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 identifies three problems (from the retailer’s point of view) with the Pathfinder line.

As usual these are problems from the retailer's point of view.  I am certain Pathfinder has a whole raft of problems affecting it from the player's point of view, starting with how many rule books have layered onto the original system.  There are so many of them, the current state of Pathfinder reminds me more of nothing so much as the last 4 editions of Dungeons & Dragons, which leads us to the first problem:

1.  Too Much Stuff.  For those of you that don't play the game, Paizo releases between four and five products each and every month.  I know I commented several months ago the number of releases was an advantage Paizo had over 5th edition D&D as it keeps the game's name in front of players on a regular basis, but the release schedule for new products from Paizo would beggar the budget of almost any player (even Igor of Dork Tower fame).  Just last month saw the release of the Perilous Paths' Map Pack, Scourge of the Godclaw Adventure Path, Path of the HellKnight Campaign Setting, Spymaster's Companion, Bigger Dungeon Map Pack and the Witch deck for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.  By my rough calculations, that's around $110 worth of Pathfinder materials at retail, not including that month's novel.  Roughly $1200 a year, that doesn't even include the hardback books that come out at $50 a pop every four months or so.

2.  Plenty of PDFs.  At least Paizo is concerned about its players and makes almost all of their products available at a discount in PDF format.  Unfortunately, unlike companies such as Green Ronin Publishing or Margaret Weiss Productions, or those companies that participate in the Bits 'n Mortar program, Paizo still has not figured out, or has little interest in, a way to allow retailers to sell or offer PDFs of their products .  The convenience and price of PDFs mean that many Pathfinder players rely heavily on them, eschewing the purchase of paper versions of Pathfinder books.  We have found a drastic drop-off in purchase of paperback Pathfinder supplements, with only the hardback books selling reliably enough to justify restocking.  Paperback books from Paizo are generally one and done.

3.  Subscriptions.   Unlike any other company (at least none with which I am familiar), Paizo offers customers a subscription option for its products.  Opt to receive every release of a particular line of Pathfinder products, say modules or campaign settings, and purchasers receive anywhere from 15% to 30% off the MSRP, plus a free copy of the PDF along with the print copy when it ships.  So we have customers automatically getting the new release when it comes out, getting it delivered to their door, getting it at a significant discount and getting a free PDF on top of that.  Hard for stores to compete with that.

The model that Paizo has set up for Pathfinder releases appears to work well for the company and they show no sign of changing it, though they have made noises about finding some way to allow retailers to sell or otherwise distribute the PDFs of their products. Mirroring our store's experience, most retailers I have spoken with indicate they see declining sales of the product line, which is a pity since Paizo has much more invested in the Pathfinder line than Hasbro has in Dungeons & Dragons.

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