Wednesday, April 20, 2011

RPG Collection Development - Genre

Wikipedia launched a list of different role-playing games by name. While scrolling through the list, I thought “that is a LOT of games...” And while I would gladly applaud any library that manages to collect all of these books, realities such as budgetary constraints and public interest would keep such a thing possible. Role-playing game books can be expensive. Many hard-cover books with over 200 pages can cost almost $50.00. Certain out-of-print books can cost over $200.00, while other “gently used” copies can be had for $25.00. As a result, most wall-o-books that contain just RPGs are in the hands of individuals. 

(No, this is not my room. But every single book on those shelves are RPG books, so I wish it was!)

But, like I mentioned in a previous post, not everyone is able to Therefore, if a public library is to create a collection of RPG books for their patrons, they should carefully consider what books to collect by determining which books would get the most use, and which books would fit into their collections.

I'd like to present two ideas for choosing RPG books: genre and market share (or popularity). In this post, I will focus on genre.

 (This picture is from the Great Fables Cross Over, by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges; part 3 of 9, pages 5 and 6.)

As librarians, we all know about genre fiction. For better or for worse, genre fiction has infused the book world and has brought us some works that are mediocre, some that are good, and some that are absolutely amazing, and some that have caught the public's attention. Genre uses the same types of short-hand in role-playing games that it does in fiction. Conventions are used. So, you would be unlikely to find a space ship in a western game, or magic in a post-apocalyptic science-fiction game. (There are, of course, exceptions – the Serenity/Firefly RPG is a western with space ships, and RIFTS is a post-apocalyptic game with magic.) The players roughly know what to expect in a game of a particular genre. So, look at your statistics. See what fiction books are circulating and use that to find different games that fit the genre. Fantasy-based role-playing games seem to be the most popular genre, followed by science fiction and horror games. Does your circulation of novels follow the same pattern? 

You could even look at specific series within a genre and see if they have an equivalent RPG. Do your Doctor Who DVDs disappear from the shelves as fast as they come in? Than maybe the Doctor Who RPG has a place in your collection. Do you have an extensive collection of superhero comics? Maybe Mutants and Masterminds could be included, or the latest version of the DC Adventures RPG, which uses the third edition rules of Mutants and Masterminds. Is political fiction flying off of the shelf, like George R. R. Martin's A Game Of Thrones? Than the RPG version of his story, A Song of Ice and Fire, may be perfect. If fantasy novels circulate like hotcakes - especially those by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman – pick up a version of Dungeons and Dragons.

Of course, there are also generic RPG systems that are not dependant on genres. GURPS (Generic Universal Role Play System) and Big Eyes Small Mouth (BESM) are two such systems. Generic RPG systems allow the players to use the same system for a variety of settings.

Unfortunately, you can have many different games in a single genre, and not have have the desire or budget to get all of them. Furthermore, since the collection is for the patrons, it may be best to give the patrons what they want – or at least what they have heard of. In my next post, I'll write about the more popular games and publishers.

Selected References

Game of Thrones picture from Daemons TV.  Referenced April 19, 2010.

Jason C from Belleville (2011).  Pictures of the Room of RPG Books.  Taken on April 15, 2011.

Willingham B and Sturges M.  Picture of the Genres.  The Great Fables Cross-over : part 3 of 9  Referenced April 19, 2010 from

Song of Ice and Fire picture from Lons Lair.  Referenced April 19, 2010 from

Wikipedia.  "RPGs by Genre."   Referenced April 19, 2010 from

Wikipedia.  "RPGs by Name"  Referenced April 17. 2010 from

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why should libraries care about RPGs?

In my last post, I defined what an RPG is. (At least, I have defined what my idea of an RPG is. Other people may give different definitions). The next question is, so what? Why should the library care? After all, there is already enough going on: story hour, the new computer classes, tax season, a reference list half a mile long, a local performer, teen video-game night, the art show, and the movie night? Not to mention the usual library duties like cataloging, shelving, reference, circulation and helping patrons find what they are looking for.

One answer is in the School Library Journal. Cason Snow (2009) wrote an article about role-playing games in the library. She was looking at gaming from the view of a school librarian, and their value in social education, ethics and literacy:

"A strength of RPGs is that they allow players to examine real issues within the context of a game.  By playing these games, students can develop many important life skills, such as teamwork, leadership, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and math and literacy skills.  RPGs also engage players directly in the experience, making them active rather than passive participants." 

In other words, a role-playing game can be used to apply certain knowledge that is being taught in the class room (i.e. Math and literacy) and to encourage traits that are encouraged in the classroom, but not easily taught.

What about people who are not in a school environment? The public library is “the people's university”, and the library's main goal is to provide the population with information, typically the kind that one learns in a classroom. Does that mean the library has a duty to educate people in the things that cannot be easily learned in the classroom? I don't know.

The point about education may not even matter, since RPGs are, first and foremost a form of entertainment. Public libraries provide entertainment in the form of novels, movies and video games. The resources for role-playing games could be made available as well, especially since the two easiest resources the library can provide are space and the books themselves.

rpg table

Original Source: Dungeons & Dragons on Freebase, licensed under CC-BY 
Found on: Dragonlite's Top 5 RPG Lists

An appropriately sized table and a room are the only things that gamers need in terms of space. Preferably, the room would be separated from other patrons, so that they would not be bothered by the sound of rolling dice, discussing rules and groaning when someone botches. If public libraries can lend space to community groups, clubs and people playing the Wii, surely there could be some space for a group of table-top gamers.

