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Chris Palmer

RPG-ing 1980's Style

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11 hours ago, Dr.Bedlam said:

 Universe was fascinating, in that I don't think any other RPG system ever invented had so incredibly involved a character generation system. It took HOURS to create your dude.

I thoroughly enjoyed Universe for that and the star map.   Only got one chance to play it though.  Still have my box set. 

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On 6/10/2018 at 12:55 AM, Doug Sundseth said:

Many years ago now, when I was editing the Games Quarterly Catalog, I spent a couple of hours at Origins (IIRC; might have been Gencon) talking to one of the people who was a minor stockholder in TSR through much of the really serious infighting. He said that everybody who was a major stockholder was treating the corporate politics like a game of Diplomacy. The results were what you saw.

 

The thing that probably came closest to killing TSR before they could be bought out was bookstore chain returns. Or actually "returns", since bookstores very seldom actually return product. Instead they strip the covers and return them for credit*. So not only didn't they have any money from the product, they didn't even have the product to resell to somebody else. That practice is (or at least was) standard in the book industry, so it shouldn't have been much of a surprise, but when the stores order "what might sell", that can be a real problem when the sales drop at all significantly.

 

And to address another comment upthread, TSR sold their product at "standard terms". At the time, that meant that the distributors received what was referred to as 50/10/10: 50% discount, plus 10% extra for payment on time (which is 10% of the remaining 50%, or actually 5% more), and 10% extra for early payment (same deal, but that would be 10% of 45%). 50/10/10 is actually 50% + 5% + 4.5%, or a 59.5% discount from MSRP. Note that the distributors did not typically pay 59.5% only for early payment, but whenever they got around to cutting a check. And you couldn't really sue them, because suing one of your dozen or so real customers isn't the way to stay in business. Oh, and if the distributor was out of stock for any reason at all, he would typically report that as, "The manufacturer is out of stock; we'll get it to you as soon as they have it." This would often (arguably even "normally") be entirely unrelated to the actual stock status at the manufacturer.

 

From that 40.5% of MSRP, the manufacturer has to keep the lights on and the rent paid, pay the interest on loans and taxes on profits and stock, pay for whatever lame salary and benefits might be offered, pay for insurance, pay for warehousing, pay for shipping of product from printer to the warehouse to the distributor, pay for art and writing, and pay the printer. You might be able to make a living if your variable costs (the costs directly attributable to the actual product being sold rather than "overhead") were 20% of retail, but smart manufacturers really try hard to get to 10%.

 

Note that this is also why things like decent dice are so seldom included in games. If decent dice, purchased in bulk, cost you the manufacturer $3.00, that can increase the final cost of the product by $15 - $30. And nobody wants to pay that. This is also why boxed sets are rare. Boxes are expensive and easy to damage, and $0.75 for a box means at least a $5 increase in the MSRP. And that's without putting anything extra into the box. Add $2 worth of random stuff and the price is now up by $20-ish. How much do you really want a boxed set?

 

* I will leave as an exercise for the reader what I think about book companies calling cover-strips "theft". I will say that once once you drop something into the dumpster, the courts have repeatedly ruled that you no longer have a property interest in it.

Returns are also what put the stake in the heart of 4e - huge orders of books going out to the chain stores - a strategy that had worked very well for 3.5.

 

Then more than half of each of those huge orders coming back six months later, unsold.

 

Those huge pre-sales let WotC crow 'it's bigger than 3.5!'

 

And then those huge returns had them eating the crow.

 

Bookstores hate returning hardcovers - it is a pain in the butt.

 

A big part of why Essentials was paper bound. Returns of perfect bound books is a lot easier - strip off the covers and return them.  Destroy the rest of the book.

 

The Auld Grump

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23 hours ago, TheAuldGrump said:

Returns are also what put the stake in the heart of 4e - huge orders of books going out to the chain stores - a strategy that had worked very well for 3.5.

 

Then more than half of each of those huge orders coming back six months later, unsold.

