Do we really need another “What is a RPG?” introduction?

Working on The Book of the Heavens text for Astrolomancer, I was about to pen an introductory, “What is a RPG?” definition for newcomers to the hobby. Instead, as I considered the intro I stopped and pondered:

Does a modern RPG rulebook really need another “What is a RPG?” introduction?

From a historical analysis, I can recall that virtually every RPG rulebook I’ve ever opened had a section explaining what RPGs are, how they’re played, how they (usually) use dice, how player take on the roles of characters in a world of the GMs devising, etc.

All those over-arching things about a RPG that we already know are sometimes condensed at the beginning of a rulebook. Almost as if reading that specific rulebook might be the very first introduction a reader would have into the world of RPGs.

But why is such a section even in the rules any more?

Is this a homage to the original D&D?
Is such an homage even necessary?

Is the author’s consideration that one’s RPG would be the gateway into the hobby likely?
Is that hubris?

I’m honestly not sure though I have my suspicions that it has more to do with conventional wisdom than anything else.

Trying to write up this section of the rules made me wonder if we, as a collective in the hobby, are ever going to see our presence mature or penetrate the gaming market well enough to leave these presumed necessary precursory definition sections behind. Will we ever see “RPG” in the same undefined but presumed understood way we see “First Person Shooter”… needing no additional description?

Instead, as is my usual want, I’ll be eliminating at least the bulk of the common “What is a RPG?” discussion material from Astrolomancer and going against what I see as the conventional wisdom.

But I wonder none-the-less.

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5 Responses to Do we really need another “What is a RPG?” introduction?

  1. acrobatic flea says:

    The way I look at it: every RPG rules set has the possibility of being someone’s first ever exposure to the hobby. I think it’s a necessity to acknowledge this fact, even if it’s just for that single reader.

  2. Kevin says:

    I’m not sure that’s actually the case.
    Which situation would likely cover 99% of the situations?

    1. That a RPG rulebook is the first introduction to the hobby
    2. That another player is the gateway to the RPG hobby

    If #1 is true, then I’d agree that a section on “What’s a RPG” should be present. However, if #2 is the norm, then is the section really necessary? Is it worth having a section that explains what a RPG entails for the few individuals for whom #1 is the means of entrance in the hobby?

    I’ve been perusing some computer game manuals and if we take an analogy from them, be they an rpg, rts, or fps, they don’t seem to feel the need to explain what they are and how they work. None of them seem to include a section on “What’s a BLANK?”

  3. Runeslinger says:

    The ‘What is an RPG?’ section has been pretty superfluous and a prime candidate for skipping for… decades. The term itself is practically self-explanatory, in all its multiple contexts, and as you rightly point out in your post: no one else feels compelled to explain what their product is, why do RPG designers so consistently feel compelled to include one in theirs?

    While there is something to be said for finding the right-sized plug to fill an annoying hole in one’s layout… this is not the plug we are looking for… move along.

  4. The key things, I think are ‘what’s your market penetration?’ and ‘do I want to cater to new gamers?’

    If your book is going to end up on Amazon, in a book store somewhere, or some place that isn’t a hobby shop or a website catering to the hobby shop demographic, you want that intro. We’re a niche of a niche, the likelihood of a ‘non-gamer’ picking it up in those environments is greater than a gamer picking it up. There are many other considerations to worry about if this is the case, as well.

    If your game is intended for experienced gamers (And it’s one of the few times I think it’s appropriate to use more difficult mechanics.) then maybe not. If you’re aiming at the hobby shop crowd, write to the hobby shop crowd, and don’t pander. They know what an RPG is. If they don’t, they’re not your market. Just know that that market is increasingly small.

  5. Kevin says:

    @Runeslinger: See, that’s exactly my thoughts. Nobody else in the gaming world feels it necessary to describe what their game “Is.”

    @Patrick: I think your view is the best “middle ground” argument for including such a section in some rulebooks. If the game is likely to be sold outside the RPG-verse, then the inclusion seems logical. But for those games sold within the hobby, such a section is arguably a waste of ink and focus.

    Further thought on this has led me to the following possibility: The reason such a section is included is due to the very nature of table-top RPG play. In some regards the “What is an RPG” really is more about “How do you play this game.” The lines get blurred because for a RPG, “How you play” is so closely tied to “What is”.

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