Thursday, April 12, 2012

Should Players Pay for D&D?

I realized today as I was walking the neighbor's dog that I have an expectation that players don't pay for the game they're playing, but the referee covers all the costs of the rules, setting, adventures, etc. I'm wondering how common that is.

When I was a player, I played in a 3.5 campaign and didn't spend a cent. I didn't even buy my own dice; I borrowed them from the DM or another player- I can't remember which. This worked out great for me, especially since 3.5 is NOT the game for me and I'd regret any money I'd spent on it.

When I started refereeing, I carried that same assumption into my games. I bought a big plastic container of polyhedral educational dice that I bring out whenever I play face to face with people who don't own dice. I buy (or download- I've downloaded a lot of free stuff, thanks to the OSR) the rules and sourcebooks and grimoires that I use and don't expect my players to pay for any of it.

From one perspective (the one that I agree with), this makes a lot of sense. The referee paying for his own stuff means that he has total creative control over what he uses. Players don't have to pay for things they don't particularly want. I'm glad that I didn't have to pay to play in a 3.5 world and I'm pretty sure that my former DM, who plays in my Swords & Wizardry world, is glad that he doesn't have to pay to play in it. We both have played in each other's worlds because we are friends with each other and would rather be roleplaying than not roleplaying, but I think we're both happy putting our own money towards investing in our own games and settings.

From another perspective (that I can understand, even if I don't agree with it), this hardly seems fair. What about the players who never referee? They get a free ride; the referee both shells out all the money for the rules and prep and does the hours of prep, while the players just show up. That hardly seems fair.

(My counter-argument would be that if the referees don't mind, and they usually don't, fairness really isn't a problem. Besides, the players hopefully will pick up the tab for snacks or meals during the game, and they are [hopefully] providing pleasure to the referee by playing in his setting. But I'm sure there are counter-counter arguments against this as well.)

Another perspective is that, especially since AD&D, players need to, or at least should, have enough mastery of the game that it's really a good idea for them to own their own copies of at least part of the rules. There are, in a sense, two different libraries that players and referees can purchase, together investing in the game. This, I think, is more and more true with newer games, as opposed to the games I play (ACKS is the prime exception that jumps to mind here).

So what about in your gaming groups? Does the referee buy everything? Do the players ever chip in? Do you figure out some arrangement that you feel is fair, or is fairness really even a priority that you particularly worry about?


  1. In our group, each of us purchases the core books and/or supplements as we desire. Each of us who DMs foots the bill for any published modules, etc. that we want to utilize.
    I am the propmaster and provide nearly all of the miniatures, whether or not I am the current DM.
    Those who are not DMing a session rotate providing meals and snacks.
    One of our group actually went and built with his own money and own labor a game-room in which we meet and play.
    We've all kicked in for the various maps, projectors, and other accessories at times.
    After 12 years it seems to be working; no one person is responsible for ALL the costs, and no one has taken a free ride; some of us pay as we can and some of us cover those who can't at the moment.

  2. My players are under no obligation to even know the rules, much less own the rulebook. :)

    I'm almost always Gming, and own copies of anything I'm going to run. On the rare occasions I do play a PC, if I like the game I'm going to buy the rulebook, assuming I don't already have it.

  3. At the very least, a player should shell out for dice and a pencil with a good eraser.

    Next in line would be a players handbook for whatever system is being played, if there is one available. It's not required, but it's nice to have.

    And, of course, if the GM is covering all other costs, then the players should be covering the GM's portion of food & drink. Period.

    Of course, I wonder how many people could make a living out of being a freelance DM. Wouldn't you love to get paid to run games for people?

  4. I kind of like the style of game where the referee provides everything, as that seems to route around the problem of characters being more about optimization than about character. Since I started in 2E, there have almost always been splatbooks galore available for games that I have participated in (hell, I remember loving The Complete Wizard's Handbook, The Complete Book of Elves, and others). In my current game, I think most of the players have some rulebooks, and a few have many more than I do. As a player, I would probably buy the core rules to any game I was playing that lasts more than a few sessions.

    When I recently ran a Moldvay one-shot, I provided printouts of the section of the basic rulebook that was required for character generation, and that worked really well. None of the players had copies of the rules or had ever read them before. In fact, most of them still call that "the 1E game," because clearly all old school games most be First Edition. :-P

    There is definitely an asymmetry of prep work unless you rotate referee duties, but since most referees enjoy it (time permitting), I don't think that is a bad thing.

  5. I'm in the camp that players only need to bring; dice, pen & paper and a miniature that represents their character (if possible). GM takes care of the rest.

  6. I've never had a problem. Players seem to be interested in buying dice and books on their own. I print handouts for everyone, especially for character generation. I'm also, always, the GM and I like to buy games and read them, even if I never ever will play them. So it's no loss to me. I haven't bought dice in 10 years until last fall when I bought the funny dice for DCC RPG. Most of the players in my DCC Campaign have bought their own dice and have the Core book on order.

    1. Since I am currently running a couple games I think its a fabulous idea that players should pay me.

      But the group I grew up with, and when we just barely teens, we plotted together what games to buy. You get the GM guide, I'll get the players handbook, you get Keep on the Borderlands and I'll get Tomb of Horrors. So we tried to cover all the bases with our limited income. Eventually when we got older we were able to buy our own core books.

      And we take turns GMing. So when I am done with the game I'm running one of the other players will pick up the reins. Plus, we have all been gaming long enough to understand how much work it is for the GM. And sometimes, if as players we can help out with the work load we do.

      We all get our own snacks now, but back in the day it was everyone pitched in and got a pizza and a couple 2-liters. While I enjoyed the days of sharing books and scrounging through the couch cushion for change for a pizza, I am glad I can buy my own pie now.

  7. I [the referee] don't even bring books to the game anymore, just my dice and notebook. In our group one person hosts, another referees, and the rest by the snacks.

    [If you insist on running a game where you need the books, that's your own, personal thing.]

  8. I make my players buy me beer. I'm pretty sure that the cost of my rulebooks has been offset by now.

  9. I remember way back when I first heard of AD&D. The players have their own book? How quaint! The games I played didn't have those.

    The GM bought the game he wanted to play, and then we games the living daylights out of that game, then someone else wanted to GM and if he had the money and was enthusiastic about it, he bought his own copy (or borrowed from the first guy).

    I have almost always bought the games I was interested in, on the other hand I did often end up the GM. Wonder why? I did end up with one hell of a collection that way... (roughly 1000 volumes)