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Minimalism vs. Half-booty

Started by Dav, May 07, 2001, 10:27:00 PM

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A brief open question:

Sorcerer, as well as other games, have proven that a core concept as well as good, efficient mechanics can present a saleable item.  No setting.  Or more precisely, no universal setting.

Other games (dare I say White Wolf?) have proven that setting alone can push a product, and howdy (despite any personal opinions, they do sell).  

Ron and I have discussed the "book" vs. the "RPG" phenomenon (meaning that WW sells books, others sell RPGs, in brief).  

My question is as follows:  

What combination is necessary for a saleable item in terms of the RPG world (that is not a supplement)?  What is "value-added"?  Let's narrow down to the basics here, at what point do you have a game, and when is it "commercial ready"?

Just some thoughts anyway.  I wanted to know how everyone felt.  Upon consideration, this may be better directed toward the "Publishing" forum, and if so, I apologize for my lack of filing ability in advance.

Dav Harnish


 I think that the elements of an RPG are distinctly separable; an ideal RPG will have a well thought-out setting and system both (as well as a host of other things), but in
terms of development there's no particular need to start with one or the other.

For instance, Edwards seems to have started with a specialized system, and people are tacking settings onto it. In many other circumstances, people start with a setting, and players use their favorite system for it (witness how many old games have been adapted to GURPS.)

While I think that it's preferable to have both, I don't see any justification for thinking one preferable to the other.

For instance, in responding to some questions about it, Poppocabba posted the system we'd been using for Schismatic in an earlier post.

I suspect that what I'm about to say will make some people scream and crawl up the walls, but ....

I'd sort of thought of it as a placeholder system; a system that would allow us to see how the setting worked in play, without having to go to all the trouble to make up a system that actually matched the setting well.

(I'm also in the camp that system makes a big difference to the feel of a game. But more commonly I start from setting.)

- James West

[ This Message was edited by: james_west on 2001-05-08 03:35 ]

Ron Edwards

Hey guys,

One does not HAVE to distribute a book via the bookstore, distributor-retailer process, but for purposes of this discussion, I'll take it as a given that we're talking about that very thing. (So pure grassroots isn't the topic at hand.)

The first thing to overcome when considering Dav's question is the default notion that "more is better." This point of view is fomented and reinforced by those who benefit from large, expensive rulebooks with high profit margins.

The second notion to discard is that publishing an RPG means getting "accepted" by a publisher - as if you have to APPLY to get the thing published. Nothing could be further from the truth - all it takes is money and a phone.

What then is minimal? Several harsh realities intrude, because the distributor-retailer process is not going away. Its priorities, to some extent, MUST be considered if you're aiming at national distribution. However, I'm all about functional compromises with them rather than simply knuckling under.

1) A good, striking, colored cover graphic, with an actual picture being best.

2) Excellent interior layout and design. I don't know how many RPGs have great covers and then look like utter crap in the inside - a cover might draw attention, but it's that moment of looking at the inside when most customers wrinkle their faces and put the book back on the shelf.

3) Real quality in binding and printing - the pages shouldn't fall out, the pictures shouldn't be fuzzy, the printing shouldn't be tilted, etc. The whole thing should have a definite look & feel: whether cute/compact like Story Engine, or solid-coffee-table like D&D3E, or bookshelf-y like Sorcerer is about to be.

4) As for minimal content of the game itself, well, I culled the following from an old post of mine on GO ...
OK, when do we call ... SOMETHING ... a role-playing game? "Hey," says Bob. "I've got this role-playing game called 'Ignatz.'" What do I expect to see that Bob is holding out, or referring to?

Here's MY response: I expect to see an object in any kind of medium (CD, book, a computer file, a coffee-stained spiral notebook, anything) that I, without the game author, can take and use to play. It has to give me what I need to play Ignatz with other people.

So a big ol' hardcover book in the store that does NOT include "crucial GM information" is not an RPG to me, even if it's billed and sold as such. Whereas the six or seven pages of text file represented by Ghost Light, at present, is definitely an RPG to me. It has to be usable. It has to be do-able, without the game author standing there or without the "other book out next year." (Yes, an RPG can be two or more books. They just have to be available, to fit my preferred definition.)

Now before the usual band of definition-police swings into action, I want to distinguish my RESPONSE, above, from my ACTUAL CLAIM. The above is what I "feel" and thus has no validity in this or any discussion. What I think, and therefore claim, is that there exists a huge plurality about this issue.

Some of that plurality is easily understood in terms of utility:
- the distributor: it's not an RPG unless I can order a box of it.
- the retailer: it's not an RPG unless my distributor has it.
- the publisher: it's not an RPG unless I can market it to the above people.
- the customer in a store: it's not an RPG unless I can see it on the shelf.
- me, as expressed above: it's not an RPG unless I can (try to) play it.

Other elements of that plurality are vaguer and more individual, and I bet we'll see some examples on this thread soon enough. So add this one:
- whoever: whatever combination of system/setting/scenario they think is minimal

But my claim - what Ron thinks - is that there IS a plurality, and it's not going to be a resolvable one, and in fact, there's no need for any such resolution. I'm interested in learning more about it though.

Hope that made some sense and helped out some.




Thanks for the comments/thoughts.  However, I was not necessarily leaning toward "traditional" distribution.  I'm asking at what point (even .PDF, .TXT, whatever) do you have a product on your hands that is saleable to the public (not necessarily to the entire industry).  When do you have something fit for reviewing, playing, reading, etc.?

I've seen a lot of threads about this topic, and I've heard many opinions, I was just trying to get some concensus on the theory of what makes games work vs. not work.  For instance, cool covers are 100% important to a nationally and traditionally distributed game, however, in .PDF, or "grassroots" (a term I have some problems with anyway) publishing, the cover becomes less important.  Why?  Are we not just as interested in image when we look at a 'puter?  Not that I disagree with you about the cover, but I am wondering where we draw the line to "gawdawful importance" vs. "if you want to".


[ This Message was edited by: Dav on 2001-05-08 16:48 ]


In that case, Edwards' reply that an RPG is something that's playable is probably the bottom line.

                 - James