Thursday, September 25, 2014

Core Values

Good friend of this blog, and all around royal thinking person, Lord Blacksteel, made an interesting post over at his Tower of Zenopus on the subject of getting into a 'well supported' RPG.

By 'well supported' he means (if I understand him) that the game has, in addition to its core rules, a large amount of supplemental material produced for it including, but not limited to, sourcebooks, adventures, and other splatbooks of various kinds.

I think what Blacksteel says on the subject is accurate and valid, but (unsurprisingly I guess) I have a slightly different take on the subject.

These days, I really don't want a well supported game. At least, not in the traditional sense. Certainly not supported like the example he gives, which is Paizo Publishing's Dungeons & Dragons 3.x, also known as Pathfinder.

That's Too. Damn. Many. Books.
Now don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting every RPG company produce a single book of rules, and be done with it. That's no fun, and certainly not very effective from a business stand point.
Also, I will totally admit to owning damn near everything for every Star Trek RPG ever produced (except Prime Directive/Star Fleet Battles of which I own very little if anything), the Star Wars D6 RPG by West End Games, Mutants & Masterminds (all editions), and classic Traveller (including The Journal of the Travellers Aid Society magazines).
That said, I will name two games I've grown to really dislike, and perhaps you will notice a similarity between them:
Pathfinder and RIFTS.
Both share the distinction of being over-supported in my personal opinion. How can a game possibly be over-supported? Well let's take a look at some of my favorite games in comparison...
Currently, when I run Champions, I use one book and one book only for 90-95% of the campaigns content. I use the famous 'Big Blue Book', the hardcover rulebook for Champions 4th Edition. That's it. Honestly, what else do I need? Ah, there is lies the key word...need.
Let's take another favorite of mine, Star Trek. I have every supplement and sourcebook for every Star Trek RPG because I love Star Trek, but honestly, I hardly use anything that came out from Last Unicorn Games when running Star Trek campaigns, outside of the corebooks.

LUG created some great stuff, don't get me wrong. It's just that, between my knowledge of Star Trek, the excellent rules in the corebook, and my own imagination, I can run the game without any help from the game itself.

I will use material from a few of the supplements here and there, and from the FASA game, such as starships, species information, planets that strike my fancy, etc. Note that I do this because I want to. I found these elements interesting, so I want to use them. I don't use them because I have to, or I can't make the game work otherwise. I don't really. I mean honestly, outside of the rules and the basic information of Starfleet, their vessels and gear, some data on a few of the hostile space governments, what else do you need to run Trek?
Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

A big reason why I love these two games, Champions and ICONS Star Trek, is that both games do something no version of D&D has ever done, which is give the players, and GMs, the mechanics behind the rules so that they (the gamers) can build new, compatible stuff themselves.
Where as most games like to sell you model kit after model kit that enable you to build and use their cars, or their buildings, or their airplanes, and what-have-you, Star Trek, Champions and many other games I like sell you a box of LEGOs and say, "Go to town my friend. Get crazy."
What is it?
It's awesome is what it is. It's what I wanted to make.
Why? Because LEGO m*^#erf*^$ers!
I've noticed that with Pathfinder and RIFTS, for example, GMs and players alike can't sneeze until they find the Sneezing Splatbook that tells you everything you need to know to get the most out of your sneeze. Screw that noise.
Don't get me started on Adventure Paths. I don't want a path. Paths don't lead to adventure. Paths lead to well travelled bed and breakfast lodges for a weekend getaway. Paths are the safe ways up the mountain. For far, in my experience, Adventure Paths are too heavy handed, too railroad-y, and not one, strangely enough, is tailor made to our groups' campaign. Not one. You'd think they didn't have us specifically in mind when they wrote it. The nerve!
What I want game companies to give me are sourcebooks that help me build my own settings, my own adventures, and my own creations. That, or they supply information I do need for the setting I am playing. A book of ships for Star Trek or Star Wars, character profile books for Marvel or DC, descriptions of the nations of Mythic Europe for Ars Magica, etc. True game support, if I may say so, supports the GMs, and the players, by allowing them to make more out of the games basic rules, setting, and premise.
A book on how to min-max the rules for the deadliest, deadly 'Deathdealer'? Five hundred more monsters when you haven't given me a Monster Creation system? A series of adventures that locks my group into a story we find boring a quarter of the way through?
No thanks. Just not my cup of joe.
Finally, note that Champions 4E, Star Trek by LUG, Star Trek by FASA, Star Wars by WEG, Ars Magica 3rd, Bushido, Mekton II, Faery's Tale Deluxe, InSpectres and many of the other games I play are not currently commercially supported. Doesn't effect me one bit.
The Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Monster Manual came out recently. Beautiful book with lots of monster entries. And no system for making your own. Tsk tsk.
Barking Alien
Yesterday was the birthday of my hero, Jim Henson. Jim (Can I call you Jim?), would've been 78 years old. You are deeply missed.
Today commemorates the birthday of another departed favorite of mine, Christopher Reeve. Chris would've been 62.
In a different quantum reality, these guys are working on some crazy, awesome project together. I wish we could see it.
You will believe a monster can fly.


