The 20/80 Rule of RPGs
I think I have found that a good RPG book needs to consider the concentration and focus of the reader when presenting information. As much as it might make sense to dollop a pile of background exposition up front or dwell on endless mechanics for a full-bodied chapter, I really suffer from terrible study fatigue.
I have been reading Mecha vs Kaiju, a Fate Core setting book written by Jonathan Wright. I have been reading it because my wife wants to (a) play it and (b) run it, but would like me to run it first so that she knows what she’s doing.
I have been reading hard today, with the assistance of my cats, and I like the background well enough. It reminds me a little of the background for Kuro – a game where the player characters discover something really dark lurking in the shadows of future Japan. Both games draw heavily on legends of Oni and Kami, the spirits of the land.
However, I have skipped to halfway through the book because I found myself struggling with the crunchy bit. I mean, Fate Core isn’t exactly crunchy-crunchy. It isn’t D&D 4th edition or Universe crunchy. I’m not wading through Pathfinder-level mechanics here. But, I did find myself wanting to understand the setting before I hit the rules.
Weird. I must have a tipping point or something. When I tried to read Eclipse Phase, I discovered that the 100+ pages of background at the beginning just killed my interest. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concepts in EP, but the backstory just seemed to go on and on.
The ‘secret’ background of Mecha vs Kaiju extends to a little over 20-pages. If they’d stuck that at the front, it might have made for a weird structure – I can see they have done it this way so a player can read from the start. However, I don’t imagine anyone will be buying the book and expecting their players to read up on stuff unsupervised. All the information about mecha construction will more likely be a guided process.
Anyway – I can now see that my sweet spot for an RPG falls in the 20 – 30 pages of background range, followed by crunch scattered with some thematic fluff. Ideally, no section of the book should extend beyond that 20 – 30 pages. It feels oppressive to have a book linger so long on one subject. My recent reading of the Cypher System Rulebook sort of managed to do that with the 416-page bulk of the book. Nothing stretched on for too long without changing the subject. Yes, you have about 200-pages on characters, but it all chunks down – core rules, Foci, Descriptors, Gear and so on.
I’ll get through it. I’m just making a point.
(Oh – and the 20/80 thing. I’m mis-using a ratio that relates to analyzing data. In this case, I’d like to see 80% of the content of any game chunked up into 20 page or shorter chapters. Bites of information, nothing more. The monolithic pile of crunch or fluff should be the exception rather than the rule.)