Thoughts on collecting 2400 for print

I’ve wondered for a long time now how to best adapt the 2400 series for print. I get asked about it enough that I thought it might be worthwhile to share my thoughts here on the blog, and invite feedback from anybody who has it.

The file on my computer for this currently has the working title 2400: Assembly Instructions. It’s a mix of play advice, GMing advice, hacking guidelines, and micro-games, specifically geared toward making it easier to mix-and-match. But there’s more than one direction I could go in with it, and I’m struggling to choose between them. Here are several paths I’ve considered; I haven’t come to any conclusions yet.

Zinis in a slipcase

This approach would see every 2400 game printed on two-sides of a letter-sized page, on very nice paper, all held together in a nice slipcase.

I have seen a few people make this for themselves. Someone sent me a lovely collection made this way, and I genuinely treasure it. And it makes a great deal of sense as a format. Those games were meant to be small, standalone things you could opt to mix, or opt not to mix.

I kind of want to make a book, though. To my mind, a zini collection wouldn’t necessarily be mutually exclusive with a book. I’m not going to make a zini collection myself, though, and I imagine publishers might balk at releasing the games in more than one format themselves, or passing on exclusive publishing rights so it can be released in more than one format.

I may revisit this idea, but for now, I’m operating under the assumption that I’ll be making a book — either through print on demand, or through a publisher who might be willing to do an offset print run. (I’m not interested in running my own Kickstarter campaign or organizing print logistics right now. I know how, but there are only so many hours in the day, and I’d rather spend them doing other things.)

Even then, though, there’s more than one way to make a book.

Expanded editions

I’ll start with this one for the sake of completeness, just to get it out of the way. But I’m not going to do it.

Instead of a single 2400 book, I could make a series, expanding a few individual 2400 games into their own books. Like…

  • Xenolith and Eos would be combined and expanded into a game in the vein of Mass Effect and Star Trek, about humanity finding its place in a broader galactic civilization.
  • Inner System Blues and Resistors would be combined and expanded into a cyberpunk game.
  • Cosmic Highway and Orbital Decay would be combined and expanded into a game about space truckers, and potentially, occasional mind-breaking horrors.
  • Exiles and Xot would be combined and expanded into a weird science-fantasy game about scavenging for alien tech.

I could keep going. But I’m not going to do this.

I have enough trouble as it is getting even a single book-length game done. I’m not about to commit myself to doing a whole series, especially when I have other projects I want to get to. What’s more, I think the appeal of 2400 is largely because each game is so short. They’re easy to absorb in a sitting, and easy to run with little or no prep. Turning any one of them into a whole book risks losing what makes it feel different.

(Except Data Loss, maybe. I could see maybe doing that one as its own full adventure someday. Maybe.)

I like books. But I’d prefer to make a 2400 book that embraces the originally intended format: a bunch of games you can run on their own, or combine into bigger games, depending on your needs. And I have a few ideas on how I might do that.

Collected edition

One approach to a book would be to include every 2400 game, just as it appeared in PDF, in addition to the aforementioned essays and advice.

I know this would sell. I’m just not sure it’s what I want to do.

The games weren’t designed to be shoved together in a book like this; they were designed to be standalone products, with modular bits and pieces you could yank out and mix together, with a little work. Mixing and matching wasn’t too much work to do that when it was just a few 2400 games. It’s a lot tougher now that there are over a dozen games, some with significant rules variations.

There’s also the question of how to present the rules. The rules are nearly identical across the series. Nearly. I deliberately left out any mention of characters dying in Habs & Gardens. Healing and advancement work slightly differently in different games. And so on.

If I were to do a collected edition that reproduces each PDF in its entirety, that would mean including the rules for each. You could do some neat things with that, like perforated, tearaway pages, like you see in The Ultimate Micro-RPG Book. But the games in that book are all entirely standalone. The games in a straight-up collected edition would have nearly identical rules nearly every other page. Not a big deal when storage is measured by pixels, but maybe a waste of space when you’re paying for page count.

Maybe there’s another way to make a collected edition, then.

Revised edition

This is basically the same as the collected edition, above, but for one significant difference: It includes every game as it has already been published, but doesn’t repeat the rules for each. Instead, the rules are given up front, and the individual games only mention when they have additions or deviations. Each, for instance, would probably specify its own advancement rules.

This could make the individual games less easily copied and printed for use at the table. I think that’s a surmountable problem, though.

Maybe there’s some clever way to make it easy to print the rules content on the same page as the game content, even if they’re in different parts of the book.

Maybe the rules are just a separate handout, leaving some space to expand each game by a column, or even just give the text some more breathing room.

Maybe in each game, I could compress a short reminder of the rules into the corner of the page — say, the rolling ranges, and a reminder you can break things for defense.

And if you really want printouts of the individual games, they’ll still be available as PDFs to print yourself.

This feels like a fine approach. It’s currently tied for the approach I’m most likely to take. My only real source of hesitation is that I want this book to make it easier to identify how to mix and match modular components of 2400 games. But since those games were designed to be standalone, and since there are so many of them, I worry this approach may not cut it.

That’s why this “revised edition” is tied in my mind with the next approach.

Modular edition

The last approach I’m seriously considering would not reprint every 2400 game. It would be a selection of 2400 games, some combined into slightly bigger games, to make it much, much clearer how to mix and match in a modular fashion.

