Review: Dungeon Master’s Guide 2, Part 1…

2009 September 16
by Dante

This week marks the release of the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 (hereafter known as the DMG2).  I must say, I have been eagerly anticipating getting my hands around this book since I got a few sneak previews at GenCon.  I have read some reviews by other members of the RPGBloggers Network, and there is a lot of excitement surrounding this book.  So let’s dive right in.

Group Storytelling

This chapter alone is a mandatory read for anyone that is a Dungeon Master.  This chapter is primarily the product of Robin Laws, author of one of my favorite books to date on dungeon mastering – Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering.  Mr. Laws outlines several storytelling devices including  how to build drama, use of a mechanic called pass/fail branching, and how to construct the best possible narrative with these tools.

In addition to narrative-building tools, this chapter contains a section on soliciting and incorporating player input which allows the DM to collaborate with their players in order to craft encounters and campaigns.  This mechanic is fundamentally important, and (happily) has been one that I have used for years in my campaigns.  This chapter provides a notable addition in the form of discussion around the limits of collaboration in encounter and game design.  Again, this is an area of DungeonMastering that is often done incorrectly and the advice presented in this chapter is invaluable.

Vignettes and Drama

This chapter also presents the concepts of vignettes, which are small shapted scenes that enable you to infuse your games with more player interaction.  Some examples of this (presented in further detail) are flashbacks, dream sequences, and teasers.  These appear to be used as “glue” to hold together encounters within a game session… a small amount of extra pizazz for your session.  These vignettes feel considerably similar to the episodic content that we have outlined over the years, only miniature in size and usually short running.

Finally, at long last, some guidelines are presented relating to roleplaying experience.  This is presented as “Drama Rewards”, and is built around the amount of time spent in valuable, meaningful roleplaying aimed toward the advancement of plot.  I was thrilled to see this in the Table of Contents, and even happier once I read the ideas on how to dispense these rewards.

Companion Characters

Finally, this excellent chapter concludes with detailed rules surrounding creating companion characters: both monster characters and uniquely crafted companion characters.  Included are instructions for keeping the companion characters consistent with the rest of the party in abilities, damage, and game balance.  Probably the most striking concept about this chapter is how the author adeptly provides advice on how to make the companion character a natural part of the story arc, including their background motivations and traits.  It was truly eye-opening to see this process committed so clearly to a few charts and rules.

I have consistently had difficultly in creating meaningful companion characters, so I suspect this portion of the chapter will get a lot of exercise.

Back to the drawing board

One of my favorite elements of the Group Storytelling chapter is the DM’s Workshop insets.  These asides take you into a situation and explains how to apply one of the concepts in a real game scenario.  Many of us RPGBloggers have gone through a lot of effort to relate our own experiences in this same fashion; this advice is very attainable and easy to understand.

For the rest of this week, we’ll be exploring more features of the DMG2, including Advanced Encounters and Skill Challenges!

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Bernd Schneider permalink
    March 2, 2011

    I would be interested in “why should I buy this book if I already have the Dungeon Master’s Guide (1)”?

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