09 April 2011

"What is an RPG" introduction: Necessary?

From KORPG's blog:
From a historical analysis, I can recall that virtually every RPG rulebook I’ve ever opened had a section explaining what RPGs are, how they’re played, how they (usually) use dice, how player take on the roles of characters in a world of the GMs devising, etc.
All those over-arching things about a RPG that we already know are sometimes condensed at the beginning of a rulebook. Almost as if reading that specific rulebook might be the very first introduction a reader would have into the world of RPGs.
But why is such a section even in the rules any more?

If you ask me (which nobody did, but hey, bite me), I don't think that section is necessary anymore. Let's be realistic. Any product that we, as hobbyists, make is for hobbyists. That's the simple truth, and has a couple of important consequences, the most important of which is that you're writing to people who already know the subject matter. The guy who's wondering what an RPG is, is not opening up your self-published book and reading what you wrote there.

That guy has either already picked up an RPG (probably Dungeons and Dragons, but possibly a White Wolf game or  some other mass-produced game you can pick up at your Large Bookstore of choice) and read what they had to say, or he's been taught by somebody who already knows what's up. Our hobby is fairly unique in that it rarely spreads by the raw materials. Usually, it spreads, memetically, through people. You get taught by some guy, who got taught by some other guy, and so on and so forth, until you get to people who either taught themselves with a mass-marketed game's introductory product, or you get to Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson or whoever.

These people don't need introductions. The purpose of an introduction to "shared make believe time" has already been served. You don't need to do it.

I mean, really. Is there anything more of a waste of space than including how to roll dice and which way to round numbers? If somebody's reading, say, my Aremorican Addendum, they already know how to roll dice and what character sheets they're using and which edition of D&D they're grafting it onto. They know what hit points do, and what spell levels are, and the difference between divine and arcane magic is. You don't have to explain that any more than a magazine aimed at aviation buffs needs to explain what in the world a "bushtail lightwheel" is. You already know, or you wouldn't be here.

Computer games don't come with instructions on how to right click and drag things anymore. You don't have to explain the basics of a 30 year old hobby to people. You're writing to an advanced audience. You don't have to pretend otherwise.


  1. Depends on what you're doing, I think. If you're putting out a PDF, or doing a playtest, chances are that the people buying it know how to play an RPG. On the other hand, if it's a physical product, you might get someone who goes "Hmm. That's a cool picture on the cover. I wonder what this is?" or whatever, and might have no clue what it's talking about unless there is one.

  2. I'd think a good way to do it these days would just to put a small section at the beginning, cautioning people that if this is by chance their first RPG, the book assumes it isn't and directs them to some places online that have that information for free. It'd only take a paragraph or two, and of course in a purely .PDF publication as C'nor says, I think it could be safely skipped.

  3. With some games you are hoping to get a good portion of the non-RPG crowd. That is true with many licenses. So not explaining it could put you at potential disadvantage.

  4. Mr. Brannan's point is important - 'new' players might be in the minority of sales, but are really significant to the hobby in total.

    Is it best to exclude the 'intro' from the rulebook, but include a sheet or pamphlet with intro/quickstart material?

  5. I don't have one in our Sorcery & Super Science! game. It's only be distributed by hobby shops, not bookstores, so I expect the audience to be familiar with rpgs. Those coming into a hobby shop who aren't familiar will be going to the big brands first, IMO.

  6. I don't know for sure... Last time I downloaded a free PDF of a retroclone, I gave it to my wife I desperately try to introduce to the hobby (my children are three and one and a half year, too young), so this kind of product still can get in the hands of neophytes...

  7. I don't think it is 'necessary', but it is important. Not only for new players (as mentioned above) that don't know what an RPG is, but also for experienced players that do know what an RPG is but would really like to know what YOU (the author) thinks an RPG is before purchasing your product.

    It really does set the context for the rest of the work...