Game book layout: the four parts

In trying to layout some of our recent game projects, I’ve noticed some common components in every book, which has led me to the conclusion that every game book really consists of four parts:

  1. Character Generation/Creation (Chargen)
  2. Game Rules
  3. Setting
  4. GM Section

Different games put these sections in different orders or interweave one or more of them into single sections, and put different levels of emphasis on each one. Some games even go so far separate those sections into different books.

Is there a right order for these? Although I’ve put them in an order above that is purely to show that they are four in number. Often Character Creation and Game Rules are intertwined, and the same with Setting and GM Section. Likewise, the GM Section will often contain Game Rules that are not applicable to players. Sometimes games will make the split into Player Section and GM Section, with sub-sections of Game Rules and Setting. Usually Chargen is bundled under the Player Section in that case.

Let’s take a few quick examples (from memory, so apologies if there are any inaccuracies):

  • GURPS – Chargen comes first, bleeding into Game Rules, and finally GM Section. There is very little Setting in the main book. Many supplements exist with Setting, and many of those also include extra Chargen, Rules and GM Section.
  • Pendragon (4th Ed) – Chargen is again first, bleeding into Setting. Then Game Rules, with more Setting, and finally a GM Section with more Setting. The Setting is tightly interwoven throughout the entire book, which is why Pendragon ranks highly in my estimation. Supplements follow that same pattern.
  • SLA Industries – Setting comes first, then Chargen and Game Rules, with many of the Rules surrounded and influenced by Setting. The GM Section is comparatively small.
  • 23rd Letter – A little bit of Setting, followed by Chargen and Game Rules and then a GM Section which includes more Setting (given the conspiratorial nature of the game).

I think what is important is that your game (or our games) consciously include all of these sections, whether or not they are labelled this way, or are separate sections. Any game will need to have components that fall under those four headings in order to be complete.

Do you have a preferred order for these? Seen a game which didn’t have all four? Is there one that must be there that I’m blatantly missing?

About AJ

Gamist: 14%, Simulationist: 29%, Narrativist: 57%. Ah, the irony.
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5 Responses to Game book layout: the four parts

  1. Mark says:

    I think those four parts are core to any game but I do think there is at least one more sections: “Traits”. This section describes what each of the traits (including powers) do. Often it’s a subsection of Rules but in many books it’s its own section. Though IMHO it could also work as just an Appendix… I had trawling through a description of what each Attribute is when I’m trying to understand a game.

  2. aidan says:

    It is definitely an important part of any game as without that information it is hard to draw any kind of conclusion as to what your character is good or bad at. As a result, I’d probably include it in the Character Generation section rather than the Rules section. I realise that Chargen is really just a subset of Rules, but it’s quite a distinct part of the game which is why it usually gets its own section.

  3. PaulK says:

    Coming at this as a player rather than a GM by nature, I prefer to see the background first, followed by Char Gen and Rules.

    however I do prefer a well sectioned book. I may read the background occasionally, but knowing exactly where to find stats for the mutant/cyber/alien/juiced bad guy is always useful in a hurry.

  4. Mark says:

    Yea as a player and GM… I like well-sectioned books. When your doing character generation, you can flip to the chargen section and leave it open. When you’re looking up what trait XYZ does, you can find it in the traits section (or rules subsection).

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