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A5 FTW & RoE V1

May 14, 2012

Despite getting his measurements a bit muddled, Will Mistretta says here what I think: A5 is a splendid size for RPG books. Easily portable, readable on the bus or in bed, and it doesn’t take up too much room at the gaming table. Were the universe arranged as it ought to be, and WotC’s sole goal my personal happiness, then instead of reprinting the hefty (albeit marvellous) tomes of AD&D 1e, they’d be publishing Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert as red and blue A5 hardbacks – Erol Otus artwork intact, naturally. At 64 pages apiece, they’d be about the size of Vornheim. Just imagine it. Lovely, no?

The hobby began with small-format books. Think of Gygax and Arneson’s original D&D and its supplements. Think of Arduin. Think of Traveller. In time, larger formats appeared and proliferated: the AD&D hardbacks, Holmes and Moldvay Basic, The Traveller Book, RuneQuest, and many more besides. Little RPG books became scarce, but never vanished entirely. My friend Garry’s Faerie Wood game was A4, but its published adventures (about which more anon) were dinky A5 booklets. These days, Jim Raggi is known as a champion of the format, with LotFP, Vornheim, Carcosa, Isle of the Unknown, and numerous adventures adhering to those 148mm x 210mm proportions. My feelings about Carcosa in particular are well known, and while many aspects of its design contribute to its beauty as an artefact, its size (the fact that it rests in one’s hand solidly but comfortably rather than cripplingly) is far from insignificant.

I’m looking forward to getting my hardback copy of James Maliszewski’s Dwimmermount megadungeon when it appears later this year. Having said that, I reformatted the first two levels that I received as a backer of the Kickstarter, and printed them as a pair of 20-page A5 booklets with the dungeon maps on wraparound card covers, and I really like them. I’d be very happy if Dwimmermount were to be released as a boxed set of mini-modules, maybe one per level. Apart from the box, that’s the way I intend to proceed with the adventures I’m working on.

As usual, I’ve got several RPG projects on the go. Receiving the bulk of my attention right now is Ruins of Ebidoria, a creepy hexcrawly fantasy campaign for me to run when (if!) my players ever leave Stonehell. For “Ruins” I’m concocting my own homebrewed ruleset. I’m using Swords & Wizardry: WhiteBox as a chassis, upon which I’m rebuilding much of the B/X engine with quite a few custom parts – some inspired by LotFP, others by AD&D 2e, many stolen from OSR blogs, and more of my own devising. I’m adding new character classes, re-jigging spell lists, etc. The result will hopefully be a sort of “D&D Mine” that works smoothly with the setting. (Oh, you want to hear about the setting? The other day I came up with a three-word pitch: “Robin of Deadwood”.)

Anyway, every so often, I like to print out my works in progress (as A5 booklets, of course) and read them on the bus to and from work. OpenOffice files and PDFs are all very well, but I find it much easier to proofread my own writing when I have an actual book in my hands. Here’s my working copy of the players’ book for Ruins of Ebidoria, which I was reading on the bus today. That photo won’t be on the cover when the thing’s finished, but for now it generates the right vibe.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Alexei McDonald permalink
    May 16, 2012 3:24 pm

    Do you remember the miniature D&D reprints put out by Twenty First Century Games around 1999-2000? IIRC, they weren’t even A6 size, but still entirely useable, apart from some problems with teeny-tiny maps.

    • May 16, 2012 9:16 pm

      Yes, I remember, although I’d forgotten until one of the players in my current game bought copies online last year. I don’t think he’d quite appreciated that “miniature” meant “bring a magnifying glass and a set of tweezers to turn the pages”.

  2. Richard Farr permalink
    May 16, 2012 3:53 pm

    Ah yes, I remember when D&D was published in a pocket-sized paperback format. Of course back then you could be a magic user, a fighter, a thief, a cleric… or an elf. Um, what? Humans got classes, but races were simply races? Well… it was a different time. (And half-elves had to ride at the back of the bus.)

    The funny thing is that I’m pretty sure we had a lot more fun back in those days, when the rules were simpler and there was more time left for humour and roleplay. Back when there were habitats and contingencies that hadn’t been allowed for the in rules, and home-grown or ‘house’ rules were interesting, rather than being outrageous because they contravened Clause 49 on Page 19b of the Rulebook for Mid-level Left-handed Gnome Thieves…

    Not that D&D was at its best when it was at its simplest, either, as these guys remind us…
    http://www.somethingawful.com/d/dungeons-and-dragons/steve-old-gygax.php

    • May 16, 2012 9:30 pm

      I suppose it’s whatever you’re used to. I started with B/X and didn’t blink an eye at the idea of elves being elves, dwarves being dwarves, etc. Then, when AD&D came over the horizon, and we could play dwarf cleric/fighters and elf magic-user/thieves and the rest, that seemed exciting for a while. But in fact I always hated the clunkiness of multi-classing, and since we started playing B/X again I’ve been very happy with the plain old elf (which is effectively just a playable version of the fighter/magic-user anyway). As for half-elves, they don’t even get to ride the bus … because there aren’t any. (Half-elves, I mean, although there aren’t any buses either, come to that.)

      And in Ruins of Ebidoria, there will be no elf player characters. Elves are monsters. You can play a dwarf, but wait a minute! Put that axe down! You’re not that kind of dwarf. Think Ukko the dwarf from “Slaine” rather than Thorin Oakenshield. You might know a runic charm or two if you’re lucky, but you’re a scrawny, sneaky, dirty dwarf and no one likes you.

  3. May 18, 2012 11:41 pm

    Looks great as always. I should get around to trying this some time. My printer doesn’t do duplex though, which makes printing booklets somewhat awkward.

    A5 also is nicely viewable on most tablets without zooming if the font is not too small.

    Interesting to note that WotC went that route with the recent “4.5” Essentials line, which despite their flaws are physically beautiful books.

    • May 19, 2012 8:43 pm

      Cheers, Brendan. Since I have paid scant attention to any current version of D&D since about 1995, I knew nothing of the “Essentials” books until you mentioned them. An interesting design decision on WotC’s part, and one I can only endorse. It seems to me that this slightly shortens the odds on the (admittedly still remote) possibility of 5E being released as three compact paperbacks in a box. Now wouldn’t that set the OSR a-buzzin’?

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