Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Polotics of Boxing Up Games

Well, with our broken shelf, we are down to just three shelves to store gaming books instead of four. Instead of buying a new shelf, we took the easy route and got a set of cardboard 'bankers' boxes to store games we rarely use, and those are going into storage. We are cutting down on the number of gaming books we have out at one time and just sticking to what we like to play.

It is a strange exercise, because in gaming culture your 'display' feels like your 'street cred' - and who doesn't want a large collection on display at one time? Now, each book is being judged on it's 'fun value' and 'usefulness' and either staying out or going in the closet (or sold if it really is of no use).

You have a pile of books on the floor and you are asking yourself that question about each one of them. It really does get your gaming priorities straight, and I am finding it to be a refreshing exercise in dealing with my tendency to hoard and collect books.

D&D 4? We still use some of this material from time to time, but not all of it - so I will probably keep the basic three books plus some of the planar guides out just for reference. The rest of the pointless, already errata'ed and now useless power card collection books are going in the closet. It is funny, after the game's online systems and errata downloads go away someday, all we will be left with are the books, so what was printed will outlast the errata.

D&D 5? We sadly don't play it enough to justify keeping it out. There is nothing really different about for us, these are the same monsters and the same worlds we have in D&D 3.5 and other versions of the game, just MMO-ized (in my feeling with those infinite-use cantrips) and with the rules streamlined. Now note I said "for us" and this doesn't mean others are having a lot of fun with the game, and they should. We kind of missed the boat on this game, and we had long-standing campaigns based on the D&D 3.5, Pathfinder, and D&D 4 material still going strong, so there was no need to switch mid-stream (and it would have been disruptive, a lot of change just for the set of rules, and we went through that in the D&D 2 to D&D 3 shift).

Pathfinder? Here is where it gets interesting. Do I keep out just the basic three books? The world guide is staying out, just for reference. I am not seeing a great value to some of the class add-on books, and I have this sneaking suspicion we may have more fun with the game the less we have out for it. I can still pull an oddball book out if I need it, like a monster book, but if the world were just 'the basic three' would we play it more? There is an argument that the books past the first three are what makes the world unique and special, but it will be interesting to see if the first three books can sustain the game (for us) or will those just sit there like orphans wanting the rest of their shelf-mates.

This will be the test, I suppose, for Pathfinder for our group. If not, I am feeling the basic three books will go in the box and we will just keep the world guide out. At that point, we will be looking for a new set of rules to play in that world. There mechanically is some fun to the rules, the question is for us, are we that interested in all that fiddly mechanical character build stuff to sustain interest? With less books, there are less build and less reasons, so there may be a benefit to identifying the core supporting books and keeping those out. We shall see.

The retro-clones such as Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy? Of course those are staying out, even if we don't use them all the time. There is very little cost to keeping a single 'all in one' book out on the shelf, and these books are actually inspiring and fun packages of gaming goodness. For us, 'big system games' are a tough sell, even if it is just the 'traditional three' books of the player's guide, monster book, and referee's guide. For us, something that is just a hundred or so pages and contains everything needed to play will beat out three-volume sets that clock in at around a thousand total pages.

There is a value with less is more, and would I play a D&D 5 type game that was more of a one-book solution of around 100-200 pages? Yes. I doubt they could do that since the game really feels like it evolved into a big box affair where more is more, more spells, more monsters, more magic items, and more of everything is more - even referee's advice and art. More is more is fun and gives value, but there is a point when my shelf collapses and the game becomes too big to play. Even at three books with near a thousand pages, I am feeling a smaller one-book game still has more play value.

But then again Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy fill that niche of the single-book, compact and fun game - but I would like to see the big publishers try. They would probably have to fundamentally change the structure of the game and not do a 'cut down levels 1-5 only with 20% content' sort of thing, but make a complete game within that limitation. They tried with D&D 4's Essentials line, but I feel that fell short since those were not self-contained books - and you still needed the original books for a lot of stuff.

It is the "tablet versus PC" thing I feel, and the big-box games (at least for us) feel bloated and heavy - especially when you start adding books. Something small, single-book, less than 200 pages, and all-in-one feels more playable than a three volume collection of 800-1000 pages where everything is handled and everything is given in maximum detail. At least for us - and for some groups that love the complexity do better with the big-box games (since there is more to enjoy). Again "tablet versus PC" comes up, for hardcore gamers - PC all the way with upgrades and swappable parts. For casual users, less is more, and a tablet will do the job for most computing tasks. Right now I am feeling less is more for our group, and we would actually play more if we focused on lighter-weight games.