Game Masters. Most RPGs require them. Even the ones that don’t often have a facilitator or organizer. When it comes to selling RPGs, Game Masters are your bread and butter. A glance of the RPG products on my shelves shows me well over half them are GM-focused. While it is true player-focused books sell higher quantities per title, those intended primarily for the Game Master surpass them by the dollar (or pound). While many players might own a core rulebook or splatbook (and sometimes share these with each other), GMs tend to own most of the books for systems they run, and are among my best regular customers. To carry and sell RPGs profitably, I need Game Masters.

The GM is a different stripe of RPG gamer. There is no equivalent role in most board, card or miniatures games (though certainly there are games in these categories that need a facilitator or referee, there are rarely products published with that role in mind). Not every player wants to GM, and in many cases aspirant or prospective GMs are hesitant to try. The sad reality is there will always be more players than Game Masters. This can make finding them challenging.

The most obvious place to look is in existing RPG groups, where there will always be at least one. If you already have groups in your shop you’re in good shape. Game Masters are often the best evangelists for their hobby, and can enthusiastically help bring new players into their ranks. That’s where most GMs come from – players. Many times, the best GMs excel at kindling the spark of new GM-ship in people in their gaming group. Having great, memorable game moments naturally leads people to want to share that experience with others.

The truism for RPGs, that the best way to learn to play is to join a game and pick up the rules as you go also applies to the abilities required of GMs. In a similar way that online streamed play gives interested players a virtual seat at the table from which to pick up the ins and outs of an RPG system, so do many interested GMs gain insight into the skill set required to run a game by listening to asides and tips from online GMs. So, streamed games have been instrumental in growing both the number of players and Game Masters. And even as there are numerous great books about becoming a better GM, there’s not a class you can take to learn to become a Game Master.

Unless, of course, you create one.

Once a year in my shop, we host an event we call RPG Escape, where we invite designers, Game Masters, and authors to give panels and workshops on the unique art of creating worlds and experiences in RPGs. It used to be called the Gamemaster Symposium. We changed the name because we wanted people who were curious, but maybe felt a little too intimidated to call themselves GMs yet, to attend. People get ask questions about game and scenario design, and work through exercises in collaborative world-building, storytelling, and a little RPG psychology.

This event connects people together, forming new gaming groups and potential support structures among people with shared interests and varying levels of expertise. It breaks past barriers like fear of putting yourself out there, or not being ready, through a welcoming encouraging group activity. It’s one of the best things we do in the shop.

During the rest of the year, we also host GM Roundtables and Game Master Classes. At the Roundtables we invite experienced and new GMs to an evening in our private room. This is usually a small group. We put out snacks and shut the door. There’s a suggested topic, maybe “scenario building”, “game balance”, or “when player personalities clash”, but there’s no requirement to stick to one subject. Everyone has a chance to vent, listen, and offer up advice if asked for. It’s private and confidential, and feedback has been positive. The Game Master Class fits neatly between the GM Roundtables and RPG Escape in terms of size, and more closely follows the format of the latter, with a short panel featuring local GMs, followed by breakout sessions of tabletop play, accentuated with tips and explanations of the processes of running a game. The Master Class is more aspiring GM-focused, while the Roundtables better serve GMs who have recently taken the plunge.

For the RPG campaigns that routinely take place in the shop that tend to run for shorter durations (eight or fewer sessions), we try to encourage taking turns running for the group. Often times this will result in the next GM trying a different game or game system where they are more comfortable with their relative level of expertise or ownership. From what we’ve witnessed over time, a good way to start this practice is to suggest keeping a backup game in reserve to run when the regular game experiences a hiccup or off night. As more players in a group try their hand at running, it increases the likelihood that others in the group will want to take their turn, and before long there may be a game group that started by playing 13th Age under one GM, moved to a session or three of Little Things (from the Seven Wonders story-games anthology) with another, with yet another jazzed to run The Fall of DELTA GREEN in a few weeks.

These are just some ideas we have tried. Maybe you’ve had success creating GMs in other ways? My friends Paul and George do RPG Labs to demo new systems at their shop, Games & Stuff. My friend Dawn streams games from a studio in her store, The Game Annex (something we will be doing in the Adventure Game Society as well). Try some of these, or come up with ideas that better fit your store (and share them in the comments), and let’s foster healthier RPG play and business for all our shops!

Brian Dalrymple owns The Adventure Game Store & Dragon’s Lair  in South Florida, USA.He is a founder of The Adventure Game Society. Find him on Twitter @AdvGameStore

by Brian Dalrymple

I understand shopping on price. Running a game shop means being budget-conscious nearly all of the time. I track what I spend on products, concessions, necessities, food, gas, and so on. I’ll drive an extra couple of miles to fuel up at the station that’s a few pennies less per gallon. I use Amazon for little things I need that might be more expensive elsewhere. I recently got a new phone, so my phone case, SD card and extra charging cable all came from Amazon. I may even buy a book from them every now and then.

