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Too much prose in RPGs?

Because they are. I’ve seen insiders discussing the customers who read but don’t play bandy around the figure of 50 per cent. And those are buyers who aren’t actively gaming at all, not gamers who have bought a book and haven’t gotten around to using it yet.

Look at Paizo. The foundation of their business is subscriptions to adventure paths. Chapters are released monthly, and each takes around 10-15 sessions to run. That’s if the subscriber is even running an active game - which most aren’t. So what fraction of AP chapters sold is ever used in a game at the table? I’d be surprised if it was even 25 per cent for the early chapters, and much less than that for later chapters.

In that light, and assuming Paizo and WotC have even the crudest outlines of customer behviour, is it surprising these books are designed to be read rather than used as play aids at the table?

It is. And it’s a distinct skillset from writing creative content. But it’s not a skillset that’s so difficult to learn that it can’t be incorporated into publisher processes and style guides. The basics of effective instructional design is using bulleted lists, sidebars, clean layout, and rendering all processes as numbered lists. And even descriptive prose can be written in a concise manner.

But this doesn’t happen. At least with the big publishers, who are wedded to their walls of text model. Most of it is the commercial incentives cited above - catering to readers rather than gamers. But part of it is just lazy traditionalism - designers and publishers presenting content the way it has always been done because that’s the way it has always been done.

It’s worth noting that the most effective, innovative presentation today comes from indie publishing, including the OSR. A lot of gamers love the style of publishers like Necrotic Gnome. And yet WotC continues to churn out books that don’t look any different in layout and design from what they published 20 years ago.


I’m the same way. The assumption that I’m going to read and memorize even a 32 page adventure that will take me multiple sessions to play is unfounded. I’m not 20 years old anymore - I can hardly remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

Which is why I’ve come to prefer PDFs rather than print adventures - I can copy and paste the content into a format that’s effective for me at the table.
Well... I think the actual skill in technical writing/documentation/manuals (and thus presumably games presented in a similar format) is actually KNOWING WHAT TO PRESENT. The single most common flaw with this kind of writing is that the writer is almost invariably an expert on the subject they are writing about (or invented the game/whatever) and they will almost surely not be able to inhabit the mind of a person coming in cold and trying to grasp the material! Thus the technical approach usually fails because it assumes the reader has a whole lot of context which they usually don't have.

Honestly I never had an issue with the way WotC presents stuff in a big way. I mean, 4e rules material was pretty focused. The 'lore' was sidebared, NPCs/monsters are stat blocks, etc. The problem with their ADVENTURES was always the horrible 'delve format' where basically each encounter would be described and then IN ANOTHER PART OF THE BOOKLET they would provide the stat blocks and such. UGH! what a craptastic format that was. I haven't looked at any 5e adventures TBH, but hopefully they've got rid of that junk.

The 5e rulebooks though, they're not too bad in terms of prose, the problem is the rules themselves, which are just not there. Also the format is somehow really hard to reference, things are not properly ORGANIZED, but the text is clear enough and there isn't an excess of extraneous material. Their class write ups for instance are not bad at all.
 

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Right, so, when I'm about to run an encounter presented in a published adventure; I want to know what it accomplishes, plot-wise, who's involved, and what things could potentially happen, and where each one might lead next. NPCs should be from 1-6 simple statements, depending on how important they are or how many ways they could be interacted with.

That's why I like Kelsey Dionne's format. It not only describes rooms and inhabitants, it very succinctly conveys what the NPCs goals are, how the situation might evolve/develop, and where the PCs might go next. All are quick to find, without any walls of text.
 

That's why I like Kelsey Dionne's format. It not only describes rooms and inhabitants, it very succinctly conveys what the NPCs goals are, how the situation might evolve/develop, and where the PCs might go next. All are quick to find, without any walls of text.
Right, I didn't comment on that mostly because I haven't read any of them, and have little to add. It does sound pretty good, and if I was running that kind of thing I'd probably be pretty happy with it :). I think a lot of the earlier TSR-era modules are not TOO far off, though maybe a bit verbose in odd places as you said (or someone did). G1 for example is QUITE brief. The whole thing is what, 32 pages?
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
No, I read RPGs for the creative ideas, not the actual writing.

