Tuesday, August 17, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 15: Supplement

The RPG Supplement. Sometimes, when I'm really digging an RPG I want more, in the way someone who loved a movie may want a sequel or a television show an extra season. Over time, I've come to be a slight bit more skeptical of this desire. Sometimes supplements, when taken on-board as active options in your home campaign, can make things worse. Yeah, quality varies. Imagine! I'm not sure why it took me so long to develop some discernment. Now-a-days I have a real "create your own canon" philosophy when it comes to both my favorite fiction and my favorite games. I'm gonna outline a few categories of content that often get tossed into supplements and talk a bit about 'em. While a supplement can easily be purely about one of these categories, quite often a supplement will contain a mixture, either to fully flesh out the concept of the supplement, or to broaden the appeal.

The Adventure

The Adventure Path, the Module, the Scenario, or whatever you wanna call it. Depending on the nature of the game, supplements that primarily are adventure content can often also include setting relevant to the area the adventure occurs in, and characters, possibly even equipment if it is particular to the adventure in some way. As a player I've never been strongly attracted to supplements of this sort. Also, the GMs I've played with rather infrequently use published adventures, though they have definitely seen some use. Where I have enjoyed them, they have been of the path variety, and I think I like them in so much as they illustrate the cool things that can happen in the setting. A few that come to mind are Mekton adventures like Operation Rimfire, The Jovian Chronicles/The Europa Incident, Starblade Battalion and Invasion Terra. Knightfall for MegaTraveller is another one that comes to mind, and I kind of like it as an example of how you could build out encounters and use rumors, etc. More than the actual scenarios contained within, I like them as examples of how one could prep a thing, or like I said, serving as examples of how a setting could be used.

The Rules Expansion

These sorts of supplement come in a variety of forms. The classic place to see a rules expansion focused supplement is anything called "The (Insert Game Name) Companion", where a class based system may introduce new classes, or areas of endeavor only lightly touched on in the core rules are expanded (vehicle combat, rules for characters building equipment, sailing rules, etc.) RPGs that have a natural divisions of character types frequently end up spawning rules expansions based on those character types. Every White Wolf game of the classic era produced what people came to call "splatbooks" about various clans, tribes, traditions (or whatever the "kinda character classes" of the particular game were called), and those books often expanded the powers and options available to players with characters fitting those categories, in addition to also expanding on setting as related to the groups in question as well. Other examples include Traveller expansions for the Navy, Scouts, Merchants, etc. These books provided deeper dives into the endeavors undertaken by characters with these backgrounds, introducing options and procedures. As a player, I was often lured by rules expansions. Still, maybe it was the excessive rules expansions of D&D 3.5 that did it, I eventually came to see that rules expansions weren't all necessarily good. If you take on too many rules, it can create a rules crunch burden. Also, there is the possibility that rules expansions change the tactics or flavor of a game in a way you feel is negative. 

The Setting Book

Some RPGs come married to settings, others have a lightly implied setting, and others even have multiple, separate settings. A lot of my opinion of different supplement types are based on the fact I'm usually a player. This means that setting books were of less interest to me generally. I think if I had to choose a preferred style of setting book, it would be something like the classic "Chicago By Night" for Vampire: The Masquerade, detailing a location, its inhabitants and their relationships in a way that was just loaded for potential, where players interacting with the setting is likely to set off a response. I mean, I enjoy maps and fictional lands, and a book detailing such for an RPG can be enjoyable for me just doing that, but... such supplements don't top my list often. More than history and travelogue, a setting book should strive to actively pull PCs into its workings, be good at involving new characters somehow, at least to be great in my eyes

It's People, Monsters and/or Aliens

Yeah, I like these sorts of supplements quite often. D&D's Monster Manuals, Street Fighter's Contenders (idea better than execution...), Sprawlgangs & MegaCorps for Cyberspace, the Gamers Handbooks to the Marvel Universe for classic TSR Marvel Super Heroes. For GMs, it saves them the hassle of generating all of the opposition themselves. The books can be quite flavorful and interesting, though the worst of them can be rather dry and uninspiring. Also, when illustrated well, these supplements can be quite beautiful and give you a better sense of the setting these characters and creatures inhabit.

It's Something of Utility

The GM Screen, Spell Cards, and books providing gear of various types all fall into this category. Reference material. Example generic locations. In the case of books detailing equipment, they can often veer into "Rules Expansion" territory as well. A book full of traps. Kevin Crawford, of "Stars Without Number" fame, often includes a lot of utility content in his core books as well as his supplements. The utility of this content is in adventure creation, organization creation, world creation, and in general just idea creation. There are lists and tables of interesting events that could occur, or things that could be, etc. Many times, these sandbox tools can also be combined with some rules around their use, but not always. 


The variety of subjects and material that can be pulled into supplements for RPGs can be pretty vast. The challenge for RPG publishers (umm, aside from making any money at all writing RPG material), is in balancing quality and quantity, considering how supplemental material can shape the perception of the core game, and how it shapes a reputation for creating solid, usable material. I think the best supplements are aided by a creator that has a solid, fairly focused vision of what their game is about, as opposed to a creator who is just trying to fill holes so that their game can "do anything." 

Anyways, catch you all for day 16!

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