will probably never play something with a “pay-to-play” format as mentioned above. Sure it may be a good game, but there are plenty of others that only require one book.

However, it is still interesting to think about how I would use them. I don’t like the idea of proxy cards, but only for the danger of someone going out and getting all the best cards. (I don’t have much of an issue with PDFs; the system I run is out of print, so the only choices are e-bay [which I suggest because I like having physical books] or a PDF.)

Call me a socialist, but I really like the idea of consolidating all the cards into a “group deck.” I think it would also help create a good cohesion with the group. Rather than having just a few people who have that “extra something,” people who do get cards would be contributing to the group (but still have cards if they wanted to use them in other groups).

#31 Comment By evil On October 18, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

I’m not a fan of these types of games, but I believe that people must buy them, or companies wouldn’t keep making them. We, as fans, always have the option to vote with our wallets.

In the past, especially in tough financial times, we went back to the basics and just made our own system, with our own rules. As a matter of fact, it became so much more fun that we’ve mostly dropped traditional systems.

#32 Comment By Alan De Smet On October 18, 2011 @ 9:56 pm

Just like you wouldn’t encourage your players to bring illegal PDF
printouts of books, the same standard should be set with card-like

Of course I wouldn’t encourage people to printout copyright infringing PDFs.
That’s a waste of paper. Get an iPad and Goodreader!

Tim can’t afford the cards but he can download and print them himself through ill-gotten means. Do you allow it? What about Dave? He paid for his. Bet he wouldn’t be too happy about that!

Gaming has always been a generous culture, sharing access to books quite often. It’s common for one player to own far and away the largest collection of books and share access with the group. If the cards are “neccessary”, I’m not picturing your average group feeling it’s fair or fun to deny someone access to some game elements.

Collectible elements in RPGs are rubbish, at least as presented so far. The
idea has been tried before. Everway’s Vision cards don’t bother me as much,
but they’re really just brainstorming tools, not gameplay mechanics. (I was
thankful, however, that I was able to get a near-complete set cheap a few years
later.) Changeling had Cantrip cards; remember those? Neither did anyone

The Fortune Cards and Gamma World cards are an utter crock. All of the
play benefits could have been provided by selling non-randomized decks and
encouraging a group to share the deck. You might buy new decks just to add to the range of interesting possibilities (it’s why I buy expansions for Arkham Horror). You might buy more decks for a large group. Given that the better solution exists, it’s clear that these randomized sales are a shameless cash grab that are consumer hostile.

WFRP is a different beast, and I think the article is misleading. Unless I missed something the decks are not collectable. The key difference is that they are not randomized. You have supplies that will probably serve a small group. Proxying is relatively easy, if a bit of a nuisance, akin to sharing dice. If you need more supplies for more players, you can know exactly what you need to purchace. Frankly, I’d rather a book listing, but WFRP doesn’t make me angry. I think there is a sincere attempt to try something new in RPG user interface.

#33 Comment By Alan De Smet On October 18, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

Ah, crappit. Sorry for the weird formatting. I drafted that in an external editor and had errant line breaks I wasn’t seeing.

#34 Comment By Redcrow On October 19, 2011 @ 12:26 am

I’m not interested in pay-to-play RPGs. I have played CCGs, but haven’t purchased any of them since MtG revised edition.

Even though I really like the idea of prepainted plastic minis, I won’t purchase them simply because of their random nature. Just as I wouldn’t pay $5 at McDonalds for a random meal.

Some RPGs may move toward a pay-to-play model, but there are plenty of others out there that won’t and I will spend my money supporting those that aren’t pay-to-play.

#35 Comment By ggodo On October 19, 2011 @ 12:39 am

@Alan De Smet – I came in here to point out that WHRPG isn’t a lottery. Fantasy Flight doesn’t do that in any of their games. They’re just believers in the index card method of character logging, and give you the index cards.

#36 Comment By Warthur On October 19, 2011 @ 3:34 am

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – I think the myth of a “product” getting people into gaming is a huge burden on the hobby which needs to be purged if we’re going to make any headway. I have met very, very few people who got into gaming because of a product, and more or less nobody of my generation.

The sole notable exception is that some people – it mainly seems to be Americans – talk about getting into RPGs thanks to red box D&D. But I would argue that red box D&D came out in a perfect storm – at the height of the early 1980s fantasy craze and D&D’s popularity, at the point when TSR had sufficient market penetration to get the product out of the specialist game stores and into Waldenbooks and Toys ‘R’ Us. Essentially, it wasn’t the product that got people into gaming – it was the social phenomenon surrounding D&D at the time, which red box merely happened to be a symptom of.

