In case you missed it the long awaited D&D Next/5th edition Starter Set hit WOTC Premier Stores a week ago and everyone else last Friday. WOTC spend the past couple of years promoting the set through playtesting, website updates and social media but not, as far as I can tell, through any form of paid, let alone traditional media, save for native advertising on the company website. The resulting interest in the Starter Set has been, shall we say, spectacular. I have heard stores ordering 60+ copies and selling through them by the end of the day. Despite no pre-orders here, and little interest in the set of the game, we upped our order and brought in 20 of them. Half that shipment went out before the end of the day on Friday and most of the rest left with customers before the end of the weekend. Not too shabby for a game that the customer really cannot fully play, since the starter set comes with pre-made characters with directions on running adventures and raising character levels from 1st to 5th but, much like the starter set that came out for 3rd Edition, a player cannot actually create characters using these rules; they will have to wait for the Player’s Handbook releasing next month.
Happily, WOTC listened to complaints about this and released, concurrently with the D&D Starter Set, a PDF of the basic rules for character creation, so that those who purchase the Starter Set and want to create their own characters can now do so, rather than waiting until August to purchase the full Player’s Handbook. This is a good way to gin up further interest in the Player’s Handbook and, once again, shows that WOTC, when the company puts its mind to it, has no peer when putting together a starter set for its games. Though we have sold a lot of the Pathfinder Beginners Box from Paizo, the quantities sold of it right out of the gate pale in comparison to the quantities of D&D Starter Sets sold. Price is a major factor for this. The Pathfinder Beginners Box runs $34.99, while Green Ronin’s Dragon’s Age or Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars starter sets each run $29.99, hardly the price to convince a customer to pick one up on impulse. It is much easier to overcome that reluctance to purchase with a price point under $20.
The thing is, I do not expect most of the purchasers of the D&D Starter Set to actually play it. Most of the people who have picked it up are long time D&D players. They have heard about D&D 5th or Next through various online media, since WOTC has put out no print ads of which I am aware, but did not have enough interest in the product to sign up to playtest or download the materials that WOTC has provided over the past year. They came into the store and saw the display or heard it had hit the shelves and wanted to see what the fuss was about. I fully expect that 90% of the customers that purchase it will not play the game using the Starter Set. They bought it to see what changes were made and if the new edition is as bad as they feared. From what I have heard, most people have been pleasantly surprised and I expect to see a lot of Player’s Handbooks. Well played, WOTC.