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Not Buying Gaming Books Feels…Weird

Posted By Martin Ralya On May 18, 2011 @ 1:18 am In Crock Pot | 30 Comments

For a variety of reasons, I’ve cut way back on the number of gaming books I’ve bought over the past year — and as a bookworm who never has enough space for all of my books, and whose wife drops regular hints that her Kindle really cuts down on the impending need for additional shelves, that feels pretty weird.

As a GM, I’m used to buying a lot of books for games I run. That’s always made sense to me: I need more of them than my players, and I need them in between sessions, not just at the table, so I want my own copies. I also love reading and owning books, so I rarely need much of an excuse to pick up a new one.

So why the hiatus? It’s not really intentional: I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to stop buying gaming books for a while.” It just happened.

Looking at my personal whys raises some interesting GMing questions, which we’ll get to in a moment. Here are the three main whys, first:

  1. Lack of need. I own almost every book for the Star Trek RPG that I’m running right now, and all of the pertinent books for my group’s on-deck Birthright Campaign. If I buy a gaming book these days, it’s a) out of pure personal interest (“Diaspora looks amazing!”), b) for intended future use (“I want to run this someday”), or c) because it fills a new niche (a system-neutral supplement, for example). “Ooh, shiny!” is not a consideration right now.
  2. Dead product lines. Birthright and Star Trek are dead, so there’s no new product clamoring for my wallet’s attention. I’m used to playing mainly in-print games, so this is a new one for me — and, in some ways, the weirdest aspect of this situation. I like buying books for the games I play, and not being able to feels wrong somehow.
  3. Lack of time. This is the biggie: I have a stack of unread gaming books, unread non-gaming books, unplayed video games, and unplayed board games — and let’s not talk about all of the RPGs I’ve owned for years, or decades, and never gotten around to playing. Time is precious and scarce right now, and if I can’t handle what’s already on my plate, why add to the problem? Or, at least, why add to it at a breakneck pace — I mean, I’m a geek, so of course I’m going to keep collecting geek stuff…

I expect #1 and #2 to change as time marches on: we’ll start playing an in-print game, or I’ll run into a GMing situation I want printed help handling, and books will begin finding their way onto my shelves with greater frequency again.

But #3? That doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon, as I march into my mid-thirties, my daughter gets older, and my life as a whole gets busier. So does that mean I’m looking at a bleak future in which I buy gaming books only rarely?

That…well, that sounds…awful. Awful!

Ahem.

So, the GMing questions:

  1. Are you in a similar boat, usually an avid book-buyer and no longer buying as many gaming books as you used to?
  2. How come?
  3. How many books do you need to run a good game? (Boy is THAT a loaded question!)
  4. As a GM, can you ever have enough gaming books?

#1 and #2 are more personal, but #3 and #4 are much more general — and, I think, pretty weighty questions.

My answers to the last two questions are “3. Enough to give me lots of ideas, and lots of places to go for new ideas, as well as enough resources to cover my bases nicely. ‘Enough’ varies from game to game: I used snippets of a dozen Mage books for my last campaign, but need fewer books to run Star Trek.” and “4. Nope!

How about you?

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




30 Comments (Open | Close)

30 Comments To "Not Buying Gaming Books Feels…Weird"

#1 Comment By eclpmb On May 18, 2011 @ 2:05 am

I’m buying books less and less nowadays, pretty much for reason #3. I used to get books so I had experience of other systems and ideas to use in my games even if I wasn’t playing that game but now I’m more sticking to directly useful books.

Though, I’m still buying most of what is published for the systems I am playing.

#2 Comment By Astronut On May 18, 2011 @ 5:31 am

1.) That’s me almost to a ‘t’.

2.) My purchases slowed down when, in a short space of time, I became unemployed then a student, got married and had kids. It was the financial side that slowed me down (first having no cash to spare, then needing it for other things like rent and food) but, even though I now have it to spare, I still feel I have to justify a purchase!

The mad rush by nearly every game system I was interested in to release a new edition in the mid-2000’s didn’t help either, as usually I was perfectly happy with the version I had (D&D, GURPS, Hero, World of Darkness – I’m looking at you!). I just decided not to bother any more…

Drivethru’s charity bundles have partially reversed the trend – I now have more PDFs than I know what to do with!

