Modules, it turns out, apparently DO sell


First Post
As someone who doesn't really play any version of DnD, and doesn't run adventures, preferring more sandbox and character focused games using Savage Worlds or Burning Wheel or FATE, I still sometimes buy Pathfinder adventures.

Why do you ask? Because they make for interesting reads. I have zero interest in the system they use, and little to no interest in ever using them as anything other than possibly inspiration, but they read well. So every now and then I pick up one just for fun.

I'm definitely an outlier on this issue, but that's my story.

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Because it seems to me, at some point, without changing the default assumptions that are inherent in the adventure products -- power creep WILL break the utility of the adventure material published by Paizo to the DMs who buy it.

One of the advantages you have in building a business model that sells games rather than game supplements is that you don't have to trash your system to make a profit. IMO, much of 3.5 on was published with power creep deliberately built in as a selling point of the material. This is a tactic that the WotC RPG picked up on from the CCG division. With each product WotC releases for its CCG lines, they publish a few deliberately overpowered items amidst the 'chafe'. These few items excite the player base to purchase the product line in order to get the play utility of the overpowered items. The real selling point is a small percentage of the material. With many of the D&D books from 3.5 on, I saw deliberate power creep being put in to the game with the intention of encouraging sales. Of course the problem with that is if you were one of those tables that bought into the system expansion wholeheartedly, by the time of late 3.5 you were probably disgusted with the system, it's complexity, it's lack of balance, and so forth and eager for the 'new hotness'. But on the other hand, this approach to sells burns out all but the people who, as you say, enjoy the " geek thrill from purchasing and collecting RPG material for my system of choice". You are ultimately contracting your player base. It's the sort of business model that killed me on MtG; it's ultimately killed me as a customer of their RPG line as well.

I hope Paizo is smart enough to realize how bad power creep would be for their business. The basic rule of publishing new core material is that you can't publish anything that enhances an already strong strategy. You may only publish new material that makes an existing weak strategy stronger (or opens up a new strategy altogether), and then only if you playtested to be sure you haven't over compensated. If druids, clerics and wizards are recognized as being 'the top', you can't publish anything that signficantly enhances their existing core strategies or which fully solves their existing weaknesses.

I understand your trepidation at an 'Advanced Player's Guide'. I hope Paizo is smart enough to know that you can't always give the players what they say that they want. You have to find ways to make them want what you are able to give them. For example, I think there is ALOT of room in Pathfinder for expanded feat selection that opens up breadth and space without significantly creating power creep.

And that is someting I will never allow to happen again at my table.

Maybe its just that I've been playing longer, or maybe its just that one of my strengths as a DM is rules smithing, or maybe its just that I'm too poor to satisfy my geek urges by buying 80 books, but I never allowed this to happen at my table in the first place and I strongly encourage all DMs to adopt the stance you've been so eloquently outlining here and elsewhere. Opening up a system to 40 or 50 player's books is insane, and can't lead anywhere good.

I saw this coming in 3.0. I picked up the 3.0 DMG and went, "What the #$!@!", when I saw PrC's. A chill of trepidation went down my spine, and I said to myself, "I hope they realize just how bad of an idea this is." I know what Monte was trying for, but the implementation absolutely sucked and with official no rules and guidelines to ensure balance things went to heck in a hurry. Of course, my idea of a 'bad idea' was something bad for the game. From WotC's perspective though, it was immediately clear that they recognized the market value of PrC's and they moved the PrC out of DM books and into player books. Really, that was the beginning of the end of the system. It wasn't long before I was hearing about various 'optimized' builds of multi-dipped synergized PrCs, usually either full-caster progression PrCs that ALSO got nifty powers on top of the already powerful Wizard build, or else full BAB progression PrCs that got the equivalent of a bonus feat every level rather than every other level. And from there, as the stuff proliferated, it just got worse. It was all I could do to hold back the tide.

I'm not doing alot of business with Paizo right now, but they are one of two publishing companies I fully respect (the other being Green Ronin) and I really really want to see them succeed.


Paizo started with modules and APs, and then moved into the RPG business. I'm baffled how anyone could draw the conclusion that modules are just a loss leader for their flagship products.

Yeah, if anything, the Pathfinder RPG rulebook is a loss leader for the modules, APs, and campaign setting materials.