So do I, but that's not what we are talking about is it? If our preferences aligned with how the books are produced we would not be talking about anything. I recall at least Paizo has said they know their adventure paths are bought to be read rather than played, and that informs the way they produce them. Of course prose fiction is far superior to RPG adventure prose (at least for me) but the consumers of this stuff enjoy it because of the imaginary meta-fiction they can run in their heads while reading it.

The upside is that it leaves space for the tiny indie publishers, writers, artists to create useable supplements, adventures, rules that people playing the game actually use, rather than the weighty prose tomes of the larger publishers. There certainly is a demand for this style, Necrotic Gnome and others have demonstrated it.
 


You are confusing personal preferences with market preferences.

Again, I question whether it really is the market preference, or whether that's an assumption.

Above you, wrote:
the consumers of this stuff enjoy it because of the imaginary meta-fiction they can run in their heads while reading it

And that is exactly what I do when reading Neverland-like materials. In fact, I think it's easier to do that with the low-prose materials because the information density is higher.

Which makes me wonder if the real driver isn't the market, or freelance rates, but simply that it's easier to fill 128 pages with creative ideas padded with long winded prose, than it is to generate enough more creative ideas to fill those same 128 pages with dense information.
 

Which makes me wonder if the real driver isn't the market, or freelance rates, but simply that it's easier to fill 128 pages with creative ideas padded with long winded prose, than it is to generate enough more creative ideas to fill those same 128 pages with dense information.
I think you're onto something there.

One of the problems I see lately is that a lot of the prose is not just long-winded, but at its core, pointless. There's not much creative thinking going on in the industry, particularly in systems. Endless splatbooks for 5e are churned out, but new systems are extremely scarce.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Which makes me wonder if the real driver isn't the market, or freelance rates, but simply that it's easier to fill 128 pages with creative ideas padded with long winded prose, than it is to generate enough more creative ideas to fill those same 128 pages with dense information.
And they can probably charge significantly more for a 128 page book than, say, a 96 page book, simply on the perceived "value add," even when that extra text isn't necessarily worth much.
 
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I think you're onto something there.

One of the problems I see lately is that a lot of the prose is not just long-winded, but at its core, pointless. There's not much creative thinking going on in the industry, particularly in systems. Endless splatbooks for 5e are churned out, but new systems are extremely scarce.
There are 19,796 ttrpgs on itch.io, most of which were added after 2018 (I know, because I was there when the indie ttrpg scene on itch exploded).


Only 183 are 3rd-party releases for 5e. Most of the other 19,613 releases use their own systems, or pretty new systems like Forged in the Dark, Belonging Without Belonging, Tunnel Goons, Knave or others.

New systems are not scarce.
 

New systems are not scarce.
itch.io? A vast pool of junk, for the most part. Ranks up there with Amazon's perma-free indie novels. But you are right, I did not clarify. So:

New systems that use new, innovative mechanics and are marketed in mainstream venues are scarce. As in good, innovative systems.
 
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Sturgeon's Law applies to roleplaying games, too. There's a lot of crap on DrivethruRPG too, and that's true of games in print, too. A lot of Kickstarted games that are over-padded with 500 hundred pages of unnecessary prose, which sort of brings us back around to this topic.

Itch.io offers another venue for creators from LatAm and RPGSEA, and while you won't find some games to be to your taste, I have seen a lot more creativity and innovation on itch.io in the last two and a half years than I have from mainstream creators in the thirty-three years before that.

