This article is about collection development for Tabletop games. LARP games will get their own love in a post about LARP programming. If you have questions about this post or you would like to request that I focus on something specific next, please contact me @MichaelBuono on twitter.
Collection Development for niche hobbies is difficult. The materials are not as well reviewed as we would like, they are expensive and there is a limited audience. My friends and I have easily a thousand dollars worth of books. That says nothing of our dice, figurines or random medieval weapons. But we are fans first, and so we buy things we don’t need. There are ways to develop a collection to support the hobby without busting your budget. First and foremost, only buy the titles that reflect the interests of your teens. I have included a list of recommended buys at the bottom of the page.
Try to stick to core rule books
Every game line has a core set of books that are required to play. These core sets generally consist of a Player’s guide, a Game Masters Master’s Guide and a Monsters Monster’s Manual. These are may be called different things, but almost every game line has them. These 3 core books are the only books truly required for play. Every other book just adds more rules and elaborates on concepts found in the core books. These books are called “supplements.” They are valuable to fans of the game, but they are not necessary to play.
Not all games have three core books. For example, White-Wolf has a single core rule book for World of Darkness its urban fantasy setting. Then it has other game lines that use the same rules. So if you buy three books, you really get three different games. Games like Savage Worlds only have a single core book, so you can a full game for a single purchase.
The only time I would buy supplements for a library is if you think it’ll it will increase the popularity of the books. If you have a lot of paranormal romance fans, White Wolf’s Strange Dead Love would be good buy. If you have teens who write fan fiction for various series, you are better with something like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder or World of Darkness because they have built in settings.
I love World of Darkness and Dungeons & Dragons, but they represent only two possible genres of games. World of Darkness is Urban Fantasy. Dungeons and Dragons is High Fantasy. What if your teens want to play a space based game of their own design? D&D would be difficult to adapt. White –Wolf would be easier, but it still has a built in setting. Discarding so much of a built in setting can be intimidating. For this reason, I recommend buying books from independent publishers as well as the larger publishers.
Independent publishers usually produce games with less books or greater adaptability. Recently, they have also been creating games like the Dresden Files, Smallville and Dragon Age licensed from major intellectual property. The Dragon Age game got rave reviews, and it came with a great premade adventure. Other IP games did not get reviewed as well. I recommend RPG.net for reviews.
Most games require dice to play. Pretty dice are expensive, but you can get them fairly cheap from Chessex.com. Each system use different dice, so I recommend choosing a system before you buy the dice. Some recent games, such as Curse of Darkness require only a deck of cards.
BESM – Big Eyes Small Mouth, an anime themed role playing game. Play as a mech pilot, ninja or student. This game is in no way realistic.
Burning Wheel – One book, Burning Wheel Gold is all you need to buy. It is a detailed system focused on narrative, and it is easily adaptable to any setting. A lot of supplemental information is available for free online that allows it to be played as a western, a space western, a space opera or virtually anything else. Bonus for NYC librarians, the company is located in Astoria. The works of Christopher Paolini and Patrick Rothfuss are great inspiration for Burning Wheel.
Dungeons and Dragons – 5th edition is in beta, and it should be out soon. That said, 4th edition is still popular amongst new gamers. It is very much like playing World of Warcraft on a table. The series Forgotten Realms, Dragon Lance and Eberron all started with D&D.
Pathfinder – Uses the rules of Dungeons and Dragons third edition. It is a hugely popular D&D Replacement. They have a great Beginners box to get the teens started. Or you could buy the Core Rule Book, Game Masters Guide and Bestiary. Also has their own Pathfinder Novel series, but great for any fantasy epic.
Urban Fantasy/Modern Horror
Don’t Rest Your head – The publisher Evil Hat hit it out of the park with this indie hit based off insomnia (yes the disorder). They also make the Dresden Files RPG. I mentioned Fear the Boot in my last post, Chad (a host) made his own supplement based off Inception.
World of Darkness – Some of the books feature mature content, but it’s the benchmark urban fantasy RPG. I recommend Mage: The Awakening, Changeling: The Lost and Hunter: The Vigil. If you are okay with mature content on your shelves, then I also recommend Vampire: The Requiem and the supplement (Strange Dead Love) about vampires… in love. The World of Darkness book is a required for all other titles listed. The works of Holly Black, Jim Butcher and Heather Brewer make great inspiration for games.
GURPS 4th edition – GURPS focuses on being a “universal system” usable for any setting. They have a wide range of supplemental material that covers almost every genre.
Mutants & Masterminds –. M&M is a system for playing comic book heroes. It is really customizable and a lot of fun. I have seen it used to run a wide variety of games from a traditional superhero to a game that spoofed Paranormal Romance.
Savage Worlds – Another setting neutral system. Easy to use rules, so teens can build their own setting. Is the basis for the Deadlands (Zombie Western) RPG setting.