Dungeon Master's Guide: D&D 3rd Edition
Copyright Robert Defendi ©2000
Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion
You sit down at the table, and the players are amicably chatting about Everquest or the upcoming D&D movie. You listen to the conversation as you begin to organize your notes. As the conversation draws on, you know that itís time to reel it in and begin, but somehow, you canít seem to work up the courage. What do you do if a character falls into a water trap? What are the chances of having an encounter? Did you put enough combat into the adventure? Too much? Will it be a challenge?
This is your first time at the head of the table. Youíve been talking up a good storm, but now itís time to put you money where your mouth is. Are you prepared?
There are two things that are important in a DMís book. The first are all the rules necessary to run a game, those that players donít need to know. The second are all the little bits of advice necessary to make a person into a fine DM. Lets see how the new DM's Guide for D&D 3rd Edition tackles these two all-important subjects, one at a time.
First of all there are all the DM-only rules. This is an area that all versions of the Dungeon Masterís Guide have been strong in (In fact, certain editions (2nd, for instance) seemed to concentrate solely on these issues.). Continuing in that strong manner, there is a wealth of information to be found in this book. They handle many of the old standbys. There are sections on NPCs and encounters. There are rules for assigning experience and treasure. There are methods of generating magic items. None of this is, in and of itself, a surprise.
There are some welcome new additions. There is a system for generating towns. This allows you to calculate the highest level person of any given class in a town. It also tells how rich the town is; showing the most expensive object that can be purchased and total funds that can be taken out of a town (for the purposes of selling items).
Another of the new features are the Prestige classes. These are classes that allow a character to explore career opportunities not usually available to a starting character. The arcane archer is a fascinating example of a prestige class, perfect for the elf wishing to combine magic and archery.
Also, we have the new concept of NPC classes. In truth, NPC classes have been around for a long time, but they were never official and almost always set apart by how powerful they were. The NPC classes in the new edition deal with all the things PCís usually find too dull to explore. Why doesnít a commoner raise levels? Now they do, within the commoner class. Are all those town guards Fighters? No. They are probably the less powerful Warrior. NPC classes add a fine new element to the game.
Ever since Tomb of Horrors debuted at Origins, traps have been an important part of the D&D game. The new DMís Guide actually acknowledges this fact, listing several typical traps along with all their stats. This allows a DM to easily extrapolate on traps of his own. Also, traps have challenge ratings now, which means they are worth experience.
Another big surprise comes in magic items. They are now organized (at least on the charts) by power level. This makes it very rare to roll a Staff of Power for the treasure a kobold is carrying. It also allows a DM to track more accurately the amount of treasure that his party is receiving.
All in all, a very strong showing.
But what about the second part? Does this book teach you to be a better DM? Yes. Whereas 2nd edition had little dedicated to making a person a better gamemaster, the new edition seems to treat the subject very seriously.
There is an entire chapter dedicated to world building. Through it, a DM can gain advice on designing his own world. Various forms of governments are discussed, and the chapter is at times thought provoking. It was not all that it should be, however. I wanted more on subjects like communication and healing, which can radically effect a game where magic is the norm.
The chapter on designing good adventures fares much better. Perhaps it should have been called, "Adventures for Dummies." This section discusses how to craft an adventure to suit the tastes of your group. It even goes so far as to give a statistical breakdown for the encounter levels of every fight.
Ever since I read Rolemasterís Gamemasterís Law, books have been fighting an uphill battle when it comes to teaching a person to be a good DM. This book falls far short of that mark, unfortunately. Where did this book fall short? WellÖthe art, right off. The art is not nearly up to the quality of The Playerís Handbook or Monster Manual. It is obvious they saved their best artists for those.
They also failed to complete some very good thoughts. For instance, they have sample character stats for all the PC classes, but not for the NPC classes. They could have done more with traps as well, I think. Iíd also have liked to see more on environment (cold, heat, drowning etc.).
Still, an overall thumbs up. This is a strong addition to the D&D line. Despite its drawbacks, it is a good beginnerís guide to running a game, and I would recommend it as such.