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 looks at two firsts from Wizards of the Coast's upcoming release.

The new Volo's Guide to Monsters, which will ship from Wizards of the Coast next month represents a couple of firsts for the company.

The first is that I do not remember a previous product from WOTC (or TSR for that matter), ever shipping with two different covers, a "mass market" cover and a FLGS cover.  Although WOTC has released subsequent printings of a book sporting a different cover (see the 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual), the company has never, to my knowledge, released the same product with different trade dress for different markets at the same time.

Channel specific and variant covers are fairly common in the comic industry but extremely rare in the game industry. The only previous example that comes to mind immediately (and please email if you can think of other instances) occurred back in 2007 when Avalanche Press released its Rome at War III: Queen of the Celts board game, focusing on the Roman invasion of Britain.  Avalanche Press released a tame cover featuring a sword and shield and a more risqué cover, with a bare breasted Queen Boudicca, with strategically placed hair, riding a chariot into battle.  Avalanche Press had released a number of sourcebooks and adventures with similar pinup style cover art under the OGL earlier in the decade, which, after the first couple, had not sold very well.  Hence, upon deciding the company wanted to use the same artist for Queen of the Celts, but realizing a number of retailers might object to what it called the "pinup" cover, it released a tamer cover as well.

Today, there is an unfortunate, at least from my point of view, trend of game companies releasing one version of their game to the mass market and another version to the direct market.  Iello’s King of Tokyo comes to mind with its exclusive monster in the version available only at Target.  However direct market stores have the option to purchase either or both versions of the Volo cover to offer their customers, not so, a least for a year, the Target version of King of Tokyo.

Ltd. Ed. Hobby Market
The second first that WOTC will incorporate with the book is a first for recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons, not a first for the industry or even the company.  Volo’s Guide to Monsters will include narration and annotations to the text from both Volothamp Geddarm and Elmisinter the Sage of Shadowdale.  Players of the 2nd edition version of Dungeons & Dragons will remember the series of Volo’s Guides to various locations in the Forgotten Realms.  These long out of print guidebooks to places such as the Sword Coast and Waterdeep featured a similar design with descriptions of various locales throughout Faerun accompanied by commentary from both Geddarm and Elminister that often proved at odds with one another.  The designers of Volo’s Guide to Monsters appear to be striving for the same feeling in the writing of the book, wanting to make the book both useful to the DM and fun to read for both players and dungeon masters.  From the samples I have seen, they have succeeded.

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