Rules & Supplements Part 2

Hello again everyone!  While I don’t plan on doing the resources article alone, I got a lot of views for the first one.  Well somewhere around 40-50 in a week, but this is twice what I have for my other top post and in a much shorter time.  Thank you everyone who took a look, seeing that post top the old one in 24 hours certainly made my day.   I would also like to mention that I have re-read my posts a couple times and I certainly tend to ramble a bit.  Things are probably going to come out a little slower but I am going to attempt to organize better and do some more editing before publishing.  So, let’s go in for part two and get to a handful of supplements that could be useful and definitely should have a place on your shelf.

Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook (D&D 3.0)

This book is one of my favorites, though I will be honest, I have never had a chance to use it for is designed intent.  Maybe this just helps prove its usefulness as a sourcebook.  For those of you who don’t know, this resource came out during the era of paperback books for 3.0 which included class supplements and even one with traps and challenge rooms to throw at players.  The purpose of the book was to provide DM’s with guidelines to allow players to build their own base, their stronghold.

The Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook is a great resource for inspiration on what could be in a stronghold, with everything from guestrooms to dining halls and all the stuff in-between.  It really helps remind you to think about what a stronghold is.  What was it to the original owner and what is it now?  That alone makes it good for ruins-based dungeons.  Additionally this book takes you from the ground up working out the cost and spacing of a stronghold and giving you a price for everything along with price adjustments based on materials, magic, and special considerations.  With gold being relatively similar in value throughout the D&D systems, and even Pathfinder, direct use of this book remains fairly reserved.  For other settings or economic differences much of the math comes in factors of many thousands with multipliers.  Come up with a base multiplier for your setting’s differences and direct use is still maintained (albeit with math but at that point what’s one more multiplier?).

Beyond this direct usage and the inspiration for dungeon design, the book as some other uses.  Chapter 3 is a whole section on use of strongholds in a campaign.  How do you build it?  Who do you hire?  What about watch scheduling?  Sieging an enemy stronghold?  Defending your own?  Definitely a chapter that can be consulted for any game.  The forth chapter represents example keeps.  Mechanically these may take some work translating but thematically or narratively (I may have made up this word), these become very usable.  In the end if you want to have a resource for keeps, strongholds, or lairs this is a magnificent one.  If you want rules on building one and play a D&D (or similar) game it becomes even better.  Find a hard copy or add a PDF to your collection.

Ultimate Campaign (Pathfinder)

This is a newer book for the Pathfinder game system and one which has started to see a lot of use in my current campaign.  It was a toss up on whether to include this one or Pathfinder Unchained, but since this one is getting substantially more use I figured it would be a better fit.  Now this book has tons.  Like many books throughout various editions this one is full of supplemental rules and systems.  But the supplemental bit is what makes this, like the Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook, something to get for your shelf.  The very essence of “supplemental” makes them usable (to lesser or greater degrees) in so many ways.

While the aforementioned Pathfinder Unchained adjusts and recreates rules (the reason it WILL be included in the future) to make life for gamers easier and adjusted for their play style, Ultimate Campaign is a book full of useful add-ons to your Pathfinder campaign.  And, since Pathfinder is an OGL extension of 3.5, any of your 3.X campaigns.  As an added bonus much of the tips are just those, tips, or additional systems and, like the Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook, useful for many more games.

The first chapter tackles what many supplements do: background.  This includes some Pathfinder mechanics but also gets someone thinking about and developing their character’s backstory.  Everything from early life to adolescence to adulthood, including random tables to help you if you aren’t sure or want some “realistic” randomness.  The next chapter is about downtime.  What happens when the PCs aren’t adventuring.  I know in my campaign there was (up until kingdom building) zero downtime.  It was one town to the next one enemy after another just trying to keep the forces of darkness at bay.  However, if you have months or weeks of downtime or gaps in the timeline this gives you something to fill it with.  There are mechanics involved but the premises remain the same and a clever GM can adapt.  Chapter three is really about new systems from alignment tracking to investments to honor.  This really is a chapter of “add-ons” or “mods” just like a video game.  Some are more readily adaptable and independent the mechanics than others but all of them are great ideas that can be used in a number of games.

