Friday, December 10, 2010

How Many Supplements to Allow?

I remember back in the day when all we ever used was the Player's Handbook to come up with characters. That lasted me through first edition and for a good portion of my time playing second edition D&D as well. Then supplements started taking over my game. It all started when one of my players, who always played an elf of some sort, picked up a copy of the Complete Book of Elves. It seemed innocent enough, until his character suddenly had a special elf dog companion (I think it was called a cooshie, or something like that). I can't remember too many of the details other than that dog, but some of the options in that book really upset the balance of the campaign, and being in middle school at the time, I didn't have the leadership abilities to pull things back together.

How did I "fix" things? Simple! I started buying supplements that matched the other players' characters. I ended up with The Complete Book of Dwarves, the Fighers' Handbook, Warriors and Priests of the Realms, Drow of the Underdark, and probably a few others that I can't remember off the top of my head. In all honesty, while it did help even the gap, that darned elf still stayed ahead of the rest of the party power-wise for the rest of the campaign. My solution put a band-aid over a gunshot wound. Did it cover the hole? Yes... but it didn't fix the problem.

When 3rd edition hit, we went back to basics again and things were pretty balanced for a while. It was around the time that the influx of supplements hit that I stopped playing D&D for a few years. When I came back, there were tons of options to choose from. We had all grown older, most of us had jobs, and the general rule became something like: "If you spend your money on the book, you can use it in the campaign."

Honestly? I loved having all of the options. Because I was hand-building monsters and NPCs behind the scenes as DM, pulling from all of those books gave me a ton of cool combinations to experiment with. Of course, this was the era of "monster creation should mirror PC creation as much as possible." I was spending way too much time coming up with monster stats and not enough time working on the actual story for the game.

Then 4th edition arrived and we all went back to basics yet again. We played a few short adventures and decided that there actually weren't enough options to keep us interested in the character building aspect of the game. We dove right back into 3rd edition with Spectrum Shock, a D20 fantasy/sci-fi mix in which I encouraged my players to mix and match from any D20 book that meshed decently with D&D 3.5... and they got so caught up in the sci-fi stuff that they didn't use anything other than D20 Modern and D20 Future. So much for "not enough supplements," huh?

Now, having been away from 4th edition D&D (and RPGs altogether, really) for almost a year, I fired up my D&D Insider account and decided to play around a bit with Character Builder. I couldn't believe the number of options... in fact, there were so many that I felt overwhelmed. I'm thinking about the following rule for any new 4th edition D&D campaign I run in the future:
All supplements are legal, but you may use no more than one supplement per tier. Thus, at heroic levels, a player could use the Player's Handbook plus any supplement of his choice. As soon as the character hits 11th level, the player can add a supplement. Another is added when the character reaches the epic tier.
I think this allows for a great deal of flexibility in character creation/development but limits cherry picking from every source imaginable. I like my players having tons of options... I just don't want to be the DM that ends up saying, "You can do what?!?!" in the middle of every other encounter. On the other hand, with Character Builder and the Compendium, I don't know if it's that big of a deal because I won't have to reference actual books if I want to double check things (like I did in 3rd edition).

What do you think, dear readers? How many supplements do you allow your players?
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