What I don’t do – what I think most people don’t do, is shop on Amazon. I mean, really shop – stroll the aisles, see what catches my eye. Spend an hour or more looking around. Pick stuff up. Skim through, try it out. I don’t hang out at Amazon, or get into a good, Clerks-style conversation with the staff, or other shoppers there. I certainly don’t game there.

As stores with physical locations, we have strengths Amazon and other online sellers can’t compete with, and by playing to these strengths, you can position yourself to thrive, even as online “shopping” increases around us.

This is possible because we don’t sell anything people need to have. There’s nothing in my shop that people would have a hard time going about their daily lives without. Everything I carry is a luxury. People need food, every day. They need gas if they have to drive. They have to buy them, so they try to find them at the best price. It’s a regular purchase. Not so with games. People buy games because they want them. What’s more, most game purchases are impulse purchases. One could make an argument that all of them are.

Quick access to price comparisons via smart phone can postpone this impulse, or at least redirect it, if the shopper has the patience to trade immediate ownership for savings. The difference in price has to large enough to motivate that choice.

So, other than having the product on the shelf, what else can you do to encourage that purchase is made in your store?

You could match the discount, or try to come close, and probably make the sale, but shaving your margin thin likely isn’t going to help you. It might make your customer happy, but brick and mortar retailers usually can’t afford to do this as a matter of course and expect to stay open. Online discounters, and especially Amazon, operate under entirely different models that do not work for individual stores.

So, what else? Under what circumstances are people less concerned with whether they are saving a little, and freer with their spending?

Think about what you’re like when you’re on vacation. Having lived in Florida my whole life – home of Walt Disney World, Miami Beach, the top cruise terminals – I witness a lot of tourism, and I know people who provide service to tourists. When people are having a good time and getting great service – when they are in the midst of an experience – they aren’t as concerned about expense.

Your store is a special place to the people who visit it. If someone comes in once a week, or once a month, that visit is a highlight of their week. It’s a mini-vacation from the rest of their time, and your store is a mini-Disney World. If they’re coming to game at your store, even more so. It’s a trip to Middle Earth, or the far future, or the cyclopean towers of R’lyeh, where they can join with other travelers and have a great time ducking tentacled horrors and vampires. This is your strength, and Amazon can’t touch it.

For people who visit more regularly, your store is that “third place” Starbucks wants to be, but better. You can find good conversation, and enjoy yourself for hours.  It’s Cheers, except the Guinness is a game of Night’s Black Agents, or 13th Age. Heck, maybe you serve Guinness, too.

Any manifestation of your store – the theme park, the community pub, the daily convention – can be enhanced by running special events. Workshops, designer visits, painting clinics, Game Master roundtables, all day mega games – use your imagination. The more special the event, the more your customers value your store, the more it makes a difference to them, the more they’ll understand you’re not just a business that offers things they might want, you’re a place that matters. People will want to support places that are part of their community that matter to them.

Amazon can’t offer any of that.

What about the new customer who brings a product up to your register and asks if you can match Amazon’s, or some other online discounter’s price?  What you decide is up to you. I usually say I can’t, but I try to make sure they know about the things we do. I show them around the shop. I let them know about upcoming events. I try to get them to sample the experience of my store beyond the transaction of the game purchase. It doesn’t always work – but sometimes it does, and I wind up with a repeat customer.

There have been times I’ve watched someone enjoy a demo in store, and then go to the shelf to retrieve a copy of the game they just played, look at the price tag, take out their phone, and re-shelve it a moment later.  That can be heartbreaking, but I realize there can be a lot of reasons for the no-sale. Real monetary reasons.

The internet has trained a segment of our consumer base that paying MSRP for a game, whatever the circumstances, is foolish. Ironically, many in that same group routinely pay more than they have to for coffee, or beer. They also value social experiences and unique events to the extent they’ll pay to be a part of them, so maybe, for that segment, sell the experience. Many stores are seeing enthusiastic participation in RPG night events as interest in roleplaying increases, and are able charge a fee. Maybe even sell them the coffee or beer, if you can.

If you work to make your store a community focal point, offer a good selection, great service, a mini-universe of escapes from the day to day, and unique events people will want to be a part of – make your store a great store, and Amazon will be less of a problem. It also helps tremendously when our publishers offer tools like Bits & Mortar, which is a great reward for preorders (and something you can’t get from Amazon) or MAPP programs to lower that critical difference in price to get that impulse sale. Publishers want brick & mortar stores to be healthy. They know they’d be in much worse shape it were just Amazon out there, so share your ideas with them, and ask how they can support your efforts.

