Echelon Intro Box

I’ve been following John Payne’s discussion on the design of an RPG Introductory Box, including the More Thoughts About An Intro Box.

I think these are valuable pieces of work, both his blog posts and an introductory ‘box set’, and I’ve been thinking about what it might look for Echelon.

So far, I have the following components in mind (comparing to the Mentzer Red Box):

  • (64 pages; Red Box was 64) A core rulebook containing material needed to play.  Probably contain the base rules and ‘common talents’ up to the Expert tier (a selection of combat and magic talents, probably won’t worry about psionics or the like here), with a few of the more likely ones dipping into the Heroic tier.  Mentzer included a handful of second-level cleric and third-level magic-user spells (in the DM book as I recall), it should work here too.
  • (32-64 pages; Red Box was 48) A GM rulebook with GM procedures.  They use the same rules, and someone coming in either has little experience and is unlikely to use ‘advanced procedures’ like devising complex adventures or designing new talents, or is experienced and likely has existing practices to continue, so would just be looking for how it’s done here, rather than how it can be done.
  • (16-32 pages?) Monster book (maybe; Red Box included monsters in the DM book but I think I might want those in a separate document anyway)
  • (16 pages) A very introductory adventure, probably similar in scope to the second ‘choose your own adventure’-style adventure in the Red Box player book.
  • (32 pages) A larger adventure that includes some more complex situations, perhaps something like the ruined manor adventure from the Red Box DM book.
  • (4n pages) A number of ‘player kits’, each four pages long (I see a single 11″x17″ folded in half for each) that describes particular character archtypes.  One page for the character sheet, three for supporting material such as talent descriptions, spell descriptions, character-specific rules and considerations.
  • (16-32 pages) An introductory ‘campaign’ describing the local area and a bit about farther away, much as the Red Box and the Expert set focused primarily on the area around Threshold.  The size of this piece depends on how much adventure material is provided.
  • Miscellaneous useful bits (mapping paper, etc.)

The adventures seem almost inflated in size, especially when I realize that many of the landmark adventures from long ago were 32-48 pages total.  I would expect to have inset maps for most adventure locations (‘room’ in dungeon terms) and probably something like Justin Alexander’s Sidebar Reference System (where a reminder of key rule elements are included where they are actually applied).  Assuming each location takes two pages — I like it when a location or encounter fits on two facing pages — a ’16 page adventure’ probably has room for about five or six encounters or locations.  This feels about right to me as an introductory piece of work, especially when people are just getting into it.  This could probably be condensed to eight pages, and possibly down to five or six if we were really aggressive… which doesn’t seem right for this kind of work.  The larger adventure might have 12-14 encounters and locations, possibly enough to warrant two or three nights of play.

I’m not entirely certain of the full contents of the GM book.  The Red Box DM book had some DM-specific procedures, monsters, and magic items, all in 48 pages.  I’m not sure how much detail to go into the GM procedures; I’d probably focus on running the game and leave ‘advanced procedures’ such as designing new talents and adventure design theory for another time.  This might mean it’s worth including another couple of related adventures — a short adventure path from the very introductory adventure through a few middling ones and one big one to finish could see a new group through a couple of levels of advancement.  Make sure the adventures exercise different rules and cover different styles of play and it could work out.

This comes to a minimum of 176 pages and a maximum of 240 pages, with only the two introductory adventures.  If we add a dozen character archetypes (player kits) that brings it up to 224 and 288 pages respectively, and adding three more ‘middling’ adventures (32 pages, as above) and a ‘large’ one of 64 pages would bring the totals to 384 and 448 pages respectively.

This is starting to feel really big for an introductory package, but I think it’s one that people could

  1. Start playing quickly (they only need to look at a small bit to begin with)
  2. Get to the point of wanting to customize and be able to do so (vary from the archetypes; the rules are present to support it)
  3. Potentially work their way entirely through the Expert tier (from fifth through ninth level), depending on the ‘advancement settings’ they use.

I think I like this.  It’s bigger than I think John was expecting, but I think it could be a very good set to work with.

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  1. Michael Pedersen

    First impression? Too much here.

    When looking at RPGs, we (broadly speaking) have two major categories of players: Experienced RPG players, and total newbies.

    Experienced people are looking for something a little different, and don’t need a box like this. Total newbies will look at the number of pages, and be turned off. Only a very few of them will read this and actually want to try it.

    My suggestion? Look at these: <– 2 pages with all of the rules to play Fudge that you *must* know. <– 24 pages, low cost, you get a basic description of the Gatecrasher setting, you get half a dozen characters that can complete the adventure, and you get a single night adventure.

    Experienced players will try it because it's something easy and low commitment (time and money). New players will try it because it's different and doesn't require a lot of effort to get through.

    I know, what you've listed above doesn't *require* a lot of effort, but will people who pick up the box understand that they don't need everything in the box to try it out? And, if they do, will they feel like they're wasting money if they try it out and don't like it?

  2. I like the breakdown. It is a bit larger than I thought, so I re-ran the numbers from my examples:

    Core Rulebook for Players – 32 pages
    GM Rulebook – 32 pages
    Player Kits – Eight 11by17 fold-overs like you mentioned. 32 pages
    Tower of the Stargazer (Intro adventure) – 16 pages
    Blackmarsh – (Intro campaign) – 24 pages

    136 pages total.
    New players need to pick a character kit at a minimum, read the player book, 32 pages at a maximum.

    The downside is that the GM needs to read 80 pages at a minimum, the whole thing at the most.

    I really like the SRS. Maybe some streamlining with the SRS would reduce page count. However, it may slightly increase the page count in Blackmarsh or Tower of the Stargazer.

    Hmmm. I’ll have to do a mock-up and see what I get.

    • “a bit larger than I thought” indeed.

      After conversation with a few people, including Michael Pederson, I concluded that a real ‘Introductory Package’ could be considerably cut down from this. The core rules could probably be reduced to 16 pages, tops (the core resolution mechanisms are probably about 8 pages), then let the player kits handle a lot of the rest. If you’re the only one playing a character that uses two-weapon fighting, why clutter the bits that everyone has to read? Mark it on the kit handout and be done.

      I think the larger package would make a damn fine ‘Expert Set’ for Echelon (includes what’s needed for Basic and Expert play), whereas a quickstart set could be markedly smaller. I’ll try to draft an estimate later, after I get some sleep.

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