I don’t know who will wind up wanting to play Within My Clutches, but I am hoping that it won’t only be experienced roleplayers. I’m going to attempt to tap into that larger audience of people who love superhero comics and enjoy structured improv. I wonder, though, if non-roleplayers will easily get excited about a game that looks like a small book.
To be honest, the traditional form of roleplaying games is not my favorite. I fondly remember reading through large RPG books like RIFTS, packed with fiction and great art, imagining all the cool things I could play. Unfortunately, when it comes time to stop reading and play, figuring out what to do at any given moment is simply way too much work. What other game out there might make you flip through dozens or hundreds of pages to answer a rules question?
Beyond that, what other game requires pens and paper and dice, and provides none of these things at purchase? What other game arrives as an instruction manual only, with no physical bits to play with? Will non-RPG folks get excited when they see the small paperback Dogs in the Vineyard book the way they do when they see the Mouse Guard boxed set?
I mean, look at Mouse Guard:
I would love to present Within My Clutches to people in a form half that exciting. A box containing a tear-off pad of character sheets, a comic book of advice and examples, and all the rules on a single fold-out — this is what I’d like the game to be. Easy to take in at a glance, easy to use in play. Including 10 or so six-sided dice would also be nice, as well as some glass beads and maybe even pencils.
Here’s the problem: price. I got some reality checks on that when I brought this up at the Story Games forum. Take a look at the recent indie RPG release Serpent’s Tooth:
The book costs creator Ross Cowman about $3 per copy to produce. The boxed set costs him $19 per copy, and that’s without factoring in the shrink-wrapper he bought, the hours he puts in assembling sets from independently-ordered components, and the increased costs of shipping the box to wherever it’s sold. In the end, he has to charge players $55 for the box instead of $20 for the book.
Is that worth it?
Several indie RPG publishers described the PAX East video game convention as a sales gold mine in part because gamers used to spending $60+ on a game were willing to throw $20 at some curiosity like Dogs in the Vineyard on impulse. So perhaps, in trying to appeal to non-RPGers, I might actually price myself out of their novelty budget.
I am hoping to keep both options open — book and box — and let a kickstarter campaign reveal how much interest there is for each. However, I don’t want to kickstart before I’ve tested the materials and done much of the layout. Should I put in the time and the work and create two prototypes, book and box, in finished form, despite the fact that one may never be sold? Or is that a will-sapping and insane approach to my very first publishing endeavor?