Brian Dalrymple owns The Adventure Game Store & Dragon’s Lair in South Florida, and is a partner in Alligator Alley Entertainment, publisher of The Esper Genesis Heroic Sci-Fi RPG, and Witch Hunter: The Invisible World. He has worked at every level in the games industry, and has been actively involved in the Game Manufacturers Association for more than 20 years. Find him on Twitter @AdvGameStore

by Brian Dalrymple

Crowd-funding has solidified its acceptance as a necessary step in the creation of games in the minds of small and mid-sized publishers and the player base at large, but the idea still meets resistance from retail game shops, and there are valid reasons.

While many crowd-funding efforts over years have included well-intended gestures designed to enlist support of stores, some recurring challenges for retailers have not been addressed comprehensively until recently.

Fair warning: I’m a game store owner and a supporter of crowd-funding from the retail perspective. I’m also a graphic designer and publisher (our first Kickstarter is in its final days as I’m writing this). The positives of a successful crowd-funding campaign have long been apparent to me, but I’ll mention them briefly:

  1. Most important – the thing actually has the money to happen.
  2. Access to capital without going into one’s own savings.
  3. You have a much clearer idea of your budget.
  4. The ability to pay writers, editors, artists (and yes, graphic designers), etc… up front, or earlier in the process.

5a. Awareness of your product to players, creating excitement and a market of consumers ready for your game.

5b. Awareness of your product to distributors and at the retail level – proof of demand.

Ultimately, this should lead to higher production values for your game, better sales, etc…

The problem is, even highly successful crowd-funding projects create problems for retail stores – even when the creators want their support, and would like to see their games on store shelves. The reasons for this often boil down to lack of knowledge of the challenges stores face. The most cited, most valid issues stores mention when complaining about crowd-funding can be solved by better-constructed campaigns that seek to include the retailer in the crowd-funding process in more advantageous ways.

Among the complaints are:

Tying up operating capital for extended periods of time, or, “Why retailer backer dollars are worth more”:

When a player backs a game, that money comes from their entertainment budget. Whether it comes out of their available cash now, or a year from now, it’s still the same set amount. When a retailer backs a game they intend to sell, that money could have been spent on product for that week, which could have sold, generating more money to pay bills and order more product the following week, which could generate even more money, etc… Now, multiply that by every week until the game is in their hands.

Why not just wait until the game comes out and get it from distribution? What’s the incentive not to?

We feel like we’re tacked on. We don’t get any of the special rewards at the retailer backer levels.

You’re circumventing us, going directly to our customers. They don’t even have a reason to come into the shop.

All of these problems are fixable, and it’s not hard to do. Let’s take them one at a time:

Tying up capital

Offer a low cost pledge level for retail stores. Consider it a placeholder, or a deposit. This allows stores be part of the project, receive updates, comment, and participate in any post-campaign things like Backer Kit, late pledges, etc… Tell them you’ll contact them when the game is ready to ship, to find out how many they want. Make this pledge amount small, but not so small they’d dismiss or forget about it when the time comes. Use the expected wholesale price of one unit as a guide. Or the cost of a meal. Credit this amount toward the initial order – “You already have enough credit for one core game. How many more would you like, and how many of the expansions?”

Incentives to back instead of waiting for distribution

Send all your backer rewards out near the same time – the retailers’ with the other backers, if you can – so they are received close enough together, and ahead of when the product goes to distributors. Build in a meaningful timeframe during which backer retailers can sell your game exclusively – 30 days if possible. You can offer a slightly better price than what you expect the wholesale pricing to be, but don’t go crazy here – just a few (2-3) percentage points. You want the distributors to carry you, too.

All the good feels

Let your retailer backers have access to extra stretch goals and special rewards. Go further than this. Offer stores something special just for them. This could be a retailer-exclusive item, or something digital, an event, or special recognition in the product somewhere. Make this a higher pledge level. Perhaps include the small price break mentioned above, here, with a commitment to a higher product quantity. For many stores, 2 or 3 copies is a good place to start.

Give customers a reason to go to the store

The special thing mentioned above can be a good reason for a gamer to come to a shop. So is early release. If you offered an event, this would be a good time for stores to run it. You could also try to more directly facilitate a connection between your player and retailer backers by having the option of shipping customer rewards to stores of their choice, and letting them pick up their games at the shop. You can pass along the savings on shipping to your player backers as an extra incentive. Some people would rather have their packages delivered to a secure location. Enterprising store owners will realize this is an opportunity to upsell. More enterprising retailers will try to get any regular customers considering backing your project to pre-order it through them instead. Don’t worry about “losing backers” like this, any more than stores do about “losing customers”.  In a system as large as a crowd-funding effort, there will be enough dollars to go around. Very few campaigns reach only their funding goal and no more. Ultimately, they’re your players, whether they pledged early, or through a shop. One could argue a purchase made through a shop has a even better chance to create more players, but that a subject for another article.

