Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How to Run Your Game

We have a couple of independently produced books out now to help you run your game.  One new and one getting more attention.

The first is +Alexis Smolensk's How to Run: an Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games.  It just came out last night.  From what I can gather (and I could be wrong) this is a guide that is more directed towards the long time gamer (thus the "Advanced" part) and it might be exclusively drawn from a D&D perspective.

The older book is +Mike Shea's  The Lazy Dungeon Master. It has the feeling of being on the other end of the spectrum from Alexis' book, but I don't have it either so hard to say.  What it says it is guide to help the time constrained DM.  It has some good reviews and the content seems to be drawn largely from later editions of D&D.  You can read a more detailed review of this book over at The Traveling Spellbook.

While I am sure both of these are very fine books I am wondering about their scope.  Or to put it bluntly are they only about D&D?  That is fine. D&D is a great game, one of my favorites. But it is not the only game I play. I also don't think I am the target audience anyway.

Over the last 35 years or so of my game playing I have read numerous books on how run games.  After a bit they do tend to get a little repetitive.  By the late 90s I was focusing most of my time and energy on running Horror games and Horror-themed fantasy RPGs; so my own reading took me in that direction.

For my money the best guide for running a game is still the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.
Not only is it a perfect example of High Gygaxian Prose, it is also just so filled with material you need to run a game.  I have often thought about doing an RPG.net style read-through of the DMG.  Follow it up with the 3rd Ed D&D DMG which is not as good, but still a surprisingly good guide.

If you want to run a horror game (and I often do) then the best guide is still Nightmares of Mine.  Written by Ken Hite and published by ICE and Chaosium it is small but filled with material, but it also out of print and not cheap. This handy little guide is everything you need to run every sort of horror game. Straight up horror, survival horror, personal horror, comedy horror. You name it, this book covers it.  Failing finding this a copy of Call of Cthluhu or GURPS: Horror are also good choices.

I am looking forward to hearing what people will have to say about these two new guides.


James M. Spahn said...

Thanks for the plug, Tim!

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thank you Tim for the mention.

How to Run is a far, far cry from Shea's context or message. The Advanced Guide is non-system specific, so it is not about D&D exclusively. The content within it is applicable to any role-playing game, regardless of genre, edition or scope. There are even notes inside to explain how better to approach story driven games.

Timothy S. Brannan said...


Let us all know how the sales are going.

Jeff said...

The Lazy DM is a general book, not D&D specific. It's largely about time management in your session prep, and breaking the habit of detailing everything. It's good stuff.

How To Play, as I understand, is more about the "art" of role play. It is supposed to have a AD&D vibe to it, but the author has stated that he hasn't played without heavy modifications in years. More punditry and opinion, than tables and charts.

Knightsky said...

There's also 'UnFramed', which has recently been released by Engine Publishing:


jdh417 said...

I was looking at the d20 SRD just today and was looking through the Adventuring section. I'd forgotten how useful it can be for running an adventure.

Anonymous said...

+1 for Nightmares of Mine, definitely one of the "RPG Advice" books worth the name and it's stood the test of time well.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I like how Jeff says, "the author has stated" as though my name is not two comments above his.

Sales are going wonderfully, Tim. Not WOTC, but then my book is not in every game store in America. I read Shea's book about 6 months ago when reading everything I could find that had been written by other people.

Jeff is essentially correct. "How to Play a Character & Other Essays" is opinion. Just like Emerson is opinion, Horace Greeley is opinion, Andrew Sullivan is opinion, Malcolm Gladwell is opinion, etc., etc. Since Jeff's comment is also 'opinion' I feel in good company.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

The only thing not opinion are Ikea instruction manuals.
Glad to hear it is doing well.