There are several big names in the roleplaying games industry which have easily get players into buying their products. Many people know the game system, there are lots of published material, you can easily find games in conventions, etc.
Independent publishers have grown a lot in recent years thanks to the self-publishing trend and the tools developed for it. It is not that difficult to create a new game system, or a setting, and put it on sale at DriveThruRPG or RPGNow.
Quality however was a different matter. When it is very easy to publish your work, the quality filter is in the market. And that means the market is getting veeeery cautious before spending money in an unknow game system.
So independent publishers have opted for providing their game systems (or a basic subset of rules) for free. You can try it and pay if you want for the complete rules, hardcover editions, adventures, settings, etc.
But when Wizards of the Coast decides to provide D&D for free, the hobby is turned upside down. If the most popular lowers its entry barriers to a free PDF, the rest have to move quickly to lose all the new gamers…
The key concept is that you describe what you want to do, and the DM decides which “move” fits better your description. That is what should happen in all rpgs, but in this actually does.
You play to see what happens, making questions to the players to fill the background of the adventures, creating continuous challenges to make the story advance… everything with the classic fantasy props.
Adventures are structured in a wonderful way, with lots of blank spaces to fill but all the needed resources for the DM. You can buy the famous Dark Hear of the Dreamer or join the kickstarter of Servants of the Cinder Queen, both with very good prices and great reviews. The blog Points of Light also provides great advice.
Spring 2014 brought some very surprising news to the hobby. All our ranting about the new prices for the Next edition ended when they made official the D&D Basic rules will be available for free.
Next month, July 2014, they will publish the pdf, with the races and classes, and in August they will expand it to contain a full set of basic rules.
The most popular roleplaying game, with a huge company backing not only this game but a full array of publications (computer games, board games, movies?). Now free. It is certainly a very powerful call to the industry.
The last system to join the free trend. Wizards decision of publishing D&D Basic for free has hit hard many other popular games. New gamers are going to look for the famous games, and obviously try the ones with lower entry barriers. So now Runequest needs a free version or they are loosing players fast, specially new players.
That’s why Design Mechanism has decided to release the RuneQuest Essentials edition in a “pay what you want” offer. As I already commented in another post, the entry price for RuneQuest is way too high, specially considering there are very similar alternatives like OpenQuest.
Now you can play the latest, and probably best of the official iterations of this game. Base in the d100 mechanics, it is a game without levels. If you have played Call of Cthulhu or the old Runequest editions you already know the basics. This edition has streamlined most of the system, although keeps some cumbersome mechanics (in my opinion): extended skill list and combat styles.