Three Things I Learned From Throwing Out RPG Books

Yesterday, in a moment of clarity, I decided to tackle the Elephant in the Room that has haunted our house for decades: the huge stacks of roleplaying game books that clutter the aptly named “rat room”.

Before my wife brought pet rats into our lives, that space was known as the “hobby room” and it would be accurate still today. Still, the cohabitation of the Elephant and the rats has led to a growing tension, especially as the problem isn’t as much my collection of books as a lack of shelving space (or space in general within our small Edwardian terrace house). There’s also the addict-like behaviours that are associated with my hobby, in that I seem to keep buying roleplaying books even when I clearly won’t play them.

My personal problems aside, I decided to tackle the problem (again) yesterday. This time I feel as though I have made more headway. I was operating under the expectation that I might be able to offload a huge truckload of books in one go to an internet trader. This is now looking somewhat unlikely and I am forced to consider the eBay option, but that isn’t what I wanted to talk about.

Yesterday, I discovered three interesting things that about my collection that I’d like to share with you.

1. It Feels Good To Find Out What You Have

I discovered that I have more than 150 roleplaying game titles that I can fairly easily stand to let go. These include games I bought, read, and felt disappointed with; games that I bought, read, played, and feel I am done with – I have got what I needed from them; or adventures that I don’t really, having read through, feel I want to run; and stuff that I bought out of a sense of wanting to support a creator but don’t really want to use; also stuff that was just bought on a whim of curious desire.

It was good to discover how many duplicates of some games I own – one example is the near-mint hardback Dungeon Crawl Classics rulebook that I am letting go because I have a black hardcover leatherette edition of the same game.

It was good to see how many games I have played over the years but no longer feel any desire to play again – Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars was fun to try but a mistake to collect because I didn’t really enjoy the weird dice mechanism as much as I thought I might.

It was good to realise that I buy a lot of products out of a desire to support a creator. I collect materials that I am unlikely to play because I am trying to encourage what I think is good stuff – too many creators to list them all here.

2. Making a To-play List Was Sobering

As I reorganised the piles and shelves a little, I decided to make a second list of the games that I still strongly desire to play. This quickly expanded into three lists: games to try at least once, worlds to adapt to play (probably with GURPS), and books that I want to read in an act of research.

This last category – books as research – is something I hadn’t consciously realised that I do: buy a book because I suspect it might contain some nugget that I can apply or otherwise steal for my actual play experience – obvious examples are those myriad “How to” books.

My list of games I want to play which I also already own has 38 items on it. If I played a one-shot every week (not possible) it would take me half a year or so to play through that list.

As I was sorting yesterday, I began to think about playing one game per quarter (every 3 months) and then seeing if it was a “one and done” thing (sell off after) or a game to return to. This, in turn, led to the realisation that one game per quarter would not do them justice. It’s more a case of perhaps one or two per year, in which case I can play a new game for 19 years or more without buying another game. Holy crap!

If we add the list of game worlds that I would like to adapt – whether a world from a game which has a system I am not interested in playing, or just from a game world product that is written system-agnostic – there are another 15 worlds.

If I ran a one-shot in those worlds, which (honestly) wouldn’t make adapting them worthwhile, that’s 15 more one-time plays that could take that 19 years of gaming up to nearer 26 years. Of course, in actual fact, these are worlds I want to explore in more depth than a one-shot. Thus, while I can play one-off short run adventures for 19 years, it seems I have a lot of other games I could run longer-term. All without buying another game, ever.

Like I said, this was sobering. How will I make sense of this?

One option is to embrace the world exploration with consistent effort. I am going to try two approaches: solo play in the worlds and also offering longer-term games in worlds. I know that some of those settings, perhaps many, won’t engage me for too long and I will quickly explore them to my satisfaction; other worlds draw me in and, in time, I will begin to see the worlds I really enjoy the most.

Along the way, I can offer to break up my “serious” gaming with short sojourns into those games that I want to try at least once. All I need is some willing players and a willingness to take a break in the routine bi-weekly sessions somewhere along the line. That seems doable.

3. I Enjoy It When a Book Gets Returned

In recent weeks, with the Covid-19 lockdown here in the UK, I have been delving back into Stoic philosophy. One of the key ideas from Epictetus is as follows:

Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.”

Enchiridion, XI, Epictetus

Epictetus goes on into thoughts too dark to share here but the principle rang true: yesterday, as a few friends saw my spreadsheet of games to sell and began to offer to take them from me, I felt something I didn’t expect.

A few books are simply going away as gifts; the rest of the tomes, however, feel good to allow people to buy. I have not found the idea of earning back money to be motivating; it is the sense of the book returning to the Universe, to do that for which it was designed, that pleases me.

Each book was written, not to be sitting on a pile in my rat room but rather to be read and played. I am done with these items. In Stoic thinking, Epictetus is asking us to consider the “loss” of possessions (or whatever else) not as loss but as a returning to the “giver”.

I am fortunate indeed to be able to willingly release to the Universe these great tomes so that others might enjoy them. It doesn’t matter overmuch to me that I sell them – although certainly this is welcome in helping to pay my bills. When I see them going to a welcome home, I am pleased to be returning these games to whomever seeks to own them.

Game on!

5 thoughts on “Three Things I Learned From Throwing Out RPG Books

  1. I thinned down my personal collection a few years back, from three shelves down to one shelf. Kept only RPGs of personal significance. Now, when a new game goes on the shelf, one must be let go. Forced a lot of thinking as to what a given title meant to me. Sounds similar to your experience.

  2. Che, I did something similar in the mid-90’s when I realised that my career was going to be all consuming. I gave away 99% of my vast collection of OD&D (whitebox), AD&D, Hero System, Champions, GURPS, and a lot of misc stuff. It felt like taking a heavy weight from my shoulders at the time. I regret some of those books loss now, but during my 38 years away from the hobby I didn’t miss them one bit.

    Good luck with this, I wish you success.

  3. Whoops, as usual my maths are deficient. The career was 38 yrs., not the break from all things rpg.

  4. It’s interesting to see the emotions that getting rid of books – especially RPG books – inspires. Space is of course an issue, and when items occupy your physical space they can tend to occupy headspace which may be unwanted. However, I love gaming books and feel no shame in keeping books that I won’t “use”. There’s always a late evening when I’ll enjoy having a flick through books that will never see a detailed read, let alone a play. But if the book won’t inspire even a casual flip-through and have no memories associated, then sure, they can go.

    1. Thanks for this comment. I think, for me, there has been a need to clear the physical and mental clutter so I can better focus on the good stuff. Of course, your mileage may vary. I am, after all, just one man writing from my own limited experience. 😉 Thanks! Game on!

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