Reframing The Collection

Coming to accept the idea that I don’t really need the huge collection of different games that I own has been a long and, at times, painful realisation. There is a considerable sunk cost attached to those colossal stacks of roleplaying books and I am only now beginning to look at them with fresh eyes.

One suggestion I am making to myself is to view the collection of games as falling into three categories:

  1. Material that I will use or which resonate with me as a potential resource.
  2. Stuff that I have collected because it has meaning (and therefore value).
  3. Resources that are not meaningful to me and do not resonate with me.

One of the related insights that I am waking up to is that I am done with the quest for the rules system of my dreams. While I certainly get curious about what rules exist in new games I come across, the truth is that each time I read those rules I usually experience disappointment when I sit down to use them. The reality is that I enjoy perhaps a handful of rule systems and each one has it’s role to play in my gaming experience.

The ever-growing stacks in the hobby room.

Thus, the rules material I will use is going to come from only a handful of systems. I can begin to let go of the desire to collect and own the whole system for other games. Putting aside the rules material I will use, the next question with a book or resource is, “How will I use this?”

This is where a small passage from the GURPS Basic Set resonates with me deeply:

Suppose that you’re a GURPS player. You’re at the hobby shop, and you see a really interesting supplement package. But it’s by another publisher, for another game.
No problem. The GURPS system breaks everything down into plain English and simple numbers. Distances are given in feet and miles, rather than arbitrary units; times are given in minutes and seconds. That’s what makes it generic. That also makes it easy to translate. If you see an interesting supplement for another game, go right ahead and get it. You can use it as a sourcebook for GURPS.

GURPS Basic Set (Characters), p. B5

Whether or not GURPS becomes my go-to game (right now, it certainly feels that way), the concept behind this passage is that the ideas, worlds, and adventures from other games are all grist for the creative mill in my own hobby. They are all useable with other games, especially once you boil off the extraneous system stuff and focus on what is being described in tangible, specific terms.

This has already begun to happen for me. One example is the way in which the Mongoose Traveller material set in the Third Imperium has become inspiration for enjoying that universe through the lens of GURPS as a rules system.

But it’s deeper than that once you bring the rules system behind the screen. For example, in my Northern Isles game, it is quite feasible for me to change aspects of the rules without disrupting the in-play experience of my players. This is because they don’t see the mechanisms, the rules, but are focused upon the tangible descriptions of the world and the actions of their characters.

Because we are enhancing and deepening their Character-immersion and, in turn, also focusing more firmly upon their Otherworld-immersion, the only person who has to concern themselves with the rules is the GM. All else is, for the players, acceptable as long as it does not damage the experience of play they are seeking and enjoying.

Thus, as I begin to consider the future of my roleplaying sessions, I can see me anchoring more firmly upon my chosen set of game rules and allowing space to explore the various books and resources I own as inspiration and example. The Alexandrian makes a useful point here:

I look at my multiple bookcases of gaming material and I know with an absolute certainty that I own more adventure modules than I could ever hope to play in my entire lifetime. (And that’s assuming that I never use any of my own material.)

So why do I keep buying more?

There are a lot of answers to that. But a major one lies in the fact that I usually manage to find a lot of value even in the modules that I don’t use.

The Alexandrian, “Strip-Mining Adventure Modules

While the Alexandrian is thinking about the value of adventure modules, I sense that there is as much (if not more) to be found in the pages of gazetteers, source books, and world books. Whether it’s an idea for an adventure, an exciting location, an interesting NPC, or an intriguing situation, my sense is that as long as the work you are reading resonates with you then you might as well mine it for the good stuff.

People have been doing this with GURPS source and world books for decades. Weirdly, I had not seriously considered doing the reverse: mining source and world books for my GURPS games. Especially for those ongoing games where I have chosen to commit myself to the long game. Importing ideas or reskinning situations is a positive use of the gift I have given myself by buying all those roleplaying books.

Deepening into the goal of presenting rich and exciting roleplaying experiences for my players is only enhanced by an open consideration of what resources lie around me, gathering dust. The biggest challenge is likely to be the question of where to start. The easy answer is to begin with what might be most useful to the session I need to run next.

Game on!

One comment

  1. Good article, Che. I took have a huge pile of RPG books, a lot of which I know I won’t ever run. However, like you there’s books that I’ve bought, looked through and then realised that while I’ll probably never run the game, there are certain nuggets that I will absolutely use and work into my games. Some of the most useful books I’ve seen are White Wolf’s various “Stroyteller Handbooks” for their World of Darkness game lines. These offer some really great, generic advice that can be used to construct scenarios for pretty much any game.


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