3.) Very much depends on the game and setting. I usually draw ideas from several settings and will use bits from multiple books if appropriate.

4.) No! Of course not…

#3 Comment By tezrak On May 18, 2011 @ 5:49 am

For me, the decision was very much a conscious one. There was a time when I was buying *every* 3.5 D&D, 4e D&D and/or Star Wars Saga Edition book that came out each month–anywhere from $30-60 a month conceivably–oh, and lest I forget, D&D Miniatures! *ugh*

But a few things started to happen: (a) due to change of situation, I wound up on a significantly limited cash flow, (b) I had more bills to pay, (c) I started running out of shelf space, and (d) I met my girlfriend. :D So I made the grown-up decision to (1) donate a lot of those books to the town public library, (2) start buying PDF, and (3) reduce my overall RPG expenditure. I generally tend not to game with experimental folk, so we stick to our home-brewed system/world, 4e D&D, or Pathfinder (which is happening soon).

Most of what I buy these days are products I can tie directly into the games I either run currently or want to run in the near future. I cancelled my DDI subscription, because I’m not running 4e D&D at the moment (and playing 4e D&D, right after having been a DM for a while, was…weird to say the least, but that’s straying from the topic). Or, they’re products I can look to in order to better inform my game design. Otherwise, I’ve started to look for free RPGs.

#4 Comment By psychopez On May 18, 2011 @ 7:30 am

1) Note I’m only a 4e DM at the moment, and that’s all I’ve ever DMed. So I was never a big book buyer by definitation. That said, over the past year I’ve not bought a single book.

And I hope the future of RPGs is I never have to buy one again. Call me a stary eyed newbie (which I am, I know I’m surrounded by grognards) but I don’t want books any more. I want software and apps like DDI or iplay4e that I can run on a phone or tablet, or at worst case scenerio a digital book I can read on the same device.

I want books to be the CDs of the RPG world, still margially used but second to the digital cousin.

2) I didn’t use them. Why need campaign source books, I homebrew everything. Why need monster books, I make my own. (Last book I bought was 4e MM3, and I’ve not even opened it up, what, 2 years since it was out?)

3) None. For 4e, all I need is the dm cheat sheet from http://slyflourish.com/ and

4) As a DM, 1 book is too many…

#5 Comment By Razjah On May 18, 2011 @ 8:15 am

I’m buying less now for a few different reasons, most are college based reasons.

1)I was trying to get every 4e core book and X Power book as it was released. But that was getting expensive and I was not playing enough 4e to warrant it. I also slowed down getting pathfinder and 3.5 material while getting less of the “indie games” like Burning Wheel too.

2) I have more books than I can use. Savage Worlds, Iron Heroes, Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, 3.5, 4e, Pathfinder, WoD, etc. I only run one game a semester and I don’t need to have every 4e book when gaming with people new to rpgs. I am the president of the college’s role playing games club so I run games for new people.

Also, the club has a library with Star Wars Saga edition, Savage Worlds, Mutants and Masterminds 2e, Mouse Guard, Corporation and I can run those for free.

With the lack of funds from college, the club’s library, my own collection being too big to transport easily to college and back I am cutting back. I also am cutting back because I don’t want to carry a ton of stuff to my games. I was running games of Pathfinder with minis, made it narrative combat. I was carrying my laptop to games, I dropped it for a lighter little paper notebook and a folder (my group still needs the books). If I was gaming at my apartment I may use more stuff and play different games, but now I am looking to stop running Pathfinder because I don’t want to carry the core book, bestiary, and apg to the library.

3) I think you need a 2+N pieces of paper to run a good game, where N is the number of players. One for the GM, one with the mechanics for everyone to reference, and one for each player.

A hopefully brief example:
You don’t need books you need a mechanic (dice pool of d6s with 4+ being success, need X success to accomplish the task you rolled for) and then some abilities/skills/attributes listed. Players have a character with natural talent (str, dex, etc) and skills (fighting, jumping, etc) then you have a mechanic to determine success (roll with skills, if you don’t have one use the stat). Gear could be as simple as light melee, heavy melee, reach melee, light ranged, and heavy ranged weapons with set damage, fluff as appropriate. Done. You can now run a good game. At the end of the session did everyone have fun? If yes you succeeded.

