Friday, November 2, 2012

Open Friday: Batteries Not Included

When I was younger, I used a lot of pre-packaged adventure modules with the RPGs I played with my friends. One of the things I appreciated about them is that, if they introduced a new monster or magic item or whatever, they included the game stats for it at the back of the product. Come to think of it, that was generally how new "stuff" got introduced into RPGs. There were exceptions, of course. For example, Gary Gygax's module, The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, uses a lot of monsters from the Fiend Folio, so, if you want to play that module to its fullest, you need a copy of the FF. Likewise, Isle of the Ape uses spells and magic items from Unearthed Arcana and more or less expects that the referee owns and is using that book in his campaign if he wishes to run the module.

How do you feel about this? At what point is it too onerous to expect that a referee owns a particular supplementary work? Should adventure modules include everything not included in the main rulebook for the benefit of those who don't own anything else or is it reasonable to assume that most players own the latest releases?


  1. Oooh, tough question. But after doing a little thinking, I'd say yes. I was never happier than the first time I leafed through the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. Remember that book that came along w/ the module? That thing was awesome.

    In fact, from what I've heard, Goodman Games has adopted that business model to a certain extent right? They claim that it keeps the player's guessing. Oh, and Paizo's Adventure Path products do it as well come to think of it.

    So yeah, I suppose I'd have to say that I do like certain things included in the modules. Monsters, magic items, etc. Those types of things. Maybe a quirky rule regarding chasing through jungles or something along those lines too.

  2. Since the reason for those modules to exist in the 1st place was to push the supplementary books I think the question is moot. Is it reasonable to think that a modern RPG company can get away with such blatant sales tactics? My feeling is that Paizo and WotC could probably still sell shinola to their loyal customer base and tell them it is sunshine, but that the small fry and one man one module sized companies wouldn't get away with it.

  3. I'd say it depends on the purpose of the module.

    If it's something you've written to share online for free then hell, go for it, your primary audience is likely going to be fellow enthusiasts anway.

    If it's something you've written to publish commercially, expecting people to own every other supplement in a game line might or might not be onerous, but it certainly doesn't make commercial sense.

    If you are the publisher of the game line, you might like the idea of all the people playing your game owning all the supplements, but let's be realistic: that ain't going to happen, and few people are going to buy a supplement they otherwise weren't interested in simply for the sake of running an adventure. Some might, but I suspect most will just make up stats for things they lack the official stats for. You'd get more goodwill by providing the stats along with a line saying "for more detailed stats and variants on these creatures/items/rules, see this supplement" - that way the adventure is fully functional without the GM inventing extra stuff but you've given them a taster of what's in that supplement, and if they like what they see they might buy the supplement - especially since rather than generating frustration by keeping the stats locked away, you've generated goodwill by including them.

    On top of that, the set of "people who own your core books" is always going to be larger than the set of "people who own your core books plus the supplements", so if only the smaller set of people can make full use of your module then you're contracting the pool of people you're selling it to and thus making it less commercially viable. Why would you do that? Oh, sure, you could neglect to mention that the adventure requires a particular supplement to run, but that's ethically slimy and these days, when people can post reviews online saying "Watch out, the adventure requires Supplement X to work but the blurb doesn't say it", you might do yourself more harm than good.

    If you are not the publisher of the game line, there's even less reason to require the use of non-core material. Why use your adventure to sell other people's supplements?

    So, bottom line: at least in terms of commercial products, I don't think you HAVE to include everything which isn't in the main rulebook, but:

    - I do think it's profoundly unethical to not say (preferably loudly with big red letters) "This adventure requires Supplement X" before people put their money down, and that players/GMs have a right to feel aggrieved if they are sold a pig-in-a-poke.

    - I also think it isn't commercially sensible to sell adventures which aren't complete in themselves, because any benefit gained from convincing people to buy the required supplements won't be enough to outweigh the loss of interest from people who might have bought the adventure if it didn't require extra material (or the ill will generated if you don't mention that extra material is required), whereas if you use the adventure to say "Hey, here's some cool stuff from Supplement X, you should buy that if you want more stuff like this" then you're likely to get just as many sales - probably more - and will retain the goodwill of your customers.

  4. I think this is akin to marketing your customer into a corner. If a customer likes the look of a certain supplement, but fails to observe the need for a secondary product to make use of the supplement, then you're going to end up creating resentment and dissapointment. It might ultimately result in a sale of both products, but it would be grudgingly, and the ill will would be far more harmful than just putting in the all-inclusive information.

    Besides, it doesn't necessarily negate the need for the reference product. While you may be able to get all of the monsters by purchasing every various module with them included... it's not a centrally organized resource for those monsters. Something like that is crucial if you ever want to venture outside the module's well trod path.

