Printing Out a Copy of a RPG for Your Group?

edited September 2016 in Forum Discussion
Hi guys,
I was wondering what you thought of printing out a copy of a RPG you own for your group. I have heard different takes on this: some say this helps designers get sales because of exposure; some say that it is stealing and that everyone should buy a copy (especially because we should be supporting the indie community). Since I'm starting a large group with multiple subgroups, I'm wondering what my policy should be on this. Can you guys weigh in; especially, those of you who sell your games for money? Does Anyone know how Story Games Seattle and other groups handle this? Thanks :)

Comments

  • I'd normally just print out charts, rules sheets and other aids that summarise the parts of the game that the players need, e.g. if someone needs a spell list for their character, then I'll print that out for them. I wouldn't necessarily print out the whole chapter on magic, but I might make a summary of it for them, like a cheat sheet version, just so they don't keep asking me about dice rolls, spell points, backlash, etc.

    Printing out relevant chapters of the rules seems reasonable if they're being used at the table, so you're not playing pass the book the whole time, but printing out whole copies of the game and giving them to the players... no, I don't like the sound of that.

    I can only speak for how I feel about it, but it does seem like a time when a gentle hint like "The pdf only costs $5 if you want your own copy," might be in order.
  • edited October 2016
    I'd normally just print out charts, rules sheets and other aids that summarise the parts of the game that the players need, e.g. if someone needs a spell list for their character, then I'll print that out for them. I wouldn't necessarily print out the whole chapter on magic, but I might make a summary of it for them, like a cheat sheet version, just so they don't keep asking me about dice rolls, spell points, backlash, etc.

    Printing out relevant chapters of the rules seems reasonable if they're being used at the table, so you're not playing pass the book the whole time, but printing out whole copies of the game and giving them to the players... no, I don't like the sound of that.

    I can only speak for how I feel about it, but it does seem like a time when a gentle hint like "The pdf only costs $5 if you want your own copy," might be in order.
    This seems like the most sensible option. That way they can be exposed to the game and if they like it they will purchase it, and if they're lame cheapskates we won't be facilitating them ripping it off. Thanks for the great answer. I also think that I should say that we might give a play-aid sheet (enough to get by during play only) but we recommend that you buy the game. :) Also, if they come a lot and play the same game regularly, I think we should require it, not just hint at it. Thanks again :)
  • I agree with James.

    Also, I seem to recall @Eero_Tuovinen quite explicitly calling this out by offering to sell "packages" of The Solar System at a discount, so you can buy "one for yourself, and one for each of your friends". That's kind of an interesting idea, too.
  • edited September 2016
    I agree with James.

    Also, I seem to recall @Eero_Tuovinen quite explicitly calling this out by offering to sell "packages" of The Solar System at a discount, so you can buy "one for yourself, and one for each of your friends". That's kind of an interesting idea, too.
    Yeah, I think James' response makes a lot of sense.

    As an aside, per our earlier conversation: Do you know if you can get Solar System in book form if you live in USA instead of U.K.? I couldn't seem to figure out how. If you don't know I will ask Eero, just wondering because you seemed knowledgeable about it. Thanks :)

  • Making copies of copyrighted works for personal use, including distribution to family and friends, is explicitly allowed under the Finnish copyright law. Nowadays there's an exception to that for software, but that wouldn't apply to paper copies, as far as I know. (It might apply to pdf books, but I'm not aware of any authoritative legal opinions one way or another.)

    (My understanding is that American rpg publishers traditionally act under the assumption that they have the authority to set strict and invasive copyright limitations on personal use; for example, older games generally used to have strict boilerplate statements about which parts of the book are OK to photocopy for your gaming. I am pretty skeptical about whether these supposed limitations and permissions were ever as authoritative as they're presented, as it seems to me that the American principle of Fair Use would handily cover most copying of a rpg book that a person might wish to do for the sake of playing the game. Not my problem, nor my area of expertise, though.)

