Mistakes are an inevitability of life and those with a passing familiarity of RPGs are more than accustomed to their fair share of errata. But when is too much…too much? If running a game and challenges involved in keeping everyone engaged isn’t enough, GMs must also contend with the ever-changing landscape of rules corrections.
In many minds there has been a disturbing trend over the years in software of releasing when it’s “good enough” and patching on the back end. Sadly, our favorite RPGs (dead tree edition) don’t have benefit for obvious reasons. But with the proliferation of digital media, some of that philosophy — ship first, patch later — seems to be making its way into our favorite pastime.
The larger and more complex the product, the greater the chance for error. It’s hard to beat the granddaddy of them all, D&D, with its massive errata  collected over the years. The Player’s Handbook errata  is 27 pages; the collected errata  is 136 pages worth!
Doing It Right
Back in 2004 Mongoose Publishing wasn’t known for quality control. To be frank, they stunk. It was something of a public inside joke that with the volume of product they moved that they didn’t bother with copy editors. Perhaps the pinnacle of this was the original Conan RPG. To say that this book was rattled with errors would be an understatement. It wasn’t a happy time for Matthew Sprange and the crew of Mongoose Publishing.
So you purchased the Conan RPG, had a listing of errata and printing errors that was daunting to look at but what could you do? In comes Mongoose to the rescue, offering an updated “Atlantean Edition,” cleaned up, fixed, and a special upgrade offer for Conan fans. Mongoose even let you keep your first printing — sans a page — to use at your table as a backup rulebook.
The point being that Mongoose listened to what they were being told, stepped up, and made it right by their customers. Made the GM’s life just that much easier. Mongoose could have just posted the errata and left everyone to their own devices — or just update the PDF version and leave the rest in a lurch. Yes, a minimal cost was involved but it was reasonable within the context of the scope of the problem.
It was also at this point that Mongoose Publishing redoubled their efforts in proofreading and editing products going forward.
Doing It Wrong
“Game of Thrones” on HBO has found an entirely new audience for this setting, including the RPG by Green Ronin Publishing , A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. The core rulebook is back in print  with a special “Game of Thrones Edition.” Sadly, I’ve become accustomed to declaring it the “Error Edition.” An eagle-eyed reader of the PDF version — prior to the book being available in stores — noted  that many of the errata fixes from the “Pocket Edition ” of the A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying game that fixed the original 2008 printing of the core rulebook were back to their prior versions. In fact, if you sit down and compare all three printings of these books, you will find that most errata corrections from the “Pocket Edition” have reversed back to their 2008 verbiage; it’s as if the cleaned up “Pocket Edition” never existed! To make matters worse, the new “Error Edition” now adds all new errors that didn’t exist in either of the previous two iterations of the rules.
So, how bad could it be? I sat down with all three versions, started with one chapter, and compared the books for one hour. In one hour, across ten pages, I found 12 errata errors that had reverted back to their 2008 incorrect version. Now who would pay $50 for a book that we know — before it hits the shelves — to be full of old errors?
Green Ronin, beyond acknowledging on their forums that they messed up, confessed that the books have already been printed, shipped, and on store shelves now. Their explanation aside, the only commitment that the publisher will make is to provide a PDF of all the errata (the errata to the errata) to fix the 2008 errors (again) and to eventually update the PDF copy of the core rules. Bought the dead tree version? Well, $50 doesn’t get you much beyond a “we’re sorry,” although unhappy pre-order customers were given the opportunity to cancel prior to shipping.
More disturbing is that Green Ronin knowingly shipped books with these errors to the retail channel with no verbiage on their site, beyond digging in their forums, that they are reprinting incorrect rules from 2008.
It remains to be seen how the A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying incident will play out, but at this time seems to be closed. Which is a shame, because as a GM, running a game and juggling three versions of the rules is a real PITA. (Pro tip: Do what we do, and simply only allow the “Pocket Edition” at the table.)
In the Details
When faced with errata at your gaming table, how do you elect to handle it? The most common form is to incorporate, whole cloth, into your existing game. This method presumes a level of trust with the publisher, that the changes have been vetted.
Piecemeal is possible as well, although that requires a level of effort on your part: you validate the changes individually and the impact into your game. Depending on the scope of the errata, this could be simple or complex.
In either case, official changes to the rules could adversely affect your players as well. That awesome go-to spell they love? Maybe hit with the proverbial nerf bat. So, choose wisely!
Ultimately it is up to you; the simplest option is to ignore the changes entirely. Not an issue unless there’s a new printing of the rules. Now we potentially have to contend with multiple versions of rules at the gaming table. By association you may be forced to adapt to the new iteration simply because managing multiple rulesets introduces unnecessary complexity.
In general I favor incorporating errata in its entirety; most changes are done in the name of balance and errata doesn’t tend to cause major shifts in design or balance. That’s typically in the realm of edition changes. Also, I’ve noted that as I get further along in my gaming twilight years (“get off my lawn!”) that my tolerance for mistakes has lessened.
At your table, what’s your policy on errata? One of your players shows up to your gaming table with the latest errata that you haven’t seen yet. How do you handle it? Tell us below!
Update: I mistakenly neglected to mention that Green Ronin honored my request for a refund of my pre-order of their “Game of Thrones Edition.” The article has been updated accordingly.
Update (9/20/2012): Green Ronin has since released a PDF of the errata and a complete, new version of Chapter 5, as well as an explanation  of the snafu. Those who purchased the book are out of luck, however (until a second printing).