July 27, 2010

Research Library

When a good author begins writing a book he does a lot of research. Lately my taste in novels has been the modern day adventure with underpinnings in the ancient world. The last book I read contained the concepts of world overpopulation, genetic foods, viral plagues from the 9th century and the early days of Celtic paganism and Christianity melding together. You can tell the author did a lot of research before he started writing the book and it showed in the amount of detail and knowledge he brought to the story.

In many RPG books there is often a bibliography where the author makes a note of what books he did research in. For something like Shadowrun, it might be the Bladerunner book, or Neuromancer or a book detailing modern day corporations. For fantasy books detailing law and judicial systems, it might reference books on law and ancient law.

As a GM, and thus an adventure writer, I have a reference library of my own. It is every RPG book I have ever bought. Recently I was working on my demon children campaign and there was a possibility the players would have to evacuate a village of 300 people and help move them 100 miles to a safer city before the encroaching army reached the initial village. Rather than write a system for doing so, I looked into my research library. In this case it was an old Dragonlance module (Dragons of hope DL3, 1984) wherein the heroes had to move a large number of refugees through some wastelands while being chased by enemy forces. It met my needs (with a little tinkering) and in addition provided me with a lot of really cool ideas I could throw in (such as the various factions vying for control).

When working on a new campaign, one of the first things I do is gather all the relevant books and sort through them. First to figure out which rules set is the best for what I am trying to accomplish in the setting. Then I peruse them looking for further inspiration. I grab ideas and other things I can use to augment the setting and make it deeper and richer. Sometimes I grab whole sections and simply implant them into the setting, other times I just use an idea and then expand upon it myself.

One of the major differences between my reference library and simply using something like a "regular" library or the internet, is that my library is geared specifically to my needs. The first Players Handbook had a title for each level a character progressed in his chosen class. For example, a 3rd level magic-user would gain the title of Theurgist and at 4th level would the Thaumaturgist title. Before reading that book I had never heard of those terms and most "normal" references would not include those as alternate names of a magic-user. However, if I am looking for a cool name to entitle a new Paragon Path, I already have a ready source of information in one of my old books. This type of information is unlikely to be found outside of my library.

Last night, as the night's game was winding down, one of my players mentioned how his daughter (14) wanted to try running a few D&D games for her friends. He had contemplated giving her all his old 3rd edition books and letting her go nuts (he is currently using 4E). In the end he was too nostalgic and didn't want to give up his books and instead bought her the 3-pack of 4E books. For him, nostalgia was the reason he is keeping his older books. For me, it's a little nostalgia, and also because I really like the easy use of my reference library.

Have you ever found yourself thumbing through your old RPG books looking to answer a question or simply for inspiration?
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