    Considering the law, this is a non-issue here in Finland, although people may of course have different opinions regardless. Speaking as a designer and publisher, limited to my own games, I endorse any and all sorts of non-commercial copywrongs that do not infringe on moral droits d’auteur - I don't monitor the (non-profit) piracy, won't prosecute it, nor shame anybody for it, in accordance with my convictions on the copyright issue in general.

    Not everybody feels the way I do, though, and we are living a time of great change in the culture industry, so you'll be certain to meet differing opinions; if you do decide to make copies for your play group, even of a game that cannot be realistically played without doing so, odds are that somebody will find this action offensive. I suppose that you could seek for some sort of a community standard to support your decision (such as by posting here about it), but I don't know if that does anything except help you feel better about it if what you decide to do offends some random person in the Internet. Even if we all agreed here in this thread that this or that is the community standard, surely such a decision would be rather non-authoritative in the eyes of anybody else.

    If you're mostly afraid of controversy, I suggest simply contacting the publisher of whatever game you want to copy out to your players, and ask them about it. They'll surely have an opinion, a preconception of what the "usage licence" for their game is supposed to be in their own eyes. If they're OK with it, you're in the clear, and if they're not, then perhaps you will want to desist from doing it. If a third party gets offended by what you're doing, an explicit permission from the publisher would probably calm them down pretty nicely.

    Note that it is common for small press games to be constructed in a way that does not require every player to have a rulebook. In fact, most "story games" tend towards a mentoring model where one player teaches the game to the rest after reading a rulebook, and the book itself is hardly used for the play itself. It's mostly games with character builds that might favour each player having their own book, so as to facilitate character planning outside sessions and look-ups during. Despite having a pretty full schedule of gaming, I hardly ever encounter a situation where the group has multiple copies of the rulebook handy at the table.
  • edited September 2016
    @Eero_Tuovinen
    Not really worried about the legal, more wondering about what is the best (read right) thing to do. I think I like James' idea above.

    Also, Eero can I get Solar System in book form if I live in the USA. I've been trying to figure it out but the link on your site, sending me to IPR, isn't bringing a book up. Thanks :)
  • Also, @Eero_Tuovinen can I get the Solar System in book form if I live in the USA. I've been trying to figure it out but the link on your site, sending me to IPR, isn't bringing a book up. Thanks :)
    Huh, that's a good point - they ran out earlier this year, I think. I should make note of that on our own web page, too, I'd just plain forgotten about that. I'm not seeing IPR getting a resupply, as SS hasn't sold that well in the US (and we're almost out here, too), so I guess I'll recommend one of the html versions that are out there. (Or the pdf, which I'm still selling for a few euros.) The paper booklet is very nice for its price, but hardly necessary for enjoying the game.

    Technically I could mail the booklet from here, but the postage is a bit steep, particularly for such a cheap-o product. I guess that getting you a paper copy of While the World Ends (I've got a few copies left sitting in the inventory of my little Finnish indie retail webstore) would be an added bonus, but that still probably wouldn't be worth it :D
  • edited September 2016
    @Eeru_Tuovinen
    Cool thanks, I'll get a copy of the HTML or the PDF (especially if the PDF is better organized and easier to read). Actually, bought the PDF of While the World Ends earlier today. Thanks so much :)
  • Go for it, though if it's something you play regularly at least one person should have purchased at least one copy.

    If you think back to the 70s/80s, quite often one person had the core books, and maybe others bought something to help (an accessory, a module, an expansion, etc), but very few people could afford to 'collect'. Now prices are higher, but wages aren't, so that's even more true. You just can't expect to sell more than one copy to a table.
  • "At least one person should have purchased at least one copy" is my usual logic as well.
  • edited October 2016
    "At least one person should have purchased at least one copy" is my usual logic as well.
    If the group is small I understand this. But since I'm starting an organization with multiple groups a kind of "Indie RPGs & Story Games SLC", akin to Story Games Seattle but with the edition of RPGs; I was thinking my policy should be to only provide the absolute bare materials, like a summary sheet, and to suggest that people buy the book if they can. Also, if it is a game they play regularly, I might require them to buy the book. I'm trying to both support the indie community and not alienate members. What do you think? Thanks :)

  • Sounds reasonable to me!

