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Longwinded Rulebooks

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Julius
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Joined: 12/31/1969

Good grief!

I've been working on the rulebook for my game, and I found that it was way, way too long. Once I was on page 7 and counting, I scrapped it and started over. I now have it on two. Throwing out what I had was the best thing I did for my game:

Things I've found, that may be helpful to others:

1) If you use humor in your rulebooks, only use it in the introduction and SPARINGLY throughout the rest of the document. Do not litter each concept with a humorous anecdote.

2) Keep your writing clear and technical.

3) Define terms either before you use them (pre-glossary) or as you use them (inline-glossary), rather than saying 'this will be discussed under such and such section.'

4) Unify your rules. If your rules are simple, your rulebook will be simple (much of my game changed during the rulebook writing step... and mine is mostly a card game).

5) Examples, examples, examples. "Show, not explain" - think about how you explain your game to others verbally: you use examples of gameplay. Do the same in your rules to illustrate complex concepts.

6) Avoid exceptions to the rules. Your rulebook shouldn't have a bunch of 'except' statements in it. Standardize EVERYTHING.

7) Let someone else read it. This should be separate from playtesting. If they don't understand something, you probably need to clarify it.

cbs42
cbs42's picture
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Joined: 11/08/2008
Longwinded Rulebooks

Excellent list.

I would also like to add something that should be obvious, but way too many rulebooks don't follow: An iterative approach to explaining the rules is (in most cases) MUCH better than a single sequential description. That is, describe the rules in multiple passes, drilling a little farther into the details with each pass.

A general example (though not necessarily applicable to all games) would be:

  • Thematic Introduction / Background
  • Objectives / Goals of the Game
  • General Game Flow (e.g. - Turn Sequence)
  • Description of Each Item in the Sequence
  • End of Game / Scoring
  • Special Rules / Exceptions
  • Variants

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Scurra
Scurra's picture
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Joined: 09/11/2008
Longwinded Rulebooks

I'm going to stick my Librarian's hat on for a moment* and ask people to think about adding an index to their rules. Not just a table of contents, but an index.
Even short rules would often benefit from one of these - looking specific items up is a distinct pain when you're not entirely sure where they might be.
(I would note that creating an index is actually more complex than it sounds though, which may be why it isn't very common, because it requires a good understanding of what is important and what isn't.)
Of course, this is more relevant to final published titles, but it's the sort of thing that is overlooked.

*it's what I did my first degree in. One day I hope to create a really interesting game themed around the Universal Decimal Classification system. Or, more likely, about keeping quiet.

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