How Should RPG Books Be Organized?

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
NOTE: I am talking about single volume complete RPGs here.

I was reading through Night's Black Agents while thinking about an espionage game, and something struck me: the usual Organizational structure of single volume RPGs where character creation is one of the first, if not the first system presented feels off to me. While i think it is okay to give an overview of what Character Generation looks like, with an emphasis and kinds of characters in the game presented, I think Character Generation should come much later. I would organize a single volume RPG rulebook like this:

Intro: What is roleplaying Etc.
This Game: The genre and expectations of the game you have in your hand.
The World: if this game has a built in setting, it goes here.
Game Rules: The core mechanics and common systems of the game, including combat and out of combat systems.
Players and Characters: A discussion of the role of players and the roles of characters, and all the associated expectations for this particular game.
Character Generation: Here's where the usual CharGen stuff goes, inlcuding sections on attributes, skills, traits, feats, edges, aspects, etc... whatever makes up a character ona character sheet.
The GM and GMing: Like the previous section for players, but the GM stuff. How to create a campaign and adventures are in this section.
GM Rules: If there are special siloed GM rules separate from the previous game rules, they go here.
Setting Secretes; If this game has a setting and that setting has secrets that only the GM is supposed to know, that goes here.
Adversaries: if the monsters, enemies or whatever need dedicated statblocks and descriptions, they go here.
Appendix: Gear and crap the PCs need

Note that a game with super powers, or magic, or mecha or whatever would put that info in the appropriate Player and GM facing chapter. Long lists of tools, gear, spells, and that kind of thing would go in another appendix.

Finally, there would be collected tables and other useful but very concise distillations of rules and important play concepts, as well as whatever character/vehicle/pocketmonster record sheets you need, and AN INDEX.

Anyway, that is how I would do it. probably. But no matter what, I would not put the character generation process before the game and how it is played is fully detailed. How would you (or have you!) organized a single volume RPG rulebook?

PS: Also lots of detailed examples and peeks under the hood throughout. NBA definitely does this bit well.
 

log in or register to remove this ad


While you are asking about single book RPGs, even for lighter games Id still recommend splitting between Players and GM directed books.

The reason being is that then each book can be tailored to who its audience is, which would, if done well, provide a better overall experience.

The key is insuring you actually retain and repeat all info a GM needs about what players have in their book in the GM book.

This means going through and listing every single character option, but with details and advice centered on those options from the GMs perspective. These are things like "How to Run a game for an Elf" or "How to Run a Game with a Nuke Paladin".

One might be inclined to think its repetitive, but in reality its just thorough. Not enough games actually tell GMs how each option is meant to translate into Fun and how they can support those choices. (I don't actually think Ive ever seen one do this, at least that I can remember anyway)

Done this way, you're also avoiding the problem of forcing one player in particular to spend more money; the GM just needs their book to be able to run a game.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I think folks would commonly skip it all and go right to chargen anyways. Though, I largely agree with your thoughts.
Probably. And I even understand the motivation. People want to know who they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to do in an RPG. I just think the chargen chapter is not really the best place to lay that out broadly.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Probably. And I even understand the motivation. People want to know who they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to do in an RPG. I just think the chargen chapter is not really the best place to lay that out broadly.
Yeap, but I think the traditional role of GM runs the game, players run the PCs, leads folks prioritizing different things. Though, yes the value in everyone knowing how the game works is important.

Talking about organization in a book is interesting. I actually vastly prefer an internet database like the SRDs or Archives of Nethys. For play at the table, the speed and ease of use can not be beat. As a reference guide its much more useful to me than organized chapters and/or an appendix.

Now, just for reading I have had a few books in the past few years I really enjoyed. FFG genesys Android and Bladerunner by Free League. I like the artwork and stylized aesthetics which help me immerse in the idea and worlds that they are trying to invoke. However, I start to realize how hard the font is to read and how the organization would be in play as a reference and I start to want a database instead.

I am thinking if it was cost feasible, Id do a highly stylized world and character book to help facilitate the feel, while doing a basic easy to read contrasted font text reference manual for actual play at the table.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Yeap, but I think the traditional role of GM runs the game, players run the PCs, leads folks prioritizing different things. Though, yes the value in everyone knowing how the game works is important.

Talking about organization in a book is interesting. I actually vastly prefer an internet database like the SRDs or Archives of Nethys. For play at the table, the speed and ease of use can not be beat. As a reference guide its much more useful to me than organized chapters and/or an appendix.

