15 July 2015

Review: Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering

There are a lot of books on the market about how to be a better game master, especially in the e-book age where even my cat could get a book published on Amazon. The quality varies a lot, from good to bad to just plain ugly. Most deal exclusively with "the big game," D&D. As I play may different games, I prefer something system agnostic. Which leads me to a very good book on the subject: Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering by Robin D. Laws, published back in 2002.
Read me. Drink me. Eat me.

Mr. Laws is well known as a damn good writer, from role-play games (Ars Magica, Unknown Armies, Fung Shui and so much more), articles on RPGs, novels and short stories. Some of my personal favorites by him are Over the Edge (the coolest and weirdest background plus a rules light system years before this became trendy) and a supplement for GURPS called Fantasy II: The Mad Lands which is set in a primitive world where gods are everywhere, and they are easy to invoke, but they are also insane and f--- everything up. You don't worship them, you fear them! Especially the cute bunny- he's the most dangerous.

Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering is a series of techniques a GM can use to hone his campaign and make it fun for all. The techniques start with knowing your players and what they are looking for in a game. From the power gamer to the casual gamer and a bunch in between, you use these tips to hone the campaign so each gets something they want out of an adventure.

I had already been doing a similar thing with my group, though I did not have the characteristics of the players as well defined as Mr. Laws. For example, my wife loves to play a character but is not into rules at all; another friend was the power gamer of the group looking to prove he could beat any challenge, while another was a bit of a masochist who loved action and being injured. He was the butt of many mean sneak attacks that left him injured. Giving players the experience they wanted made for a good experience all around.
Here is a good example of a group with all types
After knowing what types of players you have, the book moves on to building the game including picking your rule set, how to build a campaign everyone will enjoy (including honing published settings), building adventures (and the many possible structures they may take), and getting the characters into the action but making it deeper by getting their goals involved as well. Then it hits on actually playing the adventure covering good dialog between PCs and NPCs, and keeping the pace going while keeping the focus on the story. It even covetrs the art of improvising full adventures, which can be useful for when the characters go off the rails or for running a sandbox game.

I found so much useful in this book its hard to believe it is only thirty-eight pages. It feels like nothing is missing or unexplained, a tribute to concise writing. As such it is not a huge time commitment to push you away, so there is no reason not to read it.

The book is available in PDF from Steve Jackson Games' Warehouse 23. It used to be available in print and comes available on Ebay and used books websites every now and then if you want a physical book. Though thirteen years old its information has not aged at all, and no matter how much experience you have as a GM, you will find something to inspire you in it. I fully recommend it.

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