Posted in: Role Playing Games

Biggest turn-off when checking out a new table top RPG

A few days ago the independent TTRPG designer @TitanomachyRPG, asked on Twitter “Biggest turn-off when checking out a new #TTRPG?” While I gave a response to the post, I kept thinking about the question. I felt that it needed more than a quick jumble of words that fit into 240 characters. When I see a role playing game on the shelf at my favorite gaming store or online at DriveThruRPG, what makes me think that I should or should not pick it up?

Not only did I think about it, I pulled a few books down to find both good and bad examples. I collect the books, both in physical and PDF style. I love seeing the different styles and systems. When I open a role playing game, I see opportunity. Opportunity for creativity, adventure and an escape from this crappy world we live in. However since I have limited time, limited shelf space and limited funds, sometimes I have to stop myself from purchases. So when contemplating a purchase what am I considering? What turn-offs will make me not want to purchase a game?

First, am I currently playing (or plan to soon play) the game in question? Unfortunately, I am not playing a lot of role playing games right now. This is something I hope to remedy soon. Also am I planning to homebrew for the system? Right now I’m trying to homebrew for the various Star Trek RPGs so I’ve been trying to pick up the various Star Trek Adventures books and other Trek-based systems when the funds allow it. Yes, the cost of the game will make or break a purchase decision. There are several games that I’d like to pick up, but the price is a little beyond my reach. I’m also a bargain hunter, so finding an opportunity to save will help greatly in pulling the trigger. A lot of times the Bundle of Holding, Humble Bundle or DriveThruRPG Deal of the Day have offered me inexpensive options to pick up some titles in PDF version. Sales can often be found at game stores, conventions and online for the dead tree versions. Every once in a while, I can luck out and find a game at a thrift store. That is how I found the Holmes version of Dungeons and Dragons at a very good price. Now this doesn’t mean that I won’t pay full price for a book, but the higher the price, the more I’m putting it off (or using a gift card for it).

So now that the 800 lb gorilla is out of the way, let’s get down to the other items that I consider when thinking of making a game purchase. I will say that probably one of the biggest is how the game is explained in the rules. A publisher is asking me to pick up their game and play it. As RPGs are social games, I would need to explain the game in a nutshell to potential players how the game is played. So if a game takes a page or two and explains the basics of the game, I’m more inclined to buy it. I remember being at the game store and flipping through the pages of Modern Age. Right near the front the explained how the game system worked in simple terms. I ended up buying the game. When I used the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game by Cubicle 7 in the 2021 Character Creation Challenge, I spotted this.

I could show this to potential players and they would understand the concept quickly. The core concept was explained on a page or two with the extra details provided in the deeper parts of the book. This also helped me out when I was creating my first Doctor Who character in this system.

Speaking of character creation, one of the things that the Character Creation Challenge has taught me is that a book that clearly lays out the character creation system from start to finish is one that I’d be more inclined to pick up. Not just roll dice for your attributes, but step by step. This should include the equipment acquisition and a clear ending to the process. Too many times the character creation process would start, then suddenly go into the next chapter, then the next and then… well am I done? Give Step One and keep going until you give a clearly marked final step. As with the core rules, summarize then go into more details later.

Hopefully the RPG book will flow from beginning to end. When I’m flipping from one section back to another then to another just to understand how the rules work, it gets a little frustrating. So I’ll look for an index in the book. If there is one, that’s points in favor of a purchase. If the books in in PDF, is it bookmarked? Bookmark entries will also be points in favor of purchase.

We now have two methods of reading our games. Dead tree versions and soft copies (PDF primarily). While I’d prefer the dead tree version if I’m learning a game for the first time, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to learn from the PDF version. Publishers, please make sure that your books are readable in both formats. For example, here is one of the few things that I didn’t like about the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook.

I’m not a graphic designer. I don’t even play one on TV. But as a consumer, this was frustrating to me. The light fonts on a black background was very difficult to read. The over-use of the little side boxes also made it difficult to read. I’m trying to read the actual rules and these, for lack of a better term I’m going to call them pop up ads, side items would try to grab my attention. I already hate it when websites try to do this, but to see it in a book was just doubly frustrating. Yes the system was good, but as I was looking through the book, I kept wanting to re-write the chapters so it was just the rules. Luckily the publisher has received feedback on this because the PDF versions also come in a “printer friendly” option. While this doesn’t resolve the “pop up ad” items, it did make it easier on the eyes. Now Modiphius took this feedback and released the other books, like the Klingon Core Rulebook and Dune: Adventures in the Imperium, with a much better layout. It wasn’t so busy, it was easier to read. Thank you.

Speaking of graphic design, the art on the cover and in the book can add or subtract from the points towards purchase. Yes the old axiom is “Never judge a book by it’s cover”, but a good cover will help. I’ve had bad covers put me off on making the purchase. When looking at the interior art, I try to look at it more objectively now since I have a college aged kid studying this subject. I’ll ask her questions and show art examples to her to get her feedback. It’s really helped on some books. I was looking at one game that I picked up cheap on the DriveThruRPG Deal of the Day and some of the interior art, while good, didn’t fit the page it was on. You’re describing equipment, and you have the art of a character headshot that has nothing to do with the subject matter. It made me raise an eyebrow. For my final photo, I’m going to show a good cover and a not-so-good cover. The Operations Division Sourcebook for Star Trek Adventures and Technoir.

In my opinion, the cover for The Operations Division showed action and a clear image of what the book would be about. Starfleet officers in gold uniforms commonly worn by those in the Operations Division doing their jobs. The Technoir cover is, well noir-ish, but bland. It could have been a 1930’s detective cover or a futuristic style cover. Had I not been gifted the Technoir book, I don’t think I would have purchased it.

The last item that could move the needle towards or away from a purchase is the support the game has. Are there free “quickstart” versions of the game that will let me read some of the basic rules? (I have made purchases after reading the quickstarts) Is there an online community for the game? How does the vendor respond on social media? Can I grab some basic freebies from their website like character sheets, handouts, or other items?

Now stepping back into the personal realm, I do tend to gravitate towards games that are part of my general interests. Specific franchises such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who and other popular shows will catch my attention. As will specific genres such as espionage, westerns, pulp-era/gangsters, science fiction and post-apocalyptic. For fantasy, I’m sticking with Dungeons and Dragons or a good clone for that itch. Retro-versions of past games can also be picked up by my radar. What fails to grab me are horror (I’m really particular about my horror tastes, plus how can I be scared in an RPG), romance, and super-heroes. While I love hero movies and shows, I’m just not drawn to the super-hero RPGs at this time.

So in conclusion, publishers please make your game easy to understand so I can explain it to others. Make your publication readable and easy to use and investing in some good artwork will really help. Hopefully this insight into one of your consumers will help you with future sales.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more RPG books I’d like to read through.

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