A couple days ago I picked up Running Wild, the critter sourcebook for Shadowrun 4e. It’s a pretty cool looking book with some fun concepts. Overall, though, I’m left with the feeling that this would have been even cooler to have this book come out four or five years ago when the game was still relatively new and I was still playing it.
This is becoming a recurring pet peeve for me. I had a similar, and perhaps stronger, frustration when the Runners Companion and Unwired came out. They both represented core books that really would have been nice to have when they released all the other core books.
I’ve had a similar frustration with Exalted of late, in which they have been producing 2nd edition books for nearly four years now. I’ve started and ended four different campaigns over that course and gotten burnt out on the game. And they still aren’t done with their originally conceived set of books. They did a good job of getting most of the core stuff out early, but some of their release schedule choices kinda drive me nuts.
And, good god, just the sheer volume of books is staggering. Towards the end of the last game, we ended up playing at an apartment that had a bit more room and 100% less cats. Packing up the basic books I wanted to have on hand when running my last Exalted game was nightmarish. It was really more books than I could carry. That’s just dumb. The obvious answer is, “Well, you could just buy PDFs and open them on your laptop.” But that has it’s limitations: PDF adaptations of graphics-heavy sourcebooks are big and hard to navigate through. I tried it with Shadowrun. The main thing they did was periodically crash my laptop.
Overall this touches on a larger problem of roleplaying games. As businesses, they need to ensure that people are still buying their product. Which means putting out products on successful game lines in such a way that you will still want to buy stuff down the road. And it seems like a lot of that is taking one thing that’s popular and pouring a whole lot of books down into it.
In the end, I feel kinda suckered. There’s… what? 25-30 game books that have been put out for Exalted? I own every single damn one. At $25-30 a pop, that’s well over $600, possibly pushing $700. For a game that involves so many books I can’t even reasonably carry them if I run at someone else’s house. And I’ve pretty much played it to the point that I’m tired of it.
It’s like an abusive relationship. I’m saddened not only that game companies market their books in such a way that it becomes prohibitive to play, but also because we let it flourish. (Yes, I know, most of these games you aren’t required to buy their books. But there’s a perceived need to have these books. Because if only one type of character has a book of special rules for their character, then everyone else feels left out. And then you buy more books, and then there are more books that people think they need to play….) And yet it’s these shenanigans that companies pull to try and keep your money coming in. Comic book companies are just as bad. My comic book buying habits have changed significantly after the last few years of “major story lines.”
I’ve come to appreciate Scion a lot. Five books and there will be nothing more. And the five books provide plenty of tools to play the game. And, crap, I like the rules for Scion more than Exalted. It seems so pleasant in comparison to a meandering series of splat books that the game makes you think you need to play, or having to wait a few years for everyone in your group to have their special, sparklypoo splatbooks. (My favorite was really when I decided to run a Dragon-Blooded game, and Manual of Exalted Power: Dragon-Blooded was out of print.)
It seems like there has to be a better solution. I’m not to the point where I’m with the guy who wrote the article suggesting that game rules will be replaced with smartphone apps that cover all the game mechanics. But oh… I’m damn close. D&D seems to be the only game that seems to be working to do something new. While I’m getting a little annoyed with the sprawling mass of game books they are coming out with (Player’s Handbook 3? Really?), especially since that same volume of books scared me off of the game to begin with. But beyond that they have their whole D&D Insider, which has all of their rules available online with a searchable database for a monthly subscription fee. While I can’t say that I’m entirely jazzed about using Web apps for it, I think the subscription model at least shows more forward thinking than, “We put out PDFs of the books we have available in print and have a Web site we can’t be bothered to use to keep customers informed of upcoming releases.” Which in turn is light years beyond, “We don’t do PDFs because we don’t trust them. The technology just isn’t safe enough for our tastes.”
The other angle seems to be the games that stand well by themselves, with maybe just 1-3 books. There are a few put out by larger companies (and at least two of which I flat out refuse to play). Most of the rest seem to fall into the “indy game” camp, put out by people who do this for fun on the side. For all the challenges I had with it the first time I tried playing it, Spirit of the Century really impressed me with how you can have a fairly robust game with a simple and elegant ruleset. I’d like to see more games out there like SotC.
Now, after this huge rant, will this stop me from playing D&D? No, not really. Will I still buy Player’s Handbook 3 when it comes out? Probably. Will I be pissed off with they put out Player’s Handbook 4? (“Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”) Yeah…
Just no pleasing some people, I guess.