Now having books does give you more options. But in my experience the more books at the table the more likely players are to retreat into the splatbook of their choice and be less attentive to the game. I also like to carry less and I generally have the books due to the circumstances from #2.

4) No you can never have enough gaming books. More materials to reference means the better possibility of finding a system that you like, your players like, and fits your game well. It also lets you drift mechanics from one game to another. Like BITs from Burning Wheel? Drag it into D&D to have character focused adventuring! Like the wild card d6 die that PCs get in Savage Worlds? Use something similar like a d12 with the d20 rolls in your Pathfinder game!

I think having more materials for the GM can lead to a better game as long as the GM does not bog down everything this drifted mechanics.

#6 Comment By JohnnFour On May 18, 2011 @ 8:25 am

I’m in the same boat! I used to be a book junkie. Every D&D 4E release that came out I’d pre-order or buy day-of. I’d also hit eBay regularly to fill out my collection.

When my group switched to Pathfinder, I stopped buying just about everything. Now I buy utility books and software mostly, plus about one interesting game book every couple of months.

My last purchase was Hamlet’s Hit Points and Writer’s Guide to Character Traits.

#7 Comment By Nephlm On May 18, 2011 @ 8:47 am

Disclaimers first: I’m the primary GM for my group, I’ve never run a published setting or a system that wasn’t so hacked it had to be given it’s own name.

1 & 2. I used to be collector of game books. If a book came out that seemed conceptually interesting of covered an area I was thinking about, I bought it regardless of system.

The proliferation of D&D 3.5 books broke me of that habit. Not because they were so many of them I can make choices, it was because far to many of these books were useless as idea generators/discussions.

I recall picking up a book on guilds looking for a discussion of guild power bases, inter/intra guild conflict and story ideas, etc instead it ended up being guild prestige classes and modifiers and special powers for spending xp on guild memberships. Far to many of those books were not of any use to someone not just looking for the latest prestige class.

I felt guilty not supporting my local game store but they just didn’t have anything I wanted anymore.

3. You _need_ 0 books to run a good game. In practice unless you’re going to invent a resolution system from whole cloth at least one book with a resolution system would be helpful. If you’re going to write you’re own resolution system you need many more so you can stand on the shoulders of giants.

In terms of setting I don’t think you need a book for that, me and my players write the setting as we go and that creates some pretty interesting settings.

4. In the abstract you can never have to many gaming books or just books for that matter. In practice, when you’re not paying rent to get a new book, you have to many, and when you’re moving to a bigger house just for book space you have to many.

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 18, 2011 @ 9:26 am

I tend not to buy books anymore as I prefer digital products. My tablet notebook, smartphone, or Android tablet are all preferred to a paper product. It just suits my personal style better.

But I’m not buying as many RPGs because very few impress me as being worth the money. They aren’t delivering what I want as a consumer. I’m not saying that they are bad products, but I have no interest in a 250+ page hardcover setting book, or a book dedicated to a certain class, or a book of items. I want materials that help me to design my own stuff. I want tools and raw materials, not finished products.

You can run a good game without any books at all. If you have the right system, and you know the rules well you can leave the book on the shelf. Dread, Fudge, MicroLite 20, etc. Adding books should only be done if they actually improve the game, not just because they add more material.

The last question should be changed from “As a GM, can you ever have enough gaming books?” to “As a GM, can you ever have enough gaming knowledge?” It doesn’t need to come from a book to be used in your game. And the answer is both yes and no.

Yes, you will have enough knowledge to run your next session if you work on materials that your group enjoys. No, you can never have enough knowledge because there is always another session coming and you should keep challenging yourself as a GM to try something different.

#9 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On May 18, 2011 @ 10:09 am

If I can point out a few things that may be behind the trends we’re seeing here…

1. Gaming is aging. Yes, there are younger gamers, but I’d bet there’s a large cohort in their 30s and 40s. As we get older, we have more responsibilities (families, careers, houses, parents, etc), and the idle afternoon reading through a gaming book is a very rare event. Younger gamers don’t seem to be as comfortable just reading a book.

2. As a small and inbred society, gaming is swept by trends occasionally. One of the current trends seems to be away from the massive bookshelf. This could be the reverse pendulum swing from the 3.5/Forgotten Realms campaign, where eight feet of bookshelf is ‘necessary’ to support the game.