    But also consider reaching out to the game's author, in case they have strong feelings one way or another (I bet many would happily send out a "batch" of PDFs at a discount, for instance).
  • "At least one person should have purchased at least one copy" is my usual logic as well.
    If the group is small I understand this. But since I'm starting an organization with multiple groups a kind of "Indie RPGs & Story Games SLC", akin to Story Games Seattle but with the edition of RPGs;
    What I do with my group is I constantly tell people that if they are planning on pitching/facilitating a game, they should bring all the materials needed to play the game. Also, I frequently say that if they enjoy a game, they should buy it. In the post game writeups, I supply a link to where the game can be purchased (or downloaded if free).

    The first time we play a given game, I usually bring everything as I am pitching it. At our first Fiasco session, I had multiple copies of the playset and tables printed out. That first night, we had 6 players and the two of us that facilitated it already had it. I know that two of the other 4 have since bought it and one of them has facilitated. Additionally, this has the advantage of encouraging other facilitators so it's not all incumbent on you.

    That said, all of the people I play with are fortunate enough to have jobs that allow them some discretionary income, so buying a twenty dollar game is pretty easy.
  • Sounds reasonable to me!

    But also consider reaching out to the game's author, in case they have strong feelings one way or another (I bet many would happily send out a "batch" of PDFs at a discount, for instance).
    Yes, this is a really good idea :) I think it was mentioned and I should have added it. Thanks:)
  • If I were participating at a gaming club, and the proprietor/administrator outright asked me to buy something from a third party to continue participating, I would be surprised and suspicious; it's just not meet, at least around here, for an ostensibly non-commercial hobby club to pressure people into making purchases. That would basically make it a covert marketing operation with a high likelyhood of corrupt practices such as kickbacks for the club proprietor who chooses which products to push.

    Of course financing the club itself is different, I would find it normal for the club to have e.g. membership fees that were used to rent meeting spaces, snacks, or even to purchase games for the club to play. Generic equipment requirements are also fine ("you can only participate if you bring your own dice"), but usually you wouldn't want to associate those with specific manufacturers. Closest to what you're proposing would be when a gym or dojo requires all members to purchase specific training uniforms and such, sometimes directly from the gym itself; while I'm not so excited about that practice, at least it's understandable why they want the uniformity, and at least it's a mandatory one-time expense that might as well be considered a part of the entrance fee to the club, instead of a running expectation of continuous expenditure.

    I don't dispute that a gaming club that encourages a higher than ordinary amount of support for game designers is a nice idea. I've done something similar by running a circle with the specific premise of playtesting games in development, which elevated the ethos of the group by producing useful data, critical thinking and social support for designers. Were I to involve money, though, I would think carefully about how to do that - exactly as you are doing!

    How about, instead of setting higher than ordinary purchase requirements (I can call your suggested guidelines that; the idea that gamers would need to purchase personal copies of all games they play regularly is exceptional, at least around these parts) for the members of your club, what if you collected a communal fee for the games you play? I could see it as a nice gesture if the club put aside a bit of money regularly, and then sent that with a thank you note to the designer e.g. biannually. Wouldn't need to be much to make it an exceptional acknowledgement of customer satisfaction, and to cover the actual profit margin on several copies of the game book. I for one would not refuse a bit of a bonus from a gaming group that actually got good value out of something I wrote :D
  • edited October 2016

    The first time we play a given game, I usually bring everything as I am pitching it. At our first Fiasco session, I had multiple copies of the playset and tables printed out. That first night, we had 6 players and the two of us that facilitated it already had it. I know that two of the other 4 have since bought it and one of them has facilitated. Additionally, this has the advantage of encouraging other facilitators so it's not all incumbent on you.
    This is a good idea :) Part of what I'm going to want out of regular members is a willingness to try facilitating or GMing games to their comfort level (unless they have social anxiety or something that makes it difficult for them). I will probably require people to own the game they run. I don't know I just want to strike that balance between supporting designers and not running people away :) If people are having economic troubles I might have them mention that discretely (or figure out a way the can do it anonymously?) and have people with more means fill a collection jar so that those people can purchase copys of PDFs or used books. Thanks :)
  • edited October 2016
    If I were participating at a gaming club, and the proprietor/administrator outright asked me to buy something from a third party to continue participating, I would be surprised and suspicious; it's just not meet, at least around here, for an ostensibly non-commercial hobby club to pressure people into making purchases. That would basically make it a covert marketing operation with a high likelyhood of corrupt practices such as kickbacks for the club proprietor who chooses which products to push.

