I started a discussion thread this past week over at RPG.net where I posed a question to the community asking which physical books they’d save if their RPG library was on fire and there was only time/capacity to grab five books from their collection. Besides the expected (but honestly pretty tired) jokes about “I’d grab my Kindle!” or other lame workarounds to the premise of my post, I saw some really interesting approaches on various forum member lists.
Some valued physical value/rarity, some valued utility or beauty – looking for toolkits or inspiration, and some valued a well-rounded collection to reflect their various interests in hobby and rules design philosophy. At least one member just picked five of the White Wolf 20th anniversary editions of World of Darkness games (not a bad choice as these books are thicc with a capital CC!).
I didn’t have an answer for my picks when I submitted the question, but I took some time and mulled it over to come up with a list. Looking through my own collection, I was actually surprised by how few books I’ve hung on to and would consider essentials. I dove deeply into OSR books this past year, and while I like them, there are very few I would consider essential.
I ended up going the well-rounded cover my bases approach to my list with at least one nostalgia pick. If you’ve been reading my blog, as short a time it’s been around for, these probably shouldn’t surprise you too much. The following are in no particular order.
The Black Hack, 2nd Edition – With this I could run any OSR product, entire dungeons, and generate all the material I could need or find inspiration/tools to help me generate further material for any D&D-like setting. If I could only pick one book, this would be it. It should come as no surprise since I’ve adopted this rule set as the way for me to write rules up for my original items on OSArmory.
Monster of the Week – I love this game, and I love Powered by the Apocalypse games too – this was the one that won out for me. It covers a very different genre both mechanically and setting-wise than The Black Hack, and between these two books I could run tons and tons of different kinds of adventures and campaigns. So far it looks like tool kits are my favored books.
Age of Rebellion – And now we’ve covered the third major genre I like to play or run – space opera. Honestly I would take any of the three Star Wars FFG core books, but if I’m going to run one of the three types of stories, it’s going to be more military/rebellion focused than the other two. I’ve run several sessions using the official rule set, but if I ever run something Star Wars again, it’ll be from either OSR or PBTA approaches above. Even with that being true, I think Age of Rebellion would help me with planning and executing a great Star Wars game.
Legacy: Life Among the Ruins 2nd Edition – This is another PBTA game, sure, but it does things that others in the family don’t, and I love the zooming-in/zooming-out of character and organizational-level play. This was a close toss up between Legacy and Band of Blades, but ultimately BoB is a little too focused in the story it’s telling (not a bad thing generally, but hard to include in a list like this) whereas Legacy gives me a lot more options.
Dread – This is an odd choice. I don’t need the book whatsoever to run this game, but it was my first RPG and what got me into it all in the first place. I would grab it simply out of nostalgia and not being able to give up owning a copy. It does provide me with great ideas and inspiration for horror games though, so reading through the various chapters focusing on different subgenres of horror would be pretty useful.
There’s my five. I’m really hoping this year to find a book or two that could push out some from this list – always a good thing to be discovering new, exciting games. Dune, for example, would certainly have the potential depending on how well it works in practice versus just reading and looking at all the art. I also just picked up Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound on order from NobleKnight.com, and I’ve only been hearing good things about it, so we’ll see how that works out.
I’d love to read more people’s list of desert island books!