3. This may be limited to my gamer contacts, but there seems to be a growing preference to ‘roll your own’. Simple game mechanics (Fudge, etc) are allowing gamers to create their own systems, and universal systems (Savage Worlds, etc) are allowing them to create their own campaigns.

4. Recession. No job, no money, no books.

The plural of anecdote is not data, but this is what I’m seeing…

#10 Comment By tman On May 18, 2011 @ 10:12 am

1. Yeah, I used to buy more than I do now. Less time, less disposable cash, different focus to life, etc. etc.

2. I will still pick up DM fluff books when I see something which will be helpful. But several things have reduced the number I buy:
a) DDI subscription – I don’t need to buy player only books for 4E, it’s all in the Character Builder.
b) I like digital versions of books for games, so that’s a bonus for non-WOTC stuff. Keeping track of errata in a print book is a major hassle, but not with an easily updated PDF. Also, have you seen what passes for an index in a gaming book these days? Searchable PDFs win again.

3. To run a game, you need the basic core rulebooks for that system so everyone has the rules. Everything past that is gravy.

4. Yes and you can have too many. Some products I don’t buy are because they are rehash/retreads of stuff I already have.

#11 Comment By BryanB On May 18, 2011 @ 10:20 am

I’ve been in a book purge mode for much of the last five years.

I used to be an avid book buyer and I probably still buy more books than I need to.

But I was a collector for a long period of time. If I liked a game line, I felt compelled to buy every single product that came out for it. The only exception was D&D. I could not keep up with the release schedule for D&D and that is a good thing.

As I’ve gotten older, I realize that I will never have the time or need to use all of the books on my shelves. I have begun to appreciate one-book systems more and more. I’ve also realized that I was buying a vast library of stuff that would never get used in play or had never been used in play. I also have less disposable income since being married and starting the repayment of student loans for a BA that has done nothing for me in this economy.

This change in my mindset about collecting and hording game systems hit me as an epiphany. I had just secured what would be my first apartment with my wife in 2006. I was moving stuff from my parent’s storage and my storage unit and I had all of the books in one place. Several doses of Motrin later, I realized this collection was just too damn big. I did not want to move it anymore. I started looking through boxes of stuff. What was all of this shit anyway?

Then it happened. I came across the entire line of Legends of the Five Rings RPG. I’m talking about the entire line! Everything ever made from 1st Edition all of the way through early 3rd. That was three editions of a game I had never played, let alone run. I had loved the fluff and the artwork. I liked the premise of the game. Sign me up for a Samurai epic! But the game never caught on in my area and I never took the time to ready it for play. And so ten plus years of purchases accumulated for a game I would never play. WHY?

I decided to sell it off. And it sold quickly, especially the 1st Edition stuff – some of it for more than I had paid for it. I created a gaming fund on my PayPal account. Old stuff would fund new stuff. And new stuff would be less than before. It didn’t stop with L5R. I realized I had dozens of systems I would never play again, had never played, or had no interest in playing anymore. These got sold to.

I’ve learned to be a lot more selective about what I buy. I’ve also learned to buy a core rulebook and add to that only as needed for actual play. No more libraries of stuff just in case it sees the light of play. The purge has been therapeutic to say the least. I’ve only missed one game product since the great purge started in 2006. I am currently down to 19 Game systems, and many of those are one-book indie games. My largest array is for Star Wars Saga Edition (full line). I also have the full collection of Scarred Lands to be run with Pathfinder in the future. Saga Edition paved the way for the departure of D6. Pathfinder paved the way for the departure of D&D 3.5. My gaming collection is in a state of flux you might say.

I can run a good game with a core rulebook and Wikipedia. Seriously, that is all I need. Some products are worth adding on though. I will never, however, be a completist or a collector again. Lack of time, spending cash, and space along with seven moves in eleven years has cured me of that mindset. As a GM, you can have too many game books. I feel that every GM will realize when that point is reached. I certainly did. I still think I have too many and so I have established a rule for myself to follow. If I buy a new game and it doesn’t get played within three to five years, it is going to be sold. If an old game line isn’t played again within five to seven years, I’ll think about parting with it.