    Of course financing the club itself is different, I would find it normal for the club to have e.g. membership fees that were used to rent meeting spaces, snacks, or even to purchase games for the club to play. Generic equipment requirements are also fine ("you can only participate if you bring your own dice"), but usually you wouldn't want to associate those with specific manufacturers. Closest to what you're proposing would be when a gym or dojo requires all members to purchase specific training uniforms and such, sometimes directly from the gym itself; while I'm not so excited about that practice, at least it's understandable why they want the uniformity, and at least it's a mandatory one-time expense that might as well be considered a part of the entrance fee to the club, instead of a running expectation of continuous expenditure.
    Yes, maybe I am going overboard and will scare people off. I really think Paul_T's & Eero's suggestion of contacting the individual publisher will be the best route :)

    How about, instead of setting higher than ordinary purchase requirements (I can call your suggested guidelines that; the idea that gamers would need to purchase personal copies of all games they play regularly is exceptional, at least around these parts) for the members of your club, what if you collected a communal fee for the games you play? I could see it as a nice gesture if the club put aside a bit of money regularly, and then sent that with a thank you note to the designer e.g. biannually. Wouldn't need to be much to make it an exceptional acknowledgement of customer satisfaction, and to cover the actual profit margin on several copies of the game book. I for one would not refuse a bit of a bonus from a gaming group that actually got good value out of something I wrote :D
    I don't think that will fly in my culture. There are a lot of gaming stores in SLC that offer free hosting and people don't have to pay to find a gaming group. I just think a compulsory payment won't work here; however, your point is solid and I don't want to scare people off. I think I will use a combo of free games and Creative Commons games (there are a ton of good ones); contact publishers individually for their preference; and use games that people have more copies of. As long as we don't provide them games and we do soft suggestion, like give them a sheet that has the website to the game and say something like: "If you like this game you can get a copy at X," I don't think we will chase too many people off :)

  • edited October 2016
    @Eero_Tuovinen
    I don't dispute that a gaming club that encourages a higher than ordinary amount of support for game designers is a nice idea. I've done something similar by running a circle with the specific premise of playtesting games in development, which elevated the ethos of the group by producing useful data, critical thinking and social support for designers. Were I to involve money, though, I would think carefully about how to do that - exactly as you are doing!
    This is a super cool idea, Eero--the play testing--; I'm definitely going to use it :) Thank :)
  • edited October 2016
    Ah, gotcha, starting an organization with multiple groups -- that does strike me as different. Hmm. I don't really have an all-purpose strategy for that. I think I'd occasionally provide a gentle reminder to folks, something like, "If you value these indie games and can afford to buy them, their creators would really appreciate it!" And I'd diligently share links to where each game could be purchased.

    Beyond that, I'd generally express my enthusiasm for this game, that designer, etc. "Primetime Adventures is awesome, and Matt Wilson is a chill and hilarious dude, and he ain't no billionaire, so maybe show 'em some love?"

    Or whatever gets you excited.

    Avery Alder (author of Quiet Year, Monsterhearts, and others, some under previous names) has a long history of using proceeds for good works, accepting acts of kindness as payment, and overall being very generous and accommodating with everything related to her games. Ben Lehman (author of Polaris and tons of very interesting short game texts like Skew) does a lot of "pay what you want" pricing. Ron Edwards (author of Sorcerer, Trollbabe, Circle of Hands and many more) put more hours than I can imagine into mentoring a new generation of RPG designers. Russell Collins (author of Tears of a Machine) has been an advocate for accessibility for the sight-impaired in his game work. There's a lot of quality feminist work going on from more people than I could hope to give a representative list of. Magpie Games (via Mark Diaz Truman and Marissa Kelly at least, possibly others) has sponsored designers from seldom-heard corners to make it to gaming events they couldn't otherwise attend (some to get their work seen by a receptive audience for the first time).

