Tuesday, December 15, 2009

64-Page Limit

One of the old school projects I'm most looking forward to seeing completed is JB's B/X Companion, an attempt to create the mythical third volume to the Moldvay-Cook-Marsh D&D rules, based on hints in the books we do have and healthy doses of imagination. As a younger person, I remember anxiously waiting for the release of that volume and was greatly disappointed we never saw it. Granted, we did, eventually, get a Companion set -- I even liked it -- but it wasn't quite the fulfillment of my earlier dreams and so I still long for a Companion that's more in the spirit of the B/X rules rather than the later ones.

What especially impresses me about JB's project is that he's keeping a 64-page limit on his work. To me, a relatively low pagecount is essential if your goal is to imitate the style of the early 80s. Indeed, I'm slowly coming round to the notion that one of the oft-overlooked aspects of old school design is page length. With the noteworthy exception of AD&D, whose position is problematic on a number of levels, most rules sets from the Golden Age are quite compact and concise. Not all of them are under 64 pages, it's true -- and in any case I don't want to be misconstrued as saying "anything over 64 pages in length isn't old school" -- but I do think that short and sweet is a defining characteristic of the Old Ways. It's why I continue to insist that there are "structural" aspects to old school design, contrary to the "old school is a feeling" crowd.

In any case, I very much look forward to seeing the B/X Companion finished and released. JB's decisions will undoubtedly be different than my own would have been, but I do think he's on the right track in trying to keep the rules short enough to fit within 64 pages. That's a design principle I'd love to see more RPGs of all sorts emulate.

9 comments:

  1. So, does that mean those who want to demonstrate you can build an old school d20/D&D3 can be an old school game have a goal: 64 pages that let you run a level 1-3 game, 64 pages that let you run a level 4-10 game, and 64 pages that let you run levels 11-20 :)

    As much as I'm joking, that might not be a bad idea. Although I suspect that alone won't address all the structural issues, especially the "can do this" vs. "is good at this" attitude towards abilities.

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  2. What about Barrataria's companion? It runs a little longer than your specifications, but otherwise it appears to fit the bill.

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  3. "So, does that mean those who want to demonstrate you can build an old school d20/D&D3 can be an old school game have a goal: 64 pages that let you run a level 1-3 game, 64 pages that let you run a level 4-10 game, and 64 pages that let you run levels 11-20 :)"

    That, plus making NPC's possible to fully stat up in about a minute, and be expressible in about 3 lines of text.

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  4. Nah I'd go further, Herb, and say limit 64 pages for levels one to infinity, if having levels is your bag.

    In my rules for rules at least a half or two thirds of those 64 would be devoted to equipment, monsters/races, spells/powers etc : )

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  5. Epées & Sorcellerie is exactly 64 pages, including the cover ;)

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  6. I think it'd be fair to aim for a 64 page word count, given the benefits of being concise, though I wouldn't aim to publish at exactly that page count, considering differences in layout style and page size.

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  7. The new Dragon Age boxed set returns to this format. It has a 64 page player's book and a 64 page gamemaster's guide.

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  8. I am absolutely convinced old school design is about structure, not feeling.

    1) Parallel sub-systems that work in tandem.

    2) Target numbers essentially defined by the character's stats, not the gamemaster.

    3) An economy of words.

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  9. "Economy of words..."

    Working on it, believe you me.
    ; )

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