Tuesday, June 2, 2009

64 Pages of Fun

Leaving aside AD&D itself, which is kind of a special case, I'm trying to remember the first roleplaying game rulebook I ever saw that was longer than 64 full-size pages. I'm hard pressed to remember what it was. Most of TSR's games up through the early 80s were all 64 pages or less in length, some significantly so. I was positively shocked recently when I went back and checked the length of Gamma World's first edition -- 45 pages, if you exclude all the perforated reference pages at the back of the book. If you expand the page count a little further to 96 pages, I think that covers even more.

Now, I know there had to be longer games back then -- Chivalry & Sorcery comes immediately to mind -- but I never played any of them. The games I preferred could have their rules all crammed into a single book I could carry around with me should I ever need to look them up (not that I did, given how simple they were). To this day, that remains my ideal, which is why I find retro-clones like Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord well-nigh perfect. They hit that sweet spot for me between compendiousness and completeness that I think is an another essential element of the old school.

How long was the first edition of Champions? I want to say that it was 64 pages or under in length too, because I know it used to be short enough that I could actually play the damned thing rather than cower in fear at its monstrous size.


  1. Excluding AD&D, the first REALLY LONG RPG book I saw was "James Bond 007" in 1983. It was 160 pages I think.

    My friends and I enjoyed looking through the 007 books, but we actually PLAYED Top Secret when we wanted that particular genre. Similarly, we also liked looking through the AD&D books, but we actually PLAYED Basic / Expert D&D.

    I also had a Call of Cthulhu boxed set around 83-84, but the booklets that came with it were shortish. I don't know if they were over or under 64 pages.

  2. I think that first edition of Champs was just a bit bigger than Gamma World (which I think was just a bit bigger than Metamorphosis Alpha). I think the only reason I was using the bigger Champs rules in the 90's was the slow growth of it's rulesbook allowed me to learn the ins and outs without cramming.

    As a teen I recall marvelling at the size of the content of C&S, so that might have been the biggest rulesbook of it's time.

  3. It was the pre-glossy era though wasn't it? They weren't selling games based upon the beauty of the books so form was all.

    I've got the Warhammer 3rd Edition hardback at home (wargames rules but the point still holds) and that has an infamous double-page spread of artwork, most of which is just stock GW artwork from box lids and the like with just one single paragraph on a spell description which is not actually the full spell description since it starts on the previous double spread and ends on the next!

    Older games tended to use tables a lot, which carry a lot of information in a relatively concise area but sadly somewhere along the line it was decided that tables scare people off and we went over to table-free rules where exactly the same data was included but in difficult-to-parse prose.

    Another important point is that not many older games carried any setting descriptions with them - and the modern mania for setting fetishism that describes it's setting in such minute detail as to ensure that there is no room for personal invention and your campaign will be exactly the same as everyone elses (the dreaded meta-plot that I spit upon from a great height) means that these are massive and indeed massively bloat the page count.

    I can remember a period in the 90s, which might not actually have gone away, where RPGs were sold as settings with a ruleset that either didn't work at all or you were expected to just use GURPS or something.

  4. I can't help you on Champions, but IIRC RuneQuest 2e (1980) was 120 pages. CoC 2e (1981) was 96 pages, but the 3e h/c version was 192 pages. Rolemaster (1e or 2e, not sure which I have here) was hundreds of pages across several booklets. Paranoia 1e (1984) was 2 rules booklets (player 24 pages, ref 64 pages). Thieves Guild 2e (1984) rules were 32 and 40 pages (character generation and ref rules). WFRP 1e hardcover (1986) was 368 pages.

    I'll have to go digging for some older systems, but every by the early '80s, rules bloat had clearly set in ;)


  5. I have a first edition of Champions; I'll check when I get home tonight and let you know. I know the second edition was 80 pages (including the 8 character sheets in the middle).

    But Empire of the Petal Throne was around 112 or so, wasn't it?

