Game Day: And Now We Shop…

A new RPG system, a credit card and iPad are a dangerous combination. Especially when the game is Pathfinder, the company is Paizo, and the PDFs are priced at $9.99 a piece.

I didn’t have this problem with Star Wars: Saga Editon. While I bought all the books in the line — 13 source books plus the core rules — that was stretched out over 2.5 years. I was never tempted by the PDFs because Wizards never released the books in electronic format, and for the last year there were simply no books to buy because the line was been cancelled. I did purchase the odd science fiction-related PDF or source book as inspiration, but for the most part my RPG buying had tapered off.

There’s something to be said for not having to buy new books. Hell, there’s a lot to be said, and a lot that has been said about buying new books. RPG minimalists argue against source books and expansions, favoring a core rule books and perhaps a minimal number of expansions. Amber Diceless Role-Playing was the poster child for this, with only two books ever released (the core rules and Shadow Knight).

Intellectually, I understand this argument, and there is a certain appeal to it. And yet … I do enjoy buying new books.

I enjoying seeing how new mechanics can expand the rules system, exploring background materials for the far corners of the campaign universe, and browsing for new options for my campaign. Some people complain about buying books they’ll never use, but for me reading a new rule book can be almost as much fun as playing it … and I almost always find a way to fit those new rules into my game.

Enter Paizo. When my group started our Second Darkness campaign, I didn’t go hog wild with Pathfinder. I’d purchased the core rule book when it first came out, and received Bestiary 1 and Ultimate Combat for Christmas, but the Pathfinder section of my bookshelf remained small.

Over the last year or so though, I haven’t been able to resist the urge to buy more books. A big part of this is that Paizo’s done a great job of tempting me — they only release three hardcover books a year, which has the benefit of keeping the core rules fairly tight. The books they do publish are the kind I like to buy: rule books packed with optional subsystem that I can use to build out my game and monster books that provide me with new threats to throw at my characters.

They’ve augmented these with shorter, but still compelling, books that look at specific areas of their campaign world, such as The Land of the Linnorm Kings (which covers the Norse-like cultures of the extreme north) and Distant Worlds, which chronicles the setting’s pulp-inspired solar system).

The really dangerous things though, are the PDFs. Unlike Wizards of the Coast, which is so paranoid about pirating that they pulled all of their electronic offerings, Paizo sells all their products in PDF format … and often at a price you can’t refuse.

All of the hardcover rule books — from the Pathfinder RPG to the Inner Sea World Guide to the Bestiaries — sell for $9.99. That makes buying new books, like the recently released Advanced Race Guide, very tempting. It’s all the more tempting when you throw in an tablet; reading these PDFs on an iPad is almost as good as reading the dead tree version. As a result, my virtual bookshelf has far more Paizo books on it than my real world one … but the number of print ones is steadily growing.

No doubt some will see this as perpetuating the dysfunctional RPG cycle of publishing core books and endless splatbooks. I suppose it is, but I think Paizo’s doing it right … and I hope Wizards of the Coast can learn from them.

D&D has been the poster child for the edition boom-bust cycle, going all the way back to the TSR days. While I realize that WotC undoubtedly needs publish a certain number of books a year to meet their bottom line, I’m hoping that their new core rules + rules module publishing approach hews closer to Pathfinder than TSR’s publish-until-you-croak strategy.

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