 

Those huge pre-sales let WotC crow 'it's bigger than 3.5!'

 

And then those huge returns had them eating the crow.

 

Bookstores hate returning hardcovers - it is a pain in the butt.

 

A big part of why Essentials was paper bound. Returns of perfect bound books is a lot easier - strip off the covers and return them.  Destroy the rest of the book.

 

The Auld Grump

 

Didn't know this, but am not surprised. Everyone I know who was a regular player who tried 4e said, "This is almost a completely different game," although I've known a few who say it was an excellent miniatures game.

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45 minutes ago, Dr.Bedlam said:

 

Didn't know this, but am not surprised. Everyone I know who was a regular player who tried 4e said, "This is almost a completely different game," although I've known a few who say it was an excellent miniatures game.

A part is also that their online service pretty much meant not needing most of the books - they had been looking at DDi in addition to book sales - but instead it replaced book sales.

 

So, then they crippled their offline character generator, hoping it would boost book sales - instead it meant that the DDi subscriptions dropped like a rock, but their customers still weren't weren't buying the books.

 

When Pathfinder came out, the local bookstores were extremely cautious - ordering only two or three when the core book came out.

 

And they sold.

 

So they ordered two or three more.

 

And they sold.

 

So they upped the orders.

 

And they sold.

 

So that Pathfinder was following the opposite sales behavior of 4e - instead of huge early sales followed by a swift decline they had low early sales, followed by a steady increase.

 

Some of sales behavior still confuses me - last year the biggest RPG seller for the local BaM! was Curse of the Crimson Throne.... They went through forty copies in six months.

 

I love Curse of the Crimson Throne - but... forty copies?!

 

The Auld Grump - second place was held by the 5e Player's Handbook.

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12 hours ago, TheAuldGrump said:

Some of sales behavior still confuses me - last year the biggest RPG seller for the local BaM! was Curse of the Crimson Throne.... They went through forty copies in six months.

 

I love Curse of the Crimson Throne - but... forty copies?!

 

The Auld Grump - second place was held by the 5e Player's Handbook.

 

Did the give Crimson Throne the same compendium treatment as Runelords? That could explain the sales. Especially with how 5e has been doing that for all of their adventures, which by all accounts I've seen have been doing quite well.

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15 minutes ago, Unruly said:

 

Did the give Crimson Throne the same compendium treatment as Runelords? That could explain the sales. Especially with how 5e has been doing that for all of their adventures, which by all accounts I've seen have been doing quite well.

 

Yup. Combined-edition hardcover. Excellent treatment.

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1 hour ago, Doug Sundseth said:

 

Yup. Combined-edition hardcover. Excellent treatment.

 

That has to play at least some part in why the book sold as well as it did. Because personally, and maybe this is my young upstart RPG playerhood showing, I find that I'm more drawn to hardcovers than to softcover books. It's a sign of better production values in my mind. Anyone can get a softcover printed up, especially a saddle stitched(aka stapled) book like a lot of modules are. You can find real gems in the deluge of saddle stitched books out there, but you can also find a lot of trash that should have never have made it to paper. Taking the time and going to the extra expense of getting it done up as a hardcover makes me immediately think you've spent more time on the book than someone who hasn't done that, and that it will at least be half-decently designed. I know it's not a guarantee of anything, but it does influence my buying decisions.

 

It's not quite the same as being from a company I've got past experience with, or which I've read a lot of good things about, but it's a bonus. It's sort of like the difference between buying a toaster in a generic brown box with the word "TOASTER" in block letters on the side and a toaster that comes in a box that has pictures of said toaster on it and a list of features. Sure, the toaster in the brown box might be the same or even better, but it could also be some hideous monstrosity of a toaster that has the heating elements on the outside and electrocutes you when you try to use it.

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On 6/12/2018 at 10:20 AM, Dr.Bedlam said:

 

Didn't know this, but am not surprised. Everyone I know who was a regular player who tried 4e said, "This is almost a completely different game," although I've known a few who say it was an excellent miniatures game.

