First Impressions of Dragonbane

The new Dragonbane game by Free League was released a month ago and yesterday after work I spontaneously got the idea to give it a look, as the pdf is only €23. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of it, but I am intrigued by what I got.

Dragonbane is released as a new edition of the old Swedish RPG Drakar och Demoner, which apparently was a pretty big deal with Swedish players back in the 80s. But looking at the rules that we got now, I wonder how much continuity actually is there in the mechanics, because I feel I recognize almost everything from either recent D&D editions or Free League’s Year Zero system. The original game was apparently based on Basic Role Play, which I think is the engine of RuneQuest, but I don’t really have any experience with that.

First of all, this is a very slim game. The main pdf is only 116 pages and the actual rules are all on just 59 pages. I absolutely consider this a rules light system like B/X and Barbarians of Lemuria, though slightly crunchier than the later.

The Core Mechanic and Skills

While it feels quite similar in scope and purpose to B/X, it is a skill based system rather than a class and level based one. As the core mechanic to do pretty much anything, you roll a d20. If the number is lower or equal to your skill rank, you succeed. If it exceeds your skill rank, you fail. Being a guy raised on the d20 system, rolling under instead of rolling over always seems a bit weird, but in this case it really simplifies things in several areas. You don’t have to make any additions or subtractions to the number on the die for every roll and you don’t have to ask the GM for the target number for each specific roll. Your skill is at 14, then just don’t roll over 14.

It also is a neat part of the character advancement mechanic. If you use any skill during an adventure, you mark it on your character sheet. At the end of the adventure, you roll a d20 for every skill that you have used. If that d20 rolls over your current rank, the rank advances by 1. This means that when your skill rank is low, it will go up pretty frequently, but once it is high it will only increase more rarely. This way to you stop being bad at things you do often quickly, but it also can take a long time to actually max out the skill.

Skill checks can also be rolled with either a boon or a bane. Which are really just advantage and disadvantage from D&D 5th ed. Roll two d20 and pick either the better or worse one as your result.

Creating a Character

The first step in creating a character is to roll attributes. These are the same as in D&D and rolled in order with 4d6 keeping the best 3. The attributes determine the starting value for all your skills which will be from 3 for a score of 3, and a 7 for a score of 18. They also determine your Hit Points (equal to Constitution), your Willpower Points (equal to Willpower), and maximum load (equal to half Strength).

The second step is choosing is your character’s kin. The default ones in the game are pretty much the standard generic fantasy peoples plus wolf people and duck people. The character’s kin provides a single special ability that takes Willpower Points to use.

Next is profession. There are 10 professions that each provide the character with another special ability and also have a list from which you have to select six of your trained skills. The skills you select as trained have their starting rank doubled.

Characters’ age works pretty much like in Year Zero: Young character get a +1 to Agility and Constitution but only 2 free additional skills to pick as trained (regardless of profession), while old characters have penalties to attributes but get 6 free additional skills to pick as trained. (Adult characters just get 4 free trained skills.)


The basic mechanic for combat feel a lot like the d20 and Year Zero systems. Each character gets one action and one movement per round. However, there is no armor class. If you succeed on your melee combat skill check, you hit. If the target of your attack has not yet acted in the current round, it can use its action for the round to immediately make a parry or dodge check to negate the hit. You have to decide to dodge or parry before damage is determined. So I guess the decision depends on how scary the attack looks and how many hit points you still have left. This is the one part of the whole game where I really have no idea how well this actually works out in practice. But characters low on hit points being forced to give up more of their actions to negate hits could actually be a pretty interesting and cool way to represent fighters becoming less effective in combat as they are getting hit. Unlike D&D where you’re at full fighting capacity as long as you still have any hit points remaining. I’m really curious to see this in action.

When a target is getting hit, damage is rolled and then subtracted by its armor rating. This means actual damage might be quite low, which of course lines up with characters only having as many hit points as their Constitution score. A very different approach from D&D where hit points and damage just keep going up forever as characters advance to higher levels and face more powerful opponents. I like that.

When your character is out of hit points, a death roll is made where you need to roll a d20 lower or equal to your Constitution each round. Once you have three successes the character recovers, once you have three failures the character is dead. I believe this is exactly as in D&D 5th ed. There is an optional rule that a character recovering from being dropped has to make one more roll against Constitution and on a failure suffers a severe injury that causes penalties for a couple of days until it heals. This is quite similar to the critical injuries from the Year Zero system, but the severities of the injuries are much lower.

As in old D&D editions like B/X, there are three units of time. Instead of rounds, turns, and days, Dragonbane has rounds, stretches, and shifts which are the same concept, except that there are four shifts in a day. Once per shift, a character can rest for one round to recover 1d6 Willpower Points, or rest for one stretch to recover 1d6 Hit Points. When characters rest for a full shift, they regain all their HP and WP. But don’t remove their severe injuries, which is why I absolutely would use that optional mechanic to have some sense of characters actually getting injured in fights.

This also feels like a good point to mention Conditions. There are six conditions that mirror the six attributes. When a character is suffering from the respective condition, say Exhausted for Strength, then all checks for skills that rely on the respective attribute are rolled with bane, that is roll two d20 and keep the worse one. At a stretch rest, you can remove one of your conditions, and on a shift rest you remove all.


