The “High Price” of RPG books

RPG Books Have Gotten Too Expensive

I often hear arguments about how people can’t afford to keep buying into new editions of D&D, or they use “rising costs” as a reason for not playing. “RPGs have gotten too expensive” I used to hear at my game store.

No, they haven’t.

I have an aphorism I like to use: “Don’t guess when you can count.” So instead of simply claiming that books have or have not gone up in price, I checked. I counted for inflation only up to 2010 dollars, the latest figure I have. Since it’s now the beginning of 2012, the final price of these older books is actually a tad higher. However, I think these figures make my point.

Book Year of Release Original Price 2010 Dollars
D&D Box Set 1974 $10.50 $45.89
Monster Manual 1977 $10.95 $38.93
Players Handbook 1978 $10.95 $36.18
DMG 1979 $12.95 $38.38
2nd Edition PH 1989 $19.95 $34.63
3rd Edition PH (launch price) 2000 $19.95 $25.00
3rd Ed. PH (regular price) 2002 $29.95 $36.08
4th Edition PH 2008 $34.95 $35.37



In real value, the price of the books has stayed the same—within about 5% of $36 modern dollars per book. The standout exception is the special release price of the core books for 3e. WotC deliberately underpriced their books to achieve maximum conversion to the new edition. As a retailer at the time, I can tell you the conversion was overwhelming.


Meanwhile, production values have gone up. I’m not talking about the value of the game rules. This isn’t an edition war. I’m talking about the printing and design values of the books themselves.


Successive books used more words per page, which gives you more content in a similarly-sized book. In general, the page count has gotten greater. The box set came to a total of only 112 pages, and they were digest-sized. The total page count for the 3 core books in 1st edition was 475 pages. In second edition, it became 582 pages. A revision of the core books for 2nd edition added more page count without much more content; the difference was largely one of design. It made the books easier to reference, and it cleaned up some text and errata, but we really can’t count that as extra content. However, the 3rd edition books weigh in at 752 pages for the same three titles. The tally for 4e is 832 pages.


That’s effectively 14.9 times the page count of the box set released in 1974 (counting each digest-sized page as half a page. Which it is.).


Art has improved in quality over 1st edition and in quantity. D&D 2e used spot color for some outstanding graphics. The books included a border. Third edition books went full color. Pages went glossy starting with 2nd revised (I think—I didn’t check that one).


Editing has improved greatly. Few readers appreciate this element, but it’s there. References and terminology are more consistent. Cross-references are replete in 3rd and make the books very easy to navigate. Organization overall is better: combat rules should be in the player’s book, not the DM’s book. It’s not a secret.


It is true that a full set of all 3 books has gone up in price from OD&D to the current game. However, that’s hardly a fair comparison. For one thing, most people making the comparison aren’t talking about that version. They’re talking about 1st or 2nd edition. More importantly, those books are soft-cover and digest-sized. All 3 4e books cost $105, or a little bit more than twice the box set in today’s dollars. But for 15 times the content and far better production values, it’s a steal.