This weekend, I was encouraged by a friend to again check out the Cortex RPG System, by Margaret Weis Productions. It didn't really do much for me the first time, but I have to say, the second read's been much better. Games like Serenity and BSG aren't really up my alley (both used the Cortex system), but seeing it presented by itself, it's different somehow. Cortex sort of reads like Savage Worlds' less-gimmicky cousin, if that makes sense. I like step-dice mechanics, and I also like that Cortex keeps a more traditional damage system.
Now, I obtained my pdf of the Cortex rules through RPGNow's Gamers Helping Haiti Bundle (thanks to MWP for their generosity!). However, looking on RPGNow, I see the Cortex pdf rules are priced at $21.99!
OK, so never mind for a minute that that is about what the product costs at Amazon. I said the game bears some resemblance to Savage Worlds, yes? The pdf of Savage Worlds, ringing in at 160 pages, costs $9.99, the same as a print copy. If I'm on the fence between these two products, how is that even a contest? Another system that bears some similarities is Eden Studios' Unisystem, which doesn't have a generic ruleset product that I'm aware of, but does have the Witchcraft RPG for free. (Of course, they have the 256-page All Flesh Must Be Eaten RPG for $21, so who knows).
Pathfinder, $10, 576 pages.
Atomic Highway, $11.95, 131 pages.
Thousand Suns, $9.99, 272 pages.
In Harm's Way, $10.00, 125 pages.
The genreDiversion 3e Manual, $7.95, 126 pages.
Open Core System, $9.95, 200 pages.
Rolemaster Express, $5.00, 90 pages.
I don't pretend to know all the costs that go into making a RPG pdf like Cortex any more than I do what goes into making a Honda Civic. But I do know what I'll pay for it--what my personal marketplace in my head will bear, so to speak. And if it's over around $10-12 for a pdf (unless we're talking about something really special here) , I'm pretty quickly going the other way.
There are just too many "good" RPGs and RPG systems out there for people to invest too much into one system. You've got to do something--be it a special promotion, insane fan support, insane fans evangelizing, have a kickass blog everyone follows (clearly, this one is not it), a cult following, a special program or guarantee--if you want to jump ahead. Some publishers let their product sell itself, and I respect that. But products that people see as too expensive don't sell themselves as easily, I don't think.
I do need to point out here that I am reliably informed the print version of Cortex comes with a code for a free pdf of the same. Well done, there.
Cortex seems like a good system that I'm really just getting into, and again, Margaret Weis Productions deserves a big "thank you!" for participating in the Gamers Helping Haiti effort. I checked out the material at Signal Fire Studios, which has some cool ideas for Cortex. And I finally registered at their fan forums after lurking a bit, and it seems like a nice, constructive place (though it may not be for me after this article). But man, that pdf pricing will get me every time. Give us a gateway product that won't break the bank. Apparent cheapskate, over and out.