What’s with the giant books these days? I just plunked my money down to pre-order Warhammer Fantasy RGP 4th Edition, whose description includes “320 pages, hard cover, full colour”. This seems to be a trend in RPGs now. Gone are the saddle-stitched books. Gone are the half-sized booklets. It seems every RPG product published today must be a giant monstrosity wrapped in a glossy full color or faux-leather embossed cover. I’m looking at you Goodman Games.
Is it simply that production costs for books like these have dropped? Or has the ease of digital distribution made publishers think they must offer more and more glorious works of art to sell a physical copy? Perhaps digital publishing has made editors more lax in keeping things concise, for what’s another dozen pages but a scant few hundred kilobytes of extra download?
Don’t get me wrong, as a hobbyist bookbinder I really do appreciate how gorgeous these books are. But forget about popping one in your bag for some light reading – there’s nothing light about these books. So get the digital copy for your digital reader of choice, right? In fact I do that as well, but for books I really enjoy I often end up buying both anyway. The digital reader is fine for casual consumption in bed or on a plane, but as a reference with a lot of jumping back and forth I’d rather have physical pages. Heck, even sitting on the sofa I think I’d prefer physical pages to a screen, provided the weight of the thing isn’t going to put my legs to sleep.
The ergonomics of the thing aside, the fact is that I don’t really have the patience for a 300+ page RPG rulebook anymore. I want games that are light and fast. I want rules that are so succinct that I can memorize them and not really need the book anymore. As mentioned in my Advice for a New DM post, pacing is king, and a quick on-the-fly ruling is always preferable to time spent flipping through rules. When I’m running OD&D or Savage Worlds I have the book with me, but the chances that I actually crack it open at the table are extremely small.
And of course with increased page count comes increased rule complexity, and now we’re starting to see a reliance on computers to organize all the details for us. DCC has The Crawler (I have yet to see a game of DCC where the spell caster doesn’t have this running), and 5th edition D&D now has D&D Beyond. As a software developer I can totally appreciate the elegance of these creations, they definitely solve the organization problem with style. In the case of D&D Beyond, it’s a huge leap from the awful CD included in the back of the 3rd edition player’s handbook. Still, I can’t help but bemoan the need to solve these problems at all. What happened to the days of needing little more than a few pages of text and a fistful of dice?
Now that I think about it, when the indie RPG scene emerged it did favor small elegant prints. I’m thinking of games like The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, Fiasco, Cat, or Primetime Adventures. But indie games are not immune to the problems of page bloat. I just noticed that Dungeon World clocks in at 404 pages. So is it just a temporal trend? Are giant page count books to 2010’s RPGs as giant pants were to 1990’s fashion?
I have no answers to give here, only more questions. I just hope that the 320 pages of 4th edition WFRPG are captivating enough to let me give the game a real chance.