Why Most Supplements Suck

January 26, 2009

Cross-posted from SG, where Adam asked whether folks would be interested in D&D4 material based on Transit City, a setting he’s working on.

So this setting sounds really awesome, Adam, and I’d love to play it with you, but recently I’ve been thinking, like, “Why would anyone play in a D&D setting that wasn’t something they made up together with their friends?” I’ve been thinking about this because I’m working on a Shang Dynasty-inspired thing for D&D4, based on some of the ideas we put forward in Hard Boiled Cultures and have been trying to decide if there’s a One Bad Egg product in there somewhere. And my conclusion is like, maybe? Not because I really think other people want to play in my Shang Dynasty fantasy setting (though they might), but because I think the way I’m implementing the setting in 4E might serve as an inspiration for other folks who want to hack 4E into a more “new school indie gaming” style experience. So, yeah, while I’d totally love to see what you’re doing with Transit City, I’d be interested to steal ideas for implementing them in a setting that I created with my friends here, not because I actually want to play in Transit City.

In my mind, the way most D&D products work is ass-backwards. What you want, in my mind, is to inspire people to create their own super cool stuff and provide them tools that allow them to do that in a way that is satisfying and effective at the table. Setting stuff can do this, sure, but, as we’ve discussed here [on SG] recently, setting is most inspiring when it’s a largely unfilled map that sets out the boundaries of a playground in which players can let their own creations loose. Sure, it may feel a bit less exciting as a game designer to not have hundreds of folks roaming around an imaginary place that you created, sending you emails because they’re demanding that you write a product about secret society XYZ, but, honestly, I think there really is something in teaching folks to fish instead of just selling them fish.

Ultimately, I’m more interested in doing awesome stuff the way that you do awesome stuff, without doing the exact same awesome stuff that you’re doing, if that makes sense. Just my 2 cents.

6 Responses to “Why Most Supplements Suck”

  1. Willem Says:

    You’ve exactly hit on what I want to ferret out – all those nitty gritty tools that will help players fire up their imaginations and create their own homegrown settings. Along with things like Oracles, Simon Carryer’s culture maker, Mo’s relationship map-maker, I think pulling together all the brainstorming tools for just this kind of thing would release an unbelievable amount of good play. Less = more. Fruitful void.

    Recently I’ve also realized that folks have different learning/absorption styles; auditory, visual, kinesthetic. This to me implies they would have their inspiration triggered differently too. Some need words, some need pictures, some need objects to hold. If you think of this in terms of different ways of offering that “unfilled map” I think it opens up a lot of possibilities.

  2. Fred Hicks Says:

    Based on the HBC sales for us, I’d have to say the market would agree with you somewhat. There’s always going to be a segment that’s interested in a specific setting and its development (possibly because they don’t want to do the work of making their own — and for some, it IS more work to go homebrew on the setting elements), but I suspect (though I am not certain) that the “support me building my own stuff” segment is larger.


  3. Yes! (I totally endorse the content of both those comments.)


  4. […] under the self-created burden of my own overreaction to a blog post from Jonathan Walton [Why Most Supplements Suck] about  supplements, settings, and how much  material should or should not be established in the […]


  5. […] under the self-created burden of my own overreaction to a blog post from Jonathan Walton [Why Most Supplements Suck] about supplements, settings, and how much material should or should not be established in the text […]


  6. […] under the self-created burden of my own overreaction to a blog post from Jonathan Walton [Why Most Supplements Suck] about  supplements, settings, and how much  material should or should not be established in the […]


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