Here's a thing to consider. The statement attributed to WotC that "modules don't sell" is what, almost a decade old at this point, and just because it described WotC publishing strategy and the RPG market circa 2000 doesn't mean it applies to the current situation. Also, its not like WotC is neglecting the adventure business. Dungeon is again a house organ, there is a series of 12 published adventures, 2 setting specific adventures (with two more on the way, i.e. Dark Sun and the Gamma World supplements), a new series of softcover adventures (the HS series), two hardcover books of adventures (Dungeon Delve and Revenge of the Giants, with another on the way), and plenty of LFR content.

Thornir Alekeg

I am also in the "minority" of adventures over rules books. There is only so much of rules that are really needed and only so many additions/changes that can be absorbed before it becomes overwhelming.

Adventures are great because they support the product, and they can be used to develop the game world.

Modules can also be fire and forget to a much greater degree. You are less likely to get players asking about the encounter in the swamp adventure you ran last year than you are about the rule that came out in the splatbook last year defining how ear wax can be used to boost the potency of certain potions.


First Post
I think they have been left in a unique situation. I think they are the biggest OGL 3.x publisher by the departure of WOTC. The inherited a large market that needed new modules and are the only place for that market to get new approximately correct rule books.

If they can sell one quarter of the old 3.5 market modules, that is a lot of modules.

I do think they've been very careful with quality though and, IMHO, they deserve credit for staying by the OGL.



Writer for CY_BORG, Forbidden Lands and Dragonbane
I'm curious how you view the fact that Pathfinder was only released less than a year ago, and as of right now there have only been two (possibly 3 if you include the Armory book) rulebooks produced for Pathfinder (The corebook and the bestiary) and one is a purely DM book....yet many more modules have been published.

This is speculation.

Paizo started as a support company for D&D3e and managed to capitalise on their relationship to the D&D brand after Dragon and Dungeon were pulled. Thus, they managed to convert many of the customers to the new AP format, which was a very smart move.

But, as someone else has mentioned, Paizo is also the only company in the history of RPGs to have such a head start: an entire database of subscribers who were willing to pay for content. I don't know the conversion rate they managed, but even if they just managed to convert around 20%, that'd still translate in thousands of customers, willing to pay for content on a subscription basis.

I'd kill (figuratively speaking of course) to start an adventure publishing business with that kind of foundation in place.

This also occurred roughly as WotC started winding down D&D3e, basically ceding that market to whomever was left, i.e. Paizo. After D&D4e was released, or arguably after Paizo realised that the GSL wasn't their idea of a sound business foundation, they decided to put the Pathfinder rules on the market. IMO this in itself is a testament to the fact that "modules don't sell": the rules of the game were available for free on the internet, and the D&D3 rulebooks can be bought for a song on eBay, and yet Paizo needs to have a core rulebook in place.

Maybe the Pathfinder book scratches the "it's gotta be in print otherwise I won't buy the modules" itch that many gamers have, but I also believe that Paizo will start to transition to more rulebooks during the end of 2010 and during 2011. Add to this that the Pathfinder RPG was the huge success story of GenCon, selling tens of thousands of books. In an RPG market where a couple of thousand is considered a resounding success.

So ... hmmm ... I think that the need for a Pathfinder RPG was not urgent due to the rules being readily available in other books or on the net, and that the momentum of D&D3e carried over for Paizo until they managed to get Pathfinder in place.

The reason they sold modules in defiance of the commonly accepted conventional wisdom before the Pathfinder core rules were released was that they managed to capitalise on their exclusive access to a loyal customer base which were already spending money regularly, i.e. the Dungeon and Dragon customers.

According to common belief, this almost seems like suicide. Wouldn't it have been better to invest those resources in pumping out rulebooks on a semi-monthly basis as opposed to modules?

I suspect that Paizo will indeed end up doing that, once the subscribers have had their fill of adventure material. After 5000 pages, how many more pages can you sell to basically the same customer base? Another 5000? 10000? 1000? I don't know, but I believe that Paizo knows.

But given the subscription model, they might shift the adventure material into being more rules material, thus negating the need for a heavy hardback every other month.

Also I'm curious... Rise of the Runelords was publisehd in 2007... The corebook in 2009... how did they survive for more than 2 years without publishing rulebooks? IMO, Paizo has made a successful business off of everything WotC claims doesn't sell... mainly fluff and adventures, but I could be looking at this wrong and am honestly curious about an insiders oppinion on this.

I think Paizo is successful because they started with a customer base that was ready to spend money regularly, and managed to build a business foundation on top of that.

