So you’ve decided to start an RPG
collection. How do you start – where do you go, and what should you look
- Establish a goal for your collection. "I want everything
ever printed for Dungeons & Dragons" might be a bit too ambitious for
your average citizen… many people focus on items they’ve actually played
with, or a complete collection of
etc. You might also want to check out our
State of the Hobby essay for
an idea on current trends in the market.
- Make a list of those items, and the estimated value of the
item in collectible condition (generally,
Fine or better), from the indexes
here. These are the prices you should expect to pay; if you’re
able to obtain a lower price, you’ve gotten a good deal. Very
often resellers will sell items for lower than their average auction
prices (and will save you the trouble of bidding yourself). Don’t
let the values listed here scare you off from paying more for an item…
sometimes you may consider it necessary. Several times, I’ve paid
more than I knew an item was worth, on the bet that the value will rise
in the future.
- Get some storage materials. Most RPG items (modules,
magazines, etc) are 8.5" x 11" or smaller. Many comic book stores
sell "magazine size" cardboard boxes for a few dollars, each of which
will hold roughly 50 softcover items. You should also get a supply
of Mylar plastic storage bags ("poly bags") and matching cardboard backing
inserts… nothing will lower an item’s value quicker than a coffee stain
or a mashed corner. More info on proper storage – and what to
do in case of disaster – can be found in our
Mold & Mildew essays and
Storage Materials essay.
- Maintain an accurate inventory. It may seem silly when
you’ve just got a few items, but once your collection grows appreciably,
you’ll be thankful you started an inventory early. We recommend
recording the condition of the item, a short description, and possibly
even an estimated value. Avery makes a great line of self-adhesive
labels; the little round ones are perfect for recording a two-letter
NM, etc) on those poly bags
- Shop the Resellers,
and monitor the Auctions.
Since many auctions follow the conventions established by
eBay, we’ll only describe that auction house here.
Currently, there are roughly 1500 items (30 pages) of new items posted
each day to the
eBay RPG forum; at least two thirds are D&D items. There are three
common ways that people scan the auctions:
- Looking at every page of items, every day (or every couple
days). This is obviously the most time consuming, but is generally
the only way you will ensure that you’re getting the best deal, and
ensuring that you spot every item you’re looking for, should it come
- Using auction management software, or entering terms manually,
to search for the items you want. Be aware that most auctions
last about a week, so you’ll need to search once a week at a minimum
to stay current. This is a good (and quick) method to use if you’re
A) searching for a lot of items, and/or B) not particularly concerned
with catching the occasional mis-labeled item. Sometimes, people
misspell an item’s title, or simply don’t describe an item with a keyword
you have specified in your search. I highly recommend checking
out Neville Ridley-Smith's outstanding
Setting up your searches can initially take some time to "tweak" to
your liking, but the results are nothing short of amazing. Best
of all, it's completely free to use!
- Doing a random search every once in a while. Let’s
face it – we’re often lazy, and staring at screen after screen of items
can be quite tedious. Simply ask yourself this question: if an
item that you’ve really wanted should come up for auction, and you miss
it, will you be upset? If so, consider switching to one of the
methods above, and sticking with it. The rewards may be worthwhile.
AUCTION BIDDING BASICS
Once you’ve found a item you’re interested in, you enter the fun world
of bidding. As stated above, most auctions last about a week.
A few will last longer, and a few will be cut short after only a few days
– if no one is bidding on an item, a seller can end the auction at any time.
The seller sets the minimum bid, which is the price the bidding
will start at. Successive bids will be in a minimum of 50-cent increments,
and will be listed as the current bid. Your maximum bid
– the bid price you actually entered – will be kept in proxy, meaning that
eBay will automatically raise the current bid for you until someone exceeds
Example: A module’s minimum bid is $2.00. Robert bids $5.00 on it, which
places the current bid at $2.00. Note that this current bid is the
price you see – but only Robert knows how much he’s actually bid
on the item. Jimmy comes along, and bids $4.00 (he needs to bid a
minimum of 50 cents over the current bid). Since this is below Robert’s
maximum, eBay raises the current bid to $4.00 – and the item is still Robert’s.
To be the high bidder, someone would have to bid at least $5.50.
AUCTION BIDDING STRATEGIES
Bid your maximum. Often advised, it’s a smart strategy.
If you’re willing to pay $100 for an item, worst-case scenario, then bid
that. You won’t have to monitor the auction; you’ll get a notice if
you’re outbid, or you’ll get a notice that you’ve won the item. There’s
- Someone may jack up the price on you, if they suspect you’ve bid
high. This occurs primarily when you’ve bid on similar, multiple
items, and there’s reason to suspect you’ve set equal bids on all of
them. Let’s say you place $30 bids on modules A1, A2, and A3,
all from the same seller. Steve comes along, bids $25 (the most
he’s willing to pay) on module A-1, and sees that you’ve automatically
overbid him. Since it burns his heart that you may get a great
deal on modules A-2 and A-3, he bids $25 on those, too, figuring (rightly,
in this case) that your bid will be higher. You end up paying
$75 for the three, which is less than your maximum, but certainly not
the deal you were hoping for.
