How Should RPG Books Be Organized?

If you have a detailed setting, I prefer it shoved in the back. Give me the highlights when you introduce the core game that's important - Swords of the Serpentine has a fun way to do that with showing a few scenes around the city.

Speaking of SotS - the designer intention notes next to the rules should really be a standard practice. I never thought of how useful they were in Burning Wheel since Luke used them so snarkily, but its really nice to get word straight from the designer commentary throughout the game.

It also fixes the whole building a character with limited understanding of the rules by building in the common houserule that you can adjust your character mechanically as much as you like for the first few sessions.

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Speaking of SotS - the designer intention notes next to the rules should really be a standard practice. I never thought of how useful they were in Burning Wheel since Luke used them so snarkily, but its really nice to get word straight from the designer commentary throughout the game.
Meme Reaction GIF by Robert E Blackmon


Victoria Rules
It boils down to a series of very basic elements that some games expand on more than others. Note that I'm assuming a game with at least a bit of crunch to it, as the question is about books.

--- the very basics of the game in general i.e. what's an RPG, what are these funny-shaped dice, what actual items (dice, pen, paper, online access, companion books, whatever) other than this book are required in order to play this game, etc. 2 pages, max.
--- what a character can (and can't) be. This is where races, classes, roles, etc. get put.
--- how to make a character, i.e. the character generation bit. This includes equipping the character, so basic gear lists go here along with anything else needed to get a starting character up and running.
--- what you can do with that character now you've made it. This is where the combat-exploration-etc. rules go, along with spell and ability/feat write-ups
--- a clear and detailed written-out example of low-ish level play and how it would look
--- down-the-road options for later character development. Prestige classes, late-game options, feat-tree suggestions, how to change your character, etc.
--- oddball and strictly-optional stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else.

--- notes on how to best run an RPG, ideally system-agnostic (there can never be too much of this!) and including notes on how to be descriptive in one's narration and how to use one's narration to reinforce the "feel" the game is going for
--- basic notes on how to build enough of a setting to allow play to proceed (and see below)
--- notes on how to make NPCs and where-how they might differ from PCs, along with clear fiction-based explanations of why these differences exist
--- nitty-gritty rules on how to run this particular game and keep it going. Moves and fronts, combat tables, random encounter charts, whatever nuts and bolts this game needs in order to be run, here they are. This fills most of the GM section.
--- in-game info the players wouldn't know but might eventually find out during play. This includes things like magic item properties-lists-pricing, notes on how some player-side abilities-spells-etc. might (or might not) interact, rulings to plug loopholes or exploits, and maybe write-ups on some monsters or foes (but see below)
--- GM-side options and-or guide as to how to tweak the system to suit different purposes.

--- setting information. If the game is intended to use its own bespoke setting that's anything other than very bare-bones, that setting is going to need to be presented in enough detail to warrant its own separate book.
--- monster and-or enemy lists and write-ups. Again, this either needs its own book or could be combined with the setting book

Ideally, the player-side material is in one book and the GM-side material is in another.

aramis erak

NOTE: I am talking about single volume complete RPGs here.
I want the most referenced sections at the ends of the book... except for the intro.

  • Intro - 1, maybe 2, pages.
  • Character gen
  • Setting
  • Gear
  • Vehicle Catalogue
  • Mechanics
    • Basic skill use
    • combat
    • other forms of conflict (Social, skill challenges, races)
    • Other types of subsystem
  • GM section
    • Advice on using setting tropes
    • specific GM procedures (if any)
    • specific GM setting advice
  • Bestiary
  • Reference tables
  • Forms.
  • Index.
Appendices beyond reference tables and index really belong elsewhere, IMO, not in the corebook. Especially things like AD&D's appendix N - I really don't give a «bleep» what the author thinks should be read - if the setting and/or rules in the game don't convey the setting well enough, the author's failed their game design and/or use language rolls. Especially now; the web is so ubiquitous that the Appendix N (list of inspirational reading) can be better served as a DLC and not something for which the customer is paying for on dead tree.
Conversions to other games, likewise, are better as DLC.


Doing the best imitation of myself
This is such a good question, and has been debated forever. The book that I've read recently that just clicks for me is Blades in the Dark.

For me, the key is to give people a quick summary of game concepts/core mechanics/characters and then move into things in more detail. For me the quote I always use comes from Jay Leno and is something Johnny Carson told him: "you buy the premise, you buy the bit." That was about making a successful comedy sketch, but I believe it applies to anything where you need to hook your audience. If you start off with any topic in-depth, you might lose them. So I think you can talk about things in a very few pages, and then refer them to later stuff in more depth.

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