Every attempt to recapture that perfect storm – by TSR, Wizards, or others – has failed miserably, mainly because people don’t get that point that red box wasn’t a success because it was a fantastic product (if you actually read it, it’s actually kind of flavourless and patronising compared to preceding D&D starter sets), it was a success because it came out under circumstances which no gaming company in the present day could ever hope to deliberately replicate. More or less every gamer I have ever played with joined the hobby either because they independently found out about its existence and were curious enough to check it out, or – and this is the far more common one – because they were introduced to it by a friend.

As far as not every GM being good at improv, that’s true, but I’d say that improv is *so* central to GMing that it’s a skill every GM *must* be encouraged to develop if they care about honing their GMing skills at all – I mean, if you point-blank refuse to improv as a GM, that’s more or less the same as refusing to deal with any situation where the PCs go off-script, and one of the major advantage tabletop RPGs have over videogames and board games is that going off-script is supposed to be not just possible but expected.

At the end of the day, the only way to get good at improv is to suck it up and improv. Some systems make it easy to do precisely this. Others – either because of a rigid focus on incredibly fiddly game balance, or because the system is very complex, or because they’re incorporating the card-based or pay-to-play structures we’ve been talking about – put up wholly unnecessary barriers to this. I lament any fashion in gaming which makes it more difficult for GMs to simply suck it up and improv, because that means people are being dissuaded from learning absolutely essential skills by the very industry which has an interest in ensuring that there’s a pool of talented, capable GMs out there who run great games that get players hooked on WotC/FFG/whoever products.

#37 Comment By Necrognomicon On October 19, 2011 @ 3:46 am

@Don Mappin – Disagreeing with format decisions is a perfectly valid criteria for choosing one game over another.

Based on your comment can we infer that you have never adapted settings/monsters/etc. from one RPG to another whose system/mechanics you prefer?

#38 Comment By Roxysteve On October 19, 2011 @ 8:44 am

@Patrick Benson – Indeed yes, that “need to be paid” argument is not convincing in and of itself, but it is a satisfactory rebuttal of the naive and immature cries of “profiteering!” that *always* accompany the opening stages of any internet discussion involving successful game publishing companies.

Of *course* there’s profiteering, but no-one has yet passed a law requiring one to get involved with it. If one is offended by the pricing, one simply need not buy. It’s the evangelizing that dissenters engage in that puts them firmly in the same box as the people they are protesting in my mind – the “protesteth too much” box.

Also, it is worth pointing out that the high quality of today’s game products (in general) comes at a price, one that the consumer must bear if such products are to remain available. One may rant about the high cost of company X’s minis or books, but when looked at with a knowledgeable eye, one can see what one is paying for. Again, if one doesn’t need such high quality for one’s purposes, one need not pay for it at all.

This discussion is not unique to the gaming hobby. Another place it is just as heatedly in play is in the model railroading community, and it is interesting that it is usually predicated on the same misconception – that the price “everyone knows” is reasonable is actually achievable in the marketplace.

If I’ve learned anything in the half century I’ve been on the planet it’s that when “everyone knows”, you’d better check for yourself tootsweet because 9 times out of 10 “everyone” doesn’t know what the heck they’re talking about.

But that is a subject for a different thread.

I of course do not include you, Patrick, nor any of the gnomes in the box because you have brought a commercial product to market and know first hand that costs are mostly hidden.

And I agree completely and wholeheartedly on the subject of value-added crap actually needing to add to the experience as well as the RRP.

#39 Comment By Roxysteve On October 19, 2011 @ 8:53 am

@ggodo – Would that FFG were believers in writing rulebooks that were accessible and had been designed to facilitate quick resolution of in-game questions instead of being glossy art projects. Every time I play FFG games I hope we have at least two people who’ve memorized the rules because Azathoth help you if you need to find how to do something unusual while the game is in progress.

I cite: Arkham Horror, The oop Conan boardgame and even their latest, Elder Sign, which has four pages of rules and should be an easy game to figure out but I spent topo many non-gaming minutes getting madder and madder last Saturday trying to find various rules governing unusual circumstances.

Avalon Hill. GDW. SPI. TFG. They knew how to write rulebooks. They weren’t pretty but you could find stuff quickly.

I reckon the art has been lost in this post-RPG world.

#40 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 19, 2011 @ 10:15 am

@Roxysteve – Exactly. I have no problem with a game being expensive. Some things are going to have a high price tag. I do have a problem with a game being expensive, and at the same time not having qualities that I as a consumer will pay for. Gamma World is a good example of this from my perspective. It is really just 4e, which I am already unhappy with, with a crappy business model on top of it IMO. Wow! WotC combined RPGs with CCGs! I don’t want to buy that.

