A Guide to Collecting RPGs and Roleplaying Games

Now that many of the original tabletop roleplaying hobbyists have entered middle age and have a little more disposable income to spend, pen and paper RPG collecting has become its own hobby. The Internet has helped make RPG collecting easier but more competitive. It used to be that collectors would go to conventions, flea markets, trades day events, and garage sales to find old and out of print roleplaying games and books. Now, collectors have eBay, Amazon, Alibris, Noble Knight, and Troll and Toad.

Collecting RPGs

RPG Collecting, Old Roleplaying Games and BooksPeople collect RPGs for many reasons, but most collectors start out like I did--fulfilling a childhood fantasy of adding that game that was a little too much for our youthful allowance. With more money, but less time, playing the game may not be a consideration anymore. Most gamers buy out of print roleplaying game books with the purpose of a game among friends and a shared fantasy story, but other RPG hobbyists collect RPG books where the book is an object unto itself. Roleplaying game collectors may not be as interesting in playing the game so much as in completing their RPG collection by adding a rare book. In these cases, online auction sites like eBay become a valuable tool for the roleplaying game collector.

Out of Print Roleplaying Books - MERPIf you've never considered collecting games as a hobby, you might be surprised by the competition for rare and out of print RPG game editions. Because so many game publishing companies go out of business after a few years or lose their license to market in a setting, there are a lot of out-of-print books for roleplayers. Since gaming is a niche market, limited printings of books are not uncommon. That means rpg books are collectible. Roleplaying game collectors and completionists browse eBay and other Internet distributors to find that one book to complete the set.

Collecting RPG Products

When collecting RPG products, most collectors make additions based on the rarity of the book, its contribution to the history of roleplaying, and the popularity of the game. Most collectors are going to have a few pet items that have little intrinsic value, but simply remind them of fond childhood memories. But many of the books they collect are because they want to complete a set or because of its rarity on the market.

When searching online for collectible RPG games, look for words like "out of print," "sealed", "new", "deluxe", "collectors edition", "limited edition." Early releases of miniatures are good collectibles, since they were rare to begin with.

Limited Edition Published RPGs

The famous books aren't the only ones to collect, either. For example, I've seen the Death Watch RPG from Fantasy Flight Games advertised on eBay. Only 500 copies of this dark future publication were  printed, and  you can be certain no more will ever be printed. The book comes in a metal ammo-case and has a parchment commission. Similar limited edition items can be found for many games--and these are the rare finds you'll be wanting to collect.

A game like Nobilis is another good example. The first edition of this roleplaying game, called the "Great White Book", looked more like a coffee-table book than an RPG. Nobilis was published in 1999 by Pharos Press, so it's only 12 years old. But because Pharos Press quickly stopped publishing, and  the Nobilis RPG became a cult classic with roleplayers, the original main rule book became a collector's favorite.

How to Collect Roleplaying Games

How to Collect Roleplaying Games - Call of CthulhuThere are several ways to collect roleplaying games. One method is to focus on a single line of games, such as Dungeons and Dragons. Another way to collecting roleplaying games is to collect games from a certain company. Chaosium is an example of a collectors publisher, because most of their games and supplements were fan favorites, but are now out of print.

Another way to collect RPGs is to collect by genre. I had a friend who tried to complete a full collection of superhero role-playing games and supplements, because it was a little less expansive than what we call fantasy or sword-and-sorcery games. I've known others who collected in the science fiction or modern horror RPG genres. People wanting to collect fantasy RPG games might want to focus on one specific type of fantasy: old school 1st and 2nd edition AD&D books, high fantasy, or historical fantasy games.

Once you start slicing up game modules this way, you can build your collection with an end result in mind. Any collector, whether it's stamps or motorcycles or RPGs, is going to need a similar strategy to avoid having a random collection.

Avoid the Official Price Guide to Role Playing Games

When starting your collection, let me give one last piece of advice: avoid the Official Price Guide to Roleplaying Games. This book is supposed to give you accurate information on pricing, but I haven't found a single person who'll agree the book was ever accurate--even when it was new. You might use the price guide as a list of RPG books to collect, but there are probably more complete and better lists you can print online. You'll have to learn about RPG values through study of numerous sources and experience collecting.

Looking at prices on eBay and on specialty publisher websites like Troll and Toad or Noble Knight is the best way to determine the market value of various collectible RPGs.

Any rpg book price guide would most likely become outdated very quickly. An rpg book price guide would be similar to a comic book price guide, and it might not reflect actual prices paid. That's one of the reasons why we recommend looking at actual prices on various websites instead of looking for some kind of authoritative price guide.

Caring for an RPG Collection

When you start building a collection of roleplaying games, you'll want to protect your investment by taking good care of the products. Even simple dust has a bad effect on paper products, so you'll need something to keep your games free of dust mites. Smudges from thumbing through a book also have an effect, so even the most basic use (or lack of use) can hurt your collection, if you don't take precautions. Many older out of print roleplaying books were printed on low-quality paper, because they never expected we'd be wanting to collect these books as a hobby. So extra caution is required, especially with the oldest books in your collection. Here are some other tips.

  • Wash your hands before handling your collectible roleplaying games and supplements. Oil and body acids on your hand transfers to the books and slowly harms them, creating the slow-burn effect.
  • Store your collectible RPG products in acid-free boxes. Don't put your games in just any box. Plastic storage containers work better than paper.
  • Avoid using bookmarks, paperclips, or post-it notes on your collectible RPG supplements.
  • When storing collectible RPG books, keep them away from heat sources or exhaust vents.
  • Store your RPG collection in a cool, dark, and dry space with relative humidity around 35% and temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Don't store your collectible RPG books in brightly lit areas or in a window where sunlight is an issue. Fading definitely is an issue in these cases.
  • Maintain constant conditions throughout the year. Avoid storing in places where heat and humidity changes with the seasons.

Finally, if you buy an out of print or rare RPG book to add to your collection, resist the temptation to leaf through the book. The closer to mint condition any book is, the more it retains its value. If you can't help yourself, buy the ratty version of the same book that costs next to nothing, so you can have the experience of reading the RPG like you did when you were a kid.

RPG collecting appeals to that kid in all of us. Part of collecting roleplaying games is capturing a little bit of the excitement of walking in the book store or gaming convention and seeing a book you'd only heard rumors about. But if you want to collect the best and rarest games, you'll need to be more than the rpg enthusiast. In this hobby, the Internet is going to be your best friend, because it contains the most information about RPG collecting.

We just published a new article in our articles section about how to collect limited edition rolelplaying game books. Be sure to check it out.

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