  6. And today, sometimes the high page count is marketed as something necessarily good.

  7. EPT was 114 pages long, actually, but the point stands.

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  9. But the rules of EPT were short. The setting just needed a lot of explanation because it is one of the most otherworldly game setting ever. Even humanity has a completely different way of thinking, how their very minds think, reason and react.

  10. A lot of games did and do include setting info. And that’s part of their purpose- they’re not trying to be a generic system.

    Off topic: James, I can’t view the comments on the More Than a Feeling post anymore. Is something wrong?

    verification: "bless". Nice!

  11. I've left the multi-volume, 600+ core rule game behind. (Well, I'll always have 1e... But other than that...)

    If you can't give me your rules in 120 or fewer pages, you've got too much stuff in there.

    The density of the original boxed set or the '81 Basic plus Expert rules is perfect for me.

    I picked up Lords of Creation from my FLGS this weekend. Two 64 page books. One with rules, advice, and setting suggestions. The other with around 450 monsters and npcs. As far as I'm concerned, that's about as perfect as it gets.

  12. I'm not sure Call of Cthulhu counts, as the game rules only take up about twenty pages, even in the more recent editions.

    The first rpg I owned was Traveller: The New Era, which was about three-hundred pages and it was all rules, more or less. Not the best one to start GMing with, although that said, it did give you everything you needed in one book.

    The first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay certainly looked massive, but I'm not sure how big it actually was in hindsight.

  13. I've long had a personal belief that 96 pages is the ideal length for a standalone game book, with sufficient room for rules and for inspirational background.

    That's 96 letter-sized pages... so the OD&D books and the Traveller LBBs fit easily.

    I'm willing to stretch the rule to, say, a range of 80 to 128 pages. 144 is really pushing it, and anything more is right out.

  14. It'd also be interesting to compare rule content vs. campaign setting stuff in those page counts. Monster stats and magic and equipment and suchlike I guess occupy a middle ground there, but I'd include it as useful parts of the toolkit.

    However I probably personally wouldn't count the modules often included with box sets in the middle era (like 2nd Ed Gamma World + the Pitz Burke adventure booklet, or Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn + the Volturnus module, or Keep On The Borderlands and Isle of Dread with Moldvay B/X)Then again, you could count their value as prototypes for the GM to base their adventures on, so maybe it IS relevant to page count.

    I tend to like games that let me take care of the worldbuilding, so my fluff/rules tolerance is pretty sensitive.

  15. 1st ed. Champions was a 56-page rulebook, which bloated up to a whopping 346 by the game's 4th edition.

  16. Personally, I have come to the conclusion with any future projects I might publish that if I can't say something in 64 digest-sized pages or less, then I'm probably saying too much.

  17. I was looking at the 1st ed Gamma World just the other day. I had to laugh at the introduction which apologizes for the length of the rules.

    The times they do change.

  18. My Empire of the Petal Throne rule book (TSR, 1975) clocks in at 114 pages, and that doesn't include 4 additional pages of reference material at the end of the book.

  19. Setting information is what makes games so big these days.

    If you want to have a setting that you can just pick up and run, without doing any work at all you might be hard pressed to get it in there with the rules in 64 pages. EPT is probably a good example of that.

    Frankly I don't see a problem with that at all. Game books which are 300 pages and all rules is really not myc cuppa, though.

  20. I'm willing to give a game system a try if it tops at 250 pages.
    The Rules Cyclopedia is about that size I think.
    Anything under 150 pages is more welcome, and if you can do it in 120-130 pages or less it is probably going to be Love.
    I'm speaking about a fantasy game (with monsters, spells, magic items or at least rules to create them) or a Sci-Fi one (vehicles and starships, Psi, aliens, hi-tech items).

  21. How bout rthe original Aftermath!
    Not one, but THREE books over 64 pages in length. The entire original Twilight 2000 is a basic set by comparison. Love the NPC personality generation system that was based on a deck of playing cards that was featured in Twilight!!!

  22. I believe 64 pages is the sweet spot for publishing as it's divisible by 16. I might be wrong on this, but for print production, layout is optimal in 16 page spreads. Two online printers I was dealing with would only print this way at least...