How Do You Decide What RPGs to Buy?


I'm (again) looking through Symbaroum tonight. I picked up a set of 4 hardcovers on a Black Friday sale on an impulse, and the regret is real. (Along with the One Ring purchased on the same day - bad luck. But I normally love Free League's products.)
In the core book, we have like 70 pages of fluff before the game starts (a pet peeve). Mechanics are buried halfway into the book. When you do get there, the core mechanics of the system are hidden in thick paragraph narration and no charts or meaningful layout to draw your attention to what your players actually have to roll to succeed on a check, target numbers, or even the die type you use.
I feel bad just dropping these off at the FLGS for a massive loss on store credit to get what's likely going to be another disappointing game (Marvel? Root? Everyday Heroes?) But what else can I do besides keep them on my shelf, collecting dust until they're sold old no one wants them?
How do you research a game before getting it? Reviews tend to not cover things like layout, presentation, writing style, etc. (Which makes me wonder, what do they cover?) The FLGS has a middling selection (and what they do have is kept in shrink wrap), so looking at books in person is difficult. I tend to buy online based on good word of mouth - and it seems my tastes aren't in sync with what many people like.

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Thomas Shey

I have a mix of things I already know something about, and things that just catch my eye. I only buy PDFs for the most part, and often wait for sales, so if something ends up being a dud, its usually not a big deal.

Most stuff these days (including Symbaroum) has a free "quick start" available either through the publisher website or DriveThruRPG. I have found these very helpful in getting a sense of whether a system is going to click for me or not. Admittedly, I am more focused on if I like the mechanics of a game than issues of layout or presentation, so they might not be as helpful for you, but I think they are still a very useful indicator.

I have also found YouTube reviews can be helpful. Lots of times these show the ToC or page through the book, so you can get a sense of layout and organization.


Staff member
I try to find out about the setting. What kind of things the designers say about the kinds of games the product supports.

Is the cover art good? Is the interior art good?

Does a quick perusal of the mechanics make sense?

What’s the buzz? Have others said interesting things about it?


Reviews tend to not cover things like layout, presentation, writing style, etc. (Which makes me wonder, what do they cover?)
I feel your pain. I am similarly frustrated by reviews that don't cover these basic issues. The only one that I'm aware of is Bryce Lynch ( but he only reviews OSR adventures (and the occasional D&D 5E). Moreover, OSR is seeminglybthe only genre that pays attention to things like that, particularly the Old School Essential rules and adventures by Gavin Norman.

Seth Skorkowsky' and the Gaming Gang's YouTube channel pay some attention to usability at the table but less reliably than Bryce Lynch.

Other than that, I can only suggest obtaining the quickstart or PDF first before committing to a physical copy. Chaosium at least subtract the price of your PDF purchase from the physical copy (but they're amongst the worst offenders in terms of hiding important stuff in fluff and blocks of text - but I'm willing to use it anyway because the quality of substance of their material is generally high). Quickstarts can be misleading. The Call of Cthulhu Quickstart is well laid out, but that's not reflected in the other adventures and campaigns of theirs I've used (the rules themselves are not too bad).

First, if it doesn't have a PC sheet on Roll20, I'm not interested in a given system. But I'm not afraid to use my favored systems instead, if a setting is compelling.

Reviews, Reddit, Quick-starts, and Scribd are my go-tos.

But I'm a very tough sell, because there's not much innovation in settings anymore, and almost none in systems. My weekly games remain in the fine old settings like Harn, Fading Suns, and a few younger ones, like the non-defunct Digenesis.

I might buy one specific new core set this year, if a Roll20 sheet becomes available. I last bought a core system in 2022, and it was nearly all on sale.


The Call of Cthulhu Quickstart is well laid out, but that's not reflected in the other adventures and campaigns of theirs I've used (the rules themselves are not too bad).
Yeah. I ran into this issue with the RuneQuest Starter Set, which was presented fairly well (I got it on a PDF sale). Then I bought the hardcover rulebook, and it was honestly like reading a different game. Maybe that's a Chaosium thing? (I heard they do produce excellent Starter Sets, FWIW.)


I buy stuff every year for myself on GMs day. I have a list of things I want. 95% of the time I'm disappointed by the quality but its usually pretty cheap.

I don't really want a new system at this point. I have more systems than I'll ever use, more campaign ideas than I'll ever run. I do try to mine for ideas and content I can repurpose. I'm too picky to hope to find something that I can just use as is though such stuff does exist (a lot of the 7e CoC line is really really good) but I do hope to find something that at least ends up in a gaming session in some form. Most of the time it doesn't.


These are the primary considerations I have when considering whether to purchase a new RPG.

1. Do I like the setting?
2. What is the game about? i.e. Is the purpose of player characters clearly dileneated?
3. Do the rules support both the setting and what the game is about?
4. How likely am I to actually play this game?


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
After hearing about a game that sounds interesting, I'll read about it in forums and maybe watch a few YouTube videos. I might by a PDF of the core rulebook if it looks interesting enough. But, generally, I won't go all in until I speak with my players and see if they are interested. I typically avoid buying a game that I don't have a plan to play. That means I rarely buy a brand new system. Usually I'm buying a game that has been out for a while.

I might buy a very interesting game that looks good for a one shot. Usually, these are less expensive indie games.

Lastly, there are some books that I buy just because I enjoy reading them. These need to be an interesting read, good quality printing that looks good on a bookshelf, good art and layout. The most recent example is the Doctor Who 60 Years of Adventure books. But that may not count, because I never bought the core rulebook. I never intend to run a game of Doctor Who. But I enjoyed reading the these books and referencing them as a fan of the show.

A better example is I backed The Expanse on Kickstarter. I did run a one shot of it, but may never play it again. But I enjoy the book as a fan of the show.

I backed DCC Dying Earth on Kickstarter. I love the books and adventures just to read but I do want to eventually run it and so I also bought the core rule book for DCC and the funky dice. I definitely plan to run at least a mini Dying Earth campaign, even though I may be a while before I can do so.

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