Sometimes More is Not Better

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how publishers shape our game. GMs—obviously—are in theory the ultimate arbiter of what appears in their campaign, but publishers wield considerable influence over what material makes it to the table.


After all, publishers produce and market the products you and I buy. And—of course—powerful commercial forces drive most gaming companies. Speaking candidly as a publisher, it’s nice not to go out of business. I want gamers to buy my stuff. I want to eat and buy shiny new trinkets.

But, as a publisher I also have a responsibility to my customers (and by extension their players). I shouldn’t mindlessly churn out books that will inevitably and rapidly disappear without a trace or which include things that break the game in new and exciting ways. What’s really the point, beyond making money? I’d argue broken, overpowered characters, complicated or ill-conceived rules or bland, unnecessary options don’t necessarily add to many people’s enjoyment of the game. In fact, they can suck the fun out of a session pretty quickly and actually make the game worse.

Rather, publishers should focus on producing products designed to make their customers’ games better.

(Better as defined as more enjoyable for EVERYONE at the table, not better as defined by how the publisher thinks they should play or by how one person wants to play. Thus, the definition of “better” will change from table to table).

Because when a game is better, everyone—including the GM—wins. (And here, I define “wins” as “has fun”.)

As a publisher, if it won’t make the game better, why publish it? As a GM or player, if it won’t make the game better, why buy it?

The Final Word

Before you include something new in your game because it is the new, shiny thing stop and think: is this really something you want to include? Will it make your game better? If the answer is no, don’t include it. Often, less is more.

What Do You Think?

Do you include everything from your favourite publisher in your campaign? What are your criteria for including something new in your game? Let me know, in the comments below.

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

10 thoughts on “Sometimes More is Not Better”

  1. Well, you got a point there!
    A thing to consider is the following:
    In my campaign I have different players. Some know the rules, some not as good as I would like them to know.
    I have two players whom Incan trust to check out new material if thwy desperately want to, because if it doesn’t work, there will be no arguing – we just take the item, rule, feat or what-have-you away from the game again. No harm taken, everyone’s fine. Those players also realize if something is too good.
    This way, I am fine with introducing new stuff.

    It alle depends on tve kind of players you have. As long as they don’t argue once you realize something is off, it’s ok.

    I only officially allow the CRB, APG and ISWG. Everything else has to be checked with me beforehand.

    Which brings another problem tonthw surface – players who doesn’t own a CRB and who get their infos only from the net. They never know that a feat isn’t from the CRB. I constantly have to check this again.
    I recently came to the conclusion not to allow players to built their pc with the internet as tje main source.

  2. This is a very good post- these days especially for the big, popular games, it sometimes seems like publishers are putting things out there just to put things out there, rather than because they are needed. My gamer group and I play a home-brew game, so ultimately I am making the rules, and I often get requests to add stuff to the game by my various players. The first thing I always do when that happens is to see if we can get the desired effect with what already exists. If we can, then generally I don’t add the thing. If not, then I put it to the group to see what everyone else thinks and then I make a decision based on that. But I am also not selling anything or trying to keep purchases flowing in. So I suspect the need to keep making money on a property is the main reason why publishers put out questionable or poorly-tested material

  3. My daughter recently started a Pf group among her university friends, all of whom had never played. I encouraged her to limit things to the CRB for the sake of her sanity and because (in my opinion) most of the additional material is not extensively play-tested for balance with the old. However, not one of her players has purchased a CRB – not even a pdf. They depend upon her books save that one guy who, as Jeff mentioned, depends upon the Internet. His forum-based builds always incorporate obscure rules from varying sources that, in combination, usually abuse or break something. Fortunately, she has me vet all the player characters before play so I can help her spot potential problems.

    Count me among those who prefer a CRB-only game (plus alternate traits for the core races from the ARG). As a GM, I don’t want to study new books – I want to craft great adventures! I respect the business acumen in Paizo’s publishing schedule, but beyond flip mats and opponent codexes they aren’t producing what I want/need to accomplish my goals.

    (And yes, Creighton, that is exactly why I’m a Raging Swan fan!)

    Happy holidays to all!


    1. Thank you, Christopher, for the kind words about Raging Swan Press. That’s jolly decent of you. I’m also a CRB chap whenever I can. While my players want more options, I don’t find I have the time to understand them well enough to feel comfortable with them in my game.

      Happy holidays to you as well!

  4. Unfortunately thats pretty much paizo’s MO. Unless churning of book products. I was a former charter subscriber- turned my old dragon and dungeon magazine into their AP. But canceled all my subscriptions years later when the book mill got too much.

    That was 5 or so years ago. Its way worse now. Even the APs feel way different and not in a good way.

  5. Less is more has kind of become a mantra of mine. I play a 2nd Edition retro-clone called Myth and Magic because everything needed to play (including a boatload of spells) is in one 250 page book. There are enough race options to be interesting but not burdensome. Same with classes and other character options. Plus… and most people don’t like this but I think it is a selling point, there won’t be another addition or more product for the game. The only additional rules or options that happen will be ones that I (or my players) add to the game.

    This is also why I like Raging Swan. The Village Backdrops and products like them are very useful without making my life more complicated. A village fleshed out briefly with a map. Brilliant stuff that helps me at my table. I no longer by Pathfinder or 5e stuff. I’m sticking with the game I consider rule complete.

  6. Agreed. While I am happy to work with my players so they can play the character they want, often they overlook the easy ways to do so (which I try and guide them back to). My preference is always to keep to the core material as much as possible.

  7. My next campaign will likely be human-centric, with a strong Fae overtones in the background. The flavor of the game means lots of options won’t exist. But much like we rely on rules to provide the boundries for the type of game we want to play, limiting options is a good thing because we set the tone for the type of game we’re running.

    I generally have a “flavor” of the world I am running. Right now I’m running a game for a relatively new player, so I am trying to include a little bit of everything just so she can experience a classic type of game. The next game I will run is for a more experienced group, and I’ll be limiting it to the aforementioned human-centric options. Does the option I’m about to allow fit with the flavor? If I’m running a game based on fae folklore, I probably don’t want a bunch of monsters from Greek mythology. Similarly, the game where the entire world was once spied upon by technologically advanced researchers won’t have that mythological feel, but it would be a great time to introduce Cthulhu-esque mind flayers.

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