One final note in my book here: While I would like to switch to more PDFs, I have a hard time reading text on a computer screen for a lengthy amount of time. My vision isn’t what it used to be. So I still prefer to use a dead tree book over PDF. That might change if I had a more useful form of reader for books and not a computer screen. I’ll stick with books, just less of them and certainly not entire lines of dust collectors sitting on shelves waiting to throw out a back on the next move. :D

#12 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On May 18, 2011 @ 10:23 am

Because I didn’t answer the questions…

1. I have fewer gaming books. Even though we just moved into a much larger house, I’ve downsized my gaming library.

2. I’m not buying as many books because I don’t need them. I prefer paper to pixel for casual reading, but I was only using a few books from my library. Selling them was liberating.

3. Define “need”. ;) To run a good game, a GM only needs the core rules and setting. To prep a good game, a number of sourcebooks are handy.

4. You can never have enough gaming books, but I think that answer is instinctive, and there is a point of diminishing returns. That said, there are always better books coming out (ahem), so there will always be new books on my shelf.

#13 Comment By DNAphil On May 18, 2011 @ 10:39 am

My turn…

My buying has slowed down, but still continues. Mostly what I do now, is wait until GenCon and buy all the gaming books I am going to read for a year when I am there. This way I have money saved up for books, and I love shopping out on the floor at GenCon.

I then take my time and read the books all year. Most games I buy I consider running, and the books I am not buying are for shiny things.

I have also gone to buying PDF’s for books that I am on the fence about, and then getting the print copy if I like the book. One rule I do have, is when I run a game, I get at least the core book in print.

For games I run, I hate supplement sprawl, so typically before the game start we pick what books will go into the game. If a new book comes out, I as GM, will read it over and decide if its “safe” to bring into the game.

I will never have enough gaming books. I drift from game to game, and system to system too frequently. There is always another book out there that will get my attention.

#14 Comment By DocRyder On May 18, 2011 @ 11:15 am

Adding to the “Same song, second verse” posts, I’m in the same boat.

Recently, I’ve become unemployed, so game spending has been grossly reduced. I run 4e currently, and it helps that WotC has decided to reduce production, and what they are producing doesn’t interest me and my players (although I’ll be picking up the “Monsters of Nerath” box from ScottM when it hits :-) ).

I used to buy everything for systems, especially WWGS products, but as one of those disgruntled former Cammies who bailed when the company took over the club, I haven’t picked up on of their books since, and that’s saved me a lot of money (so I guess that’s the blessing that comes from the cursing :-) ).

I think I’ve asked the question internally “What do you need to run a good game?” and while I’ve found “Not everything” to be a good answer, I still buy a lot. I’ve found the 4e books to be so full of great story ideas (like I did the OWoD stuff) that owning so many of them has given me campaign ideas enough to probably last the life of my friend’s kids (who are 9 and 6 this year, and game with us), so I feel the books are a good investment.

I’m also looking into indie games again (and anyone who knows ScotM knows he’s the king of them, locally), and while I’m appreciate the idea of a single rulebook for the game (and one that’s cheap enough my players won’t scream at me if I ask them to buy it), I’m finding the rules tend to get a bit arcane and I question their usefulness.

Time has hit me as well, contributing to my slow down. Like so many others mentioned, I used to read all this stuff I bought, or make a good run at it (I thin I haven’t read one or two of my Mage the Ascension books, and I’ve been a completist there), Now I’m doing a lot more skimming and only reading what I really think I need. I have stacks and stacks of books I’ve never read after years of owning them, and I’m now endeavoring to go through some of them and stick ‘em on eBay or otherwise get them gone. Lugging them around, along with the massive comic book collection, through the many moves I’ve made in the past 20 years has gotten back breaking, and needs to end.

So, yeah, I’m cutting back and buying less. Economy and time are the biggest reasons. That’s just the way life goes.

#15 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 18, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

The local game shop owners and I are friends, and for years we’ve been commenting on how their books section keeps getting smaller. This is fine as they have found other products that sell better as well as expanding upon the area for live play (which brings more business into the store).

It isn’t that the books don’t sell, it is that they don’t sell as well as the board games and the miniatures do. Plus people don’t go to his shop to find the latest RPGs. They go direct to the publishers, or Amazon, or DriveThruRPG.

