How Should RPG Books Be Organized?

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
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.
If a game has any real degree of choice in character building, you need to understand how play works before you can effectively build a character. I can't effectively decide between two levels in Parry and 2 levels in Block or 1 of each if I don't know how combat works.
 

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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
If a game has any real degree of choice in character building, you need to understand how play works before you can effectively build a character. I can't effectively decide between two levels in Parry and 2 levels in Block or 1 of each if I don't know how combat works.
True, but you're talking about optimizing, not character generation. It's enough for a new player to know "parry means deflecting attacks" or "block means putting objects between you and your attacker." The new player doesn't need to know that parry relies on Dex which only applies to ranged attacks when you're on the ground, but not in a vehicle, and no enemies are within 10 feet of you as long as you have a Martial character in Short Combat but not Long Combat.

Effective character building should go in an appendix, or better yet, a separate book.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
True, but you're talking about optimizing, not character generation. It's enough for a new player to know "parry means deflecting attacks" or "block means putting objects between you and your attacker." The new player doesn't need to know that parry relies on Dex which only applies to ranged attacks when you're on the ground, but not in a vehicle, and no enemies are within 10 feet of you as long as you have a Martial character in Short Combat but not Long Combat.
Why not? "These things are important to play, but you don't need to know them when you build a character because...?" it's okay to suck your first time playing? What is the possible reasoning behind this, other than that's the way most games have traditionally done it?
 

Staffan

Legend
Generally speaking, I would like to have basic rules before character creation, but more specific rules afterward. So start by explaining how you roll dice, what the difference (if any) is between ability scores and skills, and stuff like that. If the ability scores don't need much description, you might put those here too. But things like the skill list (if there is one) and specific sub-systems should ideally come after character generation.

I could see having an abbreviated skill list before character creation too, without going into detail. So maybe the pre-chargen chapter has:

Athletics — used for running, climbing, jumping, swimming, lifting, and things like that.

And then the skill chapter would go into actual rules for doing those things.

On a second note, I think the whole thing comes down to whether an RPG rule book should primarily teach the game, or be a reference book for looking things up. Those require rather different approaches. Some moderately rules-heavy board games actually come with two rule books for precisely this reason: one "Learn to play" and one "Rules reference". This works fine when you have a 16-page Learn to play and a 32-page Rules Reference, but less fine when you're dealing with 256+ pages. But you could still have parts of the book being more about guiding the player and others being more referential.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
On a second note, I think the whole thing comes down to whether an RPG rule book should primarily teach the game, or be a reference book for looking things up. Those require rather different approaches.
This is absolutely true. I really like the whole "solo adventure" as the first thing you encounter design paradigm.
 

MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
Publisher
Why not? "These things are important to play, but you don't need to know them when you build a character because...?" it's okay to suck your first time playing? What is the possible reasoning behind this, other than that's the way most games have traditionally done it?
So this goes off topic into a bigger philosophy of game design but...

I think that if a character sucks because the player didn't know the difference between 'block' and 'parry,' the game has bigger issues.

For one thing I think in designing a game it should be impossible to make a character that sucks. Maybe some character will be more optimal that others, but I think it the game should be made such that a any choice available to a newly made character should all be valid choices. If it's not literally impossible, there should be guidance in the character creation section about what choices to make.

Looking at D&D for this, the biggest choices character have at first level are ability score, race, class, and background. Race, class, and background are all about character concept, so a new player won't run into traps with those. The trick is assigning ability ability scores, which is why 5e includes a "Quick Build" section for each class to tell new players what the highest ability should be for each class.

Also, I know you probably picked your example at random, but I think having two skills where the real-world meaning is basically the same thing, such as 'block' and 'parry,' is bad game design. If they do different things, they should have different names. If they do the same thing, they should be rolled into one skill.

As I mentioned above, I'm playing Exalted, which is pretty ridiculously complicated when it comes to character creation, but at least the the skills are easy to understand by what there name is. If I come up with a concept for a warlord who specializes in mounted archery, I can intuit I need to put points in archery, ride, and war, even if I don't understand the rules of mass combat. (Side note, this is my second campaign of Exalted, and I still don't really know the rules for mass combat).

Finally, in any game where there's a lot of decisions made at character creation, I think there should be a grace period where players can completely re-stat their character if they wish to. This is something I always play with as a house rule, but I think crunchier games should include it rules as written for just the reasons you cite.

I know there's a lot of players who like to read all, or at least most, of the rules before they start play, and that's great for those players. But I also know a lot of players who learn the rules as they go, and I think it's important to character creation just as accessible to those players.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
Introduction to the game and RPGs in general, just in case.

Setting for the game. It's incredibly helpful to know what kind of world you're expected to inhabit as early as possible. That will ground your choices and give you massive clues about what to expect going forward. Broad overview stuff, not hyper detailed. Should be filled with hooks.

Basic rules for the game. The simpler the better. This is core mechanic, meta currency, re-rolls, basic game elements territory. An overblown glossary.

Character stuff for the game. This is where the setting and rules come together to give you your PC options. Classes, races, equipment, etc. Should be filled with hooks.

Basic GM section. The simpler the better. Straightforward advice, explicit instructions on how the game should be run, best practices, hints, tips, tricks, things to watch out for, etc. How run a session zero and how to run a session. Should be filled with hooks.

Advanced GM section, if any. This is where campaign-level advice goes. How to do pacing, how to keep players engaged long term, etc. Should be filled with hooks.

Important NPCs, locations, and factions. This is the more detailed setting info. Should be filled with hooks.

Monsters, beasts, etc. Should be filled with hooks.

Quests, starter adventures, etc. Nothing too involved. One shots or two shots at most. Learn to play the game style adventures. Should be filled with hooks.

Appendices. All the random tables, bits that don't fit elsewhere, etc. Should be filled with hooks.

Index. Yes, every core RPG book longer than 30-some pages needs an index. If you can somehow fill it with hooks, do it.
 

Committed Hero

Adventurer
Introduction to the game and RPGs in general, just in case.

Setting for the game. It's incredibly helpful to know what kind of world you're expected to inhabit as early as possible. That will ground your choices and give you massive clues about what to expect going forward. Broad overview stuff, not hyper detailed. Should be filled with hooks.

Basic rules for the game. The simpler the better. This is core mechanic, meta currency, re-rolls, basic game elements territory. An overblown glossary.

It occurs to me that a good designer could combine all of these into an introductory example of play, perhaps in two-column format with the narrative in one and mechanics in the other.

My other miscellaneous ramblings:

You can put the intro to roleplaying on the back cover with the core activity. Who is marketing rpgs to people who don't know what they are in 2023, and how successful is this compared to focusing on the regular market?

Aesthetically, I would want the player material to be in an uninterrupted block at the start of the book.

The amount of required initial setting detail depends on how easy it is to grasp intuitively. A real world game would need the least, while something like Blades in the Dark might require the most. Ideally, you'd want to limit it to what a first-time reader needs to know before making a character.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
It occurs to me that a good designer could combine all of these into an introductory example of play, perhaps in two-column format with the narrative in one and mechanics in the other.
Perhaps. I wouldn’t want that as a replacement for things stated simply and directly. An example of play alongside those sections, great. But it would be monumentally tedious to have to dig through an example of play to find the right bit that talked about a specific rule, some faction, or that one NPC.
 

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