- Be prepared to lose by 50 cents, and be comfortable with that: you
bid $100 on an item, and someone bids $100.50 and wins it. An
easy way to avoid this frustration is to bid higher than your
"maximum". If you think something’s worth $100 to you, bid $110.
Worst case, you win the item at $110. But if someone wins it at
$110.50, you won’t be so upset, because you were really only prepared
to pay $100 for it.
- You could be the victim of a "feeding frenzy" – compulsive bidding
in excess of an item’s real worth. More on this below.
Sniping. Minutes (or seconds!) before an auction ends, you bid
high and win the auction. Since time has run out, the person you overbid
doesn’t have a chance to counterbid. This strategy has two benefits:
- Lets you win an auction from someone who hasn’t bid their maximum,
and is hoping for a good deal.
- Helps you avoid the "feeding frenzy". The feeding frenzy is
the phenomenon that causes people to keep bidding until they’re the
high bidder – whatever the cost. Some people don’t like to lose;
related to the compulsion to keep tossing more quarters into a slot
machine, even after you’ve spent more than you budgeted, because you
can see victory just around the corner. As a result, the
bidding goes much higher than anybody had planned. Sniping generally
occurs on rare items, where no one wants to reveal how much they’re
willing to pay until the last second – or is unsure of how much they’re
willing to pay until push-comes-to-shove.
Auctions here are generally straightforward. A seller posts a list
of items for sale in a newsgroup message; bidders send in e-mail bids to
the seller, who then posts an update every few days with the high bids.
Often, an arbitrary auction ending date/time is set. Since proxy bidding
is not a usual practice, what you bid is what you’ll pay if you’re the high
Note that bids are usually sent to the seller in private e-mail.
Posting a public newsgroup message with your bid is considered a breach
It should be noted that while not completely extinct, newsgroup auctions
are becoming exceedingly rare. The exposure to the collecting market
is certainly many orders of magnitude less than on
eBay. A newsgroup-like auction can be conducted via our
which also forces bidders to respond to you via e-mail or private
message (since forum replies are prohibited).
Some things you should be aware of when examining items, either in
person, through a scanned picture, or in a text description.
- Unoriginal Shrinkwrap: Professionally-done, modern
(1985+) shrinkwrap will have straight edges, no real "ridge" along the
seams, and no shrinkwrap overlap (as a rule). Older, professionally-done
shrinkwrap from TSR usually has an overlap of a few inches along the
back. Be alert for shrinkwrap that has a visible "ridge" along
the seal melt, has crooked edges (edges of the shrinkwrap which do not
run parallel to the edges of the item), is wrinkled, or has overlap
in areas other than the back center. While not necessarily indicative
of a fake (sometimes the company is simply a bit sloppy), such indicators
(combined with clues such as a less-than-mint item) may point to a post-publication
- Removed Inserts: Some people will remove the inserts
from magazines (or even modules) and attempt to sell them as stand-alone
products. In the case of
these are often the modules included with many issues (which usually
came with their own cover art).
included RPGA modules 5-8
respectively; while these issues are highly collectible in their entirety,
the removed modules are not necessarily so. Gaining a passing
familiarity with these issues and module titles can help you avoid unscrupulous
(or simply ignorant) sellers.
- "Up"grading: The practice of grading an item higher
than it should be. Since grading is so subjective (one man’s Very
Fine is another’s Mint, etc), a scanned picture of the item can help
alleviate this problem. If in doubt, ask specific questions of
the seller (are there any creases at all along the spine? is the cover
a nice bright color, or is there some fading?). As a rule (unfortunately),
most sellers tend to inflate their grading; obviously, a "mint" copy
is worth far more in auction than a "very good" one. While few
people will out-and-out lie about condition, truly strict graders are
hard to come by (and invaluable once you do find one).
- Fakes / Phantom Items: The buyer’s nightmare –
the seller is lying, and doesn’t have the item at all, or has a cheap
photocopy or reproduction. Since RPG collecting is not yet "mainstream",
and the values of even the rarest items are not enough to attract the
serious scam artists, this thankfully has not been a large problem.
Most fake auctions are easy to spot: if someone is offering "Lost Tamoachan,
a first print of the D&D set, and all the original hardcovers, first-print
and Mint", it’s probably a fake. Duh. On
eBay, your best defense against this is a good seller Feedback Rating.
If someone is offering a high-priced item, and has a feedback rating
of less than 10, be VERY cautious. Everything could be legitimate,
but it would be wise to obtain additional information, such as the seller’s
mailing address, phone number, driver’s license number (don’t laugh;
I’ve asked for it), and miscellaneous, hard-to-know-unless-you’ve-got-
the-item info. Remember that web sites like this one help the
good guys as well as the bad; if a seller is exclusively using data
and scans from this site, be wary. Demand an original scan of
the item being sold! Everyone has access to a neighborhood Kinko’s
to get this done. On a positive note: I’ve participated in probably
over a hundred purchases since late 1995, both on eBay and on the newsgroup,
and have been burned exactly once – for $40, from someone with a good
feedback rating on eBay, who simply stopped delivering items to a number
Back to Top