    I wouldn't expect this to matter to most players when they're deciding whether to buy a game, but for some it will. And those who appreciate such efforts but can't afford to buy games (like me) may follow up in other ways, such as by spreading the word.
  • edited October 2016
    Ah, gotcha, starting an organization with multiple groups -- that does strike me as different. Hmm. I don't really have an all-purpose strategy for that. I think I'd occasionally provide a gentle reminder to folks, something like, "If you value these indie games and can afford to buy them, their creators would really appreciate it!" And I'd diligently share links to where each game could be purchased.

    Beyond that, I'd generally express my enthusiasm for this game, that designer, etc. "Primetime Adventures is awesome, and Matt Wilson is a chill and hilarious dude, and he ain't no billionaire, so maybe show 'em some love?"

    Or whatever gets you excited.

    Avery Alder (author of Quiet Year, Monsterhearts, and others, some under previous names) has a long history of using proceeds for good works, accepting acts of kindness as payment, and overall being very generous and accommodating with everything related to her games. Ben Lehman (author of Polaris and tons of very interesting short game texts like Skew) does a lot of "pay what you want" pricing. Ron Edwards (author of Sorcerer, Trollbabe, Circle of Hands and many more) put more hours than I can imagine into mentoring a new generation of RPG designers. Russell Collins (author of Tears of a Machine) has been an advocate for accessibility for the sight-impaired in his game work. There's a lot of quality feminist work going on from more people than I could hope to give a representative list of. Magpie Games (via Mark Diaz Truman and Marissa Kelly at least, possibly others) has sponsored designers from seldom-heard corners to make it to gaming events they couldn't otherwise attend (some to get their work seen by a receptive audience for the first time).

    I wouldn't expect this to matter to most players when they're deciding whether to buy a game, but for some it will. And those who appreciate such efforts but can't afford to buy games (like me) may follow up in other ways, such as by spreading the word.
    This is a really novel and cool idea! What a great way to get people starting to think about gaming as a community endeavor that is about supporting one another creatively and otherwise :) Awsome idea, David :)
  • edited October 2016
    I would never tell anyone they should view gaming as any sort of community endeavor. But for those who get something out of that, hey, rock on!

    For others, maybe sending payment to a defined individual, or for a good cause, or paying what they want, etc., is still a little more appealing than sending payment to a faceless company. That's really all I had in mind! You're right, though -- there's plenty of opportunity for community spirit there too.
  • I would never tell anyone they should view gaming as any sort of community endeavor. But for those who get something out of that, hey, rock on!

    For others, maybe sending payment to a defined individual, or for a good cause, or paying what they want, etc., is still a little more appealing than sending payment to a faceless company. That's really all I had in mind! You're right, though -- there's plenty of opportunity for community spirit there too.
    For sure :) just drop subtle hints to let people know that designers are just people, and are not making much $, and are doing it for the love of the hobby, and also that a lot of them are doing it for free and even outing some of the little money they make into good causes; and especially, making themselves available, and helping other who are interested in pursuing design :) Of course, not coming off as too much of a hippy, haha...and certainly not judge or demanding :)

  • As a (really) small press publisher I hope you want me to succeed, and one way of encouraging that is not giving away my work to your friends. I want you to duplicate whatever you need to make the game work at the table but I'd prefer if that doesn't include the entire game. Sometimes, maybe, it is the whole game. Either way it is out of my hands and I just trust people to be cool. Honestly, no matter what you share you are doing me a great honor by playing my game and introducing it to your friends, and I will probably benefit from that eventually, so thanks.

