Yesterday’s little flap over the whole Frog God Games business got me thinking a bit about production values, specifically how I’ve regarded them over the years.
Keep in mind I come partially from a Palladium heritage in the hobby. That means books laid out by hand, not a lot of color, and black-and-white illustrations. Yeah, I loved the art from Ramon Perez, but I think we can agree that at least the interiors of Palladium products were not a layout artist’s dream.
From there, I jumped into a ton of different games. Some had nearly no art (Traveller), some had tons of it (D&D), and some had art, but I didn’t like it (MERP and Rolemaster, aside from Pete Fenlon’s still-peerless cartography). Looking back, here’s my one-sentence summation:
I didn’t need what I thought I needed in a RPG product.
To me, important production values aren’t in artwork or color splashes, it’s in a solid, legible readout, and easily-referenced rules. Yeah, I like my cartography to be evocative and engaging, but that can just as easily be someone’s hand-drawn rough map as anything.
I don’t want to say production values don’t matter, but how I define what’s acceptable in them has certainly shifted over the years. Give me rules, make them easy to read and find, throw in a treasure/world/dungeon map, and I’m on my way.
If I had to make a Big 4 ranking of important attributes in a product, it’d probably go like this:
1) Enthusiasm: Does this book get me excited about playing the hell out of your product?
2) Rules: How about the rules? Do they work for what I want to do?
3) Clarity: Can I find stuff? Do I understand it? Is the product easy to read/access/utilize?
4) Cost: Is this going to break my measly allotment for gaming stuff? Do I have to buy a bunch of other stuff to use it?
I think art contributes to #1, Enthusiasm, for a lot of people. I know it has for me, too, at times, though I think good writing and outside influences trump it easily any day. But this is 2010. You can’t go online without tripping over 150 pages of art and photography to use in your game. I think that’s one of the reasons art in a RPG product is just not that important to me anymore. It’s not that it doesn’t matter at all, it’s just somewhere well lower on the list. All other things being equal, I am not going to pay $40 for a product that does the same thing as a $10 product, just because it’s got non clip-art illustrations or a professionally-illustrated cover. I certainly don’t begrudge those who do, though. It’s not my wallet.
I suspect I’m pretty far off the mark when it comes to all this, and that’s fine. I think we all know by now my site is not exactly a fount for what’s cutting-edge. It’s a pretty eclectic jumble around here, which suits me well enough. I guess it’s easy to forget we aren’t always the target audience for a product. I know I do at times, and probably will again.