Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois.  This week, Thorne talks about using intro RPG sets to increase sales.

I had the opportunity to talk with Stephen Chenault and Todd Tripp of Troll Lord Games over the weekend and they brought up their plans for producing an introductory set for Troll Lord Games' flagship title, Castles & Crusades.  That got me to thinking about the lack of introductory sets for role-playing games.  Offhand, I can think of three: the Basic book for Hero System, the Dragon Age RPG and the Red Box for 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  That's not to say there aren’t a lot of introductory RPG rule sets out there (GURPS Lite springs to mind) but they are all PDFs or some other form of download, not stockable on my store shelves.

Why do I want these?  Unlike a board game, which stays pretty self-contained, RPGs for the most part are designed to accept expansions and add-ons.  Yes, games like Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Talisman and Zombies! do have a number of expansions but they do not come out with the nearly monthly or bi-monthly frequency of the expansions of a Dungeons & Dragons, a Pathfinder, a Shadowrun or a Call of Cthulhu.  A new player looking at Dominion can be intimidated by the number of boxes but still, there are only four, as of this writing.  Contrast that with a new player looking to get into Pathfinder.  The new player stares at the core rule book, advanced rule books, Beastiary books, a shelf full of modules and supplements.  Where do you start and how much do you spend?

To get started in Shadowrun requires the purchase of a $45 book, while with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, the new player looks at $100 for the boxed set.  GURPS really requires about a $70 purchase as both core books are needed by at least one person to really run the game while with Hero System the new player can figure on $100 for both books to get started, plus another $40 for the super powers rules.  $50 for the old Hero System phone book was intimidating enough, now the neophyte has to fork over $140 before they can start saving the world from Dr. Destroyer.

Champions, at least, has its Prime book, which condenses the rules down into a $20 version.  There is also a Dragon Age introductory game, retailing for $30, but while it uses Green Ronin’s house RPG system as the rules engine, there is no RPG line for the player to move on to once they have determined they like the game.  The Dragon Age boxed set and GM screen are it, at least for the immediate future.

This is why I really, really, REALLY like the Dungeons & Dragons Red Box set.  It is perfect for the novice player who has heard about D&D, likes what they have heard but isn’t sure, or the player who stopped playing fifteen years ago but now has kids who they want to introduce to something the parent had fun with years ago that they hope the kids will like.  Fifty dollars for the core Pathfinder book makes them blanch as does $100 for the Warhammer Fantasy RPG set.  However, I can walk them over to the D&D rack, pull off a copy of the Red Box and tell them, "For $20, here’s everything you need to get started with D&D.  It has all the basic rules for both players and dungeonmaster, dice, character sheets, tokens and maps, even a solitaire adventure so you can try the game out even if you can’t find another player at the moment."  Quite often, if they have enough interest to sit through the spiel, they walk out with a Red Box.  Except for Dragon Age, I don’t have another product in the RPG line with which I can do this.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that Troll Lords Games comes out with the product they described in our discussion; a boxed set with quick start rules for Castles & Crusades, pre-made characters, a short adventure and maps for $10 to $15.  That will give me two great value intro sets to use to move customers further into their respective product lines, with the hope of more to come from other companies.  A store owner can wish.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely  those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of