And that is before we even get into web based solutions that you can use to run or play a game with like DnDInsider. I am sure more subscription services like that are going to be popping up in the near future and it will just be the snowflakes before the avalanche.

The age of RPGs and books being inseparable is ending, not over, but ending. Only those people who are interested in the collector aspect of the hobby will buy the books at some point, as the rest of the hobby will favor the digital solutions. There will still be e-books, but I think the web based solutions and applications will eventually be the dominant RPG product for tabletop play.

#16 Comment By psychopez On May 18, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

@Patrick Benson – I agree about the ending, not over bit. I’d rather buy an App for the RPG of my choice then a book. It’s cheaper, it’s in a more portable format, it’s up-to-date if thing change.

The App could be a wrapper around a PDF, but the App model for RPGs is something I really want to see in the near future.

#17 Comment By GeneD5 On May 18, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

I also used to buy books in the major product lines (e.g., AD&D2, D&D3.x/D20, D&D4e) as they came out, but I’ve bought less lately. Yes, it’s partly because of growing older and the ongoing economic recession, and it’s partly because of being burned by having dozens of sourcebooks that then get republished (or ignored) with an edition change.

On the other hand, I’ve also got more PDFs than I know what to do with, and I’m still buying “Pathfinder” books as they come out because I like them and want to support Paizo. Lately, I’ve been hunting down FATE and science fiction games because that’s what I’m running. In addition, I’ve moved more to indy, retro-clone (or OSR), and rules-light games, which don’t require a groaning bookshelf to run.

I still have a few bookcases full of gaming references, for inspiration more than for particular rules, so I don’t think there is such a thing as too many, as long as there’s room (and time) for them all!

#18 Comment By drow On May 18, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

in general, i seem to be growing my library as rapidly as ever. the down economy hasn’t affected me as much as some of my peers, though i’ve had to put some serious jink into my house recently.

strictly, i don’t need any books to run a good game. but as they say, carrying a loaded bolter doesn’t hurt. the more knowledge and ideas i have access to, whether bound or byte, the better.

#19 Comment By Lee Hanna On May 18, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

I’m with you on #1, #2, and #3. I have a handful of complete (and print-dead) game lines– for a while, I was convinced that I was the Typhoid Mary of games! Birthright is a big one, BTW, that’s the only D&D world I will run anymore.

My lack of time coincides with nostalgia: all of these games I have and love, why do I want new ones? This is especially true with board-wargames, which I love more than RPGs. Why shell out $150 for a new game that covers a war/battle I already have? I’m still coming up with new ideas for the old games I have, and the game schedule for my 2 RPG groups is already plotted for the next year or more.

I do not buy PDFs as a rule, I do not own and do not want a portable reader. I have some, I try to convert them as soon as I think I need them.

Having said all of that, I haven’t completely stopped buying. I have bought a few Traveller and Pathfinder books in the last year, with dreams of using them someday.

#20 Comment By Lee Hanna On May 18, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

Addition: But I agree, it feels weird. I walked around Origins’ vendor hall the last two years, and felt really confused that I had no urge to buy anything at all. The old “so shiny, must buy!” urge warred with my “What for?” attitude.

#21 Comment By athros On May 18, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

1.) I used to be a big book collector. I had 3 200lbs Rubbermaid totes, along with a full bookshelf. Now, I buy PDF’s for games I’m running, but I don’t really buy much. Between my laptop and my phone, I don’t even buy dice any more (Dicenomicon and Invisible Castle took care of that).

2.) The birth of my son, and the fact I live in a small apartment killed buying lots and lots of books. Between the cost (15-100 USD) and the space, I ended up taking most of them and gave them to friends to fill out their collections, and donated the rest. I barely buy PDF’s, unless the product really really hits that urge for me. The only one in recent memory is Stars Without Number and Labyrinth Lord (mainly for the Red Tide setting by Kevin Crawford who does SWN).

3.) Honestly, for me, it depends on the setting. For games like ShadowRun, I had to buy every core/ splat book for the power creep and other optional rules that my players might spring on me. Same for Traveller (Classic, Mongoose). For SWN, All I really need is the core book. Everything else is just inspiration.

4.) Before my son, I would have said no. Now….I have too many!

