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before the D&D starter set comes out #7 “no way to run a railroad”

May 18, 2014

Previously: first post, second post, third post, fourth post, fifth post, sixth post,


I “asked-Ken-and-Robin” and, in episode 87 of the “Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff” podcast, they answered. Here’s my question:

“Why aren’t rulebooks organised for newcomers to roleplaying? If you haven’t played before, the standard structure with character creation first and GM advice way in the back, doesn’t help to learn how.”

It was interesting to hear their comments regarding common assumptions in the industry to do with the path to roleplaying – how players are brought into the game:

Robin said that as a whole, the industry assumption has always been that players usually learn roleplaying from someone else – that person being the one person in the area who had managed somehow to work out how to do it from reading the rulebook/s.

“You would learn from the “patient-zero” of roleplaying games.”

The other path was through local gamestores where the staff would point potential players in the right direction, offer some advice on how to play and perhaps direct them to a bulletin board of gaming groups looking for players in the area.

So, for the publishers, if it was true that learning to play mostly happened via some kind of neighbourhood uber-nerd, staff at the local gamestore or by joining a current gaming group, there was little reason to include the necessary 10-20,000 word explanation of how to play the game in any of the rulebooks. The books could be better filled with more mechanics or more setting information.

I can’t help thinking there’s some kind of mad circular reasoning going on here. There’s no point in making our rulebooks more comprehensible as most people learn the game from the small amount of people who manage to understand the rulebooks as they are. And if any player can’t find someone to teach them the rules, there’s always the staff at the local gamestore to help.

Regardless of them being true or not, neither assumption seems a sensible business model. Each avenue to gaming rests on factors outside the control of the publisher – the finite resources of the helpful gamestore owner and the friendly neighbourhood uber-nerd.

But of course the fact that the hobby is stall around is a testament that these business practices have worked. I do wonder how much bigger the hobby would have got if some effort had been made to write a decent “how-to” section in their books – to rely on the product itself to spread the game.


Next time: Where do Ken and Robin think this leaves the industry now?

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