Dungeon Master's Guide II

Copyright Robert J Defendi © 2005

Edited by Robert J Defendi for The Guild Companion

"The true genius is the treatment of the different play styles."

All right. Let's begin with a discussion of irony. Not irony as in the Alanis Morissette song (the greatest irony of which almost none of the things she calls ironic actually are). Instead we will talk about true irony.

Those of you who have read my previous reviews may have noticed a certain resistance to a phenomena I call "prestige class bloat." DMG II arrived at my door a bit late for a review copy, and I had some time to think about how I would view the prestige classes in this book. Every other book has drawn my anger, my disdain, sometimes even my pity for their prestige classes. But this book, I thought, "You know . . . I'm gonna give them a pass on this book. They might put the contents into the SRD at some point (it's possible). I'll let this one go."

And there are no prestige classes in this book.

I might weep. I might actually weep.

Anyway. We won't hold that against them. We won't. My review will be objective. Honest.

Actually, that won't be very hard. There's a lot to like in this book. Almost everything is useful. Some of it is downright insightful. When I reviewed the first DMG all those year's ago (all right, the first 3.x DMG . . . I'm not that old, people) I was amazed at how good the advice was. This wasn't just a set of DM specific rules, it really was a guide to being a good DM.

So here we are, years later, holding DMG II.

Chapter 1 deals with the actual running of a game. Now, in many ways this chapter resembles the Gamemaster's Law product from ICE. For years I've said that was the best book on GMing ever written. I'm friends with one of the authors. I'm crushed to say this, but, I like this one better. The bits on how to actually run are pretty blaise, although if your DM routinely shows up surly, sleepy and unwashed you might make him read this book. No, the true genius is the treatment of the different play styles. There was a lot of insight here I've missed over the years. In this section they talk about the different type of players and how to tailor a game for them . . . most importantly, they talk about how to avoid the pitfalls caused by these players. For instance, I've had problems with "Outliers" over the years. These are the players that choose strange class/race combinations, bizarre backgrounds, and seem to set themselves up to fail. An outlier can cause a great deal of trouble in a game if they go out of control at a bad moment. This book gave the simplest advice, to give the outlier the opportunity, a specific set up, to allow him to fail spectacularly early in the session, when it won't hurt anything. By doing this you'll avoid the problem of the character imploding later and taking your plot line with him. It's the simplest advice, but I've missed it for years, and now I know. I'm anxious to put it into use.

Chapter 2 deals with adventures. Now, this was sort of a ho hum chapter for me. When it's useful, I expect it to be very useful, but otherwise I doubt I'll ever look at it. It gives a section on using published adventures that I hope no one needs to read (but if you do, study it. I'm going into business as an e-publisher). It follows this up with some new traps, which are probably the most consistently useful thing in the chapter. Then it moves on to strange locations, such as the tree top city and all the rules necessary for play there. Then it moves onto special encounter rules, such as how to deal with mobs, which again, could be useful. Finally it wraps up with miniature and encounter advice, which was fine.

Chapter 3 deals with building a campaign. Most of the advice is pretty good, but the detailed examples of some medieval environments was truly spot on. I've studied a lot about medieval culture (I'm no expert, but above the gamer layman) and I thought they did a fine job here, especially in examining the fine line between realism and the style of play that is conducive to a good game. You absolutely need to compromise to find the perfect ground between the two, and I loved this book for even trying it. The rest of the chapter treats with general subjects like building a city or magical events and I looked upon it and I called it good.

Chapter 4 outlined the city of Saltmarsh. You know, I could have done without this chapter. I mean it was fine and all, but I thought the locale was a little too evocative of specific images to be as universal as a city in a book like this needed to be. We needed a Homlet, or better yet, a location that doesn't carry the baggage of roleplaying history with it (either good or bad). This chapter just didn't work for me as is. No offence to the writer. I believe this one went astray at conception (and as a game designer, I know the feeling. I've taken the fall for decisions that weren't mine in at least one book.)

Chapter 5 deals with NPCs. Its starts with a treatment of contacts and hirelings, plus a section on unique abilities. Then it hops into my favorite part, the complex NPCs. Lets face it, when you suddenly need a Blackgaurd, you need it now and it's not something you can wing and do it justice. This section gives a nice sampling of these types of difficult-to-improvise characters.

Chapter 6 is the character chapter, it starts with apprentices and mentors and moves on to running a business. Then it hits on teamwork benefits, like those given by special training in Heroes of Battle. I'm still glad these were added into the D&D system and I'm anxious to see more. Then it moves onto prestige classes. Sigh. Now, I was willing to see a few prestige classes in this book, hoping they'd make it into the SRD. Let's face it, only so many people can create versions of the Knight before you're accidently stepping on a half-dozen copyrights. I doubt anyone would sue you over retreading the same ground as everyone else, but we need to stop beating this poor horse. Still, they went a different way. This section is on how to build even more prestige classes. When I read the words, "Why make your own prestige class?" I wanted to find a set of precision needles and stick the one after another into my eyes. Flash forward ten years. "Why did he kill so many people, officer?" "Well, prestige class bloat was bad enough, but then they came out with DMG II. It was the beginning of the end." The chapter wraps up with some stuff on PC organizations.

Finally, the finishes with expanded magic item rules. The book needed this section, and I was happy with it. Of particular note is the section on magical locations which are essentially giant, immobile magic items. These types of locations have worked their way into my campaigns several times over the years. I was happy to see them here.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I would recommend that everyone who intends to run a game read at least the first chapter. I thought it alone was worth the cover price, and so if you can find a good use for the other material in the book, so much the better. Now I'm going to take a nap an imagine a world where prestige classes are few, balanced, and in some way prestigious.