Supplements! Supplements everywhere!
You could say that Wizards of the Coast learned from their past mistakes with Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition, keeping the official book releases to a minimum, especially when compared to the previous editions of the world’s greatest roleplaying game. However, with so many unofficial content creators, and thanks to DMsGuild/DriveThruRPG, Patreon, and Kickstarter, 3rd party publishers as well as individuals are filling those gaps in releases with homebrew adventures, different class and race options, alternate rules, and unique campaign settings. With additional content available more than before, is 5e headed to another supplement oversaturation?
When I started actively playing D&D is the mid-2000s, v3.5 was already in its tail end. Just reading the core rules alone was a bit overwhelming for me at that time, but luckily I had some experience with CRPGs, mainly Neverwinter Nights for the PC, which was more-or-less a direct implementation of 3e. I was used to the core classes only, and when other players in my group referenced various guidebooks with additional spells, feats, prestige classes, and level adjustments, I found myself missing out on so much and I was discouraged to play after a few sessions in.
Only later had I learned that supplements were a staple of D&D (and other RPGs as well) even from the early days, and that additional books were a tool against player and GM burnout, not to mention the additional income they provided for the game publishers. The thing is that after a while, some character builds became far better than others, and later books constructed their encounters around those builds. Our DM ran a tactical game, and some of us new to all the options found ourselves not as useful as the other players in the group.
When 4e came out, we tried it, but ultimately turned to Pathfinder, which, at the time, did not had as many options in terms of new options, and core classes became fun to play again. After a while, especially with all the releases Paizo put out, it became hard to keep track of everything. I would like to point out that most of the stuff in the supplements (both v3.5 and later Pathfinder) was great, and we wanted to try everything out at some point, preferably sooner than later, and there just wasn’t enough time.
Enter fifth edition. WotC announced that they will be releasing one core book at a time, with only a couple of additional books throughout each year. This was great! I took us a while to try out 5e (my group was playing Vampire: the Requiem mostly), but eventually we did give it a shot, and were positively surprised with the easy to use rules. This allowed my group to invite more players to play, especially with the RPG resurgence happening.
For a time, this was good. We played (and still mostly do) core classes, and because I run a game with a 60/40 roleplay-to-tactics ratio, optimal character builds didn’t matter so much. WotC was releasing just enough books to keep us from being burnt out, while still adding different options here and there for us to be able to implement new content and rules easily.
As a GM, I tend to follow a lot of content creators, subscribe to various newsletters and the like, and every now and then I check kickstarter with 3rd party published content for new ideas for my games. And the amount of content available, both free and for purchase is just overwhelming. And most of the content is not “broken”, that is, it does not tilt the balance of the game. Usually, homebrew creators, especially 3rd party publishers, will playtest their content before publishing, sometimes even more rigorously than WotC products, which is good!
And there is content for everyone’s liking – new races and subraces, class archetypes or entirely new classes, new monsters, new rulesets ranging from building fortifications to aerial/naval/siege/space/etc. combat, all the way to entirely new worlds based on Greco-Roman history, post-apocalyptic and/or science fiction/fantasy set in past, present, or future. The open-ended ruleset of 5e make it a good building block to make, run, and play any type of game you would want.
The question remains – is this a bad thing?
In my opinion, it’s a double-edged blade. I really like most of the unofficial/homebrew content, however, it starts to remind me of the time 10+ years ago where I just couldn’t keep up with everything, and yet I wanted (and my group too) to try everything! Currently we’re in the middle of a cosmic horror campaign, and yet I would like to try a Greek setting I just bought! By the time we finish the campaign, a new science fantasy book is scheduled to come out. And the circle continues. Yet again, there is not enough time for everything. We now have even less time than before, as our college days are over. My friends and I can manage one game night every week or every ten days, and there are many stories yet to be told.
Official WotC releases are carefully timed, announced early enough to build the hype around each book, and prepare players and DMs alike for new adventures, new rules and new options. Paizo does something similar with their Pathfinder Adventure Paths, but their publishing frequency is a bit high in my opinion. Homebrew content on the other hand, has new releases and updates almost on a daily basis. While platforms such as Kickstarter can be used for larger projects which take time to make (and ship, in case of physical versions), sites like DMsGuild and DriveThruRPG and various social media groups allow anyone to upload content with ease.
In a sense, there is more than enough content out there, and sometimes I think it is better not to pay attention to new releases while in the middle of an ongoing game, and only look at all the new content while prepping for a new campaign. And even if you think you are missing out on some of the content published in the meantime, when the time comes, you won’t even notice, because your attention will be focused on all the new content that has just released.