Discussion on Allowing Supplements, Third Party, Homebrew, Etc. - Myth-Weavers

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Discussion on Allowing Supplements, Third Party, Homebrew, Etc.

   
Discussion on Allowing Supplements, Third Party, Homebrew, Etc.

Hey all.

There's a topic that crops up for most games I've seen revolving around what source material is allowed, regardless of the system or setting. I ask it, I get asked it, and there's a wide range of philosophies and opinions on the matter. Generally, I'm of the mind that there's no one right way to do most things, only pros and cons, and that's what I'd like to start a discussion for here. To emphasize, this is NOT about who is right or wrong, NOT about what is better or worse, and NOT about who's smart and who's silly. Instead, what I'm hoping for is to develop a solid list of considerations that other GMs can potentially use when deciding what to allow for their games, as well as for players to keep in mind when they make requests for certain allowances.


I'll start with myself. In the past I mostly did VtM, but have moved onto primarily 5e in the past few years. Over time, I've become a lot more open to ideas, whereas before I'd flat out turn down homebrew, but now I'll at least give it a look. Here's a few of my own pros and cons I've seen from allowing more and allowing less.

Pros to Allowing More
-Builds player enthusiasm for getting to try out that special concept
-Some third party and homebrew offer options not available in the core game (whatever the system)

Cons to Allowing More
-Can take a lot of time during recruitment to read up on new mechanics/character options
-If there is a certain 'core' theme to the game and everyone chooses something strange/different then that theme is lost

Pros to Allowing Less
-Better handle over the rules and mechanics
-Can narrow down the field of applicants

Cons to Allowing Less
-Can take a lot of time during recruitment to debate and respond to people telling them no


This is just a start. I'll edit this first post with a summary of what people say.



Summary of Discussion

Allowing More
Pros/For
  • Giving extra material at least a read can be a fair and friendly approach to recruiting that's more inclusive
  • Can bring in new ideas that will fit the game/theme
  • The GM can ask the player to change something if it turns out to be broken later on

Cons/Against
  • GM lacks the materials/familiarity with extra material
  • Third Party/Homebrew can often be of lower quality/balance
  • Can use up a lot of time for the GM to read through
  • There can be a concern whether the interest in a certain mechanical build will take away from other aspects of the character


Allowing Less
Pros/For
  • Can help ensure characters fit the game/theme
  • Prevent "power-creep" where applicable
  • Can be a sign of player flexibility that they can go without certain feats/abilities/etc.
Cons/Against
  • Can be "ham-fisted" (denying entire book over 1 or 2 features, as an example)
  • Can be extra time for players navigating through what's allowed and not
  • Depending on the system, "core" material can be just as prone to being "broken" or overpowered



Other Notes
  • Ultimately it is up to the GM's discretion, they are the final say in the matter
  • What material is allowed can have a large impact on what kind of players/which players apply
  • Mechanics can often be re-fluffed to fit a theme, therefore one should be careful about assuming certain mechanical options = theme
  • Experience can play a big role. GM's/Players with good experience using extra material will no doubt have a more favorable view than those GM's/Players with poor experiences.
  • Different systems have varying degrees of published material. As an example, Pathfinder has a lot more options than 5e as it's both older and produces more material regularly. This affects how much of a gap third party and homebrew can fill or not.
  • A game's core material isn't necessarily above being disallowed/tweaked/questioned/etc. If core material is too powerful, doesn't fit a game theme, or some other reason can just as readily be disallowed from a game.

To my mind it's less about pros and cons so much as reasons for or against - some of which will only apply in certain scenarios.

Personally, I tend towards allowing all first-party stuff unless there are reasons not to. Good reasons include not having the material yourself, as a DM, not being familiar enough with it (which normally comes with the first one too), and it not fitting your game/setting (though many things are refluffable; I find that races are the most intractable one).

There's also a distinction between point and blanket decisions. For example, some people ban entire sourcebooks because they contain one or two things which they think are overpowered. That may be true, but it's at best a ham-fisted approach (and the classic counter-argument in D&D 3.5 at least is that there's rarely anything more over- or under-powered than things which exist in Core, which people rarely ban).

