Gamemastering: A Review

Gamemastering, by Brian Jamison is the best book on DMing advice that I have ever read.

Better yet, you can get it for free!  (available as a PDF download, or as hardcover via Amazon for $29.95)

This PDF has been sitting on my hard drive for months, unread, and until I recently purchased an iPad, wasn’t inclined to read it.

That was a huge mistake.

Although there are aspects of his suggestions that I disagree with (the biggest being trying to limit the number of players in any RPG to three), this book is so chock full of useful and practical GMing advice that it’s well worth the read.

It’s written in conversational style, so it almost feels like you’re watching an interesting talk.  He gives examples for many of his suggestions, using a fantasy and a science fiction campaign.  What really makes this book useful are the tables that you can use, including GC (gamemaster character) mannerisms, woes, first impressions.  Other tables include stuff to come up with spontaneous adventures and locations.

The book is split up into three sections:  one-time preparations (campaign prep and generating characters), prepping for the game session and running the game session.

Some of his philosophies have already been integrated into recent game systems like The Dresden Files RPG.  The key philosophy is it’s the PCs that are important to the game, not the plot, and that it’s vital for the PCs to be fleshed out and, most importantly, be directly integrated into the campaign and adventures.  This isn’t rocket science, but what makes Gamemastering different is that he gives a lot of good, practical advice on how to DO this.

To this end, he pans using published campaign settings or published adventures.  Published campaign settings are full of information that will never be used, and published adventures generally cannot be well integrated into the PCs backgrounds or motivations.  (He does advocate using maps from published adventures).  He does provide a method of generating campaign settings and adventures though.  Still, I disagree with him in that I believe that it is possible to use published settings and adventures, if only for ideas that you never would have necessarily come up with yourself.

The section of character generation does feature some out of the box thinking.  For example, he recommends never using random stat generation or even point buy systems.  He recommends the player actually choosing his stats.  The bulk of this section is focused on generating a character background and set of motivations to allow the player to become invested in the game, and to provide the GM adventure seeds.

Regarding prep of GM stuff, like NPCs (though he hates that term), the author provides a bunch of tools using index cards for providing more multi-dimensional characters (without going overboard), and setting up cards to allow you to easily improvise later on (via skeleton gamemaster characters and emergency backup adventures).

He absolutely detests dungeon crawls, and advocates basing adventures on a series of Obstacles, each of which involves an information gathering stage, the challenge stage and the reward stage.  He also includes (yet again) another table full of possible obstacles to use.

The author also discusses rewards (ie treasure)…when to get it, how much to get, and when to take it away.

In the section on running the game session, he provides yet more practical advice on good gamemastering, via the GM’s roles as Judge, Camera and Actor.  He realizes that people are often shy about opening up and acting in-person, but also discusses the benefits to this:  the PCs often then become more willing to roleplay.  This actually really hit home for me in my last two sessions when I really make it a point to do RPing in character, as opposed to in third person.

It worked.

My players probably did more in person roleplaying than they’d done…ever.

There is a section on dealing with passive players, and a really useful chapter on on-the-fly gamemastering.  Not only how to deal with the inevitable out of nowhere change of direction players love throwing on GMs, but also how to deal with questions you don’t have the answers to (like the ancient history of the city:  “The sage launches into a long meandering tale that doesn’t seem helpful – or even accurate”.

This book is pretty long at 330 pages, and there is no artwork inside the book, so the production values are pretty spartan.  However, what is there is so incredibly useful to DMs who have progressed beyond the ‘beginner’ stage, there really is no excuse to not download this PDF book and spend some time reading it.

 

 

 

 

 


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. I'm a 37-year old meteorologist. No, not one of those guys you see on TV, but someone who actually forecasts the weather. In my spare time (what I have with a toddler), I game. Mostly I run a D&D 4e game every two weeks, but also play Warhammer 40,000 and Warmachine. I'm a skeptic (not a cynic) and am interested in political topics. I can be followed on twitter @ArcaneSpringbrd


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About Arcane Springboard

I'm a 37-year old meteorologist. No, not one of those guys you see on TV, but someone who actually forecasts the weather. In my spare time (what I have with a toddler), I game. Mostly I run a D&D 4e game every two weeks, but also play Warhammer 40,000 and Warmachine. I'm a skeptic (not a cynic) and am interested in political topics. I can be followed on twitter @ArcaneSpringbrd
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4 Responses

  1. Good Review,

    I also had had this sitting on my hard drive for ages untouched until your tweet about it last week when I started reading. I haven’t got through the whole lot yet but I agree that there is a lot of good stuff in there.

    Some of it is written as if it is the single truth that nobody can argue with when in fact there are many styles of play that people enjoy. But there is so much useful information that you can’t fault it for that.

    There’s something for everyone in here. Even if it is something that you are already doing in your games having it spelled out to you explicitly is likely to help clarify your style and improve.

  2. Thanks for the review and I will definitely check this out. I have been running games since i was 13 and am now 38 and feel I still have so much to learn.

  3. Wow. Thanks. It’s a long story but I’m basically making the move to professional DMing and a book like this sounds invaluable to me. Thanks for sharing, I would never have found it otherwise. :) You rock.

  4. Thanks for the review and the link. It is unbelievable that the e-book is free. Free gold.

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