We'll, it doesn't have to be.
When I first got into fantasy gaming back in, oh '79 or so, the business model (if there was one) for the D&D game was quite simple. Here are the rules, get some graph paper, dice and some friends and imagination and have at it. You really didn't have to buy anything more than a $10 set of rules. Sure there were modules and Minis but when your allowance was a dollar a week, that didn't get you much (okay $5 for mowing a lawn - still!) but you really didn't need any of that stuff. It didn't stop us at all from playing any of the RPGs that came out back then, Top Secret, Gamma World, Traveller. We all just made everything up. That was the simplicity and fun of the game.
It was one hell of a hobby but it really wasn't a good business model which is probably why many small game companies back then vanished and TSR slowly evolved and got eaten up.
So an RPG, (d)evolving from a hobby into a business has to constantly feed the 'consumer' with product they think they need or are forced to need. Case in point: one certain Wizard's 4th edition of everyone's favorite game. Book upon book (expensive hard cover no less) of crap that is wound ever so tightly into their official version of the game, The Box(!), Essentials, online subscriptions and now a bunch of 'optional' power cards. Sure, maybe you don't need it all but then you're really left out if you start playing in other groups or in stores, etc. So the entry into this game is a considerable investment of ever scarcer dough. And then there's this online service to gain access to updates to their rules. More money. Official campaigns - more money. Minis and battlements - more money. If you don't play it the right way, you suck - more money.
So, can an RPG game actually be a viable business? Sure if you think of yourself as a 10 HD Vampire sucking 2 levels of cash out of your loyal customer base. 'Cause once the rules for the game are out there the publisher is kinda out of the loop. The bottom line doesn't look so good at that point.
The game as a hobby, however, is something to talk about.
As a hobby the game can be whatever you want it to be. And that's just what it is; a hobby. Get yourself some rules, many of which you can download for free, some graph paper, some friends and imagination and have at it.
And the hobbyists of the OSR and pre-OSR have produced a ton of material, most of which is free or modestly priced from print on demand versions. There's also a great community of bloggers and forums here on the interwebs that can supply you with endless resources which didn't exist 30+ years ago. But don't let that stop you from picking up some of the many items put out by the DIY publishers, 'cause they're awesome!
For me the game will always be a hobby. A fun and inexpensive hobby.
Okay, since I ranted a bit, here's my obligatory contribution to my fellow bloggers & loyal readers.
Not all wilderness encounters need to be NPC's or monsters. I like to throw in something odd to throw the players off or make them think. So here's 10 wilderness encounters to toss around.
- A hollow whistling call can be heard off to the left that is soon answered by another from the right. The source cannot be found.
- The breeze stops blowing and no animal movement or call is heard. Complete silence. After a few moments, the breeze begins to blow and birds start singing once again.
- A large black raven is seen perched on a branch or rock and appears to be watching the party. Miles later, the same raven again appears.
- A colorfully painted abandoned gypsy wagon or tent lies just off the path. It is empty but for a small shiny black spherical stone.
- An incredibly large fresh pile of dung fills the path. There are no signs of tracks.
- A large rock or tree with a magic mouth spell cast upon it says to the party as they pass, “I wouldn’t go that way if I were you!”
- An impaled body is hanging from a large spike in the ground. Vultures are picking at it’s flesh and bones.
- A child’s laughter can be heard. If searched for, the source cannot be found but the laughing moves deeper into the wilderness.
- Along the side of the path is a wooden table. On the table are two flagons filled with red wine.
- A large smiley face with devil horns has been drawn into the dirt. A stick is on the ground nearby.