Over the years, I’ve bought a ton (no, really — think how heavy books are) of game books for stuff I either never played, or which was used for a short period. But just because you aren’t playing that particular game doesn’t mean you can steal from those game books to inform your campaigns.

The first class of these admittedly bad purchases are the games I’ll never play. One of the big white elephants for gaming (I think) is the Star Trek universe. It’s wonderfully well fleshed out (except for the Federation itself, which is only a sketch of the society) and the background buy-in is easy for players. Pull a screen cap of the bridge and other sets, the costumes are well known to even non-Trek fans, and so are many of the ship designs. We all know the “look” of Trek. But I found the alien/social commentary of the week doesn’t translate very well into a game universe. Partly, I just don’t think in those terms; partly, I don’t view the way Starfleet works as realistic enough for a game.

What do I mean by that? Some things you can give a pass on a TV show. Battlestar Galactica never explains the FTL engines. Why not? Because it’s not importnat to the story…but for a game, where they characters might need to know why their engines aren’t working, or how the artificial gravity works as a tactical element, that level of handwavium can get in the way. There’s a metric butt-ton of handwavium, improbnium, and silly-anium in Trek. But I like the Decipher and Last Unicorn Games rules sets and wanted to run them — hence, the Trek campaign.

Similarly, I have all the Eclipse Phase and Transhuman Space stuff, but it’s unlikely these games — or a hybrid of the two — will ever make it out of “development hell”. Another is Jovian Chronicles. All have the same problem: I love the level of pre-generated detail, but like Trek or BSG or other licensed products, the detail is a double-edged sword. The built-in metastory has a tendency to color the material, and unless the GM is willing to scrap chunks of the campaign world, these details can gum up the works. You have similar issues with GMs who create massive, Tolkien-esque histories for their fantasy worlds, then are shocked you didn’t read the 80 page campaign guide they sent you in Dropbox (because it would fit in your friggin’ email box.) Gutting the established canon can be harder than creating your own world out of whole cloth because in the latter case, you only have to build what you need for the campaign and can build as you go. (However, I have a gamer who is into the big robot scene, so that might act as a catalyst to eventually bring a JC campaign about. Only took 20 years…)

Other games that won’t get played include the Napoleonic period Duty and Honor and Beat to Quarters. I like the rules and the setting, but I doubt I can sell it to the gaming group. Same with the excellent Dr. Who RPG that Cubicle 7 has put out. (Disclaimer: I’ve done a bunch of work for C7 on their Victoriana line, but havent’ worked on Who…it’s just that good a set of rules.) I’m not likely to run The One Ring, but it was too beautiful not to buy. (It’s the same reason, I bought The Lord of the Rings RPG Decipher put out.) I have Mouse Guard but one of the players has shown opposition to the idea of playing it.

Some are nostalgia buys. I’m not likely to use the old Mayfiar Games DC Heroes system for supers (if I ever get to run a campaign…) as I was impressed enough with the Cortex Plus Marvel Heroic Roleplaying to swap to that. I wouldn’t mind having all the Mongoose rereleases of Traveler — not to play it, but because it was my first sci-fi game.)

A second class of “crap I won’t play” is the game books bought to augment other campaigns. The Transhuman Space was originally bought to enhance or kludge together with the Eclipse Phase game…then I started looking at the EP rules and went cross-eyed. (I suspect FATE or the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying rules would work well with the Eclipse Phase universe.) Aces & Eights is a cool set of mechanics, but it was purchased more as campaign prep for any Old West adventures that might crop up in the Victorian-period games that were a staple up of our group until recently. Castle Falkenstein was originally bought to augment Space: 1889 but eventually usurped the latter as the rules set we were using…with the Space: 1889 setting. The d20 Stargate SG-1 RPG materials were bought to run, but I hate d20 (in all its flavors) so much that it became background material that was ported into the James Bond rules set. (It worked surprisingly well.) I’m not a big fan of Savage Worlds as a set of mechanics; I think you can get a similar rules flavor with better mechanics out of classic Cortex. But I have the Slipstream RPG book because I wanted to run a Flash Gordon-like campaign for a while.

So why collect games, other than to read through interesting settings and rules, and they forget them? Because I never forget them. I love the idea of the shot clock from Aces & Eights and have thought about bringing the mechanic into a Victorian-period game…but I don’t know how well it would run. I’ve borrowed ideas from Jovian Chronicles that made it into the current Battlestar Galactica game. Transhumanist ideas dominated the Star Trek campaign toward the end, and I borrowed heavily from the material I’d bought. I’ve stolen and modified rules mechanics from one system and fused them into other game rules (most notably, I cobbled together a set of combat rules for Castle Falkenstein that were ripped and modified from the excellent Lace & Steel.) The idea of weaknesses having soem kind of mechanic impact, or as a trigger for plot/hero/style/story points migrated from Cortex and Ubiquity to house rules for the Bond system.

You never know what you’re going to use, or play, so there. Collecting is also easier and cheaper to do than ever, especially on the nostalgia buys — many of the old games are on .pdf, either through sites like DriveThru or as torrents (Don’t pirate kids!) and you can have a massive library of games on your computer or tablet. I’ve got a stunning amount of indie and old games on my iPad and living on my backup drive and Dropbox.