Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne reports on Free RPG Day in his store.

Well, another year's Free RPG Day has come and gone and once again; thanks to Impressions Advertising and Marketing for putting the event together.  We had about three times as many customers in the store as on a typical Saturday, RPG sales tripled a typical Saturday as well and the overall day's sales were up about a third over last year's Free RPG Day.  We attribute this to better marketing this year (not just promotion but making sure we had salable product on hand) than last.

We started off by signing up as soon as Impressions announced they had opened the event to participating retailers and, after getting confirmed, made sure we showed up on the Website's locater, then started promoting the event with emails to the store list two months ahead of time.  So it didn't get lost in all the updates, we waited until about a month ahead of time to create the event on Facebook (and if we were more familiar with Craigslist, we would have posted it there as well), then made sure to update that post regularly to keep it showing up in our customers news feeds.

Since we tied getting extra freebies to the purchase of additional RPG books, we took advantage of a couple of clearance sales to buy some higher priced RPG books and boxed sets at pennies on the dollar to offer our customers some inexpensive, high quality merchandise they could purchase to make the minimum to get the additional freebies.  Sounded like a good idea but $40 boxed sets for $10 and $25 and $35 RPG books for $5 attracted attention but few sales.  Still, it gave us one more thing to talk with our customers about.

Wanting to build interest in the freebies but not to have to worry about them walking away, we set up the display rack for them about a week ahead of time, figuring that a weekend’s traffic would generate some interest and a desire to come back on the 19th.  The dice and dice towers, which went to the GMs and players in our demo sessions, went in the display case since they would walk off even more easily than would the RPG giveaways.  Since the back gaming areas were tied up with Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: The Gathering, we only had the front gaming rooms available for the demo sessions, which were for Pathfider and 4th edition Dungeon & Dragons.  Debated bringing in free food as well, but decided against it since 1) we didn’t want to worry about spills on the carpet and 2) figured we were already giving away lots of free stuff.  We did give away free sodas and water to the GMs who ran events for us.

We allowed everyone to take two different freebies. They could take another one for playing in a demo session, one for every $15 they spent on RPG books and one for every 5 cans of food brought in for the local food pantry (we collected about 50 cans).

We were a little concerned the day of the event, since only one person was waiting when we opened the store and that was one of our Pathfinder GMs.  However, within about five minutes after opening, we had about a dozen people clustered around the freebie rack, one carload which had driven an hour to get here and another which had driven about two hours, and traffic remained steady until about 5 in the afternoon.  We found it interesting to watch selective perception kick in as the Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic players completely ignored the Free RPG Day rack, not even bothering to ask what was going on, as they focused on buying card packs and singles (not that I’m complaining, mind you).

The demo sessions didn’t generate any sales to speak of, as most of the people who played in them were already D&D Encounters or Pathfinder Society regulars, though we did have about three new players try out Pathfinder and plan to come back for the next regularly scheduled session.  We did have two new players try out Mouse Guard as well, but from the sound of things, they weren’t impressed enough to translate over to regular players.

Overall, we were quite happy with this year's event.  As noted earlier, sales were up about a third over last year's Free RPG day, foot traffic was three times a typical Saturday and RPG sales were up about three times a typical day's.  I’ll bank that any day of the week and look forward to next year’s event.

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