  5. GURPS 4e is pretty tied to the different supplements (ie: Supers relies on Powers, which relies on the Basic Set; Thaumatology relies on Magic, which relies on Basic). But, that's also the way the system is built - as a series of add-on packages that you can use and customize as you see fit. I don't have much of a problem with that, although it does lead to some interesting research-like book manipulation.

  6. I like when new material is introduced in a module, and doesn't make you go out to buy the newest stuff. That's marketing, plain and simple, and I'm sure it sells books since gamers these days seem to think that if they don't have the new book they are missing something from the system, but I don't like when companies write material from optional - remember, supplements are optional and always should be - sources into the material and then don't provide usable statistics, instead referring you to page XX of supplement XXX. TSR did more and more of this toward the end of 2E and continued that business model throughout 3E, since the onslaught of books was continuing. Prestige classes from this or that supplement would show up and instead of re-inserting the rules, which takes minimal space, they would instead just refer you to another $40 book. Paizo does some of this, but at least they seem to flesh things out a little better. They amount of stuff from their Companion series that winds up in the hardbacks is huge, which really helps. The example that made me the most nuts is when Dark Sun was revamped for 3.5 in the pages of Dungeon and Dragon and the writeups for races and monsters included stuff that would only appear in the Expanded Psionics Handbook, including listing Half-Giants as an available race and then writing nothing more than "go get the book if you want stats," essentially. Makes me crazy. That's why I'm happy with the OSR scene - everything is usually pretty self-contained and most of it purely optional. When left to my own devices, if a book says "go out and buy this for all the other info" I tend to just write my own stuff, because I'm freakin' broke and as much as I would like to own all the books for a given system, it's not realistic. Remember, Gygax said once that as soon as we figured out we didn't need the game companies to create new material, they were in real trouble.

  7. Well half the page count of the early AH RQ modules was filled by reprint from material other than RQ standard edition, except I don't think those little capsules made a lot of sense to those who didn't own said material. Afterwards they stopped reprinting stuff in the modules but since every supplement described one more cult/one more spell/one more monster (Yelmalio cult description in Sun Dome but Yelmalions had a pretty big role in River of Cradles too), the GM had to carry a 400 gp capacity bag for all his books.

    And of course at a certain moment unpublished material
    became canon as well, and the situation became hopeless.

    I stopped playing AD&D with early 2nd edition, but I always wondered whether later modules included all the optional rules (proficiencies, spells from tome of magic, kits from the complete class books etc.).

    Bottom line, I think it depends. I think it should
    include everything it can do justice, but also if it is a general adventure module, it should not rely on people owning every book that's out there.

    For example, Pendragon scenarios never really expected you to own anything except the main book, although if you had you could use it to expand the scenario.

    To put it in D&D context, for example an NPC magic user should only have standard spells (unless there is a reason). The DM is always right to add more anyway.

    And of course if it's the main focus of your module, then you should reprint it.

  8. That practice was the bane of my existence when I was younger and collected 2nd Edition products. I *loathed* that there was material alluded to or monsters included in the modules/supplements that you could only find in some other book that was (especially by the mid-90s) out-of-print. When 3.xE became more of the same, I quit and went back to my older collections.

  9. Yes, adventure modules should include everything needed. These original tidbits where the only real reason I bought modules in the first place.

  10. In the days of 1e the books were published years apart, so it didn't feel so much like consumer exploitation --- plus we were kids and wanted the "official" rules. Later practices seem more like those of Marvel and DC Comics, using crossovers and special events to make you buy more books just to get a coherent picture. It's not just that that's annoying --- it also spreads the rules all over the damn place, which makes it cumbersome to look it up at the table.

  11. I prefer when new material is included in the adventure... It gives that adventure a unique flavor. I never liked to use the creatures and magic items presented in a module as common in the rest of a campaign world. Just let that location have a special and memorable ecology all it's own.

    But in the case of using monsters and spells presented in books that were presented as officially canon and core to the game? That's a tough call. As a designer, why limit yourself as far as content you can use to give the adventure a special feel, using lesser-known creatures and items and magic from across the board of official rulebooks?

    I also get it from a business standpoint: why limit yourself as far as additional product sales?

  12. Definitely in the "don't assume players have anything other that this adventure and the core books" school.

    Then again with a simple game like D&D you can get away with a simple stat block that describes the creature (after all OD&D did it with a line in a table and a short paragraph and maybe a picture if you were very very very lucky). Didn't stop our playing, even if we had no real idea of what a locathah actually looked or acted like (apart from riding giant eels). So it really isn't important for running the adventure. Knowing what an obscure new magic item or spell did was more troublesome.

    However a good monster write-up meant that you could use the monster elsewhere, which could be useful, so I'm all in favour of including them.

  13. Let's face it, it would be too onerous, if we didn't have bootleg downloadable PDFs of just about every rulebook and supplement online. Someone had to say it...

