Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review of the DMG 4.0

Dungeon Master: Fear Not. Ranger, Barbarian, Magician, Thief, Cavalier, and Acrobat!

Shelia: Who was that?

Dungeon Master: Venger, the force of Evil. I am Dungeon Master, your guide through the Realm of Dungeons and Dragons!

One Creative person who is willing to spend countless hours designing a campaign, preparing player guides, and showing one to five other people a good time. Must be social, must be enthusiastic, must be willing to be able to give such a group some free nights of Entertainment. Storytelling talents are a must!

The Dungon Master

So, are you ready to take on a thankless job or a rewarding role of play? Are you ready to spend countless hours running possibly one to five people through dungeons and realms of adventure? Are you ready to teach people effective teamwork in an activity of creative, co-operative storytelling? Can you adjudicate rules? Can you yell at and stand up to Rules Lawyers? Are you enthusiastic about creating a moving setting to move your players through?

Are you ready to be the Dungeon Master(tm)?

If so, you might want to take a look at Gamemaster Law, Gamemastery, Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering, or the various Dungeon Master's Guides, which this review focuses on one -- the 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide. With this book, James Wyatt hopes to stand with the writers and other sages of Game Mastering. Well, lets take a look at this guide.


Here, James Wyatt explains what the Dungeons and Dragons game (any edition, or really any roleplaying game) really is: a fundamentally cooperative game between two or more players. He also explains the job, or joy, of what a Dungeon Master is. He goes into what you need to play, although the DM really needs is
* His imagination and the players' imaginations.
* Dice.
* Paper and Pencils.

The rest are all useful additions to the craft and truly superfluous. Oh yeah, you need fun. But then, all of you supply that.

So, the next section is on the Players.

The Chinese Zodiac

James Wyatt goes into a zodiac of players. He explains that players tend to fall into certain types: Actors, Explorers, Instigators, Power Gamers (which the 4th Edition PHB is written for), Slayers, Storytellers, Thinkers, and the people who just sit on the sidelines watching and getting entertained by the active players and you.

Each player type is discussed in detail, and what their habits are according to James Wyatt's experience at Dungeon Mastering. Now each player type represents a stereotype, and it's my experience that each player has a little bit of every type inside them. But certain personality types can heavily gravitate to one type one day, and be another type another day. So, I stress that these are just based on observations and no one player is exclusively one type consistently.

He then goes into party building. He does tell you what happens if a certain type is missing. But that is for your information only, and as a DM, it is your job to be flexible. If the party doesn't cover all the roles, then change the adventure to accommodate the party. Either alter your adventure, or use a different adventure, or change the story.

The chapter also goes into party background and campaign details, when to use character backgrounds (and if they are extremely detailed, you have a lot of material to use), and what kind of style you are looking for.

My current campaign, For Queen and Country! is set in the Forgotten Realms in the United Kingdom of the Moonshaes and borrows it's tone and feel from King Arthur and Ivanhoe. Which means, I'm running Medieval Fantasy with some Anachronisms. I am also using Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying. But the whole game is run like a T.V. Show. So you could say that my campaign is a gritty, Anachronistic, Medieval fantasy that is quite serious.

He then goes into several types of games. He then lays down some rules he uses at the table. That doesn't mean you have to adopt them all, or throw them all out, or you don't have your own rules. This last part of this chapter is necessarily subjective.

CHAPTER 2. Running the Game

In Chapter 2, James Wyatt explains what it takes to run the game. Specifically Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, generally the rules apply to any game. The advice on Preparing and Getting Started is definitely from James Wyatt's experience. These two sections apply to any game. So does the discussion of the modes of the game. There are points on narration and storytelling: including leading by example, brevity, atmosphere, and style. Even pacing and props are given consideration. In fact, the whole chapter is useful for GMs of any game, or any edition of Dungeons and Dragons. It's all general advice and very good advice.

Chapter 3. Combat Encounters

The real mechanics of the game, save the PHB only, is in chapter 3, combat encounters. Still, some of the advice here can be used by GMs of all games. Strangely enough, you could almost call this chapter "CHARTMONSTER" since this chapter has all the charts needed to adjudicate the game and combat encounters and special situations. Everything from listening to a door to flying to disease has a chart that accompanies it. I don't know about you, but Rolemaster might have a run for it's money as to which game has the most charts.

Chapter 4. Building Encounters.

Charles, Duke of Orleans

Okay, this chapter is 4th Edition specific, but also useful for other games. It has advice on monster roles, artillery, how controlers work, brutes, minions and most everything else. Stuff that is 4e specific are XP rewards, how they work, and several encounter templates. Although the information in the encounter templates can be used by any GM for any game, the game mechanics aspect are all 4th Edition.

James also gives you a lot of encounter settings. From the most interesting areas to terrain features, to the most difficult terrain. Also, something called an encounter script is included. This chapter shows the Dungeon Master how to build an encounter and it does it brilliantly.

