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Rulebooks For Reading

I am guessing that most of you are like me and are voracious readers. I am always reading some book, and most often I have second one I am reading casually on the side. There is nothing that gives me more anxiety than when I get to the end of a book, and don’t know what I am going to read next. My favorite type of reading material is RPG books with Sci-Fi a close runner up.

I love reading RPG books for al sorts of games, including games that I am not currently running. While I love a good story, stories are passive, making me a passenger as the author guides me through his plot. When I read a game book, be it rules, setting, adventure, etc, it engages my imagination and often gives me ideas that I can use for the game that I am currently running.

I try to read a number of different types of games across different systems and settings. I like classic games like D&D, clan books from White Wolf, and Indie games like Dogs In The Vineyard.  I found that there are a number of benefits for reading other game books, some of which are:

Themes, Plots, and Tropes

This is the low-hanging fruit of what you will pick up from reading other games. As I said with regard to feeding your Creativity [1], reading different material allows you to collect ideas to fuel your own creative ideas. The setting of a given book does not matter, once you understand the plot, you can transplant it to another setting, with a little work.

When I am looking for plots, I find that game supplements make the the best sources. RPG supplements are often full of backgrounds, location descriptions, and hooks. One of my favorites in this category is Monte Cook’s Ptolus. The book tome is full of so many great ideas and plots that you can just open the book to a random page and find something you can use.

GM Advice

Nearly every rulebook has a Game Master section with information that the designer shares on GMing that game. The GM advice varies in different games, but they often give an insight into how the designer sees the Game Master’s role as well as tips on session prep, plotting, encounter design, etc.  It can be hit or miss, depending on the game.  Also, it is fun to read the GM sections from various books over the years, and see how the role of the GM has changed.

Some of my favorite books for this would be the D&D 3.5 Dungeons Master’s Guide II with some of the best advice from Robin Laws; Vampire: The Masquerade, with great advice on setting, mood, and plot; and the Amber:Diceless RPG with its advice on how to run a game without dice.

Novel Mechanics

One of my favorite things about reading different RPGs is experiencing different types of mechanics. The inner math geek in me loves to see how a game designer models different actions in the game system. When I see a good mechanic, I want to transplant it to the game I am playing.

One word of caution, pulling mechanics from one game to another can be a dangerous thing, so use your best judgment. Often I don’t lift the exact mechanics from a game, but rather try to capture the essence of what the mechanic represents.

My favorite types of games for this are often the Indie games. While I do not run many Indie games, I can attribute several aspects of my personal GMing style to the influence of reading a number of Indie games. I have used Burning Wheel’s “Let It Ride” mechanic, and Dogs In The Vineyard’s, “Say Yes or Roll” in every game that I have played since I read them.

My Reading List

I have a stack of game books on my shelf that I am waiting to read.  My short list includes:

So with some time with the up coming holiday, consider an RPG book for some light reading.

What about you?  Do you read RPGs for recreation?  What books have been your favorites? What books are on your reading list?

10 Comments (Open | Close)

10 Comments To "Rulebooks For Reading"

#1 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On November 23, 2009 @ 7:31 am

A few spring to mind:

Primetime Adventures – lots of great advice on making an RPG session seem like a TV show. It translates well to other systems.

Heroes Unlimited – Sure, the system’s a bit of a mess, but this was one of the first superhero games that made playing a cyborg feel really different than playing a mutant or weapons specialist. It’s a fun read.

Harn – An awesome low-magic setting that draws you in and makes you feel like it really exists.

Lands of Mystery (Justice Inc) – Great inspiration for running lost world games or just making an interesting fantasy setting. I haven’t read the latest version for Pulp Hero. Honorable mention goes to Justice Inc. itself…the tropes section is fun to read.

Any GURPS supplement – Even if you don’t use GURPS, these books were like the encyclopedia of RPGs, chock full of well-researched material and interesting ideas.

Any Pathfinder Adventure Path – These are awesome reads in and of themselves, even if you never plan to run a Pathfinder/3.5e campaign.

#2 Comment By mobuttu On November 23, 2009 @ 9:43 am

I have tons of Rifts sourcebooks to read and on the side I also read Indies games (HQ2, DitV, Don’t Rest your Head, InSpectres… -They are short and focused so great for fast read) and things such as Reign and Burning Wheel.

#3 Comment By callin On November 23, 2009 @ 9:52 am

I always have a stack of game books waiting to be read. Some, such as Orks, has been there for years and others get read before reaching the stack.

Of late I have been focused on reading books I can possibly use; Revenge of the Giants.

But I do dabble on the side; Reign, the newest edition of White Wolf (World of Darkness, Vampire, Changling),

Sometimes I will go back and reread older stuff. Necessary Evil, Masterbook/Torg, Savage Worlds. Rereading things I’ve read awhile ago can also be fun.

My Blog- [6]

#4 Comment By Virgil Vansant On November 23, 2009 @ 11:12 am

I must agree with Walt on the GURPS books. I run one short-lived sci-fi GURPS campaign many years ago, but I own dozens of GURPS books. I especially love the historical and world books.

#5 Comment By Scott Martin On November 23, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

Reading game books is an addiction I’m trying to break– mostly so I don’t wind up buying too many cool systems that I’ll never get to experience. You’re right– particularly for GMs, there’s a lot of different takes out there, and the advice is often generally applicable, just slightly out of focus.

That said, I read a lot of [7] in waiting rooms this last week. It is interesting to see where they broke from the Spirit of the Century/FATE 3 assumptions, and why. It looks like a game that I’d enjoy creating clusters for, even independent of characters.

#6 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On November 23, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

I try to avoid rulebooks when running a game; I tend to borrow and fiddle with the rules when I should just keep things simple.

But sourcebooks and supplements – those are very handy. I just don’t find myself reading sourcebooks when there’s so much fiction and nonfiction to catch up on.

Gotta make more room in my reading schedule… *sigh*

#7 Comment By Razjah On November 23, 2009 @ 3:25 pm

Something I found really useful was a Cultural Anthropology book. The different parts of the world and tribes I can use to add more flavor to things that the PCs don’t normally run into.

I also plan to find raid some of the local stores for more books. Can’t have enough can you?

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 23, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

I’m avoiding RPG games as reading material right now. My new rule is I cannot buy it unless I run it for one month. Like Scott, I’m tired of buying cool games but never playing them.

#9 Comment By Jeff Carlsen On November 23, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

I was buying up all the D&D 4e books for this very reason, until I realized just how much money I was spending on a game I don’t play.

Shadowrun is my second guilty pleasure.

Gaming blogs would be my third.

The truth is, I now have so many games I want to play, and campaigns I want to run, that I will always feel overwhelmed by it, and a little disappointed. But I also want to keep an eye on what’s going on in the industry, so it’s a fate I’ll have to live with.

–Jeff Carlsen, Apathy Games

#10 Comment By Nojo On November 23, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

BTW, the cool Robin Laws bit from D&D 3.5 DM II is a stripped down version of Robin’s Laws of Good Games Mastering.


The SJG version includes sections on how to choose the right gaming system for your group, which for some reason didn’t make it in the D&D book. 🙂