Saturday, February 25, 2012

About Sourcebooks: Some Initial Thoughts on Types

The Event Strategy of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying -- a series of sourcebooks centered around comic book events -- makes sense for comic books. While comic books like Astro City are obviously centered around a specific location, a majority of the ongoing series are centered around storylines.

It made me start thinking about the common types of sourcebooks that have come out for RPGs.

Location Sourcebooks

The most common type of sourcebook, aside from the rules expansions, tends to be tied to a location. In fact, if you think about the earliest non-rules RPG books, they were mostly locations: dungeons. And I've been fascinated by them -- now that I think about it, the very first RPG book that I bought (a module) was a location-centered module: T1 - The Village of Hommlet. Locations then expanded to the setting boxed sets and books that dominated TSR & WOTC lines.

Character Option Sourcebooks

Another common sourcebook is one that gives character options. White Wolf really milked this one with the clan books (I think that they're called splatbooks -- dunno why). I think it was an important strategy for them, especially with Vampire: the Masquerade not only trying to break the older stereotypes of vampires (castles, counts, and the Carpathians), but also the more modern stereotype kicked off by the juggernaut series of novels from Anne Rice -- to show what kinds of vamp characters are open for play in a modern setting.

Storyline Sourcebooks

I don't know exactly when the storyline sourcebook can be considered to have started. Some might point to Ravenloft and of course the Dragonlance series of modules, some might cite Paizo's Adventure Paths, others might cite the influence of the Storyteller folks at White Wolf. Or we might go back to some of the earliest D&D modules and revisit them as disguised storylines. In any case, I always looked for some kind of our adventure support in an RPG.

When I think of this type of sourcebook, I think of popular choices like Call of Cthulhu's Masks of Nyarlathotep, Warhammer Fantasy's The Enemy Within, and Shadowrun's epic Universal Brotherhood. But I also think of the Fading Suns shards, the Cyberpunk collection of adventures titled Tales from the Forlorn Hope, and the Over The Edge adventures.

NPC Sourcebooks

Normally tied into one of the other sourcebooks, sometimes they come out with these: sources of NPCs. Sometimes they're combinations of allies, enemies, and neutrals. Over the Edge had a killer collection of characters -- all with interesting names -- not only in one sourcebook, but also in their CCG!

But sometimes they're all enemies like WOTC's excellent 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms sourcebook Champions of Darkness, or the series of Enemies sourcebooks from Hero Games.

I don't really see that many of these, but it's hard to actually come up with interesting characters in this situation. Super-villains tend to try to cover all bases, but definitely end up with some that will never be used. Is it the same for other genres?


So far, the non-rules expansion sourcebooks essentially break down into
  • character
  • plot and metaplot
  • setting and milieu
where are all very much story-related, but they can be considered as ways of bolstering certain aspects of an adventure or story that a GM needs.


  1. Splatbooks: In programming you use a splat -- * -- to indicate a wild card character. The term arose from WoD sourcebooks because:

    1. You could wildcard in the specific clan name for this book.

    2. Splat in the different types of character option for books for each line in the WoD.

    3. Because it nmade fun of Mark Rein*Hagen's affected last name.

    1. First off, thanks for clearing that up -- never knew there were three reasons!

      Second, never knew programmers called "*" a splat. The ones I knew in Santa Clara always called it asterisk or just wildcard.

    2. heh, two Alexanders in the same comment thread.


      'Splat' is a common term used for that character. '!' is often 'bang'. '#' might be 'pound', more often '#' (but '#!' as you find in many UNIX scripts is a 'shebang'), in 'C#' it's prounded 'sharp'.

      In many cases it is a regional thing, really.

    3. Interesting! I've heard 'bang' and 'pound' and 'C sharp' of course -- but 'shebang'? That's new. Thanks!


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.

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