It has, IMO and all that of course, very little to do with fluff or adventures, and everything to do with capitalising on a unique opportunity and shaping the product on offer to fit the customer base available.

Why do I say that? While Paizo produces excellent stuff, they aren't the only ones to do so, and not the only ones to ever have done so. There's been people producing stellar fluff and adventures who haven't been able to reap the rewards as Paizo has, so to me it's obvious that there are other factors in play.

That said, if Paizo didn't produce top notch stuff, their business model would likely collapse due to churn among the customer base. They need to be the best to stay the best, which seems like an obvious thing to say, but many, many companies forget that.

Finally, when looking back at the major thing that the two most successful RPGs today have in common, it is ... a working subscription model.

All this from my armchair ... well, IKEA office chair, but unless I have overestimated the importance and success of the Paizo subscription model, I would be surprised if someone from Paizo came out and said: "hey dude, you are soooo wrong."

Which of course means that Erik or James or Lisa will be along on a moment saying precisely that. :D




Given that WotC has continued to produce modules, I am pretty sure they came to the conclusion that, "Crappy modules don't sell." A decade ago, they couldn't figure out how to reliably produce non-crappy modules with the staff they had, who were already working on other, typically more profitable projects.

It's true D&D needs good beginner modules. It just is. I disagree that means the adventures will be bland or boring. Writing simple and good is hard. There are a lot of opera singers who can do arias quite well, but there are only a few I would listen to sing individual notes. It's the same with children's books; writing at an eight-year-old's level and condensing an entire story into a couple of dozen pages is very, very hard. It's not a mystery to me why a good beginner module is hard to produce; it's hard to write, even for the people qualified to write one.


First Post
Paizo started with modules and APs, and then moved into the RPG business. I'm baffled how anyone could draw the conclusion that modules are just a loss leader for their flagship products.

Definitely. Moreover, their stated purpose for the RPG was that they needed a set of in-print rules to support their adventures and setting material - not to "fix" 3.5!

Paizo has also been expanding for a long time, well before they published the RPG last year. If that isn't evidence of a profitable business strategy, what is?

Personally, I have way more RPGs and supplements than I will ever use. I suspect a lot of us just buy things because they are interesting reads, and adventures are often better for that than crunch.


Isn't this what low-level adventures are for? Now if you're using this excuse for Paragon and Epic level adventures... well I'm not buying it. In fact after 3rd level I feel a DM doesn't need basic and simple anymore... he should be introduced through the module into more and more advanced techniques, storylines, rp'ing encounters, etc. of DM'ing. There's also a point where things can be too simplistic and basic (Hey it's our third fight in a row with KOBOLDS!!!)... creating boredom.
And yet WotC felt like releasing Revenge Of The Giants was a good idea (an adventure that from what I understand is mainly one giant battle after another, with very little 'roleplay' stuff in it). Doesn't the fact that they chose to spend development time on a product like this instead of a product like what Paizo releases, give us a better idea of what sells better for them in the business model they currently find themselves?

And again... to your point that you feel a DM after 3rd level shouldn't need basic and simple... you're coming at that statement from the perspective of someone who's played many more rpgs than the base amount needed to get your first game to 3rd level. Or to even get your game to paragon or epic tier. I mean let's be honest here... do we really believe that a completely new group of kids learning rpgs for the first time who manage to get through Keep, Thunderspire, Pyramid, Trollhaunt and so on... are now so experienced with what roleplaying is about that they can now identify that what they are playing is subpar? Especially if they've never actually played any other RPGs by way of comparison? Some will, absolutely. But that doesn't mean they're the majority. And while your brother's experience with KotS is completely valid... that's just one person's experience. And I think the fact that WotC did not choose to go overly elaborate on their H/P/E series of modules tells us that they didn't feel it was important to their business model, and who they were marketing those modules to.

It all comes down to who and what those modules were meant to serve. And again... I'm willing to bet that that wasn't us.

Raven Crowking

First Post
Maybe the Pathfinder book scratches the "it's gotta be in print otherwise I won't buy the modules" itch that many gamers have, but I also believe that Paizo will start to transition to more rulebooks during the end of 2010 and during 2011.

I don't know what the future will bring, but I suspect that the Pathfinder core rules came about specifically (1) to keep the rules in print, as you suggest, and (2) to answer the objections about the existing 3.5 system, specifically those brought up by WotC in the 4e marketting push.


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