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 gives his report on Free RPG Day at his store.

Free RPG Day for 2013 has come and gone.  While sales were good, up about 20% over a typical Saturday, we did not have near the customer turnout nor the excitement that we have had in past years.  We actually had a better schedule of events running than we have in past years, with GMs in to run the Pathfinder We Be Goblins Too, Castles & Crusades and Shadowrun adventures, as well as a game of Fiasco since it has proven very popular locally.
With the exception of We Be Goblins Too, our customers did not seem particularly excited about the selection this year.  We Be Goblins Too ran out early in the day and we probably could have given away twice as many if we had wanted to buy a second kit.  The items from Bronze Level participants Flying Buffalo, Louis Porter Jr. Design and Troll Lord Games ran out about mid-afternoon, not surprisingly because we only had three of each.  At the same time, it was surprising because, well, we only had three of each and I expected people to grab them much more quickly.
This year's offering from Fantasy Flight for the newest version of a Star Wars RPG, proved moderately popular but still lasted much longer than I anticipated, given that Star Wars was the only game's demo sessions about which customers had asked.  At the end of the day (literally) the only freebies of which we had any quantities left were the Cosmic Patrol offering from Catalyst and the adventures from Frog God Games and Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
I think the only reason we have any of the Lamentations adventure left was that, after some hemming and hawing on my part, due to the stated "Explicit Content" and "Ages 18+" on the cover,  we decided to put a notice out that we had it behind the counter and required proof of age before giving customers one.  We did have several people who came in specifically to get that adventure but I would bet most of the others who came in did not read the sign and had no idea of its availability (reading signs is good, folks).
Cosmic Patrol and the Swords and Wizardry offering from Frog God suffered because of a lack of familiarity with the game lines.  Catalyst has never made much effort, at least that I am aware, to promote Cosmic Patrol and the Swords and Wizardry rules apparently are currently only available from Frog God directly.  No familiarity equals little to no interest.
I was rather surprised we had any left of the Vampire 4th Edition book from Onyx Path as well.  That was likely due to the logo placement at the bottom of the cover, which due to the way we had it displayed customers could not see the bottom quarter of the book, hence, no logo visible.  As I have said before, whenever possible, put your product logo at the top of the cover, rather than the bottom to avoid situations like this.
The other thing that reduced customer excitement was the lack, for the first time, of a Free RPG Day offering from Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons & Dragons.  For our store, typically the annual WOTC item gets snatched up first, followed by Paizo's Pathfinder book.  This year, WOTC instead chose to schedule a D&D Game Day for the same date as Free RPG Day.  We chose not to participate since we wanted to focus our energies on Free RPG Day and the D&D Game Days have only attracted about a table of players in the past.  I did a quick survey of other stores and was rather surprised at the number of them that hosted both events, though it appears attendance at the D&D Games Day was lackluster.  We would gladly have ran a D&D Game Day, but not on the same day as Free RPG Day.  For some reason, WOTC chose to forgo the opportunity to have attention all to itself but wanted to piggyback on Free RPG Day instead.  The company certainly cannot claim it scheduled D&D Game Day unaware it conflicted with Free RPG Day, given that it participated the last six times and Free RPG Day has consistently ran the third Saturday in June, much like Free Comic Book day is ALWAYS the first Monday in May.  Hopefully, next year, we will see WOTC once again a sponsor of Free RPG Day, rather than an add-on.

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