#22 Comment By Scott Martin On May 18, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

I’ve been feeling the conflict too; there are so many systems that I want to pick up… but don’t. Sometimes I resist because it’s a passing want, or because it’ll be a while before I GM next, or… something. I’ve deliberately done the same for novels–I’ve been relying much more on the local library, so we don’t have to store so many books!

It feels very strange, particularly since I was a completest for Mage, and really enjoyed buying lots of indie RPGs in the 00’s. Too many indie games have joined the “when will we play them?” shelf, so even those purchases have slowed. (Though it is much easier to sell myself on them, since at least they’re usually one book only purchases.)

#23 Comment By Wesley Street On May 19, 2011 @ 8:03 am

Yes, I am no longer buying as many gaming books as I used to for a variety of reasons. There’s always that little voice that says, “You could be spending your money on more important things” but the primary motivators are a) the lack of quality in most mainstream game materials and b) a lack of appropriate players for game systems I own. Not every system is appropriate for every player.

I can give two examples of “a”. I’m a huge “Shadowrun” fan and have been playing the game since 1st edition. The release of fourth edition was the most solid incarnation of the product since its original release. However recent financial improprieties at the publisher, resulting in the loss of both a solid creative staff and direction, has resulted in a terrible product. Insultingly so. I refuse to buy bad material so my wallet is closed to that product until the license is moved to a new company.

D&D 4E was a solid RPG product but with the confusing decision to re-focus on “Essentials,” which doesn’t interest me, I haven’t purchased a WotC book since the release of “Dark Sun.”

I can also give two examples for “b”. I typically play with power gamers who have distinctive tastes. After running a “Star Wars Saga” game for 9 months that bored me as a GM, I boxed up my complete run of books and minis and put them in the closet. I picked up “Rogue Trader” on a whim and while I find the setting of Star-Wars-Meets-Hieronymus-Bosch-On-LSD and possible play interesting, my usual gamers do not; so I’ll wait until I find gamers who would be into it before investing more into the line.

You only need a core book to actually run a game though my personal taste is core book plus any splatbooks that cover areas of the game I’m interested in. Anything more is a waste of shelf space and money.

I’ve found that there are a lot of great games from slightly smaller and/or less known publishers but as materials are put out on an infrequent basis I purchase fewer books as a result.

Yes, you can have too many RPG books. If you’re not using them or ever planning to use them, why do you have them? To me, “collecting” is the same as “rampant materialism,” and I find that distasteful.

#24 Comment By EgoPoisoning On May 19, 2011 @ 11:53 am

The picture for this post is perfect! I have tall, tall stacks of WoD books and have never played a game in any of its systems for more than a session.

I absolutely miss the days when I’d click my way through Amazon (never really had the luck of a FLGS) and put paid on some gorgeous hardback or splat book. However, between moving around after college and the shift to so much digital publishing, I just can’t justify the hardcopy purchase these days.

I mostly play 4e of late, and the last purchase I made was Arcane Power. I’d love to pick up the Dresden rulebooks, but I’ve wanted to do that for ages and…still hasn’t happened.

#25 Comment By recursive.faults On May 19, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

I’ve never been a big buyer of RPG books. If anything I’ve bought more now than I ever used to, but I still don’t have a very impressive collection at all.

When I started gaming 3.5 was the thing, and while all of my friends were buying books, I just bought Players, DM, and Libris Mortis. Those were the only ones I liked. I had no interest in reading the others, even for the extra options they had.

When I do buy books I want an actual book. I really don’t like using digital copies. I find them clumsy. I’ll read a kindle for days, but for gaming I don’t like digital copies.

I have two criteria for buying books:
1) Love it knowing I’ll never play it (This is how I wound up with my favorite books so far (Savage Worlds, Fudge, and Little Fears).

2) Is it so cheap I can’t pass it up (This mostly happens when there is a huge sale on somewhere like DriveThrough or wherever and books are a few dollars).

#26 Comment By Caesar Slaad On May 21, 2011 @ 4:53 am

In the same boat, for a few reasons:

1) I didn’t follow 4e. During the 3e heyday, WotC and third party publishers always had something I wanted, even after I resolved not to buy every release. Not caring about the major supported game of the moment really cuts down the field of books I care about.