Now, just for reading I have had a few books in the past few years I really enjoyed. FFG genesys Android and Bladerunner by Free League. I like the artwork and stylized aesthetics which help me immerse in the idea and worlds that they are trying to invoke. However, I start to realize how hard the font is to read and how the organization would be in play as a reference and I start to want a database instead.

I am thinking if it was cost feasible, Id do a highly stylized world and character book to help facilitate the feel, while doing a basic easy to read contrasted font text reference manual for actual play at the table.
In my perfect world, every RPG would come with a 200-400 page tome of great writing and in depth discussion and lots of options and flavor text, in a slipcase with a 32 page "complex board game" style rules distillation that was designed specifically for ease of reference at the table during play. And yes, every game should have an online rules reference/SRD and character builder. It should be a law.
 

In my perfect world, every RPG would come with a 200-400 page tome of great writing and in depth discussion and lots of options and flavor text, in a slipcase with a 32 page "complex board game" style rules distillation that was designed specifically for ease of reference at the table during play. And yes, every game should have an online rules reference/SRD and character builder. It should be a law.
Read a copy of the RQ3 (Avalon Hill) Deluxe Edition when you have a chance. I think it's one of the best written/organized rule books ever published.
 
Last edited:

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Intro: What is roleplaying Etc.
This Game: The genre and expectations of the game you have in your hand.
The World: if this game has a built in setting, it goes here.
Game Rules: The core mechanics and common systems of the game, including combat and out of combat systems.
Players and Characters: A discussion of the role of players and the roles of characters, and all the associated expectations for this particular game.
Character Generation: Here's where the usual CharGen stuff goes, inlcuding sections on attributes, skills, traits, feats, edges, aspects, etc... whatever makes up a character ona character sheet.
The GM and GMing: Like the previous section for players, but the GM stuff. How to create a campaign and adventures are in this section.
GM Rules: If there are special siloed GM rules separate from the previous game rules, they go here.
Setting Secretes; If this game has a setting and that setting has secrets that only the GM is supposed to know, that goes here.
Adversaries: if the monsters, enemies or whatever need dedicated statblocks and descriptions, they go here.
Appendix: Gear and crap the PCs need
This arrangement, while not wrong, seems to put the free-form elements before the regulations. The problem with that is that it sets up the reader to make plans that are later deemed illegal.

"The setting chapter says there are grand wizards that get into world-shaking duels. So I want to make a duelist wizard, but the magic chapter says that wizards don't duel - they just take turns casting spells like chess players."

Also, a chapter on combat (and non-combat) systems won't mean much if the reader doesn't know what a character sheet means - the kind that's generally required for getting into combat.

I like (and wrote) a sequence that sets up the character sheets, bit by bit, going generally from basic to more complex systems (concept - attribute scores - perks - gear. . .). A quick overview to start puts things in perspective. Once all character elements are described, you can present fully-built characters (NPCs), and then you can talk about what they do when you set them loose - what I call Conflict, or what The World's Griddiest Role-Playing Game calls "combat, exploration, and social." The " crap PCs need" goes at the end of character creation, which for me was Gear and Powers. Agreed with GM stuff toward the end, but I would (and will, mwa ha ha ha) blend setting throughout, just to maintain a theme, I guess. Here's the free example if you're feeling progressive.
 

Intro: What is roleplaying Etc.
This Game: The genre and expectations of the game you have in your hand.
One thing that I think every RPG book should have is what I think of as the "call to adventure" section. It can be brief, but I think it's important that the game fire up people's imaginations first thing. Whether it's a short story, a description of play, or a short and evocative introduction to the world, there should be a pitch somewhere in the beginning.

The World: if this game has a built in setting, it goes here.
This is something I've been thinking a lot about. In so many RPG books I read, we get these giant chapters that recite the history of the known world from creation to present, frequently with vast swathes of unactionable world-building. They all do it, but there has to be a better way. Maybe put the "today" section up front and move the long histories to the GM's section?
 

MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
Publisher
I'm going to disagree here. I think that character building should be one of the first chapters. I think there can be a quick intro that explains the premise of the game and maybe a few key terms, but very quickly after that.

Why? Because that's how we get into the game. That's what I care about most when I start a new game.

If we put all the rules and setting info first before character creation it sends a message that you have to know all this stuff before you are allowed to make a character, which I think can be intimidating to players new to the system and even more so to people who are new to the hobby.

I'm playing Exalted right now, which has more than 100 pages of lore before it gets to character creation, and feels odd to me every time. I love the lore in Exalted, but I definitely have not read it all, and so little of that 100 pages is actually relevant to my character.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top