Finally we have the chapter I have been using for a few months now.  Kingdoms and war.  We have not gotten into mass combat (yet), and that section is certainly mechanically dependent on both kingdom rules and Pathfinder mechanics.  However, the Kingdom building section is amazing.  Debuting in an adventure path this book gives the system a permanent home.  And people have created spreadsheets that will help track everything in a kingdom.  If you have PCs of a level to or a campaign heading in the direction of such a thing then BUY THIS BOOK.  Ask me and I’ll link you my favorite spreadsheet too.  Anyways, while it is pathfinder-based the system is largely independent.  Character stats and such mechanics are somewhat important early on but loose headway to the numbers driven by the burgeoning kingdom’s own stats.  Even a different game could use it with a GM willing to make decisions and judgement calls on what a character’s (for example) charisma score would be in Pathfinder and using that number.

Before I get too far into this system and its usefulness (another article unto itself I think), know this:  Ultimate Campaign is usable to any GM, especially if they want to kingdom build.  Use it for pretty much any D&D or pathfinder game and (if willing and able) any game at all.  At the very least look at it as a book of example add-on systems and how to make them work.

Realms of Cthulhu (Savage Worlds)

I was tempted to go for a trifecta of books sporting supplemental systems to be adapted for any game but I decided to go for the Pathfinder, D&D, Savage Worlds triple play again.  I may be biased for including this on the list though.  First off I am a huge fan of Lovecraft, horror, and the Mythos.  I have a number of systems to play this style game from Call of Cthulhu to the some-what hard to find D20 Call of Cthulhu to Cthulhutech.  But, Realms of Cthulhu found the sweet spot on how I can run a game in a setting type I’m in love with that other people don’t quite even get.  This book crystalized the amazing system Savage Worlds is and helped me learn some lessons as a DM.

So how does this book really help you?  Especially when I am so clearly focused on D&D or D&D-based game systems.  Well, that’s just another reason I included it.  Realms of Cthulhu has some stuff that other systems don’t have.  Some of it is derived from Savage Worlds.  Some from the Mythos.  And some from the glorious amalgam that the book is.  Keep in mind the entire book is basically a setting book for Savage Worlds and as such is very specifically inclined mechanics-wise.  However, as I mentioned last post, Savage Worlds is a simplistic and adaptable system.  As a result, for example, an insanity system was created and dropped into Savage Worlds specifically for this setting.  One that works great and also includes the dichotomy of knowing your enemy but becoming less able to handle life as you do.

Personally I believe if you understand how the Savage World system works and how the insanity system works you can drop the Realms of Cthulhu insanity system into ANY game system as an add-on.  The main obstacle would be defining character stats, but perhaps I’ll discuss that in a future article.  Aside from this, the book is a beautiful example of the essence of Lovecraftian horror.  While Call of Cthulhu gets deep, gritty, and rules/setting heavy, this book avoids all that.  Savage Worlds is a game made to allow versatile and easy story telling RPG experiences and this book distills down mythos horror.

Use this book to help run any horror (especially Mythos) game.  What makes things scary?  What does it mean to have stats nearly un-overcome-able (I’m making up more words)?  When should something just not have stats?  What are intrinsic parts of such a game?  Realms of Cthulhu is made for a flexible system and this helps put up front what this type of game is: a hopeless spiral into knowledge and insanity in equal parts where the more knowledge you have to save the world the less able or willing you are to use it.  How long can you survive?  As a result the book defines what such horrors are for a game like this, and what they mean.  It also clearly gives DMs tools they didn’t know they already had from the mcguffin to the red herring.

Realms of Cthulhu for the Savage Worlds system will help you become a better DM.  Especially if you have a fondness for horror.  Get this book.  Put it next to Savage Worlds Deluxe.  Read the how-to-run-a-game sections.  Read every sidebar.  Learn the basics of what makes Lovecraftian horror so terrifying.  The formulas are simple, and its often the presentation that makes it terrifying.  My foray into this included less and less lighting, more candles, a mix of vague and specific, and eerie background music.  Eventually my players were terrified of anything that happened and began feeling it physically.  And not one part of that feeling was mechanically produced.

That wraps up this post.  It was a long one but I am happy with what I was able to get across.  Obviously I could write full reviews for these books and babble about how I have used them, but that can remain fuel for the blog fire.  And while I didn’t want to have such lengthy posts, I hope I did these books better justice both in their usefulness and in my ability to present that usefulness.  Thanks everyone for reading and I look forward to doing this again.  However, next time we will go for something different but what it is will remain a surprise (as I haven’t decided yet!).