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Every D&D Player Needs to Buy and Read the Rules? Why?

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D&D RulebooksIt seems to be a truism of modern D&D: all players really need to buy a copy of the rules, learn them, and have them at hand during the game. Why should all players need to do this to play well? Only one person needs to buy a boardgame for a group to play it. Only one person needs to buy a deck of playing cards and a book of rules for poker, bridge or other standard card games. Why should D&D be any different?

This is especially true when people used to play (TSR) D&D all the time with only one set of rules for the group. A player could sit down and create a character in a few minutes and provided he was not playing a spell caster, only need to reference the books to fill in his character sheet with his chances of success in combat and with his short list of character class based special abilities. Even if they played a spell-caster, all they needed from the rulebook was the details of the spells their character actually knew. As their initial spells were determined randomly determined by the GM and caster's had to find additional spells in the game in treasure, they did not need to know about all the spells in advance to pick the best. A player didn't need to know the details of the rules in play either, as all he had to do was tell the GM what he wanted his character to do in "real world terms" (as opposed to "rules-speak terms") and the GM would tell the player either the result of his action or what roll was needed for success.

Many players of TSR-era D&D played for months or years without ever reading (let alone buying) a single rulebook. IMHO, this the way D&D rules should be written. It makes the game far more accessible to casual players who don't want to spend a lot of money on the game. It makes the game accessible to casual players who have the time and interest to sit down an play for a few hours every week or two, but lack the time and/or interest to read and study multi-hundred page rulebooks between play sessions.

While hardcore D&D players may want to read and study every page of every D&D rulebook they can get their hands (and may not be able to understand why someone would want to play D&D without doing so), such players are a minority of gamers. Just as those who buy a new computer RPG with a 40-150 page rulebook and sit down and study that rulebook before they play are a minority -- most people install the game and start playing, leaving the rulebook (and probably even the installation guide) in the box.

If D&D Next is to have a good chance of attracting new players to the game, I think WOTC is going to have to give up on the idea that every player needs to give them a good chunk money to buy the books and have the time and interest to study and learn them to play well (or even to play at all). D&D Next needs to return to the idea that the game can be played and played well with only one player in a group (usually the GM) buying the books. Sure, if a player ends up really liking D&D Next, he or she probably will eventually get a copy of the D&D Next version of the Player's Handbook, but players should not need to buy any D&D books just to be able to play (and play well).

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maxinstuff said...
September 15, 2013 at 11:28 PM  

This must be a D&D thing, because I have never encountered this attitude with other systems.... Not even with Pathfinder. Groups I have encountered always shared books as you describe.

Are there really GM's out there who force their players to purchase the players handbook and other splats?

Michael Julius said...
September 16, 2013 at 1:00 AM  

It also eliminates the most interesting group of players - non-gamers.

Dave said...
September 16, 2013 at 9:04 AM  

"If D&D Next is to have a good chance of attracting new players to the game, I think WOTC is going to have to give up on the idea that every player needs to give them a good chunk money to buy the books and have the time and interest to study and learn them to play well (or even to play at all)."

LOL... Attracting new players? THAT is certainly not their intention.

Anonymous said...
September 16, 2013 at 9:30 AM  

I think gamers often embrace it as a hobby and start to buy books just because ownership is valuable to them. People like to spend money on their hobbies and with an rpg that mean, books, dice, and maybe minis. Not much else.

The flip side:

At a certain point TSR and other game companies realized that selling books to only DMs was limited and began publishing books for the player's reference. Spaltbooks were born. You then had a Player's Handbook, and a Thief's Sourcebook, and a magic spell deck. None were really necessary but people like spending on their hobbies.

Today it's just a common thing. I buy lots of books that will never be gamed with, some of which I read 20 pages and shelved.

I also believe that lots o gamers buy the books to make sure they get as powerful a character as possible.

Randall said...
September 16, 2013 at 9:50 AM  

@The Degenerate Elite: Unfortunately, what is best for the industry (all players of a game needing to buy most of the books the publisher decides to publish) is not necessarily what is best for the hobby. What is good for Ford, err I mean WOTC, in the short term is not always what is best for the hobby in the long term.

lars_alexander said...
September 16, 2013 at 9:56 AM  

As far as I can recall there were only a few players/GMs in our circle of gamers who actually bought rules books. Most of them borrowed the books, if necessary, or read the rules before, or during a game session.

With the osr stuff it's easy to distribute free copies to all players.

I will buy D&D Next if there's anything valuable for my gaming group in there. If not, I'll stick to the free stuff.

Philo Pharynx said...
September 16, 2013 at 11:25 AM  

The OGL has been great for this. They put the System Reference Document on the web, which has the basic rules for free. Paizo has one-upped them with their version, as it includes many of their expansions. These don't have the fluff content, so there's still a reason to buy the books.

Randall said...
September 16, 2013 at 2:52 PM  

Philo Pharynx: The OGL 3.x and PF system reference documents are great for avoiding the need to buy the games, but they do not help the casual player who does not want to read a long technical document just to create and properly play a good character.

Andreas Davour said...
September 21, 2013 at 9:38 AM  

Modern D&D? I remember wondering about this attitude as a young whippersnapper when 1st ed. AD&D was what all the people outside the "Chaosium kids" circle was playing. I think it's as old as the split of a Players Book and DM book in the 1st ed era.

JD Neal said...
September 30, 2013 at 4:05 PM  

If you're trying to make money (millions of dollars) you make games where people have to buy the books to play in order to be playing the game everyone else is playing. Anyone with creativity could make their own game; that isn't the market of the gaming industry, though. They sell to people with lots of money but little imagination. "Mommy, gimme 50 dollars so I can buy me some fun..."

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