  1. I am with you there. In the past I have played games that have involved umpteen sourcebooks and supplemental rule books and I never want to play that sort of game again. It's core rules and maybe one or two extras -- the 13th Age Bestiary is a really good monster book, and with a chapter on monster building -- or nothing for me these days.

  2. You know I almost said over-supported but I thought that sounded too negative. I like a wide-ranging product line sometimes, but I also like the Savage Worlds approach: rulebook + setting book and that's it.

    It's funny, Rifts is the "other" game I thought of as having the biggest shelf of supplements that is also currently in production. It's a little weird though - every book is about half setting and then about half crunchy stuff (classes, races, power armor, guns) related to that part of the setting. There's not much for it that's purely a rules addition or purely a region book - almost invariably they have both. If you're playing in a particular area you can go with core book + region book for a given campaign and keep some sanity there. If I ever run Rifts again though I will probably throw it wide open just for the sheer spectacle of the thing.

    Champions is almost an unfair example - it's specifically made to be the LEGO rpg system. Most other games are not. It's a different approach but let's note that it has a pretty impressive set of supplements too, (glances at shelf) 4th in particular.

    Using Star Trek as an example, FASA didn't give us a ship construction system in the core book - there was a supplement for it. Then there were also books of ships for each of the big powers - that seems pretty comparable to a monster manual for D&D. Same with a book of supervillains for Marvel or DC.

    D&D 3E had class and race creation rules in the DMG, it's just that not many people used them. Pathfinder broke them out into separate books with more options for each, but they are out there for those who are interested. The Bestiary for PF (the first one) also has monster creation rules - "Here's a couple of hundred monsters and rules to make more." I think that's pretty solid.

    I think we've all had a good time creating our own settings but if I choose to play in a published one for whatever reason I don't mind further exploration of that setting in print. The good stuff I can use, and if I don't like it I can ignore it most of the time and assume I'm running Greyhawk - 513 : )

    I do agree that out of print is not a barrier for me to run (even if it can be a barrier to finding players) and if you're a completist it does mean you can pick and choose from "everything" when you do run a game and not have to worry about something new contradicting what you're doing.

    In the end I don't disagree with much you've said here. My post was mainly aimed at a scenario where someone is interested in a "big" game and is constantly told they need book x or y or z to play or run a game and in my experience you just do not need all that much to get started. I'd say it's true of most games, it's just easier to spot when they only have a book or two anyway.

  3. To be fair, Pathfinder does provide all of those building blocks that you are looking for. Race creation rules? Check. Monster creation rules? Check. Class creation rules? I'm not sure but I think so. World building stuff? Yup. Map packs? Yup. Gaming tools? Yup. City/town building? Yup. All of the blocks are there but the rules system is just not the focus of the company.

    What you have to keep in mind is that Pathfinder RPG is not the primary focus of Paizo and the only reason they produced a rules system at all is because they didn't want to move to 4th Edition and they needed a supported rules system to use for their adventures. The Adventure Paths are their focus followed by the adventure modules and their campaign setting. Just looking at the picture most of what is shown is non-rule related material and that's intentional. Paizo started as a company that produced Adventure Paths and adventure modules and that is their focus.

    Paizo intentionally only releases 2-3 rules supplements a year for Pathfinder to limit the rules bloat and splatbook bloat of 3rd Edition. They saw what happened there and are trying not to repeat it. While I still think the system is bloated and more complicated than it needs to be, all of the basic pieces are there to do a lot of different things and it is fairly easy to pull things out and tinker with.

    The difference is, the rules system itself isn't the focus of their production, so if you don't have an interest in their adventures or campaign setting, you have a lot of stuff to wade through to find the rules.

  4. I run Pathfinder as my crowd pleaser game. It isn't my first choice. I use the core book and the SRD on line. I'm open to players using stuff from the new books too. I trust Paizo products for balance.
    Star Trek is a different. I beg borrow and steal from all sources to build my adventure. I've previously used Savage Worlds for the core. But recently we've used Marvel Heroic as the Star Trek system. It works well for classic Trek.

  5. In my view, the primary advantage of using a "supported" system is the increased likelihood of tapping in to the existing player base. Most of the "support" materials are things that I don't really need.