Should a TTRPG have a singular Core Rulebook or more?

What should a TTRPG's Core Rules look like?

  • One book, complete.

    Votes: 43 49.4%
  • Two books.

    Votes: 13 14.9%
  • Three books.

    Votes: 5 5.7%
  • More than 3 books.

    Votes: 2 2.3%
  • A boxed set.

    Votes: 3 3.4%
  • Something else.

    Votes: 21 24.1%

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Bruce Baugh, Writer of Fortune
However, no system worth playing for a long time can be fit into a single book.
I disagree strongly with this, and not in theoretical grounds. Some of the longest-running games I’ve seen have been run out of one book, back to Empire of the Petal Throne, through various editions of Call of Cthulhu and various World of Darkness books (yes, people I knew played 1st edition VTM and 2nd edition MTAs chronicles for 11 years each with just that core book), to Over the Edge, Burning Wheel, Amber, and various flavors of Fste. So it’s not just a matter of one kind of game: we’re talking here about a vast spread of mechanical complete, style of game design, subject matter, and everything else.

I grant freely that these are unusual groups and campaigns. But I also think that much of what they do is teachable, and compatible with many mixes of play preferences.


Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
I assume I misunderstood something.
I said "real word", not "real world". As in, diegetic is a real word that has a distinct meaning that encapsulates what I'm discussing. I'm sure it can and has been misused, but I don't think I've been misusing it generally. (Although I make a good number of posts, so I would not be surprised if I phrased something improperly.)


Yeah I was gonna say real word not world.

I was just commenting on the use of words you’d write in a master's thesis or dissertation rather than direct, simple, plain language everyone understands. Rule of thumb we were taught in writing is to use the clearer of the two words when there is a choice between a “simple” word and a “fancy” one. Isn’t the idea to make these games simpler and talk about them in a way that is engaging to the widest possible audience? Or maybe a bunch of people ARE working on their master's thesis? “Bespoke” still sucks in any circumstance though. ;)
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I disagree strongly with this, and not in theoretical grounds. Some of the longest-running games I’ve seen have been run out of one book...

Experiences so different than my own always make me want to sit in on a game just to figure out what other people are doing and what they call play.

through various editions of Call of Cthulhu

CoC did a particularly good job of providing examples of play, which is one of the reasons the system survived and is still played. That is to say, you probably had one core rule book playing CoC, but very few groups didn't also purchase the campaign and setting guides. Still, while I grant you could play CoC for a long time with just the core rulebooks, it wasn't until 7e came out that I really felt just how much I was missing good additional rulebooks for CoC. Like I don't know how long the game has needed the 'The Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic' or the 'Pulp Cthulhu' book and a really great price/setting guide to the 1920s, 1930s, etc.

d various World of Darkness books (yes, people I knew played 1st edition VTM and 2nd edition MTAs chronicles for 11 years each with just that core book

VtM represents I think a real edge case in that the original core book is so good and virtually everything else published by White Wolf so bad, that you probably were better off just playing with the original VtM book. One of the interesting things about VtM though is that almost everyone having fun with it was very much not playing the game described by the VtM book, but their own take or spin on it.

to Over the Edge, Burning Wheel, Amber, and various flavors of Fste.

Ok, wow do we ever have different tastes in games. You're listing games I either had no interest in at all or else games which the first time I experienced them I pushed them away faster than Calvin pushes away a plate full of his mother's green mush. OtE and Amber in particular push the definition of what constitutes rules for an RPG into territory that I am not at all comfortable with, as they move RPGs very firmly back into make believe play with all the baggage and problems that comes with that. I haven't played OtE (though did you really play a lengthy game with just the original core book?) but Amber I have touched and yeah, it was less like playing an RPG than it was flashbacks to playing house or make believe or whatever on the playground as a kindergartener with the rules not only providing no help but actually reinforcing dysfunctional dynamics. Or at best, it reminded me of attempts in high school to pass around a notebook and have each person add a page to the story, which is to say complete failure.


I could easily run a fantasy action / adventure campaign for at least 2 years with nothing but the 208-page Savage Worlds Adventurers Edition core rulebook. It wouldn't even be that hard.

I mean technically, sure. Technically I ran a 10-year-old 3e D&D campaign using no more than the Player's Handbook and the SRD, but I also ended up writing 800 pages of house rules and another 800 pages of setting and adventure information over the course of those 10 years. Plus I ended up importing things like the 'Hot Pursuit' rules and a lot of bits and pieces of other third-party books like Green Ronin's "Shaman Handbook", so was I really playing with just a single book? And to the extent that I had to do that because the official 3e books were mostly junk and filler especially in the 3.5 era makes me more than a little bit miffed. But sure, I can make up prices for everything in a setting and rules smith all the stuff that the rules leave out and come up with all my own adventures and setting it is questionable whether this is still meeting the definition of "fits in a single book".

As for Savage Worlds, I haven't played it personally but it feels to me from what I've looked at and the reputation it has like it's probably the best rules medium and probably the best universal system ever published, but the extensive array of GURPS like setting booklets and genre toolkits suggest to me that the idea that Savage Worlds should be just a single book is not an opinion that is widely shared and further that people playing with the single book are probably putting in an equivalent amount of work creating their own homebrew setting guides and toolkits.

Or to put it another way, just because you can run a game without chase rules (SW has them core so yay SW for having some foresight) by winging it or without crafting rules by winging it or without mass combat rules by winging it or without even so much as a price list for common PC purchases by winging it (Google for the win!) doesn't mean you should be doing so or that the system wouldn't be improved by providing quality takes on what is missing from it. And, looking into SW's toolkits, they each form something like my hierarchy of needs specific to whatever genre that they are providing for - Sci-Fi for example offers generic toolkits for GMs, gear, bestiaries, plus setting books and adventures.


Relaxed Intensity
Most of my personal experience with successful long running (1+ year) games has been with mostly just sticking to the core rulebook in games like Vampire: The Requiem, Exalted, Classic Deadlands, Changeling: The Lost, Demon: The Fallen, Legend of the Five Rings 5e, Infinity, Dune 2d20, etc. Granted our games tend to focus more on social conflicts, characters' personal lives and intrigues. Violent encounters are rare and fair fights damn near nonexistent. Our year-long weekly Infinity game saw maybe 8 combats and very minimal exploration but featured well over 30 named NPCs (at least half of which had direct associations to at least one of our 3 PCs).
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