Monday, November 5, 2018

What's The Difference Between 3rd Party and Homebrew?

People might call me pedantic for this, but I like to be specific with my language. This goes double for language that describes a lot of what I do for a living.

That's why I thought I'd take a moment to point out what I see as a problem with how people tend to throw around the term homebrew these days... particularly when it's used as a pejorative term.

And especially because the right brew can perk your game up.

Core, 3rd Party, and Homebrew Explained

So what is the difference, you may ask? Well, let's start with core material. Core material is anything released for a particular game by the company that created it. As an example, take the supplement book Bastards of Golarion by Paizo. I contributed several things to this book, including a bardic masterpiece and the alchemical concoction silvertongue. These things exist as a part of the core game as written and added to by Paizo, in the same way that options from the Player's Handbook or Volo's Guide are considered core options for Dungeons and Dragons.

Following so far... when do we get to the homebrew part?
The next category of material is 3rd party stuff. This material is often professionally written, edited, tested, and packaged the same way that core material is... it's just released by a different company. Example of this include the Demonologist (a base class for Pathfinder released from Total Party Kill Games), or the Inspired By Heraldry feats (released by Flaming Crab Games).

All of this material is made for use with the Pathfinder RPG rules system. It was created by teams of writers, reviewed by editors, and assembled with panache to make it as attractive as possible. The only thing separating this from core material is that it was released by a different company. This makes 3rd party stuff kind of like an off-brand soda. It's still really good (even better, according to some enthusiasts), it meets all the same checks and requirements as the original product, and it's often for sale in a lot of the same places. The flavor might be subtly different, but sometimes that's the appeal.

So what's homebrew?

Well, homebrew is just what it sounds like; something a person made up at home. Homebrew material typically has a single creator, and it lacks a lot of the editorial oversight and presentation that 3rd party and core material have. To keep with the manufacturing example, homebrew material is that root beer your friend's dad makes in the basement, and always brings to get-togethers in the summer. My example for this is how I made up stats for Reinhardt's energy shield in my Overwatch character conversion article for him. While the stats might be usable, and some folks might want to try them at their table, it's just something I made up because there was a specific niche that none of the existing mechanics covered.

I would like to reiterate here that homebrew content is not inherently bad. There are a lot of creators like Clinton Boomer who make all kinds of fun stuff, and who also have professional bona fides. The lack of oversight and editorial review means that homebrew content doesn't have to pass a filter, though, and as such there is very little quality control beyond what an individual creator can do on their own. You might get something great, or you might get a half-baked ass waffle because some guy named Geoff thinks a samurai with the powers of a gold dragon needs to exist.

To any publishers reading this, I will create a balanced version of that class if you'd like me to.

Big, Small, and Everything In-Between

A lot of folks don't bother separating 3rd party content from homebrew content. To their way of thinking, if the material didn't come from the sovereign company, then it's all the same (and not in a good way).

I'm not saying to open your table boundaries and let people bring whatever they want to your game. However, there is a big difference between a product created by a professional game company with all the same experience (and often the same staff) as a company like Paizo or Wizards, and content made without those same resources, experience, or staff. I'd also like to remind people that money, personnel, and a publishing staff is no guarantee of quality. Sometimes big publishers stumble, while the little creators get it right.

Just something to think about.

That's all for this installment of Moon Pope Monday! If you'd like to see more of my work you should check out my Vocal archive, or click on my Gamers profile to see all my tabletop articles. Alternatively, stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio to see some of the videos I and other gamers make for dungeon masters and players alike!

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  1. I will point out that there are a TON of small companies of just one person. That release content that is only a small step up from being homebrew.

  2. I say this as someone who uses a TON of 3pp material. The tone of this article is relatively defensive. I also have to say that it isn't very accurate. There can, and often is, something else different between 3pp products and Paizo products; a view as to what the game should be.

    From things said by Paizo developers and simply looking at what they create you can see that they aren't fans of the higher-power aspect of the game. And some 3pp folks are. This is just one example. There are others.

    Now, can 3pp be an excellent addition to a game? Absolutely. But to say "hey, it's all the same" isn't really honest.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I think he was saying that it's NOT all the same.

    3. Fair enough. I guess I read it incorrectly.

  3. there are a lot of Single Person companies but i'd personally rather trust resources like Dreamscarred Press who are more balanced relativr to both the rest of thier content and the core challenge rating system than some of the stuff a Pathinder Wizard can do even after nerfs to Save or Die effects. except for classes that are just more powerful wizards, like the dragon rider or godling.

    1. every piece of content, whether first party, third party or homebrew should be reviewed by the game master on a case by case basis in addition to being reviewed by the group.

  4. I've seen an entirely depressing amount of 3pp material that… really shouldn't have passed muster from any editing team. Sometimes it's spectacularly poorly worded, sometimes it doesn't understand how the rules work (guys please, nonlethal damage isn't a damage type like bludgeoning or slashing), sometimes it's poorly balanced (either to the tune of being unreasonably strong (like the vast majority of Dreamscarred Press's Path of War). As such, I'd rate a lot of 3pp material as being… well, I guess your average 3pp material is better than your average homebrew, because there's some really bad homebrew out there that drags the average down.
    Paizo has a fair amount of dumb stuff of their own, though.
    Anyway basically what I'm really saying here is don't trust 3pp just because somebody published it and is trying to make money off of it, and don't distrust homebrew just because nobody's published it. Both of them require a critical eye and imo should be weighted pretty much the same in terms of innate trustworthiness (which is to say they have none but should still be given a fair review and not dismissed out of hand).