Thursday, September 13, 2007

The RPG Bookshelf Syndrome

Lately I've been pondering the nature of tabletop RPGs and its relation to books. On one hand, it's a game. On another, it's a book. Perhaps nothing best illustrates this better than what I call the RPG Bookshelf Syndrome. The premise is simple: you buy a RPG book, you read it, and then it goes to your bookshelf. For one reason or another, you don't use the book in your game. Veteran gamers have probably experienced this at least once in their life. (If you've actually played every single RPG book you own, consider yourself lucky. Especially if you're a GM and not a player.)

The gamer in me mourns whenever this syndrome occurs. A friend several years ago told me that was planning on getting d20 Modern. I was enthusiastic, especially since prior to his announcement, I didn't even know he was into tabletop RPGs. When I asked if he had fellow players, it was in the negative. He then told me that he's bought several RPG books prior to this such as the various White Wolf books and he loved to read it for flavor, even if he'll never play or run a game in his life. Again, the gamer in me sees this event as a tragedy. But these days, I'm thinking maybe this phenomenon is legitimate, that it's not as bad as it sounds.

Tabletop RPGs after all are books. Whether you're reading it for fluff (flavor) or snuff (game mechanics), it's still an interesting read. I mean on the side of flavor, you have fictional histories (does that make something like The Grand History of the Realms non-fiction fiction?), anthropological write-ups, and even short stories. I'm not a big fan of something like Tolkien's Simarillion but hey, some people found it an interesting read. World-building is actually encouraged in RPG books. As for game mechanics, some people might scoff at the idea of drawing inspiration from them but then again, there are people who are interested in math, in game design, and in game development. Game rules in many ways support the story a tabletop RPG has to tell. Reading game mechanics might not be for everyone but there's a gamer out there who was inspired thanks to a rule variant from Unearthed Arcana for example.

I honestly think it's the greatest if every person got to use a RPG they book in their game. But failing that, merely resorting to use it as reading material perhaps isn't so bad. At the end of the day, it's still a book after all.

1 comment:

Daniel M. Perez said...

I once fretted a lot over this phenomenon, but I embraced it and learned to love the bomb, so to speak. Over the years I've come to understand that there are two aspects to being a Gamer, and while they can go hand-in-hand, they can also exist separately: these are the hobby of collecting games, and the hobby of playing games. The sales of hobby games would be dismal, I mean close-up-the-industry dismal, if people only bought games they are truly and actually going to play. It's really because of the collecting part of the hobby we can have an industry. And yes, as long as you have them, read them, because you can get so much inspiration from them, and pretty much for everything, from world-building to adventure writing, to even fiction and sometimes non-fiction.

And The Grand History of the Realms rocks! As far as I'm concerned, it is THE best book to come out of WotC in 2007.