The books themselves are a more complicated issue. There are many different RPG books that have been published, and choosing the right books for your library will be the topic of future posts.

Picture and Quote References:

Dragonlit (2011).  "Top Five Table Top RPGs" Accessed on April 9, 2011.

Lambert, Steven (2011).  "Free Vector Clipart: Library Book Cart"

Snow, C (2009). “Tabletop Fantasy RPGs” School Library Journal. Jan 1, 2009.  Accessed on March 3, 2011.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What is an RPG?

I will admit, I am one of the people that Annoyed has mentioned in her "Retooling the Library" post.  That is, I am someone who has a hobby that I enjoy, and wish to share with other people, and I believe the library can help with this.  That being said, I would like to see this happen in the context of the library's mission: to provide education (and to a lesser degree, entertainment) to the public.  Gaming and libraries seem to be a good fit, if the amount of use my local branch's Wii gets is any indication.  Could role-playing games and libraries be a good fit as well?  Even better, could role-playing games end up supporting libraries and increasing library use?

I should probably start this blog off the way I was taught to write a good psychology paper: by defining my definitions. For people who play role-playing games (RPGs), no definition is needed. But, if you have stumbled upon this blog and don't know much about RPGs, you'll want to know what I'm talking about. When typing the words “role playing game” into different online sources, we get the following:
"a game in which participants adopt the roles of imaginary characters in an adventure under the direction of a game Master. “

“This is something nerds do, which usually involves a meticulously complicated,fantasy board game that has cards, figures, rule/quest book thicker than the bible and a load of other wierd things too. I dont quite know the exact goal of these games (there doesent seem to be one), but all the players seem to do is quests and leveling up.” -the urban dictionary. (And yes, the spelling mistakes were right from the website.)

“Role-playing games are fundamentally different from most other types of games in that they stress social interaction and collaboration, whereas board games, card games and sports emphasize competition.” -Wikipedia.

The definitions from and wikipedia are decent, and even the Urbandictionary definition has a bit of truth to it. Let's look at the parts of the definitions a bit closer.

“a game in which...”
RPGs are games. It is supposed to be fun. Like any game, there are rules and participants. And like different board games, card games and sports, the rules change depending on what the game is. Some of the rules are complicated, while others are not. But they are supposed to be fun.

“...participants adopt the roles of imaginary characters...”
This is the part of every RPG book that has ever been written that says “it's sort of like when you played Cops and Robbers as a kid.” The players pretend to be someone (or something) that they are not. That “something” can be as far from their normal daily life as they would like. Want to be a vampire? Done. How about a private detective? Can do. Alien? Barbarian? Superwoman? Yes, yes and yes!

“... in an adventure ...”
Like putting on a costume at Halloween, the being something you're not is part of the fun. But unlike the costume-clad-holiday, you actually get to do things that are in keeping with the character you are portraying, in your imagination. Now, the word “adventure” can mean anything other than your usual day-to-day life. Pretending you are exploring a dungeon full of monsters is an adventure. So is tracking down the bad-guys by following clues and interviewing suspects. So is saving your adopted planet from an invading force. But we can go beyond those obvious, action-filled scenarios. Going to a new school (witches and wizards optional) could be a good adventure, if there was an appropriate plot. Anything that would make a good story could, potentially, make a good adventure. But adventures that have a fair amount of action, physical exploration and mystery seem to be the norm for RPGs, so that is what we will focus on for the first part of this blog.

“... under the direction of a game Master.”
Most participants play only one character, but one person plays multiple characters... and other things. That person, usually referred to as the game master, responsible for the plot, setting and some of the characters, including the antagonists. Furthermore, the game master interprets how the character's actions effect the over-all plot of the adventure. This includes making decisions about how the actions and the rules interact.

“This is something nerds do...”
Just wanted to point out that Vin Diesel is an avid gamer (Adler). The last thing I would call Vin Diesal is a nerd! Me? Sure, I'm a nerd. Not Vin Diesel.

“which usually involves a meticulously complicated,fantasy board game that has cards, figures, rule/quest book thicker than the bible and a load of other wierd things too.”
This is partly true. Yes, there are many games that are rules-heavy. They have rules for just about everything you could think of, and quite a lot you couldn't. (One friend said he could have used a source-book from Shadowrun to learn university level economics; another said that the rules for vehicle stress/speed/towing capacity was tested and found to be accurate in real-life.) While others have very few rules and are more free-form.

“...they stress social interaction and collaboration...”
Usually, the characters in the game will have different sets of abilities and skills. They could compliment each other, or be completely different. It is by using these different skills and abilities together that a group will successfully finish an adventure. The game master also takes part in this collaboration by setting up adventures, providing accurate information, making fair rulings, and ensuring the game flows.

So, what is an RPG? It's a social game, where people have fun by creating a narrative through the portrayal of imaginary characters on an “adventure”, constrained by a set of rules and officiated by an individual who controls the plot, setting and minor characters.   In my next few blogs, I will outline some reasons why The traditional pencil-and-paper RPG, one that involves books and socializing with friends and many dice rolls, is a form of entertainment that librarians should support as a means to help their patrons.


Artist unknown. “Role playing It's kind of like that.” Image found on "Role Playing Game"  Accessed on April 2, 2011. "Role Playing Game"  Accessed on April 2, 2011. "Role Playing Game"  Accessed on April 2, 2011.

Adler, S.  "Vin Disel of the Chronicles of Riddic Interview".  UGO Entertainment

Dextar's Lab, Season 2, episode 3: “D & DD”. July 30, 1995.