I've read a lot of RPGs. I've actually played or run campaigns of

AD&D
Advanced Fighting Fantasy
D&D Basic through Companion Sets
Ghostbusters 1e
Twilight: 2000 1e
Middle-Earth Roleplaying
Feng Shui 1e
D&D 3e-5e
Robotech
Heavy Gear 1e-3e
Shadowrun 2e-5e
Jovian Chronicles
Call of Cthulhu 5e
Vampire: The Masquerade (many editions)
Legend of the Five Rings (many editions)
Bubblegum Crisis
The Babylon Project
Marvel Super Heroes
Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game (SAGA System)
Aeon Trinity
Abberant
Usagi Yojimbo (Fuzion edition)
Castle Falkenstein
Deadlands 1e
Blue Planet 1e-2e
Unknown Armies 1e
Star Wars (West End Games, Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight Games versions)
GURPS 3rd Edition
Paranoia XP
Exalted 1e-2e
Amber
Traveller (Mongoose)
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e-3e
Mutants & Masterminds 3e
The Batman RPG (Mayfair)
Rifts
Pathfinder 1e
Savage Worlds 1e
Eclipse Phase 1e
Millenium's End
Dogs in the Vineyard
Stormbringer 5e
Bliss Stage
Weapons of the Gods
Cthulhutech
Lord of the Rings (Decipher)
Star Trek (Decipher)
Red Star
Trail of Cthulhu
Fiasco 1e
Night's Black Agents
Doctor Who 1e
Golden Sky Stories
Hillfolk
13th Age
Warbirds
Night Witches
The Warren
Do: Fate of the Flying Temple
The Veil
Urban Shadows 1e
Cthulhu Dark (Kickstarter Edition)
Ghost Lines
Blades in the Dark
Coriolis

and the amount of creativity and innovation has only increased, not decreased, over the time that I have spent in this hobby. The itch explosion happened after I got into Blades in the Dark.

Five of the most innovative games I've ever played and run (and I'd put them right up with the best of the list above, like Trail of Cthulhu and Blades in the Dark) didn't come from traditional publishing at all, they came from self-publishing and Kickstarters by new companies. Some of them are ONLY on itch.io. And they all came out in the last 5 years.

Beyond the Fence, Below the Grave
Blackout
Trophy (the original version, not the KS one)
Ghost Orbit
Lancer

Apart from Lancer, these games are all under 100 pages as well, and they use their word count well.

All the new publishing venues, both digital and print-on-demand, have allowed people from my side of the world to actually market and sell games that are based on their cultures and lived experiences. Different, interesting experiences. Malay, Chinese, Filipino, Singaporean, Brazillian, and more from the Global South. I know a higher proportion of queer and trans creators who have entered the field in the last few years than in the previous 30.

There are ingenious new designers like this list of 10. I'm especially fond of the work of Jammi Nedjadi, Riley Rethal, makapatag and Jay Dragon.

And here's another best-of-year list:
 
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I think you're onto something there.

One of the problems I see lately is that a lot of the prose is not just long-winded, but at its core, pointless. There's not much creative thinking going on in the industry, particularly in systems. Endless splatbooks for 5e are churned out, but new systems are extremely scarce.
Think about it this way, 95% of the really creative and most engaging minds were already writing games before this latest boom in RPGs. So, what happens when a lot of new people come into a field like this? Quality drops, you get more marginal participants. Now, OTOH standards INCREASE, because things become more commoditized. So the old time RPG industry was filled with weird off-the-wall stuff written by people who were driven to do it, and had few skills in business, production, etc. Nowadays there's a lot of THAT, WotC regularly puts out slick books with high production value and professional editing. That doesn't mean the ideas and enthusiasm is there to match. Less risk is taken, there's a lot more concern with PROCESS and PRODUCT and a lot less with sheer creativity. A Marc Miller or Gary Gygax could produce a wealth of interesting material, albeit the presentation and organization wasn't always top notch (actually I have little to fault on this front with Marc's stuff, he is always one of the best, Gary was a bit less so, but he was a great GM).

