RPG Supplements

I was catching up on The Adventuring Party, our local gaming podcast, on the way to work this morning. The episode for 18th August 2010, to be precise, all about RPG supplements, and how many of them are terrible, but the good ones are really good.

Before I go on to give you my own thoughts on supplements, let me take a moment to say that The Adventuring Party is an excellent podcast. And I'm not just saying that because I've been on it a time or two; they cover interesting material, and seem to be very good at getting at multiple points of view. Other gaming podcasts can verge on the... dogmatic, shall we say.

So, supplements. I'd always wanted, when I was a wee lad in rural Ireland, to get ALL THE SUPPLEMENTS. No, really, ALL OF THEM. I could, in any given month, usually get my hands on a copy of Dragon. Less often, I could acquire a copy of Dungeon. A couple of times a year, I could get to Dublin, trawl through the game suppliers that existed then, and pick up one item, usually from the cheaper end because I'd already spent a lot of my money on the bus fare to Dublin. But I'd trawl through every single ad in each magazine, and the occasional flyers in boxed sets, and imagine what might be in those supplements. Of course, at the time, I only really played AD&D, or as we know it now, Second Edition.

In some cases, my imagination was better than the content of the books or boxes when I got them. I was never terribly happy with Ravenloft; it looked fantastic in the ads, but it never pulled together properly for me. Likewise, the entire run of the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk - both of which had such great names, how could they be bad - I found rather lacklustre.

But then there were the good ones. The first supplement I really remember standing out was called Creative Campaigning. I'm pretty sure I still have it, and it was superb. It was basically a long listing of ways in which to change campaigns around and make them interesting. It was the first how-to supplement I saw, and it was pretty mind-blowing. Despite having not looked at it in years, I suspect a lot of my thinking about RPG campaigns comes from it.

The next one that stood out was Spelljammer. It was the basic boxed set, I got it while my father was doing some sort of woodturning demonstration in UCD, and I spent the rest of that weekend huddled up in a corner in one of the anonymous concrete buildings out that way, chuckling madly to myself. Spelljammer was and remains awesome, and I still intend to run a full campaign of it some day.

After that, it was Planescape. My unholy love for Planescape is well documented, so I'll say no more here. I got every bit of that setting I could lay my hands on, but few books were better than the main box - except for On Hallowed Ground and Hellbound: The Blood War. I bought, but never played, a number of the modules, including Faction War, which was the only one I ever really wanted to run - I'm otherwise very much a write-it-myself GM. Sadly, due to some essential plot elements of Faction War being vetoed by core members of my gaming group, it's unlikely ever to be run.

3rd Edition and 3.5 had many supplements. Many, many supplements. The whole d20 thing produced so much stuff that a lot of good things got lost in the confusion. A lot of the early material was terrible, and we all bought it anyway. There was, however, some good stuff down the line.

Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe was an oddball sort of supplement, purporting to integrate magic into a Western Europe-style fantasy setting and help work out the economics and so on. It did not, it has to be said, do that very well, but it provided an unreal number of ideas per square inch of page.

Malhavoc Press released some magnificent stuff. Anger of Angels is a brilliant piece of work, and I really liked Chaositech as well, although I recognise it's not for everyone. The various Books of Eldritch Might - culminating in the Complete Book of Eldritch Might - filled in so many gaps in the reasoning and maths of the game that I basically declared them core rules. And then there were the event books, Cry Havoc, When The Sky Falls and Requiem for a God. Those are so good that, thinking about them now, I'm going to have to dig them out of the shelves again and re-read them.

Posted by Drew Shiel at August 30, 2010 10:26 AM

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