Friday, June 10, 2011

How The Way We Consume Media Has Changed How I Read RPGs

That's got to qualify as one of the world's longest blog-post titles.  But, I couldn't think of another more succinct way to write it.

I was thinking yesterday while driving my daughter home after her picking her up from daycare about how my media consumption habits have changed over the past half-decade or so.  We were listening to my iPod, specifically my "Top Rated" smart playlist, which I had on shuffle.  I've rated every one of my 9000+ songs on iTunes on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, and then built a smart playlist which automatically adds any 4-star or 5-star rated songs to the list, regardless of genre.  Unless I'm in a particular mood to listen to a specific genre of music [I should interject that I'm an overly obsessive Virgo, so I've created my own genres in iTunes that get pretty specific, such as "Brazilian", "Swing", "Movie Scores", "Classic Rock", "Christmas Jazz Vocal"... you get the idea], then chances are I'm just listening to my Top Rated playlist. 

What this means is that I almost never listen to full albums any more.  I'm sure most of you are the same.  When is the last time you actually bought an entire album?  I still collect older albums, like classic jazz albums and stuff, but if there's a new song I like that I hear on Pandora or on, then most likely I'll just buy the individual track and let it go at that.  In the olden days, you'd have to buy the entire album just to get one song that you liked, but I'd often end up liking other songs on the album even better than the track for which I bought the album in the first place.  In our modern society with less free time than ever, though, I pretty much never give new artists a chance.  I buy the hit track and then move on.  And listening to a full album, straight through?  I try to force myself to do it once in a while, but it's a rare occurrence any more.

How is this related to RPGs, you ask?  Well, the thing is, I realized that I pretty much never read RPGs straight through any more.  I skim them and look for "what's different?", which is really another way of me asking myself, "Is there anything I can steal for my current game?" 

Al over at Beyond the Black Gate and Rob at Bat in the Attic started to address this a little in their own way earlier today.  They ask the question, "Do I need another form of D&D?", specifically related to them talking about their opinions on the darling topic of the OSR this week, Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG. 

I downloaded the free Beta playtest version and briefly looked through it, but I didn't really read it.  I already have a few systems I'm using (Pathfinder for my main game, and OSRIC if I get the urge to run that, as well as playing in a Savage Worlds game), so do I need another system?  No, I don't.  But, I can always use ideas for my current games. 

I'm intrigued by DCC's spellcaster check and the resulting tables showing how the check affects the power of the spells being cast.  I kind of like the idea of the Luck stat, and how it applies differently to thieves and halflings than it does to everyone else.  But, that's the thing... I've only actually read those two sections all the way through so far.  I haven't read the rest of the playtest version. 

I'm treating it like my "Top Rated Tracks" in iTunes, which is, I find, how I pretty much read any RPG book these days.  And, as I thought about it, I realized that I've pretty much done that since I started in the hobby.  Somebody taught me how to play D&D before I ever got the rulebooks, so when I finally did get my Moldvay Basic Set, and then later on my own copy of the 1st Edition Player's Handbook, I only read the sections that I thought I didn't already know about, as well as the sections that really interested me.

This means, for example, that I never really read the combat sections in the Player's Handbook or in the Basic Set, because I "already knew" how to run combat (based on what my friends had taught me, which I found out years later was wrong, or at least "incomplete").  Years later, when I acquired the OD&D White Box set, I didn't read the description of the character classes, because I'd "already read them" in my other books.  I also haven't read the spell descriptions for pretty much any iteration of the game, because reading page after page of them is, to me, really boring.  I've cursorily glanced over them, and only really read them in detail when designing a spellcaster as a player or as an NPC.  That means, of course, that my spellcasters are always woefully under-powered versus what they should be, but I'm okay with that.  It's the price I pay because I would rate the "Spell Section" of any RPG as maybe a 3-Star - Average, but not something that I want to read every time.