So, we do see some really high quality modern stuff, like PbtAs, FitD-based games, I guess Monty Cooke's stuff, though that doesn't really float my boat much. Other more 'corporate' stuff is NOT bad, a lot of it is quite good, but maybe they are more likely to include a lot of somewhat less creative stuff.
 


Think about it this way, 95% of the really creative and most engaging minds were already writing games before this latest boom in RPGs. So, what happens when a lot of new people come into a field like this? Quality drops, you get more marginal participants. Now, OTOH standards INCREASE, because things become more commoditized. So the old time RPG industry was filled with weird off-the-wall stuff written by people who were driven to do it, and had few skills in business, production, etc. Nowadays there's a lot of THAT, WotC regularly puts out slick books with high production value and professional editing. That doesn't mean the ideas and enthusiasm is there to match. Less risk is taken, there's a lot more concern with PROCESS and PRODUCT and a lot less with sheer creativity. A Marc Miller or Gary Gygax could produce a wealth of interesting material, albeit the presentation and organization wasn't always top notch (actually I have little to fault on this front with Marc's stuff, he is always one of the best, Gary was a bit less so, but he was a great GM).

So, we do see some really high quality modern stuff, like PbtAs, FitD-based games, I guess Monty Cooke's stuff, though that doesn't really float my boat much. Other more 'corporate' stuff is NOT bad, a lot of it is quite good, but maybe they are more likely to include a lot of somewhat less creative stuff.
I really doubt your 95% estimate in every possible way. Given the well-documented low pay of game designers, I would say that the most creative are out doing well in other fields and just gaming as a hobby.

I also don't believe that PbtAs is anything resembling high quality. Or even average quality. But you are right in principle: there are one or two decent systems out there, and some innovative settings (fewer all the time, sadly, Degenesis being a prime example). But they are the very rare exception.

You are right about less risk. Hence the endless splatbooks and relentless minor variations of decades-old systems. Too many are trying, with art and endless prose, to hide the fact that what they're trying to sell stuff that is, in the final accounting, just more of the same.
 

I really doubt your 95% estimate in every possible way. Given the well-documented low pay of game designers, I would say that the most creative are out doing well in other fields and just gaming as a hobby.
That's my point though, it was always a thankless job, which kept away anyone that wasn't in it for their own reasons. They sure weren't going to work on RPGs for money! With the more recent growth of interest in the business however, it has attracted some more commercially-minded people. That is, you now see freelancers doing RPG writing that may not really be all that driven to do it, but want to make a few extra bucks.
I also don't believe that PbtAs is anything resembling high quality. Or even average quality. But you are right in principle: there are one or two decent systems out there, and some innovative settings (fewer all the time, sadly, Degenesis being a prime example). But they are the very rare exception.
I think you're confusing your opinions with a more objective assessment of what is out there, frankly. To call things like Dungeon World, Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts, etc. 'not resembling high quality' is laughable and only leads to anyone who actually knows about these games to dismiss whatever else you have to say out of hand.

I mean, sure, there are many amateurish 'products' out there, and that's the purpose of places like Itch.io is to provide an outlet for them. Still, there are many cool things out there. I have read several fun little games, and over the years played a number of things that were definitely not polished commercial products, yet they had great ideas. I'd direct your attention, for example, to a little gem that I bought many years ago, called "Dungeons & Dragons." Very high replay value!! lol.
You are right about less risk. Hence the endless splatbooks and relentless minor variations of decades-old systems. Too many are trying, with art and endless prose, to hide the fact that what they're trying to sell stuff that is, in the final accounting, just more of the same.
Well, this I agre with, obviously. Its a hard call though. I mean, I was pretty happy with most of the 4e stuff, even though it was definitely very commercial and really cranked out there. WotC took the risk, they boldly innovated on their product, and look what it got them! I mean, maybe the fault is not in our stars Horatio, but in ourselves...
 


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