As a GM, when I buy a new RPG I expect the publisher to provide the following support for free:

  • Website for the game. At a minimum, this should include news, a release schedule and links or info where I can buy supplements. But it should do a whole lot more…
  • A sample. Sure, I’ve already bought the book — but this might have been the reason why. And even if I don’t need it, it’s a great thing to be able to download and show potential players.
  • Character sheet. Even if there’s one in the back of the book, there needs to be one online, too.

…and I love it when a publisher also gives me:

  • Quickstart rules. White Wolf is awesome about this, bundling together a publication-quality quickstart, pregens and an intro adventure for their major game lines. It doesn’t have to be that much stuff — not everyone is White Wolf.
  • An adventure or two. The more tools you can give me to start playing right away, the happier I’ll be.
  • Freebies. Little things that didn’t make it into the rulebook for space reasons, supplemental goodies — it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s cool.
  • Wiki. Or a similar resource. Burning Wheel does an awesome job with this, and it’s a big help.
  • Community. A place to ask questions, connect with other players and GMs and hear directly from the game’s creators.
  • Designer notes. Be it a blog, a series of sporadic news posts or a couple of forum threads, I love knowing why designers made the decisions they did — and this stuff so rarely makes the cut for inclusion in published products.

That’s a lot of stuff! Before the Information Superhighway Internet, not only would there not have been an easy way to deliver that stuff, I also wouldn’t have expected it — fifteen years ago, publisher support was completely different than it is now.

Now, even an indie publisher can afford the costs associated with this kind of support — most of the tools you need to provide it are either free (blog and forum software, etc.) or are part of whatever you used to publish your game in the first place. The only limiter — and it’s a big ‘un — is time. For a larger publisher, there’s absolutely no excuse to not be providing all of this and more — and many of the big ones do, and do it well.

But what does it say about me as a GM that I don’t just appreciate this kind of free online support (and appreciate it I do!), but that I expect it? Is that asking too much of publishers who are already strapped for time, struggling to compete against D&D (or the slightly-less-than-800-lb.-gorilla of their chosen genre, whatever that might be) and undertaking what is (let’s be honest here) not likely to be a wildly profitable enterprise in the first place?

Or do you expect all this stuff — or maybe all this stuff and even more stuff on top of it — as well? And if you do, what’s on your list?