I wouldn’t buy an expensive solid gold toilet either. It doesn’t matter if the cost of manufacturing the item justifies the price of the item. It just isn’t what I want.

But I will gladly spend money, maybe lots of money, for an RPG that is well-written and quick to prep. I will eagerly spend money for expensive games that appeal to me.

If it is “collectible” though, well that quality alone will make selling the item to me much more difficult. It better have other qualities that really impress me if you want me to buy it, and so far none of the games that take that approach do.

#41 Comment By get2joe On October 19, 2011 @ 10:38 am

I don’t think the solution will be going Collectible as it is in my current game we only have 2 members that own the physical book, the current GM is all electronic (PFD) and myself who has physical book and the PDF. In most games over the years only about half of the players spent the money on the core book much less bought the supplemental material.

One player will buy all the cards and the rest will either borrow from them or copy them.

I think the subscription model that WoTC tried with DDI will end up being the future.

#42 Comment By Don Mappin On October 19, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

@Necrognomicon – Absolutely, however as long as you (the broader “you,” not “you, Necrogonomicon”) recognize that you may be depriving yourself of a good — perhaps great or even superior — gaming experience by using some seemingly arbitrary criteria, then that’s fine. It’s no different than people refusing to play “D&D” or “indie games” because they’ve set some metric. Cost and format are absolutely equally valid deciders.

And no, you can’t infer that I’ve never adapted content from one system to another. However, I did so because I prefer the mechanics (for example) of one game over another, that I both own.

I own Warhammer 3rd so if I choose not to use/play it, it’s not based out of ignorance of never having tried it.

@everyoneelse – Thanks for the comments, all! Forty-one comments is a bit for me to peel through and try to address for everyone. :)

#43 Comment By Roxysteve On October 19, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

@Warthur – I dunno. White Box D&D pretty much did what you don’t believe happens (though that was a long time ago admittedly). It revolutionized the gaming industry and brought almost an entire generation into a hobby most people quit when they hit their teens.

Anecdotally, I believe Catan has got scads of people into gaming who had either stopped or never really been board gamers. It was the most visible of the “European/German Design” games (games where players don’t get eliminated as a mechanic of the game).

But many, many more get into the hobby because friends introduce them to it than do because they see a game they think will be fun on a shelf or get captivated by the Box Blurb, I’ll readily believe.

#44 Comment By Warthur On October 19, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

@Roxysteve – White Box D&D bottled lightning to a lesser extent than Red Box did. I mean, obviously it got people into roleplaying, there’s no way we’d be here if it hadn’t. But at the same time I would argue that considering the channels it was sold through, reviewed in, and advertised via, almost everyone who bought it would have already been a gamer of one stripe or another.

Likewise, Catan is a boardgame. Even if it did manage to get people into boardgames, that doesn’t translate to getting them into RPGs, especially since boardgames represent less of a hurdle in terms of time and commitment. A game of core-rules Catan will almost never take as long as a typical tabletop RPG session, even if the players aren’t especially conversant than the rules.

Either way, when game companies try to produce a product with an eye to getting new people into the hobby, if you’re reeeeeeal lucky you’ll get something like D&D 3.0, and I’d suggest that succeeded not because the books in and of themselves appealed to newbies, but because they enthused the old guard and attracted back a lot of people who had drifted away from the game, and it was their enthusiasm which attracted the new folks. A group of happy, enthusiastic roleplayers eager to share a game with people – provided said roleplayers have basic social graces – are the best recruitment tool the hobby can possibly have.

If you’re unlucky, you get something like First Quest (AKA “Introduction to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”) – a stripped-down game which gives you just enough functionality to limp through a couple pregen adventures before it throws an advert for the company’s core rulebooks at you.

Conclusion: the best thing the companies can do to grow the hobby is make existing gamers and lapsed gamers excited about *playing* their games. That doesn’t mean becoming a doormat for fanboys, and it definitely doesn’t mean catering excessively to the collector sorts who’ll pay hundreds of dollars for pretty art books which happen to have game systems written in them. It’s about producing products where you flip them open and think “I want to play this RIGHT NOW.” (To give them their due, FFG usually manage this with the WH40K RPG line.)

#45 Comment By Necrognomicon On October 20, 2011 @ 5:07 am

@Don Mappin – Sorry but I don’t recognize that I (or ‘we’) must be missing something great or superior, because we don’t live in a vacuum. I read reviews, the ‘stew, blogs and forums, go to my FLGS, try different systems at local tables, etc. You are mistaking our not _owning_ a certain system (WHFRP 3e in this case) for not _trying_ a system. There is a very important difference there.