  14. Given the ready availability of PDFs (official or not) in this era, I'd probably err on the side of brevity and assume that the GM can obtain a copy of whatever non-core books are being used. Maybe include a short section of alternatives if they don't (i.e. use X core monster if you don't have the stats for the Wildehydrapyrothesalboarasaurus).

  15. I think modules should be truly modular, i.e., fully self-contained. If a module includes a new monster/spell/item/etc. it should at least give you the bare bones rules required to run the thing. If the publisher wants to include a note like "This product is fully usable on its own, but Supplement X is highly recommended" that's fine.

    But if they don't include the bare bones rules, waiting until after the fact to tell you that you need another book to use one you've already purchased is crooked as hell. It would be like someone selling you a car but neglecting to mention that the engine is sold separately.

  16. I don't mind modules that include monsters from other products. If your not really into, or don't have time to make the investment in a home brew campaign/adventure this at least makes buying those products useful, instead of wondering why you bought it in the first place. I do, however, wouldn't mind them putting on the cover (Or, the back.) of the module telling you what books you need for the monsters within. Its counterproductive, on a financial level, to include monsters, from existing products, and just copy them into a module. For a company to "assume" you have all their products is just silly. On the surface it may seem that adding the disclaimer would reduce the purchase of the module, but in my mind I'd be more pissed off if they do a basic bait and switch, selling me a module that after purchase I find out I need another book I don't have. Where as, if the module really interests me I might go and purchase the book I need. Giving me the option is the only fair thing to do. And, lets face it. The company really wants to sell their books, were as modules are usually cheap and has a limited buying power.

  17. I think this was an acceptable approach when the game had 3 monster books.

    On the other hand, there were dozens of monster books in 2E which made it a little ridiculous to expect that every DM would have a copy of each book in his collection.

    I remember several occasions where the monster blurbs were not enough to run the adventure, because of all the special rules that weren't included in the stat-block.

    It wasn't a big deal if the monsters were in the main Monstrous Compendium, but it was a pain in the ass if you didn't have the Greyhawk II appendix or the Fiend Folio Appendix.

    I don't know if the more recent WotC editions of the game followed the same monster-glut philosophy, but at least they've abandoned the godawful loose-leaf format since then.

  18. YES, I'd like everything needed to run a creature properly (stats, ecology, etc.) in the module. But I also see no reason why a supplement couldn't take a culture mentioned in a module and expand on it.

  19. I like both approaches. Gygax's method works fine for marketing purposes as well as for those who purchased FF. Introducing a new spell/monster in pre packaged adventures is my preferred method as it tends to fit the adventure better.

  20. As a writer for Arcanum Syndicate, I always throw in additional material to my supplements. Thus far, I've written "Tides of Sin" and "Urban Encounters", both of which have new creatures for use in the setting.

    You can check out my works at

  21. The old AD&D Modules were mostly OK, as mentioned above there weren't the vast amounts of extra books you needed to own to run the module, but with later stuff? They really ought to have put a notice on the cover saying which books you will need to run a given module, as it was not reasonable to expect players to own the lot.

    Extra material per module? Some of it looked like stuff thrown in because that was kind of expected when the standard rulebook monsters and magic items would have been OK, and layout and permissions granted to photocopy those pages of monsters, spells etc. (I did it anyway) you wanted to take over to another scenario. for easy reference. Back in the day I had a binder full of odds and sods from magazines and modules that was pretty much a second DMG.

    It could have been done better, and I would expect modern game publishers not to make the same mistakes. I'd like to see modules contain everything beyond the core rulebooks you need to play, and it ought to be possible to combine modules with rule supplements and use that as a way of expanding on a core rulebook.

  22. I think it got worse, e.g., in 4E only 2 basic giant types were included in the core monster manual, the others scattered through other publications.

  23. I prefer self-contained modules whenever possible if something critical in them is utilized from outside the core rulebooks. One can replace random monsters with another easily enough but if the whole module is based on Githyanki and you didn't have the Fiend Folio or whatever White Dwarf issue they appeared might be out of luck.

    I'd think it would be nice if modules would list what books they draw from on the cover somewhere, sort of like software packages do for computers: letting you know what you need to run the thing as written.

  24. Weeeeellll ... as a marketing device, it was pretty shrewd...

  25. Well, I generally think that pretending a GM to have some expansion in order to run a module is just a way to force him buy it. I'd rather the modules which contains all the new stuff in their appendix. Or at least the modules that clearly state in their back cover that you need a specific expansion in order to run or play it.

  26. That's true though, in fairness, the modules that WOTC published for 4E always included the complete rules for any monsters that it used.

  27. I think supplements like that are sometimes worthwhile. Having things in one place can be convenient, especially for someone who isn't interested in buying many adventures.

  28. That said, that doesn't mean that sort of thing shouldn't ALSO be covered in an adventure in which it appears.


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