Give Me Shorter Rulebooks and Boxed Sets!

Consider this an open letter to the publishers of RPGs.

Stop trying to sell me massive books that are tomes of rules. The games are just too damn complex in many cases, and the books are boring to read. Yes, I said boring to read. Rules are boring to read. Instruction manuals, legal contracts, and rules are all boring to read. But while instruction manuals give me the vital knowledge that I need to operate a product that performs a function that I need or want, and a legal contract benefits me in numerous ways (terms of payment, protection of rights, transfers of ownership, etc.), an RPG that requires 200+ pages of rules is a product that I can easily replace with a much less demanding substitute. In many cases the substitute is another RPG with a much shorter rulebook.

Some of these books weigh about 3 pounds. That is the equivalent of many textbooks. Yet textbooks provide useful knowledge that expands my understanding of the world, while an RPG does not. Great works of fiction may be several hundreds of pages long, but they move me in ways that an RPG never will. RPGs are supposed to enable me to game. Quit trying to turn them into works of literature and studies of metaphysics.

The longer it takes for me to get from the moment of purchasing the game to the actual playing of the game the less likely I am to purchase the game. 200+ pages of rulebook is going to take time for me to read, analyze and understand. I want short rulebooks that are succinct and well-written so that I can get to the game. In other words, I want to play your RPG not read it!

Now if the RPGs with large page counts were providing a better experience when I play them then larger page counts would be acceptable. The problem is that most RPGs with long winded rulebooks are not providing me with a gaming experience that is more satisfying than what RPGs with shorter rulebooks provide. Bigger is not always better. Longer is sometimes a waste.

Get back to making games RPG publishers! Bring back the boxed sets that came with two short rulebooks (one for the players, and one for the GM) but that also included the, wait for it, GAME! Boxed sets actually had games in them! They had maps, tokens, cards and dice! Boxed sets were boxes that contained games. RPG publishers are game publishers, not book publishers! Stop trying to be Randall House RPG publishers.

Yes, I know RPG publishers – it is way more expensive to make boxed sets than it is to make books. Guess what? PRODUCING A LOT OF CRAPPY BOOKS THAT NO ONE BUYS IS EVEN MORE EXPENSIVE THAN PRODUCING BOXED SETS! When I go into my local game shop I do not see those books flying off the shelves. I do see the games (miniatures, board games, cards, etc.) selling. My local game shop is reducing the space dedicated to RPG books every year, and I am glad that they do. Every time that they shrink that space a big tome of an RPG book is off of the shelves permanently and it is replaced by either a shorter RPG book, or a boxed set.

Get back to making games RPG publishers. There is a place for large books, like Engine Publishing’s reference books that do not require a person to read and memorize the whole freaking book! Yes, I am a contributing author for Engine Publishing, but those products are not RPGs. I only need to read a page or two from those books and I have all that I need to start gaming with my RPG system of choice. Those products get me to where I want to be quickly, and where I want to be is gaming at the table with my buddies!

Some of you RPG publishers get it already, and please take this rant as an endorsement for what you are doing. To those of you who are not publishing short rulebooks and boxed sets I hope that you are listening. The occasional success story does not matter. Large RPG rulebooks will go the way of the dinosaurs. It is inevitable.

And we all know what happened to the dinosaurs. The big ones died off when disaster struck, and the ones that survived evolved into birds. Small, tiny, and flourishing birds. Like I said earlier, bigger does not always mean better. Sometimes bigger means dying.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below and let us know how you feel.