    Eero is wrong about Fair Use but right that American copyright law is pretty fucked up.
  • edited October 2016
    @Jason_Morningstar
    Thanks for offering your perspective, it definitely helps :) I think the best route will be to contact the individual authors...
    ...Or, failing that, to print out minimal play-aids for those who don't own the book (just enough to get by during play)--never a book. Give out paper work with info on it where they can purchase the book if they like it, and then, make strong hints that they should purchase a book if they are playing the game regularly. Thanks for the input :)
  • That sounds right to me!
  • My personal feelings (Note: I am not a published game designer, so these are just my personal moral compass in play) are:

    For a small group, I'm willing to print out a game (I've printed the Blades in the Dark quickstart, for example) but it's not for people to take home or whatever. We reference them at the table. I don't have a physical copy of this game (it doesn't yet exist). If I did, having a single physical copy at the table would replace the need to print out a copy.

    For a gaming "club" I would be a little more hesitant to print out a game -not because of any particular qualms about having a printed copy that, once again, would live "with me" or at least, "with the club" but because it feels a little bit shoddy and casual. If I showed up to a game club and everyone was playing off dogeared printouts, I would be a little concerned.

    If anyone really needs to have a copy for a short period of time, I can lend one, or we can collaborate over the PDF. If they need one for a longer period, they should buy their own.

    So I guess what it comes down to is: printing out for casual use is fine, but I wouldn't print things out to just hand out to people to take home.
  • (My understanding is that American rpg publishers traditionally act under the assumption that they have the authority to set strict and invasive copyright limitations on personal use; for example, older games generally used to have strict boilerplate statements about which parts of the book are OK to photocopy for your gaming.
    My vague understanding is that, back in the day, Kinkos (a commercial copy center) refused to make copies of things out of books to avoid copyright lawsuits. RPG publishers starting putting explicit permission in their book to copy parts of it, so Kinkos would let players do that.
  • Adam is correct.

    The entire edifice of copyright and fair use is completely deranged.
  • edited October 2016
    I have Masters of Library Science and we are trained in Fair Use. Fair use is determined by four factors:
    1. The purpose and character of the use; the biggest factors being whether it is being used for profit or educational purposes--for profit makes your argument for use weaker; for educational use makes your argument for use stronger.
    2.The nature of the copyrighted work.
    3 The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole (if you use all of it and you don't have to your argument for use is weaker; if you use only the necessary amount your argument for use the stronger.
    4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the work (if your use will not affect the market or the value of the product your argument for use is stronger; if your use will affect the market value of the product your argument for use is weaker).
    Note: Satire is usually considered Fair Use.

    Copying a full RPG book is not Fair Use as others have stated :)
  • Yes, Jeff, but all of those things are judgment calls, subjective by nature, and therefore open to all kinds of broken interpretations. Satire is about the only safe harbor in terms of Fair Use. Mind you, Fair Use is a defense in court against an infringement suit, so by the time you have to rely on it, you're already paying a lawyer.

    Agreed that you can't copy an entire manuscript under Fair Use. Generally fails under the "amount and substantiality" clause you mentioned, but also because Fair Use usually requires transformation of the work copied.

    Actually applying the rules of Fair Use is nearly impossible to do right and with a guarantee of safe harbor from lawsuit, except in a few really clear-cut cases. Also, people can sue you anyway, even if you're within the law, and you probably can't afford to defend yourself.

    The Supreme Court barely understands Copyright Law in all of its insane glory.
  • Actually, now that I think about it, I suspect if you recorded any of my sessions and showed them to the designer of the game I was running, they might classify what I was doing as satire just to get away from it.
  • There are a lot of gaming stores in SLC that offer free hosting and people don't have to pay to find a gaming group. .... soft suggestion, like give them a sheet that has the website to the game and say something like: "If you like this game you can get a copy at X
    If you're playing at a game store it's better to buy the game at the game store if you can than order it online. Many of the SLC game stores sell games by IPR and can order anything from their catalog, and if you're playing at a game store that isn't an IPR customer it's easy for them to join. If the store is a member of Bits and Mortar you can often get the PDF too when you buy the physical book. Joining Bits and Mortar is free for publishers, stores, and store customers.
    And I agree with everyone else who says US Copyright Law is a tangly horrible mess.
  • edited October 2016
    As a general rule, I try to explicitly state what can be copied and printed. This is also handy when you take your rules to the print shop and can show them that the author has granted the owner of the rules written permission to make copies or prints.
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