In the last couple of months, 14 Gauntleteers have been part of an RPG book club on the Gauntlet Slack where we read The Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart, a book infamous for its sheer size and outlandish concepts. By sharing our experiences with the project we hope to encourage others to form a club around similarly intimidating books in order to make them more accessible.
We decided to give everyone one week to read a given chapter and to discuss its content on Fridays or Saturdays. Because of the peculiar structure of the Veins – there is an incredibly long monster section right at the beginning of the book – we first had to agree on the order of chapters to read. In general this might be an important difference between a traditional book club and one for an RPG. For the former, the assumption will obviously be to read it from cover to cover. For the latter, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all: Some might start with character creation others with task resolution or reward structure and most people seem to find their own way through the text from there based on their individual preferences.
For the Veins, which is a setting / rules hybrid, we settled on: Why the Underworld?, musings and rules about light and food, madness and change, encumbrance and climbing rules, generating a cave and cave systems followed by the aforementioned monster section and a chapter about different cultures.
“In the core of every beginning lives magic” as Hermann Hesse famously wrote, so initially we had lively discussions about the fascination of the Underworld (see The Dungeon as Mythic Underworld in Phylotomy’s Musings by Jason Cone) and the themes of the Veins: Scarcity and Madness. Unfortunately most of these discussions are lost due to the ephemeral nature of Slack, so for future book clubs it might be a good idea to assign someone to record memorable contributions for posterity. Participation dropped off considerably once we reached the dryer parts of the book, the encumbrance sub-system and cave creation. For the last 10 weeks I would write a short description about 5 monsters every week, with members of the club occasionally commenting on the interesting ones but it was obvious that the project had lost steam. All in all the book club was a huge success, though: We had carefully read through the whole damn thing with the added bonus of having concise descriptions of all 50 monsters and a thorough understanding of how the rules work.
While it is certainly natural that enthusiasm declines the longer such a project takes, we think it is possible to mitigate the problem by
* organizing an initial online meeting via hangouts or on discord to directly discuss the structure of the club.
* During that meeting different members could be assigned the role of a custodian for a given chapter.
* You might also want to agree on a timeline in advance that shows when a chapter will be discussed.
I’m sure this is not the last RPG book club on the Gauntlet Slack and there are already discussions about our next project, so if you are a member of the Gauntlet Slack: Keep an eye out for The Nightmares Underneath Book Club!