(Slouching Towards Current)
Prompt: Which RPG Has The Best Writing?
I often get the feeling these questions are aimed at people who don’t need to have their wife maintain a database of their games. If you own a half-dozen or so games, it’s not too hard to pick “the best”. When you own well over 2000 (and that’s RPGs and splats for them, that’s not counting Dragon and Space Gamer and so on), it’s harder. Especially when a lot of the game systems I like include many contributors, some better than others.
What does ‘best’ mean in this context? RPGs are a fascinating beast in the world of writing, as they are both a kind of technical manual (meaning, precision and clarity trump ‘fun’; they are reference works, not novels), and they must inspire imagination and creativity (meaning, they must be anything but dry and technical; each page should sing of limitless possibilities and endless adventures beyond untold horizons).
Depending on how one wishes to weight the multiple factors that go into what makes a good RPG book, I could produce a hundred different “best” books from my collection. So I’m going to weasel a little bit and answer with what I consider one of the true “evergreen” books of roleplaying: The AD&D 1e Dungeon Master’s Guide.
This tome is a thing of beauty and legend. It is a kind of distillation of everything that drew me to the hobby and kept me in it, even though I moved past AD&D pretty early in my gaming career and didn’t rejoin the world of Armor Class and Hit Dice until 3rd edition (and since then, I’ve rarely left it, if you count variants like Pathfinder, D20Modern, or FantasyCraft, and I do).
I majored in English Writing and Programming, back when Programming was not something everyone took and when there were actually few jobs for programmers outside of cranking out COBOL or FOCUS. I have always been drawn to hobbies and activities that required both creativity and logic. RPGs… especially those tipped more towards robust mechanics… gave me the perfect hobby, where half my brain conjures forth wondrous visions and the other half turns them into charts and modifiers.
And the Dungeon Master’s Guide veers madly, page after page, between art and science, between rhyme and reason. Here is a list of modifiers for brawling that includes if someone is, or is not, wearing a nasal helmet, and here is a description of the colored pools of light on the astral plane; here is a chart to tell you how much faster a hobgoblin can dig through rock (in three levels of hardness) than an orc; here are the Eye and Hand of Vecna. The depth and scope of the DMG has rarely been equaled, and the writing style — Gygax at his peak, flaunting his vocabulary and his disdain for “lesser” games and “foolish” house rules — has also never been equaled.