I am gearing up for my new Cyberpunk Red game and it turns out that a few weeks before Session Zero, a new supplement, Black Chrome dropped. So of course I grabbed it. As I did, I thought about the role of supplements and how they fit into campaigns – at the start of campaigns as well as in the middle. So let’s talk about it.
What are supplements?
Supplements, in TTRPGs, are books that contain additional material for a GM and/or players to use in their game. Common types of supplements are: Setting, Character Class/Options, Optional/Supplemental rules, Opponent/Monster, and Equipment Books.
Setting books contain additional details about the game setting or some specific part of the setting, Character Class Books (sometimes known as Splat Books) are books that contain additional character options and details for players. Equipment books contain equipment that characters and NPCs can use in the game.
Some companies put these out as separate books, but many combine elements of some or all of these into a single publication.
What are not supplements?
For the sake of this article, we are not considering adventures to be supplements. Sometimes, they do have additional setting and equipment information, and in those cases, the things we talk about below are still applicable.
Overall adventures are consumable stories for the characters to participate in, and don’t add new material into the games (with the exceptions we just made above).
Types of Supplements
There are a few different groups that publish supplements for games:
- From the Publisher – these are supplements that are released by the game’s publisher. The original designers may make them or they may have other designers write these materials. You will know when you check the credits of the book.
- 3rd Party – some games have open licenses and allow for other designers or publishers not directly working for the game’s publisher to create material. These range from professional publishing companies to hobby publishers.
- Homebrew – these are community-made or fan-made materials. These are often not sold but instead posted on a web page, discussion board, or other location. These are made for free and given away for free.
What is not often easy to determine, if at all, is how well new material included in supplements has been playtested. How much playtesting is done for a supplement will be based on the design philosophy of the designer and publisher. Don’t assume that if something came from the publisher it’s automatically been playtested and don’t assume something that was homebrew wasn’t.
Supplements at Campaign Start
Before your campaign starts, before or at Session Zero, you need to determine two things:
What Supplements Are Going To Be Allowed
First, you need to decide out of all the supplements that exist for the game, which ones will you be allowing in your campaign. For some games, there is going to be a library of possible supplements, and you need to decide which ones are going to be allowed into the game.
This decision will likely have an effect on the characters the players can make and the types of characters that will be part of the campaign. Supplemental or Optional rules may affect gameplay, and those also need to be considered. Setting books often just add details to part of the setting and wind up being pretty benign. Equipment books don’t often affect the beginning of play but wind up having more of an effect mid-campaign when the character can afford or are powerful enough to get some of the sexier equipment in the book.
How Will Future Supplements Be Handled
In addition to dealing with the current supplements, it is a good idea to discuss, as a group, how you will handle new supplements when they come out. Will you allow new supplements into the game, mid-campaign (see below)? Will there be some kind of review? Will you wait a few weeks/months after it comes out to hear from the community how it’s working for others?
Once your campaign is going, new supplements are a disruption to your game. They may be a good disruption or not. Most of us older gamers, who lived during the d20 boom in the early 2K’s, have some horror story about a supplement being added to a campaign that disrupted the game.
Hopefully, you had the discussion in Session Zero about how to handle supplements that are coming out as you are playing (see above) so that expectations are set.
When looking at new supplements, you need to look at the impact they might have on the game. Are there items, options, or rules that might create a sufficient disruption to the ongoing game? What are reviews saying about the supplement? Do you want to allow everything from the supplement into the game, or do you want to pick certain parts?
One consideration is that something in a future supplement may require some kind of retcon to make it fit into the game. Perhaps a player was trying to build a Cat Pirate character and did it using a base class with some creative choices of skills and gear, but then a new supplement comes out with a Cat Pirate class. Will you let them change over to that class and smooth out any continuity issues, or will you have them continue their current build?
It’s best to have talked about these in Session Zero, but if you did not, you can have these discussions at the table or between games.
My Cyberpunk Red Campaign
Right now, there are only a few supplements out for Cyberpunk Red and I am going just to allow them all into the game at the start. Most of the supplements are for equipment, and most of them will be things that the players can’t afford, so my risk is minimal.
There is a good chance that other supplements will come out for CPR while we are playing, as R. Talsorian is actively developing the game, so I have added a note to discuss this with my players. Personally, I am for including supplements, as long as I have the right to block parts or whole supplements that might disrupt the game in a negative way.
We Love Supplements
Supplements are great. They are great for game publishers who have new things to sell to you, without having to develop a whole game. They are great for players, giving them new options for them to try. They are great for GMs who get new adversaries to throw at the characters. We all love supplements.
At the same time, too many supplements at the start of the campaign can be daunting and confusing to manage. Supplements that show up mid-campaign can disrupt the game. On top of that, not all supplements are playtested the same way, or can’t even be playtested with all the other supplements you are using leading to chaos at your table.
With a bit of forethought in campaign setup and good communication with your players, you can manage the supplements for your game in a way that everyone has a good time.
What are you take on supplements when you set up a new campaign? What are some of your favorite supplements?