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Opinion: The Man in the Arena

black box movement

This is one of two posts I’ve written today on Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Citizenship in a Republic” speech. It’s also known as “The Man in the Arena”. You can read the other post over on my personal website.

I’ve had this quote hanging up in my workspace for years. Should I ever get an actual office, I think I want to commission a mural of Roosevelt and have this painted on the wall. I think it’s something that every creator needs to remember.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt, April 23 1910

The Man in the Arena

If you are involved in tabletop roleplaying games, you are the person in the arena. It takes guts to put yourself out there and play a character, in character. Running a game has a lot of moving parts and requires improvisation, so a lot can go wrong. Being a game designer or publisher means standing up and saying “I am going to share this with the world” even though that world is full of hateful trolls that live to tear other people down.

We know we might get beaten up, metaphorically, emotionally, sometimes physically if you’ve ever had to deal with anti-nerd culture. We do it anyway. When we get beaten up, we keep going. No one can stop us. That’s not failure. That’s persistence.

As a creator, not everyone is going to agree with your design choices. They will defend their own preferences, lean into their own experiences, push their own agendas. What’s great is that there’s room for them in the hobby. They can go create their own game. Nothing is stopping them from playing whatever system, setting, or genre they choose. The fact that you did something is an accomplishment. Their complaints about what you did, not so much.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press publishes creative aids and story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.

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RPG Manual Cost as Barrier to Entry

black box movement

Let’s talk about RPG manual cost as a barrier to entry. It’s essentially “settled law” that tabletop roleplaying games are a good value for money. When you divide the cost of even the most expensive game manual by the number of players, and again by the number of hours spent reading and playing, it’s less expensive than going to see a movie. This is one of the great selling points of tabletop games, and one of the things that I love most about them as a form of entertainment. If you have a $30 book, and 4 people play 4 times, the cost per person per session is under $2.

That said, cost is still a barrier to entry.

For Creators

Production costs work the same way. If Wizards of the Coast spends $5000 for a fully-painted cover (and that’s a number pulled out of thin air, just to serve as an example) and they sell 5000 copies of the book, then that adds $1 per book to their production costs. If random game designer that you’ve never heard of spends $5000 on a fully-painted cover so his book can look like Wizards’, and he’s only likely to sell 100 copies, that add $50 per book to his production costs. He can’t sell the book for $30. He either needs to raise the price, or cut production costs.

For Players

That $2 per person per session sounds great, but we know that’s not all there is to it. We know that the gamemaster is the one who bore that whole cost when they bought the game. The players likely didn’t chip in. Most players will want their own copy of the book, so dividing the cost per person is sort of disingenuous. We also know that it’s not the only cost involved. At the very least people have dice which, again, become less expensive the more you use them. I know that most players have already invested in about 10 kilograms of dice.

The reality, though, is that you still need to have that money up front. You’re not on a payment plan with your friendly local game shop, tossing them $2 a week, assuming you play every week, until the book is paid off. You need to have that $30, or $50 or $100 or whatever, up front. We’re in some pretty dire times right now. Not everyone has the money, even if they have the time and desire to play.

The Benefits

I cap the price for my books at $10. Multiply that times the number of copies I reasonably expect to sell, and that’s my budget. It’s a fair price point for me as the creator, and I think it’s a fair price point for you as the consumer. You get a game, and I get to pay the rent on time.

Keeping my prices low also means that when people can afford to buy games, they can buy more of them. They can get my game, and your game, and someone else’s game too, for what they’d pay for a big fat hardcover from a larger publisher. It’s more games into the hands of players, and more support for a broader range of creators. Win-win.

RPG Manual Cost as Barrier to Entry

  • You can read the entire Black Box Manifesto here.
  • Read other posts about the Black Box Movement and how Dancing Lights Press interprets and applies its ideas here.