I recently received some new WFRP 3 products (Signs of Faith and the Creature vault), and was led to ponder whether I’m being massively ripped off. The proximate cause of this consideration was not, perhaps, very orthodox: both sourcebooks in the Signs of Faith boxed set contain largely flavour – that is, information on religion in the WFRP world – and even though I like this stuff a lot I always feel like I’m being rorted when I shell out money for a product and get “fluff.” This is a particularly stupid attitude when talking about WFRP because the entire joy and special pleasure of WFRP is its carefully designed and imagined world. Back in the day, we D&D-ers paid good money for a well-developed world. So why do I feel ripped off when that’s exactly what Fantasy Flight Games give me? Along, of course, with a whole bunch of nicely designed magic cards, some new rules, and a bunch of stand-up cardboard figures[1].

This got me wondering whether, in fact, WFRP 3 is a rip-off, which I think is a common complaint because the basic set is $100 and the add-ons aren’t cheap either. Obviously it’s expensive, but compared to other games, is it hideously over-priced? So I investigated…

What You Get

The introductory set at $100 is essentially enough to play the game – it’s kind of equivalent to the Basic/Expert sets in D&D in terms of the scope it gives you. But to play the game properly – up to what in D&D might be considered the equivalent of the Master set – you need the Signs of Faith, Winds of Magic and Creature Vault add-ons – although arguably you could swap Signs of Faith for the Adventurer’s Toolkit. Ignoring this issue for now, once you have the basic set plus these expansions, you’ve paid a total of $240 and got:

  • The introductory rules for players and GMs
  • Expansion spells
  • A set of dice
  • A monster manual
  • Three modules for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels
  • A complete and very interesting world described in great detail, though sadly lacking a good map

So how much would this set you back if you were investing in another game system? Obviously if it were MERP, you would get the lot for about $20, but putting that aside … let’s consider a modern and an old classic, and compare WFRP with a) Pathfinder and b) the BXM D&D system

Comparison 1: Pathfinder

To play Pathfinder you need only two books: the basic rulebook ($50) and the bestiary ($40). Obviously possessing just these two books doesn’t give you the same amount of sheer stuff as my WFRP collection, so to bolster it up you need 3 modules, and a world. For the world, add in the Inner Sea Guide at $50 (I bet it’s not as good as the world of Warhammer). Then for 3 modules, they seem to cost roughly $14, so you’re looking at $42 for a set of 3. So in total you’ve had to shell out… $182.

On the bright side, Pathfinder has excellent production values – you get nice quality, well illustrated material. It’s extensible, so you can shift to a new setting or genre easily, and the system license means you can easily get access to new ideas – they also have some good ideas about subscriptions, updates, etc. You can also be fairly confident that the core system will be stable (unlike certain products) so over time you can rely on your books not becoming incompatible with new source material – and a lot of of people are developing stuff for Pathfinder. You can also strip out the extraneous fluff easily and go back to a nice core system that, for all its (many) flaws essentially works well.

But for $60 less than the total cost of the WFRP package, let’s not kid ourselves – you aren’t getting a new system when you buy Pathfinder. You’re shelling out $180 for something that was, essentially, built by someone else and will probably break if it is ever redesigned. It’s entirely derivative. It’s reasonable to expect that if Paizo had spent the time developing a system from scratch (as Fantasy Flight did for WFRP3) they might put a premium on the price. So really, we should compare WFRP 3 with a system built from scratch. So let’s try that.

Comparison 2: Basic/Expert/Master D&D

This system was built from the ground up. Without aiming to compare WFRP 3 and D&D on quality of imaginative vision (an impossible task, given that D&D started the whole thing) we can safely say that if a premium for creative effort were going to be charged, D&D would be the system that had the right to charge it. So what do we pay for a set of D&D products equivalent to the WFRP kit? I’m considering my WFRP collection to be roughly equivalent to the first 4 books of the BXCMI(?) series – excluding the really extreme level stuff because I think WFRP will chuck that in later. So how much does a BXCM set plus world plus modules cost?

It’s actually really hard to find this information but this site gives (some) prices of the various D&D products and their dates of release. The first release in 1974 cost $10 for a boxed set, and a release in about 1986 cost $15 so I’m going to assume that the original BXCM in 1983 or so also cost $10 (this is a conservative assumption). So we have:

  • Basic, Expert, Companion, Master sets: probably $10 each in 1983
  • Creature Catalog, $12 in 1986
  • The Grand Duchy of Karameikos, $10 in 1987, which was a big favorite back in the day
  • Three modules at about $6 in 1990

Converting these prices into 2010 prices using this site[2], we get:

  • BXCM: $22 each
  • Creature Catalog: $24
  • Grand Duchy: $19
  • Three Modules: $10 each

For a total of $141. For this you’re getting genuinely original, impressive stuff, but the production values are often quite poor (depending on the version of the game you get) and the game itself is not the best thing ever to grace the face of the planet. But it’s original, and the amount of creative effort involved in early D&D leaves any of the subsequent generations of game in the dust – just look at the diversity and depth of the products displayed on the linked website, and you can see that D&D was rigged to handle anything.

Of course, comparisons with prices from 30 years ago miss the fact that our purchasing power has changed a lot in that time – $80 in 1985 wouldn’t have bought you a computer game console of any kind (even second hand), but $140 in the modern era will. In fact I bet in 1985 you couldn’t have bought a typewriter with $80, but now you can buy an iPod for $240 and typewriters are a thing of the past. So it’s questionable whether the prices are comparable if you apply only inflation, since technological change has made a dollar go much further today (at least when we’re talking about entertainment). So maybe $240 worth of WFRP 3 is more affordable now than $80 of D&D was in 1983.

In conclusion, I think it’s safe to say that WFRP 3 is, for an RPG, a bit pricey, but it’s not a massive rip off. In straight inflation-adjusted terms, it appears that gaming has become much more expensive in the last 30 years, and the more relevant issue is probably that original D&D was – despite its enormous creativity – very cheap. Maybe the creative industry in general needs to look at why that is, and people working in that industry need to ask themselves if their industries have developed in the right direction in the past 30 years.

A Final Note: I’m no Chump!

I should add that a large proportion of the cost of my WFRP (actually, about $150 of it!) has come to me free as presents for favours rendered, so I’ve got the lot for less than the cost of the original D&D set.  So any complaints about price from this quarter are purely academic!

fn1: That I never use, because from the very first day I played any RPG, I never managed to successfully incorporate miniatures into the experience

fn2: Which we can trust, because this is the internet