I also find that as I go back all these years later to look at my old games, I tend to just re-read the same sections over and over, because those are the sections that I loved as a kid, and the ones that got me so into the game.  That means, for example, that I'll always re-read the section at the back of Greyhawk: Supplement I on "Monster Tricks and Combinations" - that one page alone fired my imagination all those years ago, and continues to do so all these years later.  I always catch an entry that I'd forgotten about. But, I pretty much ignore the sections on adding Paladins and Thieves to the game.  I probably looked over them once, but I don't need to read those again. 

So, what's my point in all this?  It's really just that, in the end, I think I'm agreeing with Rob and Al.  I don't need another set of rules for a new game.  What I need are ideas - things that are new and different.  By that, I don't mean a new combat system or a new spell point system or whatever.  I know where to find those if I want them.  I want new ways to use my existing rules and tweak them to create the exact game that I want.  That's part of the reason why I like reading about new classes (because it stretches my imagination to try to figure out how I could incorporate it into my campaign, so it becomes part of the world-building process), and also new campaign settings (specifically, how they have tweaked the existing rules to fit a particular theme). 

So, based on the way I read RPGs, I think there are some things in DCC that I would love to use. Is that enough to make me shell out money for the book once it comes out?  I'm not so sure. 

What about you all?  Do you read your RPGs as a "greatest hits" album, only picking-and-choosing the parts that interest you, or do you actually sit down and read the entire thing straight through, cover-to-cover?  I have my guesses, but I'd love to hear what you say.


  1. Good points - I think I do the same thing, especially since I mostly look at OSR material, which tends to draw from the same well.

  2. A bit of both for me, I think. If there are enough good ideas in a game, I might adopt it in its entirety, but if there are only one or two, I'll just take those two and use them elsewhere.

    All of which is hypothetical, as I don't read or play enough rpgs nowadays for me to do much in the way of mixing and matching.

  3. Good post! I have to say that I didn't really read DCC beta that deeply either, because of time limitations. But when I made my return to gaming over the last couple of years, I did buy and read a couple RFPs in detail: Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Castles & Crusades (PHB). I may have retained a broad understanding of how D&D rules work, but I had been away so long that I needed a refresher. And more importantly, these games have some significant differences from the D&D games that inspired them. But there are definitely other games that I have skimmed over looking for ideas. DCC just might be one of them. I stated on my own blog that I won't fault anyone for making DCC their game of choice, but it's just not for me whole cloth. I think all serious gamers steal ideas from other systems.

  4. @Matt - totally agreed about "drawing from the same well."

    @kelvin - I always get the impression from reading your blog that you are doing a fair bit of gaming. More than the average gamer, I would venture to guess. From what I've seen, there are lot of old-timers my age who don't even have an active game any more - they get their gaming fix from reading and participating in blogs and message boards.

    @Drance - it's interesting that you mention having read "Lamentations" in its entirety. I've wavered back-and-forth over whether to pick that up, and I keep coming down on the side of "probably not."

    My reasoning is really this - to me, it appears on its surface to be just another OD&D or Basic D&D retro-clone. While that's not bad per se, it's just not what I'm looking for. I remember when James Maliszewski did his original review of the product and I asked in the comments "what makes it WEIRD? What is new and different here, not necessarily mechanically, but thematically, with tips and advice on how to run a 'weird' fantasy RPG?" The vague answers I got from the other posters led me to believe that there really wasn't much in there along those lines other than the title and the art. I can tell that Raggi was inspired by the source material, but from everything I've seen, I'm just not sure how that made its way into the game other than maybe some of the spell descriptions.

    It was really my thinking over and over about buying Lamentations that was the inspiration for this post. Not being able to flip through it in a store, I can't tell if it would have the type of thing I'm looking for, and it's just not worth the gamble for me.

    And... totally agreed that all serious gamers steal ideas from other systems, especially the older they get, I think.

  5. I'm afraid it's so true, that we don't read the whole thing - if we think we know what's there.
    I don't.

    But then again, maybe that's good. It saves a lot of hassle and time :-)

    Except that we miss the NEW things if they're hidden. Hmm.


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