Behind the Screens – Resources, Releases, and Rules Bloat

For most game companies, a steady release of product is usually taken as a good sign. Regular game support with new product means regular sales means company longevity which means that the game they put out continues to exist. Which continues to cycle. So where, then, does the concept of “bloat” and the negative connotations that go with it fit into that? Why do players and GMs get fatigued with new releases, new rules, and new options? Why do a company’s supports turn against it after a seemingly arbitrary amount of product is released? Where does the hate and rage come from and why does that appear to be the default reaction? All of these questions probably won’t be answered in this article. But I figured my personal musings on them might end up being an interesting read.

The first thing of note is that a company whose revenue comes from the sale of products (either physical or intellectual) *needs* to have regular releases to survive. This is especially true of companies in niche markets where attracting new customers as a new source or revenue is difficult and/or time consuming. Without a constant and reliable source of revenue, a company will close down. This is a fact. So if you’re ever wondering why a gaming company releases books month after month. It’s to keep the lights on. Sometimes I wonder how many people realize that most companies are in a near constant state of continually having to throw down tracks in front of the proverbial train. Revenue from sales of this month’s product will be used to pay for next month’s product. And so on.

It baffles me why people get angry or upset when books get released month after month. Continued regular release is a strong indication of the parent company’s belief in their product. It’s direct support. Whether it’s 3.5/Pathfinder, 5E D&D, Shadow Run, Dark Heresy, for whatever reason, players seem to have a tendency to gravitate towards the most recent edition of their game of choice. Perhaps it’s from the desire to be part of a living game. Maybe it’s just being part of the “in” crowd. Or maybe it’s simply because everyone else is doing that too and its easiest to find other people to play with you. But regardless, the most recent edition is the one with direct support. Without those continued releases, most game systems shrivel and starve.

“But the rules bloat!” some will say. “There are too many options. Too many feats. Too many spells. Too many ways that I can express the fantastic representation of my inner id!”

Which again makes me scratch my head. Too… much? It would be one thing if players were somehow forced to play with *all* the rules. Or if a klaxon were to sound each and every time a GM failed to implement a rule – any rule at all – properly. It would be another thing if  the core rules somehow changed over time such that they became meaningless without the direct and constant implementation of newer material. But none of these are the case. New rules give you more options. Which, by their very nature, are voluntary additions to your game. No one is forcing a group to adopt every bit of material published. And any GM or group is free to allow or disallow whatever they want from their table.

Furthermore, bloat is a self-correcting problem – if indeed it is a problem at all. When a company publishes a thing that their customers don’t want, those customers tend to indicate their lack of desire very clearing through the direction action of not buying that thing. That a company continues to release products regularly means that the market (i.e. players) are interested in the releases and are buying them. So that a particular splatbook doesn’t catch your attention isn’t a sign of “rules bloat” of the system as a whole, it’s just that you, an individual, aren’t interested.

It’s okay not to like things. And it’s okay to be disappointed when a new release doesn’t cover a particular race/class combo that you were hoping for. Or a new feat tree that would allow you to unlock those other class features. Or whatever. But it’s generally a good practice to try and not to rain on anyone’s parade. I certainly get discouraged too when the release schedule shifts away from options that don’t carry any of my interest. But I do my best not to yuck someone else’s yum.


How do you feel about constant monthly releases? What things are you most excited about, in terms of gaming, coming up in the next few months? Let me know in the comments section below!

Anthony Li

Anthony Li has been pretending to be someone or something else for about as long as he can remember, which some people might consider a problem. He cut his teeth on 2nd Edition AD&D when he was 14 years old and his only regret is that he didn’t start rolling dice sooner. Due to an unhealthy addiction to Magic: the Gathering he missed the entire cultural phenomenon that was the 3.X era of D&D. After a brief stint with 4E, he was dragged kicking and screaming into the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game where he has since acclimated, adapted, and thrived. Most of his roleplaying experience has been behind in the GM screen where he has trained his dice to confirm crits on command. He always roots for the bad guys.

1 Comment

  1. I don’t mind at all the release of new rules. And while it is inevitable that new editions will be released about every decade, it doesn’t mean that old rules aren’t sometimes useful.

    In my Pathfinder game recently, the party encountered a Dragon’s Lair in the mountains near nightfall. As they approached, I wondered, could the dragon be asleep when they arrive? As far as I know, there is no rule in Pathfinder for that, but there is a line in the stat block of every dragon in the 1st edition monster manual that lists the chance of sleeping for each dragon type. So I pulled my old friend off the shelf, grabbed my percentage dice, and the party, being smart enough to send a familiar ahead to scout the lair, was able to spend a delightful 15 minutes planning on how they would approach a sleeping red dragon.

    I wonder if, in 2040, I’ll be pulling out my copy of Ultimate Intrigue because there is no rule in Pathfinder 3rd edition for verbal duels?

    Rules bloat, indeed.