Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rules Length

A friend recently gave me a print copy of Labyrinth Lord.  I remember looking at the book and thinking to myself, That's it?  That's all there is?  That's a remarkably thin book, considering how highly he's praising it.  There can't be enough rules for it to be completely functional, can there?

Then I went home and I took a look at my 1e PHB reprint, and it's about the same thickness. Maybe a bit thinner, even, once the cover is removed from the equation.

That can't be right.  Dungeons & Dragons is a thick morass of rules, isn't it?  It's got so many rules, you need multiple books to hold them all, even when pared down, focused, and "purified."  Right?

Apparently not.

A few years ago, I purchased Blue Planet V2.  I say "a few years," but I bought it when it was brand new. And then I bought all of the supplements as they came out.  I remember being completely gobsmacked at how few rules were in the game.  Discounting character generation, there are less than twenty pages of rules across the entire game line - First Colony had zero rules in it.  Frontier Justice was (and continues to be) the best cyberpunk-genre Law Enforcement sourcebook I have ever read and it only has rules for new equipment.  All of these books are, BTW, available now from DriveThruRPG if the Amazon prices go crazy (like they often do).

So I started looking through my games.  I've found it interesting how many role-playing games have fewer rules than we realize. Once you get past Character Generation, that is.  Because two-thirds or more of _many_ books are all about character generation (GURPS, I'm looking at you, here).

It inspired me to go and take a look at my board games, too.  It's amazing to me how many really complex/deep games can be explained in a surprisingly small number of pages..

Then I was reading the Kemet forums on BoardGameGeek, and a comment from Matagot caught my eye.  One of their guidelines for games is that the rules have to be eight pages or fewer. How many classic board games meet those guidelines?

I'll bet Diplomacy could fit into eight pages, depending on the layout.  You could almost certainly fit Chess into eight pages.  Monopoly used to be printed inside the lid of the box.  Carcassonne used to be six pages.

At the other end of the spectrum is Empires in Arms, which is ... well more than eight pages.  And is still one of my favorites.

A thick rulebook sets you up for a specific kind of fun.  One that is going to involve a lot of rules lookups and/or charts, tables, and graphs.  A thin rulebook tells me that I can just pick it up and play.

I ... I may have more to say about this another time, but right now, I have a pile of editing and revision in front of me that needs doing.  It's the last-minute-needs-to-be-printed-by-GenCon rush that happens every year.

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