The Pagecount Fallacy

Oh, Gamers…

There are myriad of qualities tabletop RPG folk exhibit when it comes to their own gaming beliefs and idiosyncrasies. Preferences down to the smallest of details such as pips over numbers, fussing over “cursed” dice and dice jails for bad rolls, avoiding or clinging to certain mechanics, the list is endless. When it comes to our purchasing habits there’s an entire other bevvy of strange behaviors such as some of us seem to refuse to begin playing a game without loading up on every accessory imaginable first, or requiring the absolute perfect miniature(s) or bits of scenery before running an adventure. Of all of the things I’ve seen over the years there’s one that still truly baffles me, and that’s believing that the page count of a product is somehow corollary to its worthiness or value.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article shouldn’t be disregarded by a devil’s advocate / straw man argument referring to ‘that one time you saw a 2 page PDF for $38 on DriveThruRPG‘.

Did I miss A Memo?

Apparently, there is a magical ratio or formula that others have discovered that I have not yet stumbled upon in my now 20+ years of tabletop gaming that allows you to immediately determine the worth of an RPG product simply by knowing its price and page count. I really can’t quite put my finger on where this comes from, or why it seems to be so prevalent. My ideology behind games has always been that if a game is fun and brings you entertainment, and by extension brings fun and entertainment to those you game with, shouldn’t it be worth paying for? Is enjoyment not factored into our purchases, or have we become so accustomed to rock bottom prices for everything everywhere that efficiency is all that matters?

As an avid video gamer and IT Professional, I stand behind the phrase “you get what you pay for” with relative conviction. A night out at the movies for 4 people is going to cost close to $50, and that only lasts for 2-3 hours, yet most of us don’t bat an eye at the thought. Hell, lots of us will go spend $5 on a coffee but the thought of paying that same amount for a PDF adventure or supplement that will at the very least bring 3+ hours (likely much more) of enjoyment into our lives is somehow met with apprehension?

Now, the same could be said for mobile apps, or $5 games on Steam, or roughly any other “micro purchase” these days. Some of us will wait ages for a sale to bring product X below a certain price point, but spend $10+ per day going out to lunch. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why every time I’m perusing DriveThruRPG that I come across reviews like “This adventure is only 8 pages, you’re not getting a lot for your $4 here” and makes no mention of whether the product was fun, enjoyable, or added something positive to their game. I just want to reach through the Internet and shake them while screaming “BUT WAS IT FUN?!” I feel like gamers miss the point far more often than they should, y’know, because games are about fun.

Size Matters, or Does It?

I think at least part of the problem that birthed this school of thought is that most RPG products over the decades have been massive, both in scope and physicality. There’s a sort of normalization that has occurred with what we expect these products to be. They capture our attention and our whimsy for “bigger is better” and/or simulate an esoteric tome we may discover within the game itself. For so long we’ve seen core books thicker than bibles and Kickstarters for lavish leather bound collectors editions of everything imaginable. Not that there’s anything wrong with these, but I just feel like the RPG industry could use some slimming down.

I’m not saying we should make books pocket size or eliminate these cumbersome compendiums entirely, but the sheer volume of “RPG stuff” could use to be a lot more digestible. As an average person with a job, family, and plenty of other obligations outside of gaming – it’s a daunting task to look at one of these giant hardback adventures WotC is putting out and actually tackle reading (let alone running) the entire thing. Also, some of these products are organized so poorly it’s not like you can make the argument to just read it as you go.

I saw a great thread on twitter recently discussing the size and format of RPG products taking a more episodic/modular format and I was enthralled with it. Yes, I do love a big thick RPG hardcover as much as the next gamer, but I’m also a huge fan of efficiency and simplicity. It’s why gravitate toward games like Shadow of the Demon Lord and Savage Worlds so much, the core of their rules are relatively small, as are their adventures. I can digest these easily, and have just as much fun, if not more, running one of them than a more grandiose pile of words.

When it comes to ‘pages per dollar’ which unfortunately and apparently is a thing, I suppose I’m on the “losing” end playing games like SDL or SW. However, if there is a ‘fun per page’ ratio, I know I’m getting an unbeatable deal for my money with them. I suppose it all comes down to what you want out of your RPGs: fun, or lots of words for the sake of having them. Let’s not even get started on sections of non-mainstream RPG supplements that waste word count on “What is an RPG?”.

Smaller, Faster, Better

So, are publishers and creators supposed to sate this demand for page count by inflating text sizes, compromising layout, or simply cramming a book full of extra art or words to simply inflate their products? If they’re filling out products with extras simply for the sake of page count it’s going either mean less returns for them (this is bad because creators need to pay their bills too), or an increased selling price, which then simply perpetuates this problem. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I’m going to argue that the size of a PDF, mostly, doesn’t matter. I own several hardback, 150+ page adventures that have brought me far less fun, use, and value than most of my $4 6-10 page adventure PDFs I’ve scored from the DM’s Guild for D&D, or basically anything published for Demon Lord, Savage Worlds, and many other games.

I’m a fan of bucking the system and think we should shake things up so I’m planting my flag firmly on the idea of smaller supplements at fair prices that are worth the creators time and effort, in a digestible format occurring with more frequent installations. I’m also re-planting a flag behind trying new RPGs, especially the ones that follow these ideas. It’s not that often I find myself in favor of micro transactions, but when it comes to how I consume my RPG materials I suppose I’m fully on board with them. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

1 Comment

  1. I think this a pretty reasonable stance to take, but tough to implement in the current culture and market, exactly for the bias you discuss at the start of the article.

    I think the amount of high-detail, intensely pre-prepared material someone wants decreases the longer they’ve been playing. After enough games and enough sessions, seasoned Storyguides can run a solid arc of sessions from 4-5 pages of well written bullet point notes. A less experienced Storyguide might look at those same pages and feel they’re just not getting enough support, they have a harder time making the fun from the same product. That’s not any kind of dig, just a function of familiarity with running games and springboarding from the furnished material.

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