The returns were INSANE!

 

We sent back entire unopened cases of all the books, mostly Monster Manuals and Dungeon Master's Guides. Each case was twenty four books.

 

And Wizards tried to walk back from the returns policy that they themselves had put in place. They honestly did not believe there would be anything like the returns they actually faced.

 

And the switch to hardcover for the novels line killed that dead, as well as trying to do only generic D&D novels instead of the established worlds.

 

And all this happened while Border's was already struggling to keep our heads above water.

 

Grump understates how Pathfinder did for us. We were all prepared for another failure, so didn't even order a single full case.

 

But they all sold in a single week. Not that all was all that many.

 

But it kept happening.

 

Grump actually ran a game with Duncan at the store the week before the notice came down that Border's was going out of business.

 

In a way it lead to what happened at the retreat. I was in a panic because my job was going away. Grump had run a great game at the store, and had run great games at the previous few retreats. And I was. Interested. :blush: And I hadn't been in YEARS.

 

So I had a weird little melt down and stuff happened.

 

Thank gawd Grump is a gentleman! :lol:

 

I was aiming at having one last hurrah while the world burned around me.

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I got Fourth Edition at a FLGS. My players chipped in and got me the three pack. And we monkeyed with it for months... but it was just too DIFFERENT from what we'd gotten used to with third, and required a VERY different mindset, particularly as the DM; giving the players a challenge without a TPK required some serious forethought and engineering... no spur of the moment games, any more.

And DON"T get me started about the fiction and the hardbacks. I felt bad enough that they threatened to have another author replace Salvatore if he tried to walk, but then they tell him, "Yeah, we're doing a hundred year time skip, so all Drizz't's supporting cast is either really old or dead now. And Elminster's a bitter old shell of his former self, cuz we bumped off the Goddess of Magic, and stripped most of his powers. Good luck writing an engaging novel with the new framework."

Who in potato's name thought this was a good idea?

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21 hours ago, Dr.Bedlam said:

I got Fourth Edition at a FLGS. My players chipped in and got me the three pack. And we monkeyed with it for months... but it was just too DIFFERENT from what we'd gotten used to with third, and required a VERY different mindset, particularly as the DM; giving the players a challenge without a TPK required some serious forethought and engineering... no spur of the moment games, any more.

And DON"T get me started about the fiction and the hardbacks. I felt bad enough that they threatened to have another author replace Salvatore if he tried to walk, but then they tell him, "Yeah, we're doing a hundred year time skip, so all Drizz't's supporting cast is either really old or dead now. And Elminster's a bitter old shell of his former self, cuz we bumped off the Goddess of Magic, and stripped most of his powers. Good luck writing an engaging novel with the new framework."

Who in potato's name thought this was a good idea?

Someone running a high fever. <_<

 

Six editions and version of the game, OD&D to 3.5, all convertible with little work, and then the go Ta HELL wif it, let's burn EVERYTHING!

 

I hear good things about 5. But Wizards will have to pay me to play it.

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On 6/12/2018 at 10:20 AM, Dr.Bedlam said:

 

Didn't know this, but am not surprised. Everyone I know who was a regular player who tried 4e said, "This is almost a completely different game," although I've known a few who say it was an excellent miniatures game.

There was no ALMOST. There have been collectible card games that were closer to D&D than 4 was.

 

Not joking. There was a game where they used the D20 rules for a card game, and even had the OGL. Warlord? I think? Lots of fun, but maybe not much depth.

 

Grump and Dunc both say that the main reason for the 4 changes was to kill the OGL. Instead the OGL killed 4.:devil:

 

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7 hours ago, PaganMegan said:

Six editions and version of the game, OD&D to 3.5, all convertible with little work, and then the go Ta HELL wif it, let's burn EVERYTHING!

 

So, I'm an OD&D era player, having started in 1976.  I converted that game to AD&D1e, and was in hiatus during the whole 2e period.  My older son was of an age to play when 3.0 came out, so I bought back in, but I don't really view 3 as all that compatible with the early versions.  (He plays 3.5 to this day, in a weekly game...)

