Review: GameMastery Guide

The GameMastery Guide is a rulebook for Pathfinder RPG, from Paizo Publishing. It actually came out in the spring, but I haven’t gotten around to really reading it from cover to cover until now. Picking up the hardcopy on a whim last weekend contributes to this.

The book is a guide and a toolkit for the GM, weighs in at 320 pages, and, along with its spiritual predecessor, the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide II, is now one of my favourite GM guides.

Though the book is a D&D book, and does contain the assumption you’re running Pathfinder RPG, I think much of the content is just as useful to GMs running other games, especially fantasy, and the price of $10 for the PDF isn’t going to destroy anyone’s bank account. The rules-specific stuff is mostly in the Advanced Topics chapter towards the end of the book.

Of course, one good book of GM advice does not differ all that much from another good book of GM advice, and a lot of the content in the GameMastery Guide isn’t exactly new to me. However, to a new Game Master, the advice can be invaluable, and even those of us who have spent ten years or more behind the screen can find useful things in these. I think the GameMastery Guide is a bit heavy in information that I’d consider self-obvious, but I’ve learned that there are always those for whom it is not.

The book explains things from a very basic level, answering questions like “what is a GM?”, goes on to running a game and starting a campaign, taking back mistakes, handling PC death and TPK, narrative techniques, acting, using accessories and aids, building encounters, and so forth. I would’ve liked a bit more on PC death, personally. There’s a player taxonomy, there’s advice on using NPCs and handling PCs, there’s world creation stuff, and it’s all pretty good.

A few things I found were of interest were two pages on creating a campaign guide, a document for the players that tells them what the campaign will be like and what sort of things should be considered when creating a character. I’ve been using these for a while, now. Obviously, Paizo’s adventure paths come with their own, which are also exceedingly handy. Another one I liked was the 2,5 pages on game changers, abilities and spells that the PCs will gain that can change the nature of problem solving and tactics – flight, divination spells, teleportation, and the like. These are very important considerations when preparing certain types of adventure, since it’ll be a short game indeed if the party can just use the Gordian knot approach and solve the entire plot at the beginning with a single spell. There’s advice on fortune telling, gambling, puzzles and riddles, running mysteries and investigations, and all that sort of thing.

In addition to advice, of course, there are tools. There are random plot tables, random macguffin tables, a page with different cultural titles in 20 different languages (and they got the ä’s right in the Finnish ones!), random magic item tables, tables to furnish and populate your dungeons, encounter tables, and the single most awesome page I have seen in a roleplaying game product, page 55, Words Every Game Master Should Know. It’s a big wall of text composed of weird and wonderful words, like abscess, bashi-bazouk, gallowglass, necrophagous, pustule, thane, and so forth. I spent a lovely afternoon looking up in the dictionary the ones I didn’t know. There’s a glaring omission, though, in that the list lacks “gazebo“, though that might be more properly filed under words every player should know…

There’s also a convenient little ruleset for settlements that I’ve already used in our Eberron game to flesh out the village of Eagle’s Ravine. Other similar little rulesets are the fast play ship combat rules, chase rules, the haunt rules familiar to players of Rise of the Runelords, and even a two-page set of madness rules. Then there are new hazards, drug and addiction rules, and finally rules for drunkenness (A character can consume a number of alcoholic beverages equal to 1 plus double his Con modifier before being sickened for 1 hour equal to the number of drinks above this maximum. Turns out my Con modifier is higher than I previously thought.).

At the end of the book there are some 50 pages of pregenerated NPC statistics for mundane situations, from torturers to noblemen to the village idiot, with a few lines of notes on adaptation and usage. These are very useful material for when you need quick stats for the town guard or someone decides to pick a fight with Bob the NPC.

Finally, there’s an expansion on the Pathfinder RPG Appendix N, in the form of a two-page Appendix listing recommended literature, reference works, music and films. From the ones that I do recognize, it’s a lovely collection of titles. For those of you with Spotify, here’s a playlist I knocked up based on the recommended music.

Overall, I think the book provides a very broad but rather shallow exploration of Game Mastering, and some topics, like the madness rules, left me yearning for a more in-depth study (though having a madness mechanic that you can just drop in the campaign without, say, a separate SAN score for the characters, is handy). Nevertheless, it is a good book, and though I think it’d be most useful for new Game Masters, there’s always something new and interesting for every GM in a well-written guide, and I doubt this will prove an exception. And really, those NPC stats alone made it worth the purchase for me.

3 thoughts on “Review: GameMastery Guide

  1. 1) No, you just have a feat which gives you alcohol tolerance 😉 and 2) I dare you to write that list of words a player should know.

  2. Nice review. In my ranking GameMastery Guide is even better book than Advanced Player’s Guide (although I like them both).

    Big thanks to you about spotify playlist, awesome work.

  3. A discussion about game changers sounds really valuable, but one that’s only 2.5 pages long sounds like it’d be more frustrating in its brevity than useful.

    Does someone know of any good, in-depth discussion about game changing elements like the ones Jukka listed?

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