Tuesday, August 24, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 25: Box

To hell with it! Today I'm taking the "Box" prompt, and it's all about boxed sets!

Back in 1974, the first RPG was released as a box containing 3 booklets and some reference sheets (umm.. you know, original D&D). I believe the first two RPGs I ever purchased also came in boxes, the Marvel Basic Set and MegaTraveller. Over the years the boxed set has fallen out of favor, and the reasons make sense. For one thing, it is easy for boxes to get crushed, damaged or otherwise end up looking shabby compared to a well cared for book. The other thing against the boxed set is that they aren't quite as cost effective in today's age of PoD printing, etc. Still, there is something about popping open a box full of goodies that makes me feel like I'm entering an exciting new world more than flipping open a book does. I'm pretty sure there is not much rational about the feeling I get, but there are a couple things RPGs from boxed sets do that I think have merit. Prime among them is that they tend towards smaller books, maybe splitting the game into a couple books, some cardboard miniatures, a die, reference sheets, an ad for the company's other products... Point being that I find games chunked into smaller books are more approachable to me. 

So, I just took a browse through some old boxed sets, and yeah... OD&D came in 3 30-something page booklets, Traveller was a bit larger but also 3 main booklets for 40-some pages each and an introduction. The Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set came with a 16 page Battle Book, a 48 page Campaign Book, and a 16 page adventure (along with 2d10 and a wax crayon, a fold out map, an ad, etc.) The Conan RPG from 1985 came with a color map, 2d10, a 32 page rule book, 16 page reference guide and 48 page setting guide. The Ghostbusters box was sporting a 64-ish page GM/Adventure book, a 24 page Players/Main rules book, then some reference sheets and equipment cards. MegaTraveller came in heavy, with 3 books of 100-ish pages and a fold out sector map. Moving up to B/X D&D, the Basic set comes in at a 64 page core, 32 page adventure and some ad sheets, etc., and the Expert set being similarly sized.

Looking at those games... they just felt like the offered up huge worlds of adventure, and MegaTraveller aside, they all came in around 90-100 pages (B/X combined is 128 pages of rules, 64 pages of adventure). Star Ace is another personal favorite of mine that comes in with 2 books totaling less than 120 pages. There are RPGs printed normally as books that also make these kinds of page counts, and I appreciate them for their brevity as well. Something about the boxed set form factor really seemed to encourage this tighter page count approach though. This smaller page count makes so much sense to me, especially when imagining a kid excited about space or wizards or super heroes who wants to play. Don't make that kid read your 690 page tome. Hell, even the current D&D5e core books add up to almost 1000 pages! I'm just going to be opinionated and say that shit is totally uncalled for.

OK, so I got a bit negative there at the end. To put a positive spin on it, I'd say a nice boxed set RPG, or an RPG that aims for brevity in the page count keeps things light and approachable for me. It reminds me of young adult fiction, Choose Your Own Adventure books, and an overall easy and breezy, yet exciting feeling I had when I was taking my first steps into role playing.

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