Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Best Value for Your Buck...

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that tabletop role-playing is one of the BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUES ever, and point to my own experiences from a time before the hobby went mainstream and computer games were just barely new... 

For two years, between 1980 and 1982, I had only three role-playing books; The AD&D Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual (OK, four counting the Fiend Folio, although I roll this one in with the manual).  I had all the classes and magic spells I could ever want and plenty of monsters to stock my dungeons and keep things moving because, after all, freshness isn't about having a new monster every adventure, but rather, having challenging situations.  Oh, and evil NPCs make the BEST villains!

And the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide offered a LIFETIME supply of excellent DMing advice.  My only other accessory was the DM's screen so I didn't have to consult the tables in-book.

This was enough.  More than enough, really.  You could go forever with just the contents of these books, although I was encouraged to add or change anything, and did so with regularity.  Indeed, this element was the very definition of "value-added" and built upon the initial investment.  It was THE emergent property of the hobby!

Of course, I needed dice and had plenty.  But these lasted long enough and eventually become eroded plastic balls I parted with only reluctantly when I had to.  A small expense that hardly registered against my (really quite modest) early-80s allowance.      

Fantasy Gaming is a treasure
that gives back more than you spend...

Otherwise, I needed paper (including graph paper) and pencils, including colored pencils and ink pens.  But these could easily be rolled into school supply purchases and I never had to buy this stuff myself.  Miniatures were available, but they never really took off in my circles until years later, when Robyn and I wanted to introduce a more visual element into our own games.  So paper and pencil rounded out my modest needs, and I got these free!

Everything else was stuff that money couldn't buy and, really, shouldn't have to buy.  The choices and decisions of the characters in the heat of battle and that truly organic feeling you get when everything goes off the grid and the scenario writes itself through many unpredictable responses.  Once, I had an adventure set in a village festival and made an off-hand comment about a firedrake tied and put on display for the modest sum of 2 SP.  This was too much for the party to bear, and one cantrip later, the beast was released to great chaos!  This little detour took the WHOLE session...

And was BETTER than ANYTHING I had planned!

Of course, we already know this about role-playing.  But my point here is twofold: First, that the best aspects of gaming are totally free and, secondly, that with a MINIMAL INVESTMENT UP FRONT, we enjoy a literal LIFETIME OF ENTERTAINMENT.  With so many products competing for our dollar, there aren't many that can make this claim and live up to it.  Tabletop gaming stands ALONE here...

The immortal Dave Trampier knew
how valuable gaming as a hobby could be... 

Imagine buying a DVD that becomes a different movie every time you put it in.  Or perhaps a book that tells a different story every time you thumb through its pages.  Of course, superior books, music, and literature are timeless and well-worth enjoying again, but our hobby; the ROLE-PLAYING hobby, is ALWAYS something new.

This is because role-playing is a SIMULATION scripted by people, meaning the PLAYERS, making on-the-fly decisions.  And it certainly helps that the action takes place inside the participant's heads instead of on a printed page or other static medium (modern computer games, for all their greatness, are still inherently limited).

I saved some money, bought some rulebooks and some dice, and proceeded to ask my folks for VERY LITTLE game-related for the next two years, not even at Christmas.  Oh, they recognized that this gaming thing occupied much of my free time.  But they also seemed to understand that it didn't require much more than an over-active imagination, and I remain grateful for their support, because it was the 80s, after all, and the Satanic Panic was out there...

This aspect of the hobby might be SLIGHTLY problematic for an industry that needs to market new products.  Remember, I did't buy much (except perhaps Dragon Magazine) for TWO YEARS, and spent a full DECADE playing a game that Robyn and I made up together, which underscores my point.  Once you've found a role-playing system you're happy with and feel comfortable house ruling, you've stumbled upon the BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUE ANYWHERE.  So check out the many games available, find some you like, and make adventures happen!


  1. I like the "DVD that becomes a different movie every time you put it in" and the "book that tells a different story every time you thumb through its pages" metaphors. So true.

  2. Great post. We did the same. The problem today, at least for me, is the abundance of available games, adventures and supplements. How to choose? How to not buy instead of making things up yourself? I wish I had an answer to these questions.