 

But D&D is far from the only RPG to experience a total rules change between editions...Traveller has been through that a couple of times, too, as an example that I follow.  

 

I've always figured that it was some business school paradigm at work. :rolleyes:

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On 6/16/2018 at 6:04 AM, Rob Dean said:

 

So, I'm an OD&D era player, having started in 1976.  I converted that game to AD&D1e, and was in hiatus during the whole 2e period.  My older son was of an age to play when 3.0 came out, so I bought back in, but I don't really view 3 as all that compatible with the early versions.  (He plays 3.5 to this day, in a weekly game...)

 

But D&D is far from the only RPG to experience a total rules change between editions...Traveller has been through that a couple of times, too, as an example that I follow.  

 

I've always figured that it was some business school paradigm at work. :rolleyes:

 

I converted my 2e world to 3e with no real problems - quite the opposite, really. The new rules were, for the most part, additions, not subractions.

 

And always, always, there had been a manual for conversion.

 

Until 4e, when WotC told people to just start over, instead.

 

Backwards compatibility is something that keeps players, and GMs, buying new editions. Telling folks to get rid of their old games - and doing exactly that with their own Forgotten Realms setting - sent a message of 'we didn't want to keep you as a customer, anyway'.

 

And each incarnation of Traveller - aside from the GURPS Traveller* - has done worse than each previous edition.

 

When FF changed Warhammer Role Play to include cards and custom dice, it did worse than the previous edition that could be converted.

 

When White Wolf destroyed the old World of Darkness and switched to a similar but incompatible system, it did worse than the previous edition.

 

So, I call that Business School Paradigm 'We're Want To Fail'.

 

The Auld Grump

 

* The GURPS Traveller is a very special case - it attracted the GURPS crowd, and while the system was very different from the original Traveller system, it felt like the old Traveller system.

 

And the advertising was aimed square at the grognard Traveller players and GMs -

"Free Trader Beowulf...
Come in, Free Trader Beowulf... Can you hear me?"
 
''Come in, Free Trader Beowulf...
...hang in there, Beowulf, help is on the way!"
 
Honest to god, that advertisement brought a tear to my eye.
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GDW did brilliant worlds, excellent boardgames, and stellar miniatures games. But the game systems behind the RPGs of theirs that i played were weak. Traveller (black box) and Space: 1889 both had very weak game systems that would have been improved by nearly any popular generic system: GURPS, Hero, BRP, whatever. The one exception is Traveller: New Era, which I know is widely hated. Fortunately, I know that the people who think that version is weaker than the earlier stuff are objectively wrong. ::D:

 

And as to Forgotton Realms? You mean Mary Sue the RPG?

 

:B):

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2 hours ago, Doug Sundseth said:

GDW did brilliant worlds, excellent boardgames, and stellar miniatures games. But the game systems behind the RPGs of theirs that i played were weak. Traveller (black box) and Space: 1889 both had very weak game systems that would have been improved by nearly any popular generic system: GURPS, Hero, BRP, whatever. The one exception is Traveller: New Era, which I know is widely hated. Fortunately, I know that the people who think that version is weaker than the earlier stuff are objectively wrong. ::D:

 

And as to Forgotton Realms? You mean Mary Sue the RPG?

 

:B):

 

As a generic system, Traveller: the New Era was quite good - I freakin' loved Fire, Fusion, and Steel.

 

But what was done to the Traveller setting... not so much.

 

My one big complaint about the system in New Era was how very non-lethal the combat system could be.

 

But the game catches flak because those changes to the setting, not so much for the system.

 

Since I was using the system for my own setting, those changes were not a problem (One part of my setting that brought me joy was a race that had discovered the star drive (keyhole drive) several generations early - their ships were huge and fragile - vacuum tube level tech, not microprocessor. There were two wormholes close enough to their home system that they were getting radio ghosts, as signals went in one and out the other from both directions.)

 

The Auld Grump

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