Brian Dalrymple owns The Adventure Game Store & Dragon’s Lair in South Florida, and is a partner in Alligator Alley Entertainment, publisher of The Esper Genesis Heroic Sci-Fi RPG (on Kickstarter right now), and Witch Hunter: The Invisible World. He has worked at every level in the games industry, and has been actively involved in the Game Manufacturers Association for more than 20 years. Find him on Twitter @AdvGameStore

 

RPGs_Decoded_Banner_350

by Brian Dalrymple

Brian Dalrymple owns The Adventure Game Store & Dragon’s Lair in South Florida. He’s also worked in games distribution and publishing, and is a graphic designer. He sells a lot of role-playing games. Find his store online at facebook.com/AdventureGameStore or follow him on twitter @AdvGameStore

Chances are, as a recipient of the Pelgrane Press newsletter, you are already selling role-playing games in your shop, or you’ve been thinking about doing so. In recent years we’ve observed a new wave of interest in tabletop RPGs, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. This surge has been fueled partly by generational trends and the rise of geek culture, and it’s been pushed into the collective consciousness through both traditional and new media.

For some time now, many game players have viewed role-playing games as a sort of mysterious, foundational part of the gaming hobby. They were the games CEOs, authors, actors, and screenwriters, (and within the hobby, designers and game company owners) played when they were young – but to many people, they seemed arcane and indecipherable, or the groups playing them too exclusive or fringey, for them to learn to play.

All of that is changing.

In my shop, and possibly in yours, this change been due, in part, to the boom in board and card games. What began as selection of simple Euro games next to our venerable counter and hex wargames titles has exploded into a dozens of shelves holding a wide variety of games that dominate the store: resource management; risk management; cooperative; abstract strategy; adventure – you know them as well as I do – and as our selection grew, so did the sophistication of the game rules, and the rules-absorbing-abilities of my customers. Our board and card gamers, to borrow from the RPG vernacular, have “leveled.”

If the question is: “Where are my new RPG players going to come from?” I’d say, “You’ve probably already got them, among your board and card game players.”

So, you’ve made the decision to carry and push RPGs? Here is, ideally, what you need, other than the rulebooks:

  • A semi-private space, separated from other store noise, if possible.
  • A table that seats about 6+. In my store, our 5’ round table is popular, because it gives everyone equal access to the table center, and allows people to hear each other well (again, if noise is an issue).
  • An electrical outlet, as some RPGers use laptops or other devices at the table. (This can also be a detriment, which we’ll discuss in a later article.)
  • Refreshments, if you can sell them. RPG players will spend more time than most gamers in the same seat, playing one game, and they’re going to get hungry.
  • Access to a printer, for downloads and character sheets.
  • Accessories – dice, of course. Dice are our top selling item for RPG players. Almost as individual to a player as their character, one can never have too many cool dice, and then there’s the add-ons: dice bags, rolling trays and towers, etc… Also stock character miniatures, if your games use them. Reaper has a huge assortment of affordable figures in their Bones line, and WizKids will soon be offering unpainted character minis in packs of 2 (low and high level versions of the same character).
  • Game Masters are the linchpin of any RPG group (Yes, there are some games that don’t use them, but there is usually an Alpha or organizer). If you don’t already have any in your shop, social media can be a place to find them. Look at MeetUp, Facebook and Google groups, and Reddit for groups that might be in your area, and reach out to them. Local conventions are a great place to look, too. Some schools have gaming clubs. Put the word out through your customers and your social media. Chances are there are already RPG groups playing in your area. Finding a good Game Master can be critical to RPG growth in your shop, as GMs create new GMs.

Need to make your own Game Masters? Running an RPG is a learned skill that’s usually best taught by those with experience. In our shop we’ve hosted Game Master Roundtables, where we’ve asked veteran GMs to sit for an hour or two to talk with new, or aspiring GMs about the art and challenges of managing games, and how to better provide an engaging and entertaining experience at their tables.

We’ve also created an event we’re calling “RPGs Decoded”, where we invite curious board, card or miniatures players to sit for a discussion of what Role-Playing Games are, and how they’re easy and fun  to play. We end the program with some examples of game play. We’re fortunate enough to have some local RPG designers and publishers join our Game Masters in presenting for this event, but we’d manage well enough with the GMs alone.

Once you’ve got your group ready to play, Pelgrane Press offers some great introductory products, including adventures and scenarios:Free RPG Day 2016 front cover_350

Now is a great time to try RPGs! Good luck!