No choice today, but still a very interesting prompt. As such, I’ll make use of this chance to talk about my favorite Supplements for tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs).
Since their inception TTRPGs have been published under one of two main categories: core and supplements.
Core rulebooks are the must-have, the minimum purchase you have to make in order to play a specific TTRPG. In the case of D&D, for example, the Core tends to be three books: the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Most modern games, in contrast, tend to have only one core book. Some TTRPGs who have historically had only one core rulebook include Call of Cthulhu (CoC) and the original White Wolf games, such as Vampire: The Masquerade (VtM) and Werewolf: The Apocalypse (WtA).
Surprisingly enough, more recent editions of both CoC and VtM have tried to expand their core rulebooks from one to at least two, but they weren’t very successful in those endeavors.
Supplements, on the other hand, are additions and extra material that can help or add further things to a TTRPG. As such, they tend to be less popular and sell less, as only the more committed/enfranchised players will buy and read them.
Because of this, supplements tend to fall over the wayside and become known only to a minority within the hobby. Wizards of the Coast, current publisher of D&D, has tried to combat this in the game’s most recent edition by publishing less supplements and by making them as big and filled with as much stuff as possible, trying to appeal to the widest audience.
Regardless of these more recent efforts, supplements have always had a weird place in the hobby. Not being absolutely necessary turns them into luxury items, only interesting for collectors and impulsive buyers, and they are the kind of material that you can find in garage sales and such.
Still, there always have been little gems among these books, and I’d like to highlight a couple here.
Then: Vampire Players Guide (2003)
Back in 2003 I was knee deep in Vampire: The Masquerade. I was buying a book a month and, more importantly, I read them, from cover to cover. This gave me an appreciation for the well-written parts of them because, let’s be honest, most of the material in these supplements was subpar to say the least. White Wolf became infamous for selling supplementary material that added little to no new gaming material and, instead, presented the reader with mostly game fiction and philosophical discussions about different aspects of the game.
I must say that being 17, and having all the time in the world to read them, I was a huge fan. I devoured one book after another, expanding my knowledge and understanding of the vampiric world created by the people at White Wolf.
And then I read the Vampire Players Guide (2003).
It blew my mind, from beginning to end and, when the time came and I got rid of most of my TTRPG collection at the time, this was one book I couldn’t part with. I just loved it too much.
The book is different even from your classic VtM Revised Second Edition supplement in that it has only three chapters: The Character, The Troupe, and Essays.
The chapter I remember most fondly is the first, as it delves deep into how to create a well-rounded vampire character, making use of every single decision or mechanical aspect in the character sheet to tell a story. This is further supplemented (sic) by the first essay of the namesake section, “A Little Discipline Goes A Long Way” by Christopher Kobar. This essay examines how a single dot in a Discipline can be employed with devastating effects if you add a little bit of imagination to its use.
All in all, I think this book may be my favorite White Wolf book I ever read. It had a huge influence on my GMing style and it overall made me a better VtM player. I recommend it to anybody interested in vampires as PCs.
Now: Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master (2018)
Back in 2018 I was in the middle of running my longest and most successful D&D campaign, my own version of the War of the Lance of my beloved Dragonlance. I had the largest group I’ve ever run for: seven regular players plus guests, meeting twice a month for epic 4+ hour-long sessions, either at the apartment I lived in at the time, or at some friend’s house.
It’s crazy when I think of it now.
And yet not everything was well and good.
It took me long hours to prepare each session, from the miniatures to the maps to the encounters. I also dedicated some time to weave each player’s backstory and personal conflicts into the overall narrative, to make the campaign truly their own. I was moving closer and closer to burnout.
And then Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master (2018) appeared.
Mike Shea’s (aka Sly Flourish) magnum opus has to be, in my opinion, the best supplement for D&D ever written, as it truly makes running the game—historically the most demanding part of D&D and most other TTRPGs—a breeze. In spite of its name, Mike’s “Lazy DM” philosophy has little laziness in it and, instead, tons of optimized routines that truly give you the most bang for your buck, so to speak.
After reading and re-reading this book, I realized that the truly core prep of my games should be all about the characters—both PCs and NPCs—and the campaign secrets being revealed. Everything else in the game is at the service of these two aspects.
From then on I’ve been running games for the past three years or so twice a month, weekly, and now almost daily, and I never run out of energy to do so. In my mind, I have to thank Mike for that, first and foremost.
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