Monday, June 22, 2009

That Dang Supplement Treadmill

The other day, I realized why I've stopped playing 4e D&D. It has nothing to do with the system itself. The system itself is spiffy. Not perfect by a long shot, and I don't think I could run a really long, serious campaign with it, but there are a lot of games that fall into that category. Heck, I considered running it this summer. I like running it, my summer group likes playing it. If it weren't for the sequel they'd been bugging me to run, it should have been perfect.

Except for that dang supplement treadmill. The thing that really clinched that decision for me -- to run Arcana Evolved rather than 4e D&D -- was that I knew that a bunch of cool stuff had come up since the last time I ran 4e, and if I ran it again there would be a serious temptation to buy more of that cool stuff. This is true of Arcana Evolved as well, but to a lesser degree. Not as much stuff, and I've already got a ton of 3e books that I haven't gotten a chance to use yet.

And 4e D&D has the specific issue that using it rather than some other game would be largely about the cool stuff. If I wasn't going to be fiddling with weird party combinations or coming up with killer monster combos, there wouldn't be much point to playing it. I can enjoy that style of game, but it's not significantly superior to the kind of game where the focus is on something other than character tweaks (or where I can make that kind of thing up myself) and it's a lot more expensive.


  1. One of the reasons I've rarely played store-bought modules or campaign settings is because I'm cheap. Part of the reason I enjoy RPGs is because I can get a lot of fun for not a lot of money. I'm all about taking the core rules and doing the most I can with them.

    Which is probably horrible news for folks who want to make a living supporting my RPG habit. I haven't bought dice in nearly a decade, the last WotC book I purchased before my 4e PHB was Book of Vile Darkness, and I'm slightly more likely to run for city council than I am to sign up for DDI. Even when I actively played 2e, I used only the 2e PHB and the 1e DMG (and monster books for years, or borrowed the 2e monster books my players owned).

    I imagine it would annoy 4e players, but I've no interest in running on the supplement treadmill.

  2. home brew! that's my answer anyways... Like trollsmyth I'm super cheap and rarely buy books. I've got a few supplements though, the manual of the planes so far is the only one I've used at all, the other two I received as gifts and haven't had a chance to use.

  3. 4E is especially easy to run forever without supplements. The mechanics are fairly flavorless, and it's trivial to re-skin them, describe them as being something else. You don't need more than one monster book, or player's handbook, etc. There's so little mechanical difference between classes, etc., what's the point? And it's easy to make you own monsters and so on, should you want something abit different.

  4. I can sympathize with that concern Odyssey. I haven't bought a 4e book since the core books (...the first ones, not everything else). However I'm always tinkering with 4e, and I'm writing my own campaign setting, with class builds, items, rituals, feats, and races on my blog which is what I primarily play with. All the cool stuff Wootsie has made has never attracted me. I like 4e a lot, but what I like best is coming up with my own cool stuff (and sharing it with everybody).

  5. trollsmyth: Heh. RPGs are one of the very few areas where I'm prone to impulse purchases. I've already got a stack of game books three feet high. Once I get out of college there's an extremely high likelihood of becoming one of those gamers with an entire bookshelf devoted to the stuff. I'm incredibly easily distracted by shiny, book-type objects.

    kaeosdad: As noted above -- I have a bunch of supplements and stuff. But I've hardly used any of them. I like reading them, but most of the best campaigns I've run have been one corebook plus some homebrewed stuff, with maybe one or two things drawn from a supplement I've got sitting around. I find it's a more satisfying way to play.

    Anonymous: The big issue for me is not whether or not the system is possible to run core only (which, I'll freely admit, it is) but whether there's a monthly release schedule of books full of shiny new toys. I followed 3.5s schedule pretty closely at one point, and I ended up with a lot of books that I no longer have much interest in. This is a personal/sociological issue, rather than something inherent to the system itself.

    Wyatt: Your approach to 4e really interests me, and I think it's a shame that more people aren't doing similar things. Not entirely surprising, though, given the amount of material that needs to be generated for new classes and so on. (I largely don't have the patience for that kind of thing, myself. My mechanical homebrew tends to go something like: "So you want to be an android? Okay, you've got bonuses here and a penalty here, immune to some construct-type stuff, and . . . sure, you can change your hair color at will." Having to set up an interlocking power scheme is not my forte.)

  6. Eventually, you'll be bit by an insidious bug that will have you frustrated and tired of everything in your library. Nothing will fit right, and the only solution will be to write your own game!

    When that happens, resist as much as possible the urge to throw out, give away, or sell your existing collection of book-shaped objects, no matter how of the shine has worn off. You'll miss them after they're gone.