2) I feel like I have it all for the games I do support. Once I start piling up books that I conspicuously notice aren’t getting used, I start to question the purchase. I’m still a Pathfinder book subscriber, but I feel like the third party PF support isn’t offering me anything I don’t already have in some form or would use soon. I also was buying Mongoose Traveller, but after the first 5 books or so, I noticed that more weren’t really getting used.

3) The gaming book market isn’t what it once was. Even neglecting the above, it seems like the economy and the state of the hobby market mean that there are fewer books overall being published. Sturgeon’s law still holds; the same proportion of books I care about in a smaller market means fewer books I care about.

4) The hobby going direction I don’t care for. It seems like indie games are taking up a lot of the “new shiny” discussion space. I like FATE and Danger Patrol, but that’s about as far as I really care to go in the realms of indie darlings. The other recent product cascade has been “old school” products, which consists largely of products I feel I already have in some form.

#27 Comment By LordVreeg On May 21, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

Figure I haven’t taken the time to post as much lately as the Stew has not had that many threads that applied to me. But since you are getting data points…

45 years old. Employed, home owner, married, 1 child. Games since 76 consistently. GM 99.7 percent of the time. I spend a few humdred dollars a month on some of my other hobbies and I buy 3-4 books a month for the nook. So the money is there.

I fall into the old ideas of heavy homebrewing…So I don’t need a lot of new books, but I love getting ideas from books.

I think part of my problems stem from the availability of online resources, and the lack of applicability to the games I like to play.

And honestly, the last 2-3 gaming purchases (and that has been it for about the last 2 years) were to to support companies more than to use them. RQ2, and S&W, dowloaded OSRIC…about it.

#28 Comment By Martin Ralya On May 24, 2011 @ 8:50 pm

Okay, fuck me sideways but this is an honest-to-god trend. I’m not smart enough to spot trends, but this certainly is an interesting one to stumble across!

Granting the small sample size, I was still expecting a broader cross-section — not an overwhelming majority of folks who are also in book-light/hiatus mode. Wow!

From 10,000 feet, and trying to divorce myself from all of the baggage I carry as a lifelong gamer and a publisher, Kurt’s comment that “Gaming is aging.” looks like the biggest single driver here, with a move towards PDFs in second place. From where I sit, at least — what do you think?

I’m off to ask Twitter as well.

#29 Comment By Lord Inar On May 31, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

I primarily GM Savage Worlds these days, so my answers are colored by that fact.

#1,2 rolled together.
I was never much of a ‘first-time” buyer, but I used to be a heavy scavenger. If I could find stuff on the cheap to use as inspiration, I’d snap it up in a heartbeat.

BUT…

that was when Savage Worlds was relatively new and published worlds were relatively few and far between. Now there’s at least one Savage setting for practically every genre and I’m much more likely to just get an existing setting and “tweak” as needed rather than port a setting over from a different system.

So these days my purchases are much more targeted to an actual purpose (a game I plan on running in the near future), rather than a more generic “I know this will be useful someday” mentality.

#3 is easy: 2! The basic rulebook and the setting book (3 if you consider the Player’s Guide to the setting a “separate” book or not)

#4 Can a GM ever have enough books? Well when your basement floods and you’re having to take a lot of books that you haven’t looked at in months, nay years, up the stairs to keep them from warping, you start to think “Yeah, I’ve got enough books!”

#30 Comment By teaman On June 13, 2013 @ 6:20 am

A few points:

1. I’m getting too old to keep learning a new rulesets. I can completely understand why people stick to what they know. Is learning a new ruleset going to completely revolutionize my GMing? Probably not, and the Return on Investment for time just isn’t worth it in my mind. Easier to just hack something I already know if we need a different genre.

2. Some of the new mechanics don’t work for us old folks. I purchased Marvel Heroic, read it, and still don’t get it. Same for Star Wars Edge of the Empire. I’d love to buy a great Star Wars game, but needing specialty dice to play?. That’s a dealbreaker.

3. There is so much free stuff on the web. Need a sci-fi game that plays like Basic D&D, it’s out there. Want a GURPS hack for Star Trek, do a net search. Want world information for Eberron or Mystara, you can have more than you need in seconds.

I’m not disparaging new game commercial efforts in any way, just being realistic.


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