Friday 11 August 2017

What the hell, Gary?

I'm pecking away at my heartbreaker and wondering how long it is compared to, say, Moldvay D&D. Thus begins an hour of cutting and pasting PDF text into a text editor to get some rough and ready comparative sizes for RPG word counts.

Methodologically this is really quick and dirty; I'm just counting tokens - page numbers, separators, everything, but the relative sizes are the interesting thing.

Moldvay D&D is a little beefier than I was expecting. I think of it as a very concise game, but that tiny font is deceiving. I was thinking of it more like Monsterhearts in size, but it's halfway to being as big as Apocalypse World.

Still, it's got nothing on the heavyweights. I had no idea Stars Without Number was as massive as the brick games, Blades in the Dark, ACKS and Burning Empires. Dungeon Crawl Classics takes the cake for largest modern game I measured. It's 56,000 words longer than Burning Empires! Humongous.

But none of these even come close to the AD&D trilogy. The DMG alone is as big as DCC, and as a set it's bigger than DCC and ACKS stacked together. It's huge.


Several folks were kind enough to chip in sizes from their own collections. DCC has been eclipsed by a bunch of whoppers - Vampire, Werewolf, Eclipse Phase, Exalted, and Pathfinder.

The AD&D trilogy is still bigger, but my guess is whatever Pathfinder has for a bestiary (to make a fair comparison) would easily push it over the edge.


  1. Hi,

    I was recently pointed to this post of yours during a discussion about games on an Italian site.

    The data you collected may be of some interest, but IMHO they have not much value without some other extra dimension or key: it makes more or less the same sense as counting pictures or weighing the actual physical volume.

    If this was an attempt to compare game complexities (for example: this was the first thing I could think of it, personally) you would need to find out the percentage of text that is actually devoted to rules (which may be extremely difficult not just to automate, but also to define: creature stat blocks, for example, are "rules" or background material?).

    Personally I would try at least to group the different title according to the decade or period they were produced: old games were basically 100% rules/mechanical elements, while later games devoted more and more space to descriptive (i.e. fiction) or background (description of factions, races and so on).

    I suppose (but did not research this in detail) that anything produced before 1984 was basically 100% mechanics - I say 1984 because Elfquest, Maelstrom and Ringworld are the first titles to devote some content to world description (I could be missing others, though: I never had access to Tekumel, for example) and by 1992 (Over the Edge) we started seeing books were world building was outweighing rules by a considerable margin.

    What do you think?

    1. I agree, word count isn't a great proxy for game complexity. I haven't studied game complexity directly, but it seems to me that it's a very rich idea. The /number/ of mechanics is one measure, but I think the interconnectedness of those mechanics is very important.

      For example, consider two games. Game 'A' uses 1d10 roll-under stat tests for everything, except that that are a series of mini-games for creating new spells, building castles, establishing mercenary companies and so on. These mini-games are individually complicated, and numerous. In fact, the whole game is 300 pages. On the other hand, each of these systems is rarely used (how often do you make a new spell?), and they're self-contained. They have few interactions with other subsystems.

      Now imagine Game 'B', which has no supporting systems, but has a really involved core loop. Everything is handled in terms of 'tags', 'aspects', and 'tones', from NPCs to weapons to battlefield terrain. A domineering NPC might add an 'eggshells' tone to the scene. Everything the players do turns into a mechanized interaction with these things - perhaps a canonical way of handling 'healing magic', for instance, turns injury 'tags' into a suitable scene 'tone' markers. Actions are resolved with bonus dice for relevant tags; the GM can suggest player compulsions using scene tags or aspects; extra successes from actions can be used to add points to the scene tone. When it reaches more points than there are open tags on player sheets, the scene ends.

      Game B is 48 pages and has no setting information.

      (The Game B example doesn't make sense, I'm just regurgitating a bunch of fragments from games like FATE, conflict in Torchbearer, and City of Mists.)

      The point I'm making is that Game B has a bunch of complexity in the central game loop, even though it has far fewer mechanics in total. When someone tries to found a mercenary company or invent a new spell, everybody knows the mechanics, it's just a matter of coming up with the appropriate tags, aspects and tone phrases.

    2. I suppose that you are trying to describe something akin to Complexity in Computer Science (see

      The idea is tempting but I honestly have no idea if it is worth pursuing...

    3. Yes, exactly, although I also think measuring coupling and cohesion are useful. Cyclomatic complexity is interesting, but I think you'd need to weight it by how often (and in what context) the rule is used. It's less 'costly' to have complicated spell-making procedures, since you probably use them between sessions or during downtime. On the other hand, complicated core resolution mechanics are everpresent.