One doesn’t need to own something to make a judgement of its quality or suitability for one’s purposes, and not owning a system does not necessarily make one ignorant of it.

By your logic I should buy cars without test driving them and I should buy every single model of every brand of car, that way even if I “choose not to use/play it, it’s not based out of ignorance of never having tried it.”

BTW That was a rhetorical question about setting conversion, it was intended to illustrate the fact that not having WHFRP 3e in no way limits me from using what I like about Warhammer in whatever system I like best, for whatever reasons I may choose said system. The posters against extra card-based mechanics seem to have developed these opinions from actual experience, not a knee-jerk reaction, and I’m sure they are just as good as you or I at cherry-picking the parts of an RPG that suit them and their group best.

#46 Comment By Roxysteve On October 20, 2011 @ 8:54 am

@Warthur – Speaking as one who was there Before RPGs, I can tell you that you are not correct about the effect WBD&D had. People would drop by during a game, watch what was going on, pick up and look at the (by today’s standards pathetic) books and ask “can I try this?”

People were playing the thing in public places because there was no footprint other than the participants and no components to get blown away or kicked over or walked over on the grounds that “this is a public thoroughfare so **** off, dweeb”.

I’ve seen four paradigm shifts in the gaming hobby, and this was the first and arguably the biggest, the one that said that games could be more than a board and some cards or a sand table and a bunch of lead soldiers.

(The others were, in order: Computer wargaming, Ace of Aces, Post NES console games and Networked Device Games. Console games were always perceived as arcade games, competing with pinball and so on until the NES, and Ace of Aces was a blind alley, development wise, though the fantasy combat game that uses its paradigm is always popular when I break out the books for new audiences).

It’s interesting that you mention D&D 3.0, because that game pretty much defined “Dolls House Game” with its endless library of books converging on absolute bilge content-wise, and a miniature-selling operation hard-wired in that invented “collectible” content for RPGs.

I’m sorry you felt my including boardgames was out-of-context. I regard the gaming hobby (and by extension this discussion) as including them, and would argue (in the sense of discuss rationally) that they are the “gateway draw” into RPGs. And I see people who wouldn’t touch such lightweight trad games as Monopoly or Risk with a barge-pole picking up Catan in Barnes and Noble, and in I-Con’s game room each year the Catan players outnumber the other gamers about 2-1, which for me is persuasive.

Interesting subject, and interesting debate. Wish I could sit with four or five of you and talk about this over beer and snacks in a pub.

#47 Comment By Warthur On October 20, 2011 @ 9:11 am

@Roxysteve – On whether boardgames or RPGs are part of the same hobby: naw, dude, different strokes for different folks. I think boardgames are OK but I only own a few and I have to be in the right mood for them.

Then again maybe I’m an oddity on this point. Certainly I bristle at being called a “gamer”, as though being interested in one variety of games implies that I’m necessarily interested all of them.

With regards to the question of “Can a product recruit appreciable numbers of complete newbies to gaming?”, I still say no. Your anecdotal evidence doesn’t change my point that Red Box (and, to a lesser extent, White Box) happened to capture the spirit of an age rather than being innately attractive as of themselves. Those people who strolled along to your games and asked if they could join in do not qualify as being recruited by the product because they weren’t just seeing the product – they were seeing you guys sat around gaming and having a blast. The people who actually went into stores and bought copies of White Box with no prior contact with the game and without witnessing other people playing it? They’d almost certainly be people who learned of it via advertising and promotion, and back at the start that was via wargaming channels.

#48 Comment By Warthur On October 20, 2011 @ 9:12 am

@Roxysteve – Double post because I just noted a glaring logical error in your post: the massive number of Catan players surely indicates that Catan is a miserably bad recruitment tool for any game which isn’t Catan? If Catan players were adopting other boardgames and passing through into RPGs in significant numbers you wouldn’t see such a disproportionate interest in Catan over every other game under the sun.

#49 Comment By Roxysteve On October 21, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

@Warthur – So you’ll use the term “gaming” in a general sense to bolster your own position, but find my use of the concept of the “gamer” to be a technical foul? I call shenanigans! BoD

I know very few people who play only RPGs or only play Boardgames. Excepting games like Chess, which fall into a class of their own, in my experience a gamer is a gamer, though I also find the term as used in “Dork Tower” to be tooth-grindingly twee – dunno why; birders don’t get mad if you call ’em that. Weird.

Also, the logical error isn’t in my “Catan” observation, but in what you are reading into it: You assume that the people playing are/were keen Catan players, and that the four hours or so they spend playing Catan will sum up their gaming lives. These are not valid assumptions.

