Why so much?
Why is your game so expensive?
This is far and away the most common non-content related question I get from others in the OSR. Sometimes they question is asked politely, sometimes harshly (usually the venomous ones are on dragonsfoot.org) but its a legitimate question.
They are right, the Whisper & Venom box set was expensive.
My short answer is that it is expensive to make. This is true in every respect though the follow-ups will be less expensive to make and higher quality thanks to an improving skill set and economies of scale. I don’t expect the price point to change much though.
The longer answer is because I wanted it to get played.
I thought highly of the Whisper & Venom draft and looked at many options on how I might release it. After looking at them I almost decided not to bother. A big difference between the old days and now is the quality of options. An adventures price point has not changed much but what you get for that price point has changed substantially.
As I stated earlier my goal was to see it played. For that to happen it needed to be noticed by game masters. Game masters who are in their heart creators- good ones as well or they likely would not still be doing it. That is the biggest challenge I think everyone who wants to sell something in the OSR faces. Your audience is a built in competitor.
The explosion of publishing options along with the professional tools to publish anything is becoming more available and more affordable cheaper which is making a dragon’s hoard of adventures available to us all. I know because I own so many, both good and not so good. With most available as PDFs exclusively the prices are approaching free except for well established companies. Competing on price is hard (ask anyone who competes against WalMart or Amazon, though it is not the same thing, the result is similar). In the OSR competing on price making adventures is hard as well.
Even if an author is willing to compete in a pool of sub $5 PDF releases the obstacle to overcome is awareness. Attention is the new capital when it comes to creative business environments. Getting noticed can take a great deal of time and effort, time and effort that does not guarantee success while taking time away from actually making more games. That, in my view, only leaves competing on things many small publishers wisely avoid: production, presentation, and quality. How to stand out was doing what only a limited number had done before- a box set. One with accessories and extras that looks great on a shelf and plays great at the table. What I wanted to see mine become was/is very expensive.
But, as I said, the ultimate goal was to see it played. So a luxury box would exclude a huge swath of potential customers so the strategy was, first, making the box a the ‘flagship’ version. Followed by many other versions that were done to enhance the strengths of their respective formats. Complete, uncompromised, and fully playable options that contained all the text in the boxed set.. This is why there are the old-school module, hardcover and PDF versions of Whisper & Venom.
At the numbers involved for a small publisher the price per unit is expensive when compared to options that substantially decrease in cost, are at least a few hundred units higher than I think I could easily sell. So the products reflect the costs to the point where the margin is pretty thin. However, the quality is very high and the reception was far better than I hoped.
So it worked for Whisper & Venom, hope it does the same for Death & Taxes.