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Errata This!

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 [1] collected over the years. The Player’s Handbook errata [2] is 27 pages; the collected errata [3] 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 [4], A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. The core rulebook is back in print [5] 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 [6] that many of the errata fixes from the “Pocket Edition [7]” 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 [8] of the snafu. Those who purchased the book are out of luck, however (until a second printing).

17 Comments (Open | Close)

17 Comments To "Errata This!"

#1 Comment By greywulf On May 21, 2012 @ 2:23 am

As my players much prefer dead tree rpgs to pdfs, we try to keep the errata to a bare minimum, and selectively house rule in any update if and when we encounter problems.

For Fourth Edition D&D for example, we have adjusted the skill DCs and allowed auto-hitting Magic Missiles, and that’s pretty much it. Life is simply too short to mess around with a hundred pages of updates. I do think that the way updates and errata were handled for 4e significantly weakened the product, and that’s something which I hope is addressed in D&D Next. Errata should be kept to a minimum, and be fixed in later printings.

Good post!

#2 Comment By Bob Younce On May 21, 2012 @ 5:04 am

Excellent, thought-provoking piece.

For me, it comes down to the question of how you consume the rules of the game. In my 4E game, the players all use the character builder, and we use the online compendium for rules questions at the table.

This means we’re always playing the current version of the game, with errata. That has helped immensely with power creep, and helped to maintain a relative degree of game balance.

If we were relying on book printings for rules (and I own every 4E book except the last two releases, and only because I keep forgetting to pick them up) errata would be the mess Greywulf describes.

#3 Comment By Redcrow On May 21, 2012 @ 5:40 am

The more complex the system, the more prone it is to breakdown and error. That is one of the reasons I prefer more rules lite games. Also I feel like the more rules a system has the more its trying to confine my imagination. YMMV.

When errata does pop up, I usually bring it to the attention of my players at the beginning of the following session. Often the errata is incorporated right away, but if anyone voices an objection we discuss it and try to come to a consensus. On rare occasions errata is ignored if the group agrees the errata is worse than the original rule.

My games might not always match ‘official’ canon, but I’ve always viewed that as merely suggestions anyway and never felt any need to adhere strictly to it. In fact, I can’t recall a game I didn’t house-rule something in or out.

#4 Comment By danroth On May 21, 2012 @ 6:10 am

I’ve never had to deal with it, as I’ve only ever run AD&D 1 and Microlite 20. Furthermore, I plan on continuing to use “lighter” systems, as they simply suit my personality better. (As another example, my artistic philosophy as a drummer is to keep things simple most of the time.)

The other thing for me is that it is not really “on my radar.” Unless something stands out as glaringly problematic, I’ll just roll with it. For instance, I found out that there were updates to the M20 system a year after they came out, simply because I hadn’t bothered (or felt the need to) look.

Hypothetically, however, I would be with [9] in talking with the players before a session, and probably just incorporating it then.

#5 Comment By Svengaard On May 21, 2012 @ 7:00 am

Whether to run errata or not depends on the both the game system and the desires of the group as a whole.

In the campaign I play in we ignore the D&D 3.5 updates and use the 3.0 rules. We have more copies of the original version floating around and it really isn’t fun to have abilities, spell durations, and so on nerfed. In this case applying a lot of the erratas makes the game less fun.

Now when I’m running my BESM d20 game I use the original rules, but I have no problems with the players using the 3.5 Update. In the case of this game the update gives abilities to classes that are in sore need of a boost (Samauri had to spend points to wear armour, Fighters didn’t) and added options to make other abilities useful. In this case using the updates makes the game more fun.

There’s one other large difference between both these scenerios: money. The 3.5 Updates would have required spending $100+ on new books for the DM and $40+ for each player wanting a copy of the books. With BESM d20 there was errata available for free on GOO’s website when it was released. For this reason alone we chose to stay with D&D 3.0.

#6 Comment By Don Mappin On May 21, 2012 @ 8:25 am

[10] – An excellent point regarding the benefits of a digital product. While I mentioned it in passing, digital support is great for keeping your rules current — albeit at a monthly surcharge — but there’s also a downside in that you’re dragged forward into errata whether you like it or not. There’s rarely an option to selectively turn off the errata piecemeal; take it or leave it, essentially.

