Market Research: One Book or Multiple for RPGs?

As part of the run-up to Dragon Heresy, I quickly realized that the book was going to be very large. My initial estimates of a single 250-300 page volume were crushed under the heels of 90,000 words of just monsters. And that’s after culling things down and eliminating many that are thematically inappropriate. 

There are ways to deal with this, of course. One is “be even more ruthless about culling.” That’s valid. Another is to just suck it up, and publish a 550 – 600-page book, which would be even larger than the Pathfinder Core Rules (512 pages), and about the same size as Hero Fifth Edition (592 pages). Hero solved this problem in 6th edition by publishing in two volumes. This is the same tack GURPS took, releasing a Campaigns and Characters book with sequential pagination (if the Characters book stops at p. 250, the Campaigns book picks up at p. 251, in concept). Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition is something like 990 pages if you include every page (including the index and TOC, which isn’t entirely fair) of the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual.

By that yardstick, Dragon Heresy is the very soul of brevity.

Still – I was curious as to preferences, so I posted a poll, which was very well attended by the reading population – for which everyone has my thanks (the poll is still active here).

Poll Results

The results were illustrative. I figured “two volumes, please” would simply dominate. I was not entirely correct.

The first swing of voting broke sharply in favor of One Giant Tome. Subsequent voting broke hard the other way.

Eventually, things settled, with roughly 3 people preferring the two-volume set for every one person that wanted a single book. The most useful piece of advice came (predictably) from +Peter V. Dell’Orto, who suggested one PDF, but two (or more) printed books, so that you could have a combat rule, a campaign rule or map, and a monster open on the table simultaneously, but do a one-volume PDF search.

A Modern Print-on-Demand Solution?

Still, while from an RPG electoral college perspective, the multi-volume set won huge, 40% of the market, more or less, wants a volume they can just haul around. 60% wants multiple volumes. The reasons for both are valid.

A bit of a history of multi-volume sets

What I am considering, but I’d have to work out the logistics of it in a big way, is a “build-a-book” concept. You select a cover, get the intro, and choose the components of the book. Book A would be the character generation and core rules. Book B would be the campaign rules and setting information. Book C is monsters and stuff. The Index would cover A, B, and C. There would be three Table of Contents files, one for A, B, and C.

Each customer could then assemble the book or books that they want. Want the One Book to Rule them All option? Assemble Cover + ToC A, B, C + Intro + Book A + Book B + Book C + Index.

Want three volumes? Cover + Introduction + ToC A + Book A + Index; Cover + ToC B + Book B + Index; Cover + ToC C + Book C + Index.

Print on Demand how you like from the PDFs. 

Something like this was the favorite

The indices and ToC would obviously be free. The cover or cover variants maybe not, because you have to pay for good art, and if I have paid for a custom awesome cover, I need to charge for the work. If it’s my current decent but not eye-bogglingly-awesome cover, it would be free as well.

I would dearly love to do this. Everyone could get what they want, and Print-on-Demand means that I would not have to deal with the logistics and costs of stocking offset print runs of anything, much less infinite combos of A, B, and C.

Based on the poll results, though, my initial offerings will likely be “one-volume PDF,” “two-volume PDF,” and “two-volume print book.” If the product is well received enough to do more, I will do more.

Editing and Length

One reasonably-frequent observation was “if it’s that long, your editing is bad.” A less aggressive phrasing might have been “does it have to be that long?”

Yes and no. The largest sections of the book – fully half it’s length – are spells, magic items, and a gigantic section of monsters. I could easily chop the heck out of the magic items. I think I still need the 60,000 words (!!) of spells, since they’re core to at least five character classes, maybe more. The monsters could be reduced to “early challenges, a few big dogs, and if you want more monsters, make ’em yourself or buy this New Extra Volume!”

I’m loathe to do this, but it could be done.

8 thoughts on “Market Research: One Book or Multiple for RPGs?

  1. I wonder if you'd have gotten different results based on financial constraints. Some likely want a single volume for convenience, but others might think it would be cheaper in the long run to pay $60 for a single volume than be dinged $40 each for two or something like that. Have you investigated the economics angle?

    1. I didn't, but mostly because these days, if you don't like my prices for a book, you can buy the PDF and do it how you want anyway. The extra money for multiple volumes will come in rounding costs (at $x.xx per page, rounded up to a buck or five dollars) and the cost of the cover and paper style, if any.

      Or that's my impression from my investigations thus far. Printing is done per page, basically, with adds for paper quality and cover style and arts and color/BW.

      You're right, though – you can never leave the money angle out of it.

  2. Could you chop the monster section down by using a lens approach, or including conversion rules and a list of appropriate OGL monsters with a new name and a line or two of fluff each?

    -Joel Sammallahti (OpenID is not cooperating with me)

    1. I could do one of those, but I'm not sure that's the aesthetic I'm going for, so I'll not take that approach. There are a bunch of small changes to the basic SRD5.1 engine that ripple through the rules. Doing that work for the GM and players is one of the reasons the project grew from a projected 10-20 pages to where it is now.

  3. While I am, for the foreseeable future, gonna be too damn broke to buy any of them: I am very much a fan of the “Single-volume PDF, multiple physical volumes” idea. I'd actually bought the “GURPS Basic Set: Characters and Campaigns” bundle off W23 — twice — because I thought it was a single PDF like that (once ages and ages ago on e23, and once on the new W23 before it actually told you you already owned something…)

  4. Print on Demand – if someone will host the options – would appear to be the best choice, as the users can decide on the fly what they want.

    As a general thing, I find two volumes better than one. This is largely because it helps be mentally "chunk" where specific information is easier, without droving through an index or ToC. Further, it enables the players to buy only the things they care about – when I was still GMing D&D, the number of people other than me that bothered with the DMG was precisely 0; a few had their own PHBs, and a few MMs floated around as well. I don't think we'd have had all those if it was one omnibus.

    Also easier on the binding, so they'd probably last longer.

    Have any suspects for publication, yet?

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