While I’ve written plenty of reviews for RPG rule-sets, the fact is the rules of the game shouldn’t really matter that much. While some pledge undying love to rules-light systems such as OD&D or Fate for being able to make up things on-the-spot, and/or to plug in their own rules, my personal pleasure is finding resources for running a better game. Some of these are written specifically for either the player or the GM, and some may be intended for either a specific rule-set or genre. In this article I’d like to highlight some of the ones I’ve enjoyed.
Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide
Aside from the core rulebooks for AD&D 2nd Edition, the Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide was one of the few 2E books that I purchased. Even though I rarely ran a game, I was interested in this book as I wanted to learn more about adventure, campaign and world creation, as those interests certainly intersected with my writing bug.
When I gave away my RPG books this book was among them. Years later when I got back into RPGs, I tried to find a newer book that would have similar advice. Paizo does have one, titled Gamemastery Guide (mentioned below). I only have the PDF and I’ve briefly looked at it; there’s a lot of info packed into it, but like the other Pathfinder books it’s just too “dense” for me. I remembered the CS&CG as being a nice balance. With a quick search on eBay I found another copy of this book and within the week I had it in my hands. It was exactly as I remembered it. Great paintings by Jeff Easley, the blue used in the layout, it hit me right in the nostalgias. While the book is in 3-column layout (arrrg) it was as easy to read as I remembered. Not only that, but the organization is very good.
The Dungeon Alphabet
The first release from Goodman Games that I purchased, I consider The Dungeon Alphabet to be one of the best resources I’ve ever come across. Like the DCC RPG this book has beautiful illustrations that will immediately put the reader in the mood for adventure and dungeon crawling. This book is pretty light page-wise, so it’s a great book to sit down and read in very few or even just one session, with plenty of handy charts and tables to utilize.
While I don’t play Pathfinder (even though at $10 a PDF it’s hard to resist buying some of their releases!), there’s no doubt that Paizo has some incredible resources. I tend to think of the GameMastery Guide as an updated Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide. This book is very long page-wise, but there’s an incredible amount of information in it, and not too much of it is Pathfinder-specific. One criticism I do have is that the text is far too small for my eyes, so while the PDF release is cheap I will likely need to break down and order a hardback copy at some point.
An earlier release from Goodman Games, GM Gems is an excellent resource that will help you no matter what kind of game and rules you’re using. It features a number of tables, helpful adventure hooks and possible locations to use within a town or city, in the wilderness and the dungeon. This book is heartily recommended.
The corresponding player-focused resource from Goodman Games, PC Pearls is a wealth of charts to help flesh out your character. Like GM Gems, there’s a large collection of tables and text to help flesh out a character’s background, naming history, and personality traits to help a player create the most compelling person they can.
Roll XX and Roll XX: Double Damage
Two booklets with plenty of charts, Roll XX and Roll XX: Double Damage are great system-neutral resources for quickly coming up with ideas and/or items. Roll XX has charts sorted by genre, while Double Damage is a shorter volume.
Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
A resource for the controversial Lamentations of the Flame Princess rule-set, Vornheim is nevertheless a good pick whether you need to create an adventure or a whole campaign centered around a detailed city, or you just need something interesting for the players to travel through.
The Wilderness Alphabet
Similar in format to The Dungeon Alphabet, The Wilderness Alphabet is a wonderful resource by Jim Pacek. Like The Dungeon Alphabet this resource is short but sweet; with no wasted words or spaces, you are guaranteed to have tons of ideas no matter what game or style of adventure you’re playing.