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Tome of the Utility Drawer: Apologia

posted Aug 24, 2019, 1:57 PM by Douglas Sun   [ updated Aug 27, 2019, 1:06 AM ]
As a taste of things to come, here is the introduction to Tome of the Utility Drawer, as it now stands. Everything, of course, is subject to revision until it is actually published:

        "I cut my teeth as as an RPG writer working for AEG’s series of pamphlet-sized adventures for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition. I recall that one of my requirements was that I had to include one new mechanic of some kind in each module — a new character option, a new spell, a new creature, or a new magic item. It could be any of those things, as long as it was something not already present in the core rules. It was an article of faith that our audience pretty much expected us to provide new content, so provide it we must.

At the time, it didn’t make sense to me. As a player, I’d always felt that more options meant more stuff you had to learn, and (as with other forms of consumerism) having more choices doesn’t necessarily make you happier. Instead, it creates more work for diminishing return, because you’re already past the point of knowing enough to play the game.

Almost two decades on from that, my opinion hadn’t changed much. When I started Places by the Way in 2016, I decided to keep the new rules mechanics to a minimum. Less work for both you and me if I could just point you to something that already exists in the core rules — something that you already know — and say, 'Use that.'

Since then, however, my thinking on the subject has evolved, and you can thank the process of writing Places by the Way for that. One of the ways to make a place interesting the context of a roleplaying game is that you find cool items there, ideally things that are unique to that place. This can mean seeding it with at least one or two items that do more than a typical item of that type — i.e., its effect is different from what is specified in the core rules. So right away, with Narl’s herbal remedies in The Village of Darkharrow, I started doing that thing of which I had been skeptical — inventing new mechanics for each module. Not because I believed that my audience had some built-in demand for them, but because they would demand to know why these pissant little villages were worth visiting, beyond just waving hello to some local eccentrics and killing low-level monsters for them.

I also discovered that when I had written myself into a corner, creating a solution based on rules mechanics is not a bad way to get yourself out of it. How does the cartographer in a mining colony create illumination in a cramped subterranean room full of papers without the risk of fire (see The Demon’s Veins and Path to The Demon’s Veins, location #4)? Give him a magic rock that emits light without flame! If only real life was that simple.

Recently, I looked back on the body of work that I’d created for Places by the Way (and, more recently, Found by the Way) and realized that it contains enough supplemental material to fill a modest collection all its own. Hence, this book.

           Tome of the Utility Drawer collects all of the add-ons from the first eight Places by the Way/Found by the Way modules into one place. They are sorted into four chapters: New Character Options, New Creatures, New Mundane Items and New Magic Items. The first two are quite slender, as I tend to rely on stuff already in the core rules. The third chapter is far and away the most extensive, as it collects all of the unusual non-magical items from every settlement described in Places by the Way/Found by the Way. Over eight modules, all of those local specialities pile up. As for the fourth chapter — well, of course there are magic items. This is fantasy roleplaying. How could there not be magic items?

Each entry briefly discusses the background of that particular thing. Of course, it’s up to you to figure out how to use this material in your own campaign. But if you want to know more about its original context, that points you in the appropriate direction. The rules-crunchy stuff is divided by rules system: how it works in Dungeons & Dragons 5E, how it works in Pathfinder 2E and how it works in Pathfinder 1E. Some of this material is also found in our conversion notes for running Found by the Way #1-7 with Pathfinder 2E (those modules being native to Pathfinder 1E).