[11] – I don’t think that calling D&D 3.5 a new, updated printing is fair; 3.5 was an edition change (hence the “3.5”) and Wizards was very upfront about that. It is not a common expectation in the industry that edition changes are provided free. That said, if 3E was serviceable for you and your group, then clearly there’s no reason move onto the new edition.

#7 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On May 21, 2012 @ 8:39 am

[12] – I’m pretty much in this camp. It’s gotta be a glaring, game-breaking error for me to go to the trouble of tracking it down.

#8 Comment By drow On May 21, 2012 @ 10:34 am

i strongly tend to ignore errata. even in the case of a game breaking error, i’m more likely to use a house rule fix than any sort of official errata. on the other hand, many of the players in my 4e game like using the character builder, which includes errata’d versions of feats and powers, which is fine and doesn’t seem to cause any problems.

#9 Comment By griffon8 On May 21, 2012 @ 10:57 am

It’s never happened in my games. I’ve managed to keep on top of errata, and write the corrections into my copy of the game. Only once did I have a player have a problem with the changed version.

#10 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On May 21, 2012 @ 11:09 am

I generally incorporate the errata. Sometimes ‘incorporate’ means printing off a sheet, slipping it in the book, and then ignoring it.

Usually, I’ll read through it. Syntax and spelling errors, or “use the table, not the text” errors are usually ignored, but major changes are usually debated and included/excluded at the table.

#11 Comment By Silveressa On May 21, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

Having moved to using Cortex rules for the majority of our games (Usually the Supernatural or BSG variants) errata hasn’t been much of an issue thankfully.

Generally though, when errata does make an appearance at our table I give it a quick skim and make a temporary ruling of yes/no for the time being and continue with the session as normal.

After the current session, (during the week of down between before the next one) I speak with my players (usually face to face in a group but e-mail works too) and discuss the new errata and decide as a group if it has a place in our current campaign.

Often we’ve already house ruled past whatever problem the errata is supposed to address making it a moot point, but on occasion the new errata method works “cleaner” then the house rule, or just feels more balanced and is adopted.

#12 Comment By Justin Alexander On May 21, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

“Yes, a minimal cost was involved but it was reasonable within the context of the scope of the problem.”

I can’t believe there are still people willing to laud Mongoose for:

(1) Publishing a book with no quality control whatsoever.

(2) Charging people for their replacement copies.

I’m unfamiliar with any other industry operating like this. If you bought a broken TV from Best Buy would you really “congratulate” them when they not only gave you a replacement but did you the honor of charging you for it!

Of course you wouldn’t.

Claiming that this is “doing it right” makes it unlikely that I will ever buy a product from you or Gnome Stew.

“It was also at this point that Mongoose Publishing redoubled their efforts in proofreading and editing products going forward.”

Which resulted in their products going from “completely unusable and unplaytested” to “mostly unusuable and unplaytested”.

#13 Comment By Martin Ralya On May 21, 2012 @ 8:05 pm

[13] – “Claiming that this is “doing it right” makes it unlikely that I will ever buy a product from you or Gnome Stew.

That’s up to you, of course, but you can see from the free previews of our products ( [14], [15]) that we don’t subscribe to the “Mongoose model” as outlined here. Our books go through an extensive editing process, as well as multiple rounds of proofreading, and are overseen by one very anal motherfucker: Me.

#14 Comment By Noumenon On May 22, 2012 @ 2:53 am

Martin Ralya, Very Anal Motherfucker Extraordinaire — I like it.

#15 Comment By Scott Martin On May 22, 2012 @ 9:06 am

I rarely read and keep up with errata; my group tends to do even less. So, if it’s 4e and auto incorporated in the character builder, we’ll incorporate the changes–often without noticing them.

For everything else, I just don’t keep up with errata, unless there’s a glaring error or actual confusion based on the text. Then I’ll investigate–to solve an actual, at the table, problem. Life’s too short to fix all the typos.

#16 Comment By BryanB On May 25, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

I’m with the others that only use Errata should questions come up in play or something in the book is getting two different viewpoints because it isn’t worded clearly.

#17 Comment By Roxysteve On June 5, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

I so agree with this article, and have had an asoiaf experience that revolved around me and another player having corrected copies of the books (pdf and pocket editions) but everyone else at table including the GM using the old, rubbish-infested crapola edition.