Monday, March 21, 2016

My Top 5 RPG Books

Right, so this is a collection of RPG books I recommend to everyone. No particular order. I don’t claim these books are “the best” or “essentials” or anything like that. They’re simply been highly inspirational to me over the past two decades of playing RPGs. 

Mechanically speaking, these books detail rules for AD&D and D&D 3rd Edition - the two RPGs I've played the most. And while there are other books and other systems I have liked more (I still think about you, sometimes, GURPS, and wonder at what might've been), these books remain the ones with the most long-term value. Even if I never check THAC0 again, I know I can still find a treasure trove of ideas in these books.

d20 Modern Core Rulebook (Wizard of the Coast, 2002). This book drives me nuts. It’s got OK core mechanics but it’s still somehow boring. I always want to fix it! So I do fix it. And my friends fix it. And we end up running vastly different games full of nuance and character off the same book, the same flawed rules we’re perpetually complaining about, perpetually improving, and man, it’s like magic. I have played in some amazing d20 Modern games over the years.

It's not a great book but it is a great catalyst. I honestly can't explain why.

Planescape Campaign Setting (AD&D, David Zeb Cook, 1994). I still don’t know if Planescape is better thought of as a work of fiction or as a one-of-a-kind campaign setting. Navigating the planes is difficult for players and DMs alike, but so rewarding. There is so much here to steal! Seriously, it’s an unguarded dragon’s horde and every gold piece is a brilliant idea. Even if you never play it as the Factols intended, parts of Planescape will slip into everything you do from here on out, forever.

Okay, that's blatant hyperbole, but I still highly recommend it. If, after reading, you're uninspired by Zeb Cook's weird prose and left cold by Tony DiTerlizzi's whimsical illustrations, well, I don't know what to tell you, other than you have inscrutable taste.

The Illithiad (AD&D, Bruce Cordell, 1998). Was it strictly necessary to make the scariest monsters in AD&D even scarier? No. Was it awesome? Hell yes! Back in the day, man, this book got used. We wrapped up long play-through of A Night Below around the time I purchased this book, so illithids and their society were a constant presence in our games back then. Mostly off-camera; we’d find their weapons, their slaves, and their incomprehensible treasures more often than we’d find actual mind flayers, but we lived in perpetual fear of having our brains sucked out.

This one might just be on the list for the sake of nostalgia. Even so, there are few books that go into so much detail with regard to a single antagonist. I still feel as though a dozen games could come crawling out of its pages.

The Book of Vile Darkness (D&D 3.0, Monte Cook, 2002). The perfect amount of evil. It manages to be graphic but not vomit-inducing. I have used this as a sourcebook for antagonists ever since it came out. The Blackguard spell list alone has altered the fate of several campaigns (Having both sadism and masochism active on a character with multiple attacks is a recipe for sheer terror).

Eberron (D&D 3.5, Keith Baker, 2004). I’ve only run a single campaign in Eberron proper. Without getting into details, I'll just say that the campaign was short, sweet, and very memorable. I’ve often thought about running Eberron again, and what invariably occurs is this: I open up Eberron, write a campaign synopsis, plot it out, and think, “Man, if I could just move the geography around a little, I could do this…” So I do. I change geography and monsters and villains and kingdoms. And then it’s not Eberron anymore, not really, but it’s better – it’s the seeds of my own campaign.

No comments:

Post a Comment