Personally, I therefore tend to allow as many sources as I can, but I also tend not to allow homebrew/third party. This is mainly because of the familiarity thing, though there's an additional factor here which is quality. Homebrew and third party are almost universally of a lower quality than officially published stuff (though there are a few howlers even amongst WotC D&D or Paizo PF, for sure). This is a bit subjective and it's hard to quantify, but I think it's still a thing.
(Whether or not it's entirely rational is another question; arguably the fairest thing to do is read and consider the homebrew properly rather than just banning it purely because it's homebrew - but I'm pretty sure there's a strong correlation between homebrew and shoddy quality, plus doing that is a lot of effort, so I can see why people don't - and I often don't myself)

Some of the pros and cons you've mentioned I disagree with.

The theme of a game can be important but I (partially) disagree about using this as a reason to disallow stuff because you also have to remember that a lot of that is in the eye of the beholder. An example: I was once applying to a nature-themed D&D 3.5 game where the DMs decided to ban Psionics! Apparently, they thought that Psionics was really un-nature-y themed when it clearly isn't. I always favour not banning stuff and just telling them what I'm actually looking for in characters - otherwise you're going about things the wrong way (a management-speak term is "solutionising"; I can't think of a good equivalent in real English).

Doing this deliberately to narrow down the field of applicants is also kind of silly, IMO; if that's your goal, there are other ways to achieve it without also impacting upon player options (plus it reads to me like making the game less interesting so that players are put off).

There's also the amount of time spent thinking about mechanics generally, which you've not mentioned explicitly but have kind of alluded to (you mention time spent learning new stuff, time spent debating, and having a handle over the mechanics). I think this is a fair concern but allowing or disallowing material can be a double-edged sword here. Certainly as an applicant, I find that having a random list of sourcebooks allowed to make my life harder, especially since there's often little correlation between anything about material and the source it's from (even themed sourcebooks often have some refluffable or more general-purpose stuff). I often think, "aha, I've got a great idea!" and then realise that I can't realise it with what I'm allowed to use, and then have to spend a lot of time looking for more complicated or less effective ways of doing much the same thing.

It’s simple, this doesn’t need to be a long discussion really. If a GM wants to limit sources or allow everything he should put it in the ad (and this usually happens). As an applicant if you don’t like the limited sourcebooks then don’t apply. If you do apply then respect whatever reasons the GM has for His or her game and work with what is allowed. If the GM has clearly set the rules and expectations for the game he/she is running then players should respect that. IMO it’s as simple as that.

I would say first that "Can narrow down the field of applicants" is true of both positions, and can be a pro or con depending on what you think about those players. Just pulling a completely random example out of thin air, apropos of nothing: if you want to Allow More in your game, it will reduce applications from core-rules purists just as much as Allowing Less will reduce applications from third-party enthusiasts—and if said purists are likely to be, let's say, verbally abusive to players not sharing their preferences, then that is generally a Pro, not a Con.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheRoot View Post
It’s simple, this doesn’t need to be a long discussion really. If a GM wants to limit sources or allow everything he should put it in the ad (and this usually happens). As an applicant if you don’t like the limited sourcebooks then don’t apply. If you do apply then respect whatever reasons the GM has for His or her game and work with what is allowed. If the GM has clearly set the rules and expectations for the game he/she is running then players should respect that. IMO it’s as simple as that.
I think that one thing we can agree on is that clear expectations are absolutely key to a good game.

However, this rather misses the point of the OP, I think. The discussion is not what to do if someone has restrictions or how to go about implementing them, it's about whether and when you should impose restrictions in the first place, and why you might want to or not to do that.

In general, in fact, a DM can do use whatever rules they want if it is indeed their game, but this doesn't mean that they should or that they will be a good DM if they do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Peacemonger View Post
Cons to Allowing More
-Can take a lot of time during recruitment to read up on new mechanics/character options
Also, even if you have the time, it may be genuinely difficult to spot the problems, especially if they’re a matter of how something that’s not problematic on its face combines with other elements of the system. This is my personal most common reservation - I don’t have infinite faith in my ability to think through every possible problem that might emerge in play.