Chapter 5. Non Combat Encounters

These rules deal with 4th Edition as far as skill challenges go and gives general advice about puzzles and and traps. Chapter 5 isn't particularly useful to GMs of other games, however the advice is still sound. The chapter teaches the DM how to deal with Skill Challenges, Puzzles, and Traps and Hazards. In fact, examples how skill challenges work and how the DM works with them is provided. There is even an example of play (although the players participating in it aren't actors. *smiles* )

James draws on his experience with using puzzles in his games. Although not all adventures should have them. A puzzle is a device that isn't as important as the skill change. Or should I say that overuse of puzzles in your adventures -- unless you are playing an espionage game -- will lead to them losing their savor.

Traps and Hazards are important in gaming, and James talks about this at length. They break up the action and provide danger of a different kind instead of the monstrous or the villainous. Traps may be natural, the result of deteriorating architecture, or deliberately set by your villain to catch your PCs. However, in the case of Benedict and Beatrice, the women and menfolk lay a different kind of trap than what you would design for the PCs.

Several traps exist: blasters, lurkers, obstacles, warders, and elite and solo traps. Then James goes into length about how to use them.

Chapter 6. Adventures

This is the chapter that teaches you how to build and modify your adventures. There are several books that go indepth on this very subject. Some are esoteric, some are straight forward. But this chapter provides the Dungeon Master with indepth information about them, especially if you are starting out. With this chapter, unless you are looking into storycrafting or going into the subject indepth; it's pretty much contains everything you need.

James goes into published adventures, fixing certain problems, and building them. He even talks about quests, encounter mixes, and world building. All of this is great information for the DM and the GM of a Non-D&D RPG.

Chapter 7. Rewards.

This chapter is all about awarding experience points. This is 4th Edition specific so if you use another system, your mileage may vary.

Chapter 8. Campaigns

One word. WORLD BUILDING. This one chapter is all about world building. Published Campaigns, Campaign themes, Super-Adventures (or Adventure Paths), campaign stories, beginning a campaign, running one, and ending one. Very good advice is in this book, but again, to really get into the craft of building and running campaigns there are many books on world building and you can ask the advice of other Gamemasters on how to run campaigns. This chapter is useful to the novice and can point you in the right direction on honing your craft.

Chapter 9. The World.

This chapter deals with a default world. Like the Known Realm of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon as an example. The default world makes certain assumptions. However, you don't have to use the Default world at all. Chapter 8, Campaigns; is written before this one for a reason. Chapter 9 only gives you an example of such a world for use in D&D or any Fantasy RPG. This part of the book also talks about artifacts specific to that world.

Chapter 10. The DM's Toolbox

This is your chapter about using everything you know to customize your adventure. Customizing monsters, creating monsters, creating NPCs, Creating House Rules, Random Dungeons, and Random Encounters. This chapter is about customizing D&D 4e within its framework. Of course, remember rule 0, the DM trumps all rules. You can take away framework, change the scaffolding, and make additions. This chapter shows you how.

Chapter 11. Fallcrest.

This chapter offers a sample adventure to get you started. I've never run it, although don't trust me to run it with 4e. The DM's guide ends, thankfully, with an index, something for your miniatures, some other things you may find useful, and the obligatory advert for D&D Insider.

I never used D&D Insider myself and I don't feel it's worth my time as a DM to use.


The DM's Guide, 4th edition, is the strongest of the 3 core books for 4th Edition roleplaying. I wholly recommend that you add it to your library as a good reference for the craft. There is a lot for you to use, even if you play GURPS, Rolemaster, King Arthur Pendragon, or countless other games. James Wyatt has done a good job sharing his experience.

The substance is excellent, since this is one book I would buy for my private collection. The book I am reviewing is my cousin's copy. Secondly, the style is only average. I'd dare say that Wizards of the Coast could have used a multiplicity of art styles to dress their book in. Photographs from the D&D movie, Computer Generated 3D illustrations, Paintings from DMG 2nd Edition, and the like along with the current cartoony illustrations would have made for an excellent styled book.

It's a book on Gamemastery as a whole, I say, make it look like such.

THIS REVIEW is published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 U.S. License, except for the Videos and two photos, which are used under the doctrine of Fair Use and for the purpose of Review.

Videos used for the purposes of this review, and thus under the doctrine of Fair Use:
1. [i]Dungeons and Dragons: The Last Illusion, pt. 1. Marvel Productions, overseen by E. Gary Gygax.
2. Kenneth Branagh's Henry V ; The Battle of Agincourt, part 1.
3. Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing; Beatrice and Benedict entrapped.

Photos used are for the purposes of this review, and thus under the doctrine of Fair Use:
1. The Dungeon Master (Source: Dungeons and Dragons cartoon).
2. The Chinese Zodiac (source: Wikipedia)
3. Charles, the Duke of Orleans (Source: Henry V).

1 comment:

greywulf said...

Agreed entirely with all this, well said.

The DMG is easily the best book of the three (with the Monster Manual second and the PHB languishing in third place). The DMG is where the role-playing is hiding, and it's a terrific resource for DMs regardless of system.

Good point about it needed more variety of art. I hadn't thought of that. It would certainly help emphasise that this is a game that can be played in a wide variety of styles.

Good review!

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