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The riddle of books

Written by Nicholas - Published on October 28, 2008

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

The Riddle of Books

This is my third article so like a third date I feel it’s time I be honest with you about any secrets you need to know before we get too involved. I am a massive consumer whore. Swiveling my chair slowly around gives me a great view containers full of minis and a complete set of dungeon tiles, board games and RPGs I have never played and likely never will and a binder full of magic cards. My favorite thing to purchase however is new books for my favorite tabletop RPGs. Nothing kick-starts my imagination quite like reading all the new building blocks for characters and mentally compiling all the interesting ways I could put them together.

The 2 problems caused by RPGBA (role playing game book addiction)

#1 – Now in terms of addictive habits RPG books aren’t too bad. It doesn’t make me poor (at least by my college student standards), they don’t cause me to lash out at my loved ones and I have never gone to work hung over on new feats. However, there are two problems with the RPG book addiction. The first is swallowing your shame when, a mere day after decrying anyone who would pay for a preview book of Fourth Edition as a moron, you find yourself walking out of your local game store with a copy of “Races & Classes”. The second problem is a bit more of a practical concern.

#2 – This may sound familiar to you, sitting down with four books sprawled out and a headache to go with them. You scour each one for the best feats, new spells, class features and prestige classes for the character you are building. You can look forward to repeating this ritual every time you level up. In one of my latest Third Edition campaigns I played a favored soul who took a vow of poverty, I can clearly recall being engulfed the the Players’ Handbook, Book of Exalted Deeds, Complete Divine and the Spell Compendium. It was a relief to move up to fourth and have to contend with only the core books but that simple bliss won’t last. With the multiple iterations of the Players’ Handbook and books for each power source on the way this could be the worst edition for drowning in books yet. To add a little new flavor to the complexity wizards is now including exclusive power cards in packs of minis. The avalanche has already begun, before long you can expect to be buried in books, articles, cards and errata.

Options vs. Complexity

Normally this would be the point where I give advice, but the truth is that I don’t know. The DM can always restrict the books allowed in his game but that’s not a very satisfying outcome to those who bought the books or are interested in the new choices. The D&D insider compendium could be helpful in managing the information overload but only if you already know what you are looking up, if you just want to find a new feat or power that would be good for your character you need to break out all the books again.

Is the options vs. complexity issue a problem possible to solve or is it just one of the frustrations that you have to accept as part of the game? I’d like to know what you guys have come up with.

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



9 Responses to “The riddle of books”
  1. Yax says:

    As long as the number of books doesn’t slow down gameplay, I don’t mind players getting material from any book.

  2. kaeosdad says:

    I think it’s only a problem if you make it one. The D&D Compendium is a very useful tool for overcoming the complexities though! The great thing about options is that the more options there are, the more likely you are to find what you are looking for.

  3. Martin Hazel says:

    I’ve always allowed WOTC books to the table, anything else I want to vet first as a DM, I also don’t allow out of campaign books, ie if I am Running ravenloft I wont allow FR or Ebberon source material classes, or feats etc I found this the best way.

  4. MJ Harnish says:

    Having just returned from the Essen Spiel Messe (convention), I can identify with the RPGBA concept: There was an absolute fire sale on v3.5 books and D&D miniatures – a number of booths had offers like “buy 1, get 3 free” which made it almost impossible not to buy stuff. I ended up picking up quite a few books (ok, 8 in total) despite the fact that I don’t play v3.5, or even 4E all that much. The deal was just so good though…. In reality there was a method to my madness: I focused on the Eberron sourcebooks, filling out my source material for a world I really like even if I don’t like the rule system it was written for. I’ve done something similar with WoD products – I don’t really like the Storyteller system, but many of the source books are great resources or just plain interesting to read.

    I’ve done the same thing with a lot of indie RPGs: I buy them to mine for ideas and new ways of looking at RPGs; only a portion of them do I plan on running since if I tried to play every game I owned, even once, would take years even with playing each only for a single session during my weekly game.

  5. PatrickWR says:

    Give me a pile of rpg books over a laptop any day. Something about printed material really kindles my imagination. I always try to have a stack of books at my gaming table, even if they’re only obliquely related to the game we’re playing that night. They’re more for inspiration and local color.

  6. Steve-o says:

    As a GM, I was overwhelmed by the shear amount of books for 3.5. I felt bad telling people that they couldn’t use a book because they had spent their cold hard cash on it and want to use it. I eventually restricted the books to just the official WotC books. There were definitely some great books published, but unfortunately I was not able to incorporate all the books into my game. Most of my 3.5 books are PDF, so it definitely helped with bringing the books to the game, but it sucked when we needed to find a particular rule, effect, whatever…

    For our 4e campaign, I started out enforcing a core rulebook only. No pc races from the MM, no 3rd party ideas, no items from dragon or Dungeon. Now that we are more familiar with the rules, I have opened up the use of Dragon and Dungeon material. I don’t think I’ll ever allow 3rd party material, though. There’s always more “official” material coming out than i can keep up with.

    I buy Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu material even though I haven’t played that in years. The books for this game are just fantastic. I also still buy Hero System books for Champions, but only when I can get them for really cheap. I also find myself always perusing the Serenity RPG game material because , well, I can’t get enough Firefly…

  7. Nicholas says:

    @Steve-O: I just bought a copy of the Serenity RPG, a friend of mine is starting up a game. This might hurt my nerd cred but I just started watching Firefly for the first time to get ready for the game. I’m looking forward to the new experience. I’ve played in Star Wars RPGs and the like but it was always when my passion for the franchise has become a memory. I’m looking forward to cruising around The Verse during the peak of my excitement for the show.

  8. Name Level says:

    In my 3.0 game, it was simple: WOTC supplements only, except for most of UA. Select rules from UA were allowed.

    In my Castles & Crusades game, to which I adapt info. from both 3.5 and AD&D, I keep a plain text file indexing every article in Dragon that might be usable, which I can then search by keyword.

  9. Vinius says:

    My rule has always been: If you can look it up between the end of your last turn and the start of yoru next turn, it’s a power you can use. If you’re still looking it up when your turn comes around, you can’t use it. I’ve always felt that if the players expect the DM to have a grip of the adventure before they start playing, the DM should be able to expect the players to have a grip of their characters.

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