A Plea to Role-Playing Game Publishers: 4 Things All Games Need on the First Day of Publication

Role-playing games are my hobby of choice and I deeply respect anyone that manages to get one published. That said, I think many publishers overlook some critical game components when releasing new games. These are items that often make the difference between a game that gets played and one that sits on my shelf and I want them the very first day the game hits the stores. My list is not comprehensive by any means, but these are the items that  rank high on my “must have” list.

1. 100 monsters

Many games come with some monsters in the base book, though there are many with no monsters at all in the base book. In either case, I want enough monsters to run a campaign right out of the gate and my bare minimum is 100. Graphics are not even a priority for me. I happily accept bare stat blocks and some basic behavior and environmental information. The idea of generating new monsters for every session is just too much work for the employed, over-30 that I am.  Any games lacking this basic feature often languish on my lowest bookshelf, until a monster supplement appears.

2. NPC Generator

Monsters are great but NPCs (based on PC classes) really give a campaign life. Do not make life hard for the GM and create some software to generate and advance NPCs in a quick and easy way. Even a macro-laden spreadsheet in Excel or Open Office works for me. A really good campaign I enjoyed went in to retirement because I did not have the time to generate endless, higher-level NPCs. The number juggling got out of hand.

3. Modules

No, I am not talking about the three-page “demo” adventure in the back of every RPG rulebook. I mean a real adventure, with a great plot, interesting NPCs and a decent campaign hook at the end. Assuming your game uses a totally new system, there is a learning curve, sometime steep for new GMs and players. Producing a great entry-level  module is sure to win friends and influence gamers to buy and play your game. Some rules usage examples and footnotes are also very appreciated in a first module.   I know many people prefer to write their own, but even they might cannibalize ideas and encounters from your ready-made module.

4. Errata Tracking

No matter how hard you try, all games have bugs. Even mighty “Wizards of the Coast” released 4th edition with a skill challenge system that did not work at higher levels. Accept that you will fail occasionally and implement a system to handle the issues. Deploy a wiki, ticketing or version tracking system just like a software developer on the day of release. Mention the location of the errata system in the book. Direct all questions towards your system and make it the only place for official rule errata. Integrate all rulings into later products and printings. Keep it organized and readily available to your customers.

A personal request from me, do not use forums for errata tracking. Publishing rules errata in a forum is like burying a dog’s bone under 20 metric tons of sand and expecting him to dig for it. Forums are for flame wars and plot discussion, not errata.

Here ends my rant. If you have any other suggestions for overlooked items every RPG needs, I would love to hear about them.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

7 thoughts on “A Plea to Role-Playing Game Publishers: 4 Things All Games Need on the First Day of Publication

  • July 12, 2010 at 1:10 am
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    I’m not so sure about this at all. A hundred monsters? I have a thousands for D&D in six different monster source books and I’ve never, in sixty plus game sessions that I’ve run, ever come close to running a hundred of them. I would put the number that I’ve actually used closer to thirty.

    Also, I’m trying out Seven Leagues at the moment and that is very minimal, a sort of less is more approach, and (certainly for that game at least) it seems to me to be perhaps the better option. That way, I can come up with my own monsters if I need some more.

  • July 12, 2010 at 7:54 am
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    Ouch! Glad I’m not a publisher. That’s quite a list – do you really want modules on the first day of the game’s release? What about testing the market to see if there is demand? It means publishers not only have to stump up the cash for the first print run; they need to wager on the success of (at least) two print runs.

    Are you sure about the monsters? I see your logic in a battle heavy D&D or LoTR type world… but what about a low fantasy, noir, human-led sci-fi or historical RPG? I mean; a Conan RPG with 100 monsters? A Battlestar RPG with 100 different Cylon types?

    Mind you; I’m wrapping my own concerns about this – and that’s not fair. You’re just spelling out what you’d need and I guess our needs vary from gamer to gamer. Good post!

  • July 12, 2010 at 10:48 am
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    I understand what you’re getting at, but this reads more like a list of things necessary for D&D clones (or at least relatively high-crunch games with lots of combat) rather than all RPGs. Depending on the particular game any of 1 through 3 can become unnecessary or even incoherent.

    OTOH I do think where it’s applicable, more RPGs need to have good scenarios/modules.

  • July 12, 2010 at 3:20 pm
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    Right, because all games have monsters in them. Also they’re all oriented around pre-prepped material.

  • July 12, 2010 at 4:12 pm
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    Perhaps I need to clarify my first point. Monsters can just as easily be NPCs and there are very few games that do not use NPCs, even when they are non-combat games. The PCs need someone to interact with other than themselves.

    As to the argument these requirements may be overkill for some games, I argue that there are just as many games that desperately need them.

    I generalized, which means, by definition, there will be exceptions.

    Trask

  • July 12, 2010 at 4:13 pm
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    5. Downloadable character sheets.

  • July 21, 2010 at 4:55 am
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    Thanks for the clear guide lines. publishers should always listen, and then hopefully find even better ways of meeting the demands of the audience.

    I think what your driving at is something very key to why so few people play rpgs. RPG’s take too much work and these suggestions are all aimed at reducing the workload. A very worthy goal and one I hope to reach.

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