In this approach, there would be one chapter with a self-contained cyberpunk game, with all the cybernetics in the book. (Maybe it’s called “Inner System Blues” or “Resistors,” or something else entirely; I’m not sure yet.) It would combine stuff from Inner System Blues and Resistors. It would have everything you expect to see in a 2400 game — names, character options, GM prompts, etc. (Though probably the core rules would live elsewhere, as in the “collected edition,” above.) 

And then, at the end of that chapter, you would get tips on which other games in the book slot into this setting easily.

If, for instance, you want your cyberpunk crew to go to space, flip to the space truckers game with everything from Cosmic Highway. It has all the spaceship stuff in the book. If you don’t go there, presumably you’re staying on one planet, or somebody else is flying the ship for you.

If you want psi powers, flip to the rogue psychics game with everything from Project Ikaros. It has all the psi powers in the book. If you don’t go there, maybe there’s no psi in your setting.

If you want playable alien species, flip to the galactic civilization game with a mishmash of stuff from Xenolith and Eos. If you don’t take anything from this chapter, then either aliens don’t exist in your setting, or aliens are so different from humans that they aren’t playable characters.

And so on. The breakdown of chapters and games would probably look a lot like the examples of “expanded editions,” above.

I’m not sure how many games would make the cut, but each one that does get included would explicitly offer some piece of “game tech” you might want for other games. Tempus Didicut, for instance, would probably only get included if I decided to make rules for time travel, or if I wanted to use it as the sole example of how to create characters from premade backgrounds.

I am very torn on how good an idea this approach would be. It would mean substantially changing how some games work, and I like how the games work. I designed them the way I did on purpose. This would make one design goal — enabling modular design — supplant many other design goals I had along the way. I’m concerned about what would be lost from each game.

For instance, I used only four skillsets instead of narrow skills in some games for various reasons — to minimize unused skills in one-shots, or to evoke certain themes. But making the game easier to use in a modular fashion means making it easier to ignore specific add-ons, which means using those add-ons in fewer places. I wouldn’t scatter skills, skillsets, traits, vocations, and talents across the games; most games would just use the “narrow skills” you see in Inner System Blues. Maybe only one game would have skillsets, for instance, with a note at the end on how you could adapt every other game in the book to use skillsets too.

I suspect the rules changes wouldn’t be too taxing once I just set myself to do them. (Orbital Blues could still be easy enough to run for one-shots by starting characters with preset packages of skills I know will have uses in that specific module.) But I worry, too, about what might be lost in themes and setting details as I collapse games into one another.

Inner System Blues and Resistors are actually quite different games in my mind. Same with Exiles, Xot, and Zone. Do I really want to combine them? If I were to only do one of them, which would get cut? Would that chapter be named after one the game it’s most based on, or would it need to be renamed to reflect that it has been transformed into something else?

I don’t know. But I will probably need to decide soon so I can get back to work on this book.

Closing thoughts

I’m putting this project on hold this month while I work on another game, but I certainly haven’t stopped thinking about it. This blog post actually came out of a conversation on Discord the other day; I wrote so much that I figured I might as well share it for others who are curious what kind of thinking goes into this kind of project (or what kind of thinking goes into this specific project, at least).

Ultimately, I know I can’t please everybody, and this project will necessarily reflect what I want out of this book, and out of my leisure time. But if you have feedback, now’s a good time to let me know. I’m wondering what would be useful to people who already run 2400, and want more of it. I’m also wondering what would be useful to people who like the idea of 2400, but aren’t sure how to get it to the table and get the most of out of it.

I have more ideas than I will ever have time to execute. Friendly nudges are welcome.

Featured image CC BY Beeple (Mike Winkelmann)

7 responses to “Thoughts on collecting 2400 for print”

  1. Wow. I definitely assumed it would be ‘Revised Edition’ style but the ‘Modular Edition’ sounds so fun. Scifi games are often bulky and unwieldy. This sounds so streamlined. Would be so cool to focus on cyberpunk style for a few games, skip around to another, then combine, mix, match, etc. It would inspire me a lot to just be able to read and explore.

  2. I like the modular edition idea. Whatever might be “lost” from design goals is already covered in the standalone PDFs and how people use them – you’ve planted your flag and righteously stuck by it. I think there are more gains to be made by taking the collective work further – with some revisions, expansions, new ideas, new ways to combine the ideas, etc. A new collection of the system is a way to show us new features, new thinking, a new way to organize the components, display your excellent thinking/writing of the design process, and is for me, at least, what makes the project worthy of a new/revised/extended edition/publication. (And hey, if you require an editor or another set of eyes on the pages, get in touch)

  3. Basically I am huge fan of the whole line, which I played a couple of times with my kids. I introduced tweaks by myself, for less lethality, so I would say a “modular” DIY approach works perfectly. Unless price tag is high, I would likely instabuy any new pdf product.

  4. First, I’m a massive fan of these games. They are worth more than any of the larger ones I’ve read.

    I would for sure be in the modular camp. I think even having some nicely durable sheets folded in half that could resist some snacks/drinks at a table would do it for me. Then again, I hear what you’re saying about repeating rules. That’s fair. Maybe you remove those and make those one sheet. But then again, I think the subtle differences aren’t always bad because they usually carry the tone of the story with them.

    Overall it’s hard to improve on this formula IMO.

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