Obviously, official material has plenty of problems. But it gives you at least something of a filter, and -additionally - the problems with official material receive a lot of discussion online, so that one can draw upon the wisdom of the crowd to be aware of them and find possible solutions.

Quote:
-If there is a certain 'core' theme to the game and everyone chooses something strange/different then that theme is lost
This one I think is definitely true and important. If someone wants to homebrew a cyborg assassin for a game of Pendragon, they are, umm, sort of missing the point.

D&D has a kitchen-sink aspect to it, but not all individual D&D games are kitchen-sink games. For instance, I would imagine that a fair amount of limitation is important to the feel of your fairytale 5e games. I would say that the largest proportion of 5e games on MW are vaguely epic-fantasy in tone, shading towards the darker end, and that, for those, the existing range of classes and subclasses is more than adequate (especially if one bears in mind that tweaking backgrounds is in the rules and is very straightforward - I tend to feel that distinctive concepts are as or more often about character backstory as about specific class mechanics).

Quote:
Cons to Allowing Less
-Can take a lot of time during recruitment to debate and respond to people telling them no
Well, “No” doesn’t really take that long to say. I don’t find that this occupies a particularly large amount of time in practice - it’s part of the general hubbub of commenting on people’s applications.

All right, I've started to summarize the points made so far.

@TheFred: As to using restrictions to narrow down applications, I meant it more from a reactionary point of view as opposed to a deliberate, pre-determined move. I don't think I communicated that well though. As an example, if I have a player ask for X homebrew class and I say no, and they drop out, then I can say, "Well, now I have 15 applications for 5 spots instead of 16". Still, your points are well taken, and there's a reason I didn't immediately put my two cents in the summary section in case there were some arguments against them.

EDIT:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Voord 99 View Post
Well, “No” doesn’t really take that long to say. I don’t find that this occupies a particularly large amount of time in practice - it’s part of the general hubbub of commenting on people’s applications.
I've found that's true for the most part. I've seen it turn into a longer debate in a couple different scenarios.
a) The GM phrases a "no" as "I don't think it's a good idea" and the player takes that as an invitation to keep the debate alive, which may or may not be the case.
b) The GM says "no" is a much more forceful way with caps lock and exclamation marks, which then turns into a debate about whether the GM is being mean or not.

Those two aside though, it really shouldn't be too time consuming, I agree.

My general policy is if I don't have easy access to the source, then it's out. Gming is a lot of work, and for my part, I often have to read and re-read certain rules and mechanics as part of game writing. Therefore I apply this rule to save me headaches and facilitate gming.

Beyond that, sourcebooks allowed are always a matter of theme, tone and style I'm aiming for in a game.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Knight of Holy Wor View Post
My general policy is if I don't have easy access to the source, then it's out. Gming is a lot of work, and for my part, I often have to read and re-read certain rules and mechanics as part of game writing. Therefore I apply this rule to save me headaches and facilitate gming.
.
Absolutely. Some of these systems (e.g. D&D3.5, Pathfinder) have so much official content that it is impossible to stay on top of those rules. 3rd party content for those rules just makes a messy situation even worse. Also I will see very little of 3pp content used outside of MW. Personally, I find it harder to take the time and energy to review content that I know that I will never see or use again.

++++++++++++++++

One of my concerns as a GM is that 3pp seems to attract people more interested in building characters than playing the characters. I have been involved with several longer running PF games that allowed 3pp classes. In all of those campaigns, only one person playing 3pp made it past the half-way point. People playing core and bases were the ones that played the entire campaign.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Peacemonger View Post
As to using restrictions to narrow down applications, I meant it more from a reactionary point of view as opposed to a deliberate, pre-determined move. I don't think I communicated that well though. As an example, if I have a player ask for X homebrew class and I say no, and they drop out, then I can say, "Well, now I have 15 applications for 5 spots instead of 16".
Well, if you want fewer applicants, then at best it's a beneficial side-effect - but I wouldn't include it as a positive reason because it's literally no better than picking a random player and booting them from the process (unless you believe, as Rakle suggests, that they're more likely to be a less-good player for whatever reason, of course).







 

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