I have some thoughts for a new game company that I would love to share more directly with them.
I know roughly how arrogant I sound. But, I’ve been around a while and I have a pretty good gut instinct when it comes to the RPG industry. Some things are like any business. Some things are like any publishing business. Others resemble the retail industry. Still others yet are a platypus unique to the RPG business.
That’s where I come in. I love a good platypus, or rather RPG. There are formulae at work. You’ve got players, obviously. You’ve got a GM in most cases. In some instances you have fans of whatever setting or genre the game is based on. There’s lots of moving parts here.
Every game company I’ve ever seen grapples with at least one of the big three components I just listed. Most game companies tend to overlook the poor Game Masters for some odd reason. Do we GM in a vacuum?
Here’s how I would do it for the GM.
Telling the GM to make up everything is not an OSR mentality. Honestly, it’s just plain self-sabotage for game companies. Maybe there are just too many GMs out there saying, “I usually toss out the rulebooks and make up my own.”
If a GM says that about your game, your product? Y’all have a problem. That means a company can make up anything it wants, but chances are, it’s lost some potential buyers. RPGs function on word of mouth advertising as much as anything. If the GM is tossing your rules out, it’s pause for concern that you’ve lost your audience. (Except good old D&D, but that’s a deeper rabbit hole.) If a GM loses faith in the product, what message does that send?
Remember, most game companies aren’t WotC/Hasbro. Most companies don’t have a big money actual play podcast/animation franchise on Amazon Prime. Most game companies really can’t afford to have their initial product releases flop horribly or they will not be around for another year to do it again in all likelihood. Likewise, if a GM is pulling in books from other games or pitches the system out the window, the sales on future supplements might not look so good.
Here’s my theory.
Really, the formula is simple. Start out with a solid core book that includes literally anything/and everything basic within reason that players and GMs alike are going to need. Unless you’re dropping a two or three volume set, it is best to include all of the character creation, system, combat, gear, spells, monsters, and items in one book. It is highly advisable to include GM basics in every core book such as how to create adventures and adjudicate the system because not everyone is a 40 year veteran GM. That first book has to be dynamite!
Then, the next releases are pretty crucial. My angle is support for the GM. Is a GM screen crucial? No. Is a book full of monsters going to help? Oh yeah.
New GMs especially need something to keep the game from becoming stale and redundant. Trust me, reskinning the same orc, skeleton, or goblin a hundred times over gets pretty droll after a while. Giving out the same +1 glowing shortsword of orc detection, likewise pretty boring.
Modules are okay, but if you set GMs up for success within the first few releases, modules are icing on the cake. Yes, it’s okay to have a module available early on to get players interested in the game for the first time. But after that, the GM is on his/her/their own anyway. Please set the GM up for success!
If a GM says good things about the core book, and buys into the next three or four books down the road, word will spread about what a wonderful game it is. It’s not set in stone, but a lot of people do look to the GM when it comes to what books to purchase next. This is really crucial if the players are new to the hobby.
Sourcebooks aimed at players are cool, but…
As a GM/writer, I would rather have two or three monster books, a guide full of advice for GMs along with new items or NPCs, and a setting guide rather than a GM screen and a bunch of prefab modules. Why? Because I’m probably going to tailor adventures to my campaign and the characters. No premade module I’ve ever seen/run has ever fit directly into the game for our characters specifically.
As a side note, if your game is not specifically a miniatures wargame, figures are probably not mission critical. Many fine RPG systems run off of minds eye theatre or rudimentary blocking with coins, dice, or tokens. Minis might look shiny, but the real RPG money is in the books/pdfs. *Unless we’re talking about Games Workshop.
The player driven stuff is great. We all love new character options, spells, weapons and magical gimmicks. I mostly go after that stuff to see what I can loot for ideas and to get an impression of what the players are likely to want next. Some things catch my eye as a drooling fanboy, such as all things mecha.
Okay, enough about my obsession with giant robots. New game companies can still benefit from listening to old veterans. No one has all the bases covered. We’re all human, and as such, prone to errors. Living is learning. What works for my game company may not work for someone else’s.
Have a great weekend. Thank you for stopping by. See ya soon.