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Designer of subverted fantasy RPG Wicked Ones explains decision to offer core book for free

Being evil never cost so little.

Wicked Ones, a Forged in the Dark RPG about monsters gradually building a dungeon lair and combating pesky heroes, is now free ahead of planned expansions and a deluxe hardcover edition. The designer hopes it paves the way for a more robust and healthy community.

Ben Nielson, the designer of Wicked Ones, explained the reasoning behind offering his RPG for free in a Reddit post to the r/RPG community on April 19th. He successfully Kickstarted the book in 2019 through his personal studio Bandit Camp and has been supporting it through additional resources since.

Based on John Harper’s Forged in the Dark System Reference Document - itself derived from heist adventure game Blades in the Dark - Wicked Ones allows a group to roleplay as the monsters normally on the business end of a fantasy protagonist’s weapon. They gradually build and expand a dungeon base by pillaging the surrounding countryside and fending off would-be adventuring parties. Nielson expanded on Forged’s three-phase system by adding crafting mechanics, sandbox maps and magic tailored to each specific character class.

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According to the Kickstarter page, backers were sent a feedback form inquiring after the possibility of making the base Wicked Ones sourcebook free to access. Nielson admits in the Reddit post that he expected a negative reaction.

“I consulted with my Kickstarter backers and Discord members to make sure it didn't feel like I was pulling the rug out from under anyone by releasing something they already paid for,” he said. “A bit to my surprise, that community was overwhelmingly in favor of a free version.”

Nielson believes removing the price barrier from the Wicked Ones will encourage more players and GMs to try it out and - if they like what’s inside - perhaps join the online community and create their own supplements, adventures and hacks for its setting. A community content agreement has been made public, giving designers a route to work with Wicked One’s rules and world in an official capacity.

Removing the barrier to entry might also increase a playerbase interested in upcoming expansion material Nielson has been developing. Undead Awakening and War for the Overworld will use Wicked One’s base experience as a foundation and thus require a lot of information only found inside the sourcebook. He also mentioned future plans, implying that the design tail for Wicked Ones won’t be winding down any time soon.

Perhaps the biggest reason, according to Nielson, is a recent professional belief in moving a core game towards a free-to-access model, while offering a deluxe edition for those players who can spend money on tabletop books. He specifically mentioned Stars Without Number designer Kevin Crawford, who habitually updates the prices of his core systems and settings.

“There's something that just feels really good knowing that anyone that wants to take a look at my game can easily do so - and I'm really thankful for the people who've already bought the game and have voiced their support of the decision.”

The deluxe version of Wicked Ones will be the final version of the hardcover sourcebook, including all revisions and corrections since the original release. It will also include a dungeon generation tool, three additional sandbox maps to vary the worlds outside the dungeon, and digital tokens and assets based on artwork from the book’s illustrator, Victor Costa.

Those interested in learning more can visit Bandit Camp's website and can find Wicked Ones: Deluxe Edition on DriveThruRPG for $20 (£14). The free core edition is available there, as well.

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