For many, third edition Dungeons & Dragons was their introduction to third party publisher support for the game. The reality is that there have been third party supplements (official and unofficial) for Dungeons & Dragons in every edition since the 70’s. Without going into the obvious material of adventures and modules that were printed with or without consent or approval of TSR, there were a number of products specifically designed to mesh with the Dungeons and Dragons rules set, or to supplement it.
Today there are new players in this field, publishers that are part of the old school renaissance movement or that are supporting said, but this week’s Top Five list is looking in on some of the old-time supplements that I have on my bookshelves and use for “house rules” in my D&D games.
Bard Games first released a series of Fantasy RPG supplements under the line name of “the Compleat…”. Then in 1984 they collected and edited most of those books and released the Arcanum – officially the first book of the Atlantean RPG (which in turn is very similar to D&D), the Arcanum is effectively the Player’s Guide to the game, and is written clearly to work with D&D or on its own. As a D&D supplement the Arcanum provides a skill system where characters spend XP on skills, thus delaying level advancement as well as a collection of new races and a very large selection of classes detailed up to level 12 (or higher for some classes). A large number of the classes are spellcasters, and thus the book also has a large number of spells described in a quick and clean format that work well with classic D&D. A great resource for a classic D&D game and one I have used repeatedly over the years.
The Palladium RPG 1st Edition
Again an RPG of it’s own right, the Palladium RPG also reads like a book of house rules for very cool magic-users (Diabolists and Summoners both use special runes, glyphs and circles for their spells, and all of them are illustrated in the book, making it an immediate draw for any magic-user obsessed player or game master), as well as other situations. I’ve played in multiple D&D games where the rules for escaping death through a series of three percentile rolls from Palladium are still used, and more than one character has been encountered who owns the “doubling sword of chaos” from the sample adventure at the back of the book.
All the World’s Monsters
Before Chaosium started publishing BRP games, they were publishing “generic” Dungeons & Dragons supplements. All the World’s Monsters are a set of three landscape-printed books each with over 200 monsters. The majority of these monsters only have the briefest blurb about them beyond their statistics and names, but some have managed to stick to this day, and more than a few have made appearances in my own games. These books really owe their fame not to quality, but like the Creature Collection from Sword & Sorcery studios, they owe their fame to being published before the official Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual for that edition of the game was published. Interestingly, Chaosium has re-issued these three books as PDFs through RPGnow.
The Arduin Grimoire Volume 1
Supposedly an RPG of its own, anyone reading the mish-mash of rules presented in this 1977 classic will note that it is really a set of house rules for expanding a classic Dungeons & Dragons game. The special abilities charts were a great tool for the era for distinguishing one character from another (all were minor abilities that would still influence the way the character was equipped and played – such as a +1 bonus with a particular weapon type, or benefits dealing with specific races, and so on). The book included several character classes (Merchant, Psychic, Barbarian, Rune Weaver, Techno (tinker), Medicine Man and Witch Hunter). It was also the first book I encountered with rules for scaling weapon damage as you scale the weapon size. In my opinion, this is a book worth reading at the very least, and I have stolen several bits from it for my own games (mostly the special ability charts for the four classic character types).
Thieves World Campaign Setting
I mentioned this one in my Top 5 Fantasy City Supplements a few weeks ago. Published by Chaosium in the 80’s, this boxed set has everything you need to run a Thieves’ World game during the classic period of the early short story collections (when the setting was at its strongest, in my opinion). The vast majority of the box set is completely system-neutral, with one book containing the stats for the NPCs of the setting in a variety of game systems including both AD&D1e and Moldvay Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons. The product is more a setting and adventure source than a true rules supplement, which is why it only made it to the bottom of my list.