Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why is Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition So Expensive?

On the day I backed the most excellent Silent Legions Kickstarter, I had first contemplated buying the brand new 7th Edition of Call of Cthulhu. Thanks to a cool group of gamers I met in Korea, I finally got to take Chaosium's version of the game off my always growing list of "games I own but have never played" last year. We played in a food court, under florescent lights, surrounded by Burger King and Taco Bell patrons, and it was still fun.

Better yet, my oldest son played with us and had a good time. I passed on the original Kickstarter but was watching with great anticipation for the new edition to finally see release. For those who don't know, Call of Cthulhu is not a game that changes much from edition to edition. Unlike, say D&D, which is basically a totally different game every ten years or so, a new edition of Call of Cthulhu basically just means cleaned up typos, maybe a format change here, a little rules tweak there, and some new cover art.

With the 7th Edition, however, the designers decided for the first time to make a few substantial tweaks to the game. Now, according to my limited understanding, none of these changes are on the radical level of, say 3rd to 4th edition D&D, but they're a pretty big deal to a game that has remained largely the same for decades. I was intrigued enough to seriously consider purchasing the new rules, even though I own a copy of both 5th and 6th edition.

The Kickstarter, like most Kickstarters, ran rather late. I'm not privy to backer updates, but the original project was supposed to deliver October of last year. So, what, 14 months past schedule? Not quite Appendix N Adventures here (2 years, 5 months counting and STILL waiting), but late. Whatever, though, right? The books are out!

Over on the Chaosium website I found the Keeper Rulebook, which it describes thusly:

"This book, the Keeper Rulebook, contains the core rules, background, guidance, spells, and monsters of the game. It is intended for use by the Keeper of Arcane Lore (the Keeper) — that player who will present the adventure to the other players. You must have at least one copy of this book to play Call of Cthulhu. The other players, the Investigators, should have one or more copies of the Investigator Handbook, containing expanded rules for character creation, skills, occupations, equipment, and more."

Oh, crap, so I need two books to play? The game is traditionally a one book system, but I'm a D&D guy, so I'm cool with the concept. So, how much for the Keeper Rulebook?


For a PDF. Not a PDF and a hardcover, mind you. Just the electronic download.

That's a bit pricy for what essentially boils down to some bandwidth, but ok. How about the other required book?


So, if I want to run Call of Cthulhu for my son, all it would cost me is $50.90 for 2 PDFs?

I understand the high value roleplaying games provide for the cost and I'm all about Chaosium making a profit. However, the book was Kickstarted. They already got $561,000 to make sure this book is a reality. These PDF sales are just gravy for them. I can only speak for myself, here, but when I like a book I own in PDF and plan to use it at the table, I generally buy a print copy as well. A print book I'll pay $30-$60 for, depending on quality, and possibly more if it's a really nice item. Chaosium has taken the money I'd have spent on 2 print books and 2 more reasonably priced PDFs (say, $10 each?) and transformed it into $0.

Electronic publishing is a very new thing and I'll be glad when it sorts itself out economically. I know I'm quibbling over a relatively small amount of money here ($200 or so), but the only way I can vote is with my dollar. With bigger companies like Apple and Amazon, I expect the price fixing ($8 for an ebook version of a 30-year-old novel that I can get in print for $2? Thanks Amazon!). With a small company like Chaosium, though, it really irritates me.

The book exists. In order to make the book, you had to create electronic versions, so those exist by necessity. I will give you more money in the long run (as opposed to zero money) if you lower your damn price.

I can't believe I'm the only gamer who thinks this way, am I? Is Call of Cthulhu such a niche product that this is where the market has naturally set the price, or are we being gouged for what is essentially electrons and bandwidth?


  1. Just to clarify, you don't actually need the Investigator Handbook. It contains additional character creation options, experience packages, investigator groups and background information on the 1920s, all of which may prove useful, but you can play perfectly well with just the Keeper Rulebook.

    1. So it's kind of like a core rulebook plus a player's companion sort of deal? I do appreciate the clarification, Scott, although it's still out of the price range that I'd pay for purely electronic products.

      Oh, and holy cats, someone read my blog! Neat!

  2. Yes, that's pretty much how it works. The Investigator Handbook also contains the character creation rules, so having copies of it can help if everyone is running through character generation at the same time. Most of the same rules are in the Keeper Rulebook as well, so you can still use that if it's the only book you have.

    I understand that the final versions are at the printer now, so you should be able to get hold of the physical books early in the new year if that appeals more.

    And of course people read your blog! :)

  3. I'm pretty sure that all basic investigator information can be found in the updated quick start guide for free. However, I do agree that 27$ is quite steep for a pdf.