Tabletop Tuesday — Supplemental… (Or, “Maybe if we bought a new bookshelf?”)

One of the built-in double-edged sword qualities of the tabletop role-playing game industry gig is how once you’ve released the books you need to play the game, you’ve given your players everything they need to play the game for… well, forever. They don’t have to ever pay you again and they’ve got everything they need to play that system for years and years to come. It’s a fantastic thing.

It’s also not the greatest sales model to, y’know, keep the lights on. One solution? Supplemental material. Sourcebooks. Player’s guides. Adventures. Settings. Spellbooks (or the equivalent in whatever setting, tech and psionics for sci-fi, superpowers for comic-book settings, etc). Those not only keep the lights on, they often breathe some fresh air into your game if you’re starting to stall out a bit, especially as the narrator.

Of course, there’s also the flip-side to that: the glut of… less than great that sometimes happens.

I’m pretty sure my pre-teen self took that original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set (mumble-mumble) years ago and played the game without any other material for at least three or four years. When AD&D 2nd Edition happened, I picked up multiple extra books (I definitely had some real stinkers, like the “Cardmaster” boxed set, which was… not good).

But I’d rather not dwell on awful releases that never should have made it to the shelves—(cough)Spelljammer(cough)—when I can instead talk about two of my favourite supplemental books.

Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide

The Cover of the Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Gamemaster's Guide.

Okay, I could subtitle this one “I love the Jobber!” and be done with it, but the Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide has way more than said template (though I swear I use all the freaking time in my M&M game). The M&MDGG has a lot of the usual bits you find in a narrator’s book for a tabletop roleplaying game: discussions of setting, breakdown of plots and trouble-shooting, and one of the best villain motivation chapters I’ve read in a TTRPG book. And, most importantly, none of it reads like generica. I mean, yes, you could translate the advice given here to most game settings, but the book itself is grounded in the comic-book game it represents. The settings discussion, for example, is framed around the various ages of comics (Gold, Silver, etc.) and the motivations align with comic book villainy, even when grounded in more-or-less real world psychology. Add to that the chapters on Challenges (everything from fires, avalanches, to that whole villainous death trap thing) and Adventure design (with multiple approaches described, for those of us who aren’t particularly linear, and those who are), and you’ve already got yourself a great sourcebook that’ll keep your Mutants & Masterminds ideas humming along.

But the two things I adore most about this book are the templates and the maps.

I’ve mentioned before about how the Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Hero’s Handbook has what I consider the gold-seal standard of character creation, so I won’t go over it again, and you can absolutely use those charts to create villains à la carte, but Chapter 3 of the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide gives you a series of templates you can personalize with even less work than said character creation tables, and with varying power-levels so you don’t have to do the number-crunching thereafter to up- or down-size said villain. And there are minions! When something takes away my planning time—most often, in my case, a migraine—I know I can flip to Chapter 3 of this book during the game and have something I can play right off the page, and since the templates all have so much personalization to them, each villain feels completely different.

As I mentioned, the Jobber template alone is one I go back to over and over. “Jobbers” are one-note villains of not-quite-up-to-the-hero’s-power, with a single thing they do well—like an energy blaster, or leaper, or that guy who only uses bolas or boomerangs or javelins—and like all the templates in the book, it’s quick and easy to go from “rough idea” to a completed NPC in no time. Each template also comes with discussions of variations on said theme, their oft-used tactics, themes, and a few caper ideas to get the ideas flowing.

And the maps? Presented as Villainous Lairs, they run the gamut from Amusement Park to Skyscraper Penthouse, and I’ve used about half of them on the fly during adventures. Each one also has little ideas tucked into the description for how you might use them in a story, and things to consider about said location, or what might be cool to do there.

You know what? I’m totally going to do a post on how I’ve used the M&MDGG to make an adventure without a tonne of work. But you get the idea. And I should also note the book has two fully ready-to-play adventures in it, too, with great examples of all the various concepts discussed throughout the adventure-making part of the book. One is designed linearly, the other designed more open-world, and both are great.

Star Trek Adventures: Tricorder Collector’s Boxed Set

The Tricorder Boxed set, opened. You can see the tokens, rulebook, dice, and the amazing cards.

Okay, this might feel a little like cheating, but bear with me. The Star Trek Adventures game is an absolute favourite, and the Star Trek Adventures: Tricorder Collector’s Boxed Set is the single only other physical book beyond the core rulebook I’ve purchased—everything else I own in pdf, because shipping to Canada is painful—and while technically the Tricorder Boxed Set is a complete version of the game (albeit only including the information, starships, and character options from the TOS-era Star Trek), that’s not why I break this puppy out every single time my Star Trek Adventures gaming group gathers.

I do it because of what came with the book.

First, actual little red-alert tokens to use to track Threat (the game’s currency for me to spend as the narrator in order to make things more challenging for the players) and little United Federation of Planets blue tokens to track Determination (what the characters use to boost their own chances of success). Those are cute.

Second? Actual Star Trek Adventures dice. I didn’t really need the d20s—though it is cute that instead of a 1 there’s a Star Trek delta—and the fact they’re in Kirk’s command-wrap green is sort of amusing. The six-sided dice, on the other hand, I’m really happy to have, because while Star Trek Adventures does work fine with your regular d6, you have to “translate” them to Star Trek Adventures results, as STA d6s have 1, 2, blank, blank, delta, and delta results, and it’s just so much faster to roll dice with that actually printed on the faces, rather than rolling regular d6s and remembering that 1 is 1, 2 is 2, 3 and 4 are zero, and 5 and 6 are 1 but also potentially an effect of some sort.

Third—and most beloved—the cards. The Star Trek Adventures Tricorder Collector’s Boxed Set comes with cardboard sheets that denote two starships (the TOS era Enterprise and the USS Lexington, another Constitution-class ship from the same era) and their two crews—the TOS characters you know and love (to varying degrees) from the series, and a from-scratch crew you can use to plug-and-play for the Lexington. This new crew have biographies on the backs of their cards for ease of dropping into a game, but the reverse side of the TOS Enterprise crews has the various options you can take from their positions on the Bridge and… I’m not saying I let out a little squeak of pure gratitude when I realized I’d never have to look through the Core Rulebook to figure out what sort of Task beaming someone up was, but I’m not not saying it, either. There’s one card with combat actions, another with most common Momentum spends, and… look, basically these cards are like game mechanic cheat-sheets and they’re clearly labelled and just trust me, it’s brilliant.

That isn’t to say the book isn’t worth it, either. I love Star Trek Adventures, but to say that the organization of the core rulebook, and the index in the core rulebook is, uh, less than well organized and not very helpful would be… understating. I often can’t find things, the index is of zero help, and I’ve taken to post-its in my core rulebook for everything not on those wonderful cards that came with the boxed set. And like the M&M Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide, there’s also a mini three-adventure campain included, which is always a bonus.

Also? It all packs away into a freaking TOS-era Tricoder box, with a strap and everything!

I feel like I could have gone on even longer about my deck of cards of Cleric spells I use when I play Tane, my Osprem-worshipping sea cleric for my author-group game of Saltmarsh in Dungeons and Dragons 5e, or how happy I am I have all those collectible miniatures—and a battle-map with washable markers—to use when we play Pathfinder 2e, but what about you? What are your go-to purchases beyond the basic rulebooks that you love for your Tabletop RPGs?

One thought on “Tabletop Tuesday — Supplemental… (Or, “Maybe if we bought a new bookshelf?”)

  1. Pingback: Tabletop Tuesday — Throwing it Together (or… “I can barely keep awake…”) | 'Nathan Burgoine

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