Third-Party Content for D&D/TTRPGs
By: Chad Christian (TapRackBang)
I’ve said it before, but you don’t need much at all to play Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not as familiar with other game systems, but from what I’ve also seen of other entries like Pathfinder, Alien, Tortured Earth, and the like, as long as you have a ruleset, go crazy. Create your adventures around your favorite system and have fun. The beauty of tabletop RPGs like D&D is the freedom to create. Even if you’re running a published adventure, no two campaigns are identical. Dungeon masters create scenarios, and players quite literally give them character. Even in the holy triumvirate of 5e - the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual, we are encouraged to make our experiences our own. With just those three books, you have the tools to create a lifetime of endless adventure. Wizards of the Coast has published a plethora of supplemental material to those three entries, but the passion to create still burns in the hearts of many a nerd. I’m not here to say whether or not you should invest in third-party materials but rather discuss my thoughts on their merit to help you decide for yourself where you’d like to spend your hard-earned cash.
The main benefit of third-party material is the vast amount of affordable options. The hive mind of the TTRPG community can offer up some incredible input. Even free resources such as Reddit can help you weed out inconsistencies in your plotlines. I’m all for supporting Wizards of the Coast so they can keep bringing us amazing stuff, but I’m also still searching for that elusive tree that grows money on its branches, and retail price for campaign books and guides is not cheap. If you want to take some steps off the beaten path and not break the bank, there are several adventures published by other companies (i.e., Frog God Games and Limitless Adventures) or even shared by individuals that may suit your needs, or at least serve as a catalyst to spark that creativity for your next campaign. Two great places to start are Dungeon Masters Guild and Humble Bundle. You might run into official material on both, but I’ve found some amazing independent adventures here that are surprisingly cheap and occasionally free!
Another benefit of branching out from the home tree is the variety of styles and genres in material. Other players have taken the 5e ruleset and dropped it into wild settings such as post-apocalyptic America, horror settings, and the like. Admittedly, this idea has less impact for me personally. For one, I thoroughly enjoy homebrewing material. Again, the rulebooks give you all you need to create adventures, and I like creating my own from scratch. However, I don’t always have time to do that before a game or Stack event, and sometimes I simply want to run something that others have also played, getting a glimpse into the minds of fellow RPG nerds. So before you go labeling me as a homebrew purist, I’ll say I see the value in written adventures and campaigns.
Other available options lie outside of adventures themselves and in supplemental settings, creatures and characters, tweaks to the ruleset, and more. One example is a recent Kickstarter campaign I backed called Into the Wyrd and Wild by Wet Ink Games. The book provides options to take any wildlands in your campaign, regardless of the world it’s set in, and turn them into something reminiscent of a pagan-like “devil is in the woods” type-setting. Material like this doesn’t always have a written adventure, but rather the tools to inspire your games in certain genres. Kickstarter is a great place to find well-constructed material like this, but you have to go into it knowing that you’ll be waiting a while before you see your copy of the product. Additionally, you probably won’t be finding much in the way of discounts there either.
Regardless of those benefits and the time I’ve spent with third-party entries, I’m still fairly reserved when it comes to consulting and investing in outside sources. There are a few reasons for this worth mentioning. For one, by show of hands, how many of you have used all the tools in the DM Guide? How many of you have given your Monster Manual a thorough workout and need that extra inspiration? I’ve been DMing for a handful of years now, and I haven’t even come close to exhausting the tools handed to us in the DM Guide and Monster Manual. If you’re hitting writer’s block in planning your campaigns, try reading straight through the Monster Manual. Even if you’ve read it cover-to-cover before, I guarantee you’ll come across something you haven’t quite used yet, or find something that inspires you to use a creature or setting in a whole new way. The DM Guide has dozens of random tables that use your set of dice as a catalyst to campaign planning. It’s easy to get “FOMO” when seeing all those other cool resources out there, and I’ve found that I’ve spent money on these shiny new tools when I haven’t even used many of them already in my toolbox. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to some new fun stuff, but it’s worth asking yourself if you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of the things you’ve already purchased.
Lastly, I’ll restate from a previous article that the amount of opinions out there on “how you should run your game” or videos titled “how not to SUCK as a DM” is almost sickening. It’s impossible to listen to all of that noise, let alone follow it all. The same rings true for me when it comes to content. Even within Wizard’s of the Coast’s published material, it’s nearly impossible to organize and utilize all available information. Especially as a new DM, it’s quite overwhelming. Add in the internet’s worth of creations, input, and opinions, and you’ll drown in a sea of information. As I’ve said before, start small, and branch out from there. If you see something outside the official 5e material that’s intriguing to you, check it out and decide for yourself if it’s worth it. Again, I chose to back Wet Ink’s Kickstarter because I’ve always found that medieval, woods-are-for-pagans type-setting to be fascinating, and I’ve already run some adventures utilizing their book. Though, I suggest being rather selective instead of buying up every supplement out there.