On Brevity

As a long-winded nerd, there exists the desire to make a blog post titled “On Brevity” into a long, and very in-depth, examination of word counts and page counts versus enjoyment. Honestly, as a sarcastic nerd, the urge is even stronger, because that sort of irony is amusing. But I will resist both to present some very brief thoughts on game books which I hope inspire further conversations on the topic.

  1. Time: As I grow older and busier and struggle to eke out tiny corners of free time to read and enjoy and play games between endless work hours, I realize the time investment required of many game books can be an almost insurmountable blockade.
  2. Filler: With too many “corporate” role-playing games, I find myself mindlessly flipping pages filled with words – many of which could’ve been boiled down to charts or pictures or something – which I do not need, enjoy, or retain. There often seems to be an implicit page number target they’re striving to meet to justify the hardcover or to achieve legitimacy or something. It’s flagrantly wasteful on many counts.
  3. Enjoyment: There seems to be an almost perverse inversion of how much I find myself enjoying $1-10 (underpriced) short booklet games like Mothership/Dead Planet, Into the Odd, Offworlders, In the Light of a Ghost Star, Knave, etc. – hell, even Moldvay and Cook’s TSR-era Basic and Expert Dungeons & Dragons rules are merely two thin booklets which gave me everything I need to generate decades of fun. I’ve gotten more joy from $3 worth of Knave than I’ve gotten from the last 5th Edition hardcover I purchased.
  4. Artistry: The hardcover often has one advantage, in that it has large letter-sized pages dedicated to splash art. Is this to fill that invisible page count demand? Probably. But the decor is appreciated. Unfortunately there’s a tendency for these corporate books to use (with all apologies to the skilled artists involved who work within style guides and specs) bland and over-produced concept art that doesnt entice my imagination in the slightest.

When I pick up a short booklet or zine I find myself excited, cover to cover, with what I am learning, the possibilities for the table, and the way they often challenge layout and design limitations. When I pick up a big hardcover I find my excitement begins to wane the minute I start reading a page of paragraphs that should’ve been four strictly-edited lines. When I see a small booklet like any of the Hill Cantons books get to the point and make the adventure readily available versus something like the recent Avernus adventure, I recognize immediately how much one purchase is rewarding me over the other.

And it’s not just Wizards of the Coast, either. They’re an easy reference for all of us, since they’re the biggest and most noticeable target, but they do a difficult job curating the most popular role-playing game of all time and trying to navigate ever-changing markets the best they can. I think they’re doing a great job. I play Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and I enjoy it. More to my point, many other large darling companies have also dumped brevity off a cliff, but are less universal a reference point to point to in discussions like this. Monte Cook Games, Chaosium, Paizo; each of these, and many others besides, release unnecessarily inflated books. But at least some of those companies are trying other things and experimenting with special editions and kits and bizarre luxury box sets and other boundary-pushing ideas, even if their game books often suffer from the same bloat-by-committee design. Too many ideas, not enough editing; pay-by-word; a misplaced ideal of marketability and legitimacy to justify hardcovers and hardcover prices.

I believe this is a symptom of the messy business of role-playing games, which has decades of missteps and misconceptions and bad practices informing every move for both the buyers and the producers. I believe many books in our hobby can be shorter and better; I believe they can be priced higher or carry the hardcover prestige nonetheless.

I value brevity in my role-playing game books.

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