A look in the mirror

How many books do you really need to run a game?

08-10-2021 - 2 minutes, 33 seconds -

IMG_7067 My frayed and well used home-printed copy of Maze Rats

Some ramblings while drinking Korean raspberry wine during a rainy evening in Seoul.

While preparing to move back to Europe, I'm facing the challenge of shipping all my stuff back there. With a global shipping crisis going on, it's safe to say that I won't be able to bring it all, so I've gotten rid of tons of stuff. Looking at my bulging bookshelves, I'm faced with the fact that a lot of it has to go.

So I got to thinking about all the roleplaying books I have bought over the past year. Probably ~40 books and zines. How many of them do I actually need? How many of them do I really like? So I made a list of books that I have used for more than two game sessions in the past year. It was surprisingly short. Then I decided to be even harsher and make a list of the books that I've used for five or more sessions. This is it:

  • The Dark of Hot Springs Island + A Field Guide to Hot Springs Island
  • Curse of Strahd (5e)
  • Player's Handbook (D&D 5e)
  • Maze Rats
  • Knave
  • The Black Hack

And this is from a guy who has run at least one session per week for the past year. Now, I love collecting pretty books and game-related stuff, but this really made me open my eyes a bit. With something like ~100 books in my collection, is it really worth it?

Why do I keep buying new books?

Do I need all this stuff or is it just the fear of missing out?

Has consumerism gotten its grip on me?

How come I was able to game absolutely perfectly with just a single rulebook and some imagination back in the early 2000s?

Well. At least I know the answer to the last one: I still can. And the proof of that is the single copy of Maze Rats that has accompanied me for every session during the last year. And the fact that 10 sessions in the past year have been 100% homebrew. From my own imagination.

Let's flip the coin and look at the books I didn't use. What kind of books were they? Rules systems! I've found that the games I play rarely rely much on the system itself. The focus is always on the world. In a sense, I suppose my games are usually in the FKR spirit. I like a good tight system that gives me lots of freedom to let myself and the players do whatever they want. What I don't like is flipping through pages looking for rules. I guess that's why the adventures I write are mostly system-agnostic or for rules-lite systems such as Knave.

So, I will make a pledge:

Unless there is something I absolutely love about a system and I intend to run it as soon as I get my hands on it, I will buy no more rulebooks!

Adventures and settings on the other hand.. That's another story.