Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Campaign Toolkits

In between building dungeons, doing character work and planning for Is This Foul? I've been fiddling a bit with an all psionics 3.5 setting. Nothing terribly serious, mind; I have enough games that I'd rather run than 3.5 that it won't see play for a while, if at all. (I am considering converting it to Swords & Wizardry, but that's a whole 'nother ball game.) It's just a fun side-activity when I get bored with my regular games.

In the process, I dug out Sandstorm, one of my favorite 3rd edition supplements. I've never been able to use it as extensively as I'd like, but bits and pieces have found their way into my games over the years. Mostly, I like reading it, and getting ideas.

It's representative of the type of sourcebook that I love the best. I don't have much use for things like Complete Divine or Arcane Power. Player sourcebooks aren't helpful to me as a GM or interesting to me as a player. And while I enjoyed reading Eberron (and still wouldn't mind playing in a game someday) there's generally so much that I rip out of a setting in the process of getting it to conform to my whims that it makes more sense to just whip up a setting from scratch, or something close to it.

Sandstorm has a lot of the obligatory feat and prestige class type crunch endemic to books of that period, and it implies a fair amount of setting detail. But it's all very modular. There are a lot of things that logically fit if you used them all in one game, but no rules as to how they interrelate, no politics, geography, or star NPCs. What it does have is a lot of crunch for building desert-ready characters, some great monsters with intriguing world and plot hooks attached, and a lot of detailed information on desert environments and dungeons. It's a toolbox for building a campaign.

That's what I want out of a sourcebook. Game-focused, researched information. Spells, classes, and monsters that suggest villains and organizations, rather than handing them to me ready made. If that material is interconnected by a theme and sub-themes -- the environment of the desert, its races and their cultures, and the lost civilizations responsible for some of its monsters and traditions -- all the better.

These days, I'm more interested in systems that don't suggest or require as many sourcebooks as does 3rd. But when I go back to it, those are the books I get the most use out of. The environment books, Deities and Demigods, the alternate power sources, The Book of Vile Darkness. And I find that the best parts -- the desert terrain information in Sandstorm, or the classification of different kinds of pantheons in Deities and Demigods, are fundamentally system neutral. I can use them for Swords & Wizardry or 4th edition or even Traveller or Vampire just as easily as I can for 3rd edition.


  1. It's the same for me. I'd love to get a good, solid sourcebook for building undersea cultures that tackles things like architecture, agriculture, herding and animal husbandry, the cultural implications of the undersea environment, things like that. It doesn't even have to be definitive. In fact, if it gave me a host of options I could pick and choose from that would be best.

    - Brian

  2. @Trollsmyth: "The Sea Devils" (Sahuagin sourcebook for 2E), or possibly that Forgotten Realms "Sea of Fallen Stars" sourcebook (1/2E)might be worth your time. Lots of the kind of detail you were hankering for about life beneath the ocean in those...

  3. Hearty agreement from this quarter. I've noticed the same tendency in my own prep the past few years.

    While prepping my upcoming Traveller game, I've found the old GameLords environment books have supplied me with a lot of ideas not just for this game, but another couple ideas I have waiting in the wings. Now that the FFE Apocrypha disc is out, I'm finding the supplement I'm referencing most for ideas is the FASA equipment catalogue...

  4. trollsmyth: Ooh, yeah, an undersea environment book like that would be great. As much use as I got out of Stormwrack in my pirate-themed AE game, it's missing a lot of what would really be *useful* in a book like that. A discussion of undersea cities, for one. And don't get me started on the ship combat. At some point I need to hack the Traveller space combat system for seagoing fantasy vessels.

    Chris: I'll keep an eye out for those too, then. Although it'd still be nice to see a book that was more toolbox-y than definitive.

    KenHR: Woah! Noble Knight Games has "Undersea Environment" and "Mountain Environment" for $9.95 each. Not bad. My own Traveller game tends to play pretty fast and loose with things like facts, but still, those sound like books you could get some use out of.

  5. Are you familiar with Microlite20? It's rules-light, fitting on a single page, and built from the OGL so that any 3.x resource can be put to use with literally no conversion - at most you'll want to review a creature entry to determine what mechanics you can pointedly ignore. A psionics guide was just added to the wiki, too! Might be worth a look.

  6. odrook: I'm aware of it, but I've been too busy obsessing over the old school D&D stuff to look into much d20 related. That might be a good choice for my summer group at some point, though, since they really like the d20 fiddly bits and I've kind of gone off them at the moment.