Firstly, a person’s life is not circumscribed by the four hours they play Catan at a single con, and the time they spend doing that is not somehow prohibitive of them going home and playing something else on the strength of their experience. Indeed, the vendors in the Dealer Room might take issue with that contention too, as they regard the Game Rooms as advertising, the large-scale version of the “Try Me” sticker on a toy.

Secondly, I-Con is an primarily an SF con that offers gaming as a diversion. There is a massive “drive-by” audience of non-combatants who get reeled in by the spectacle. The vendors in the Dealer Room seem to think it worthwhile stocking certain lines above all others: D&D, Munchkin, Catan, the games being played at most tables. For me, that’s persuasive.

Also: If evidence of the point-in-time popularity of a product is seen as a disqualification of that product’s ability to draw people into a genre then no-one can disprove your contention. One might just as well argue that attendance at, say, a Rolling Stones concert was evidence that rock is dead (though I might have a problem arguing against “Living Dead” with that example).

We must agree to disagree I guess. No matter. It would be a boring world if everyone agreed on everything.

#50 Comment By gerald On October 25, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

“Don’t allow proxy cards; it opens a dangerous door. Just like you wouldn’t encourage your players to bring illegal PDF printouts of books, the same standard should be set with card-like mechanics.”

Strongly disagree. The players in my group are encouraged to play with PDF copies of our rule books. They don’t harm the environment (no sense in chopping down trees if we have iPads) and are much easier to transport to and from the game.

I would absolutely allow (and even ENCOURAGE) the use of proxy cards.

It’s hard enough to get players to commit their time to the hobby. I’m not going to make them pay hundreds of dollars just so that they have the rules. We have a shared DDI account for just that purpose.

#51 Comment By GiacomoArt On October 27, 2011 @ 11:40 am

I accept D&D 4E as an entertaining game, and even as an RPG of sorts. At it’s heart, it’s a miniatures game that you can role-play around, but okay. I even ran a 4E campaign long enough to subscribe to D&D insider for a few months, and didn’t feel cheated.

But the thought of CCG RPG scares me in the same way that the thought of Wednesday Addams smiling scares me. It’s unnatural.

No matter how codified they try to make a 4E rulebook, I’m always free as a GM to keep the parts I like, discard the parts I don’t, and add anything I can dream up into the mix. Accepting the CCG element inherently accepts the publisher’s absolute authority over what I’m allowed to include in my own game. It enslaves the imagination, and destroys everything I hold dear about the hobby.

I’m not much on the label “old school”, even though I’ve been playing since the 70s. I’m not much for sacred cows at all. Nor am I one for swearing. But if anyone were to try to convince me that I should game master a “CCG RPG”, I wouldn’t miss a beat telling them to go [expletive deleted].

#52 Comment By LesInk On November 11, 2011 @ 8:43 am

Coming a little late to the discussion … but I wanted to talk about one thing:

Just as @gerald disagreed with:
“Don’t allow proxy cards; it opens a dangerous door. Just like you wouldn’t encourage your players to bring illegal PDF printouts of books, the same standard should be set with card-like mechanics.”
so do I disagree (well, except for illegal copying — that I’m against).

In the past, a friend of mine and I realized we could end the Magic CCG trap by just using white out and pen to make proxy cards of anything we’ve desired to have. It allowed us to play out all the great ideas we wanted to play without issue with rarity and collecting thousands of cards. The interesting result — we got bored of it as we got to play out our dream decks. Sure, we didn’t have tournament playable decks, but it didn’t matter — we got to play the game and have fun with the game mechanics.

In my opinion, a card based RPG game would be fine if it used some type of randomizing effect and deck building. Imagine having a combat deck where you shuffle it and you can only do actions in the combat based on a hand of 5-7 cards. It could be very interesting. My real beef with CCG cards is the rarity game where you have to buy boxes of booster packs to get those 2 or 3 cards you need to finish it out. Sure, it makes money for the publisher, but it can be done another way.

In the same way you have splat books with add-on powers, you can have expansion packs with a known set of cards in them. Now the GM has a chance of moderating what is valid additions. If everyone agrees that the game system is up to expansion pack X, then even the guy who cannot afford much can limit his exposure to entry cost.

And back to the start of the idea — proxies — the cards now only become an aide to the game system. In other words, how many people would rather buy a deck of cards at $5.99 then create that deck from card stock? If they are truly limited on funds, they’ll do the card stock or use other interesting and creative means. Otherwise, they’ll pay the money and support the publisher.

It is when greed takes over, its forces the market between casual player and die-hard player. Keeping the entry to cost low, you can get more casual players to play and, then, convert them into die-hards.