Saturday, July 28, 2007

RPG Books: Expensive?

Customers sometimes cringe when they look at the price of the latest D&D book. "Why are these so expensive?" they ask. I decided to answer that question.

The first step is figuring out the baseline. Expensive compared to what? In 1978, the1st Edition AD&D Player's Handbook cost me (more likely my mom) $15. This was a black and white book of 127 pages. It was a fantastically creative book that we practically memorized over the coming years. Mine traveled with me on my back through junior high school and most of high school. Back then you could carry every D&D book in a large backpack, and if there was a game after school, sometimes we did that. I sometimes wonder why I didn' t have a girlfriend until college.

The 3.5 Player's Handbook printed in 2005 is full color, 315 pages -- way over twice the size as the original and prettier -- and retails for $29.95. It's certainly a creative masterpiece as well (I think), although we're still unsure of most rules since the 3.0 upgrade. We have a hundred other books to read (121 to be exact), so memorization is out of the question, as is carrying the entire collection in a backpack. I see no love for this book, only acceptance of its utility.

Back to the numbers, we can see that the 3.5 book is possibly twice the production value of the original AD&D book. With a $15 (1978) versus $30 (2005) price difference, does that mean all things are equal? Not even close. How much would that original AD&D book cost if adjusted for inflation? Looking at an inflation calculator we get $48.19. That's right, the black & white original was way more expensive.

Gaming books have actually gone down in price, adjusted for inflation, with massive increases in value. I think the pain and dismay comes from the dearth of new material. It might seem like an embarrassment of riches, but a lot of players are exhausted from those regular releases. They either bite the bullet and buy each book, or they put in place various house rule moratoriums on new books: You can only use core books, or books the DM owns, or Complete books, or the books listed on my website.

I'm clearly a D&D gamer because I anticipate and highly enjoy getting that new book, but even I hesitate to take every one home, and I get them at cost! If you're not financially able to keep up with the hobby, it can be very frustrating and it can seem like an exhausting obligation rather than the wonder and excitement it once was.


  1. You are a bit off there mr. man. My PHB for AD&D, purchased in 82, I believe, was 8.99 or 10.99. The DMG was either 12.99 or 15.99. A few years later they jumped up to 15 and 20 dollars a piece. Modules were 5 or 6 bucks a piece. I don't dispute inflation, though (gas was what, 79 cents a gallon?). Just saying...

    It is a perception of value. Check out the thread on about piracy. Several publishers are there arguing said point.


  2. Interesting stuff. Still learning a lot here, and thanks for giving us this glimpse at the other side of the counter. Hadn't considered the inflation angle when comparing editions either.

    Being a Basic D&D gamer, that's Moldvay/Cook Basic or Mentzer Basic, I admit I didn't care for all the books of AD&D back in the day. I liked it simple, and the old red and blue books (just 2 of them) were good enough for me and my group. Plus, it saved me money to buy many of those cool modules, which I still own.

    We enjoyed hours and, in fact, years with this version, and I still say they are losing something by not creating something like this again, in my opinion.

    Now having said that, there is nothing wrong with the three book format that I can see. All you really need to play, then and now, are the Player's Handbook, DM's Guide and Monster Manual. Nobody's holding a gun to your head and telling you you have to buy everything else, although I'm sure the thought process is that people will buy everything associated with the product.

    $90 to $100 for those books is reasonable as far as I'm concerned, especially if you have a group committed to playing a regular game. If you are looking at getting into the game and have no group, the cost can be a turn off. It can be cheaper to have an older style Basic game that plays for more than 2 or 3 sessions.

    The newcomer can spend $20 or $30 for that while he works on putting a new group together. When he gets a group going after several sessions, that next investment will make more sense, as it did back in the day.

    This is a hope I have for 4.0 a couple years down the line, that they rethink Basic. If the Troll Lords have luck with Basic Castles & Crusades, I can see it as a possibility.

    Overall, I don't think the cost of the core books is that unreasonable. There is definitely a lot of good material in them to keep things interesting for many sessions.


  3. I was looking on the back of my PHB and it's $15. I might have had a later printing, but good point.

  4. Even if your numbers were off, I think your conclusions are still valid. Game books aren't really more expensive today than they were in the past when you take inflation into account, and you usually get more today than you used to.

    I think the problem of perceived expense comes, at least in part, from another source. Back when AD&D came out there were only a couple of new releases a year, and other games were lucky if they got anything. Today, if a game doesn't get at least one new release every month people start to consider it a dead system, and interest wanes.

    Of course, this quickly leads to a situation where new players look at everything that's available and go "geez, I need to spend $500 to get into that system!"

    Part of this is the fault of gamers who want both low cost and regular releases, but part is also the fault of those companies who sometimes spread out what should probably be core rules amongst a dozen supplements.

  5. I know you're thinking Mongoose when it comes to spreading out what should be in one book across multiple books. It's the biggest complaint I hear about Runequest.

    I also hear the talk about "dead" systems and it's horribly misguided. Nowadays publishers are recognizing the sales cycles of RPG books and their intentionally capping book releases.

    Ptolus was a one time release with no follow-up products. White Wolf's new WOD series have a set number of books planned, I believe five. Are these systems DOA? Are they finished when that last book is printed?

    Another problem I see with the WOTC release cycle is that it both a) prevents almost everyone from thinking outside the box and trying a non-WOTC D20 product and b) prevents people from trying other games.

    What would happen if WOTC was in transition and they couldn't do their regular release cycles? We may see next year (I think), but my guess is my sales of other RPGs would go up.

  6. When I purchased my AD&D books in 1982, the PHB and the Monster Manual were $12 each, and the DMG was $15 -- I remember the prices like it was yesterday, and how much grief my parents gave me over spending "so much money on a game."

    I've argued these points many times before; I think your blog does an excellent job covering the points.