Unlike the other professions, the Mage does not get a special ability that uses Willpower Points to activate, but instead gets spells. A mage character is trained (double starting rank) in one of three magic skills: Animism is basically druid magic, Elementalism is Fire, Ice, and Stone magic, and Mentalism is telepathy, telekinesis, and divination. All mages can still learn any spells, but their rank in the other two skills starts much lower and they will probably have to deal with a lot of failed castings before they get their ability to useful levels. But at least you make a roll to advance a skill at the end of the adventure as long as you used it just once and it didn’t even have to have been successful.

If the skill check to cast a spell rolls a critical failure on a 20, the caster suffers a magical mishap. As with the severe injuries, these are way less dangerous as the equivalent mechanic in Forbidden Lands. Worst case, a demon is attracted to the caster and will show up during the next shift. What kind of demon and what it wants is left to the GM. No risk of of a dimensional rift opening and tentacles dragging the mage to hell any time you cast a spell.

Limitations of the Core Rules

The package of pdfs that I got is called the Core Rules. I have no idea if there are any other versions of Dragonbane or if there are any planned. But for what is being offered here, the term is very much appropriate. In many ways, this feels like a toolkit of core mechanics more than what most people would typically expect of a complete game. In this version, there are 49 spells and 14 sample monsters, and the five most generic humanoids to pick from (and one non-generic one). Certainly enough for a one-shot or mini campaign in a super generic Middle-Earth fantasy setting, but for anything more fancy than that, you will have to create your own custom content.

And the game seems to be intended to be that way. There are several mentions of more options possibly coming in future releases. There is even an open license that allows anyone to make and publish supplements for Dragonbane, though not to reproduce that content of the core game itself.

There also is really no Gamemaster section in the rulebook worth mentioning. It’s just the mechanics and assumed that anyone playing this game already knows what kinds of campaigns they want to run with it and how to do it.

Which I guess to a certain crowd is just fine. For people already deeply into B/X, OSE, and other games of that category, none of these things might be obstacles. Especially when you are looking for a generic system for which you would have to create the custom creatures of your homebrew setting anyway. And monster and NPC stats are really simple to begin with. Even simpler than in B/X.

I think this might possibly be just the game for me. It’s the purest example I’ve ever seen of what a Fantasy Heartbreaker might look like, with pretty much every single thing it seeming like it was more or less copied over from other games I already known and then welded together. But I really approve of what the designers chose pick for their pieces to turn into this game. From a mechanical perspective, there is not a single thing regarding character creation, advancement, skills, combat, or magic that I don’t like on my first and second read. But if this is all that Dragonbane is going to be, I don’t see it becoming a big breakout hit that will become hugely popular. I can see it getting a reputation similar to Barbarians of Lemuria and maybe with a big dose of luck, get a little time to shine like OSE had some months ago. And I guess that’s fine.

Since I read the whole thing only twice now, I don’t really feel like I could rate it in any way. But being such a light package, I also don’t think there is going to be a lot more learned from a third or fourth reading. I think all that’s left is to just take it for a spin and see how it plays out in practice. It seems like a game that should take very little prep work for adventures when it comes to crunch, so maybe I’ll have an opportunity to give it a try later this summer after I’ve moved closer to my new job and peak work season is over. Certainly looking forward to do it.

This has to be the most ridiculous adventure premise I’ve ever seen

The D&D adventure Journey to the Rock has a reputation of being really bad. It’s not as infamous as The Forest Oracle or Castle Greyhawk, since it’s just really bland and forgettable, but it’s really bad.

The party takes one of three different paths to get to the Rock. So they’ll only get to see one third of the adventure. Because when they reach the Rock itself, it only has a single room inside. Which is a giant empty room. 240 by 350 feet with a 350 feet dome. On one wall are seven chests and four statues. The statues will attack the party, but only if the party is strong, has most of its hit points, and most of their magic still available. Otherwise they are just normal statues. There is a stupid puzzle and if the players pick the wrong chest, they are teleported out the door and have to go back empty handed. If they pick the right chest with the MacGuffin, the quest giver will teleport them back to his house. That’s the whole adventure.

But it has backstory! Which is just ridiculous.

Many thousands of years ago, a great magical city was under attack by forces of Chaos, and when things started to look desperate, the rulers decided have two of their best escape the city and go into hiding until they could continue the fight. To make sure one of them could not reveal the identity of the other if captured, the two were given their mission secretly and not told who the other person was. But the two would be able to find each by being given two halves of an amulet that would make them both immortal and grant them great magical powers to fight Chaos, but whose magic could not be used by anyone else.

Eventually all the people of the city were banished to another dimension and the city itself was forgotten.

One half of the amulet was hidden away in a secret chamber in the Rock. The forces of Chaos learned that one half of the Amulet was hidden in the Rock but couldn’t get to it, so they laid a spell over the entrance that would prevent its owner from going inside.

Now this millennia old immortal wizard decides he needs to get his half of the amulet from the Rock to find the other immortal who escaped from the city so they could start finding a way to rescue their people from that other dimension. And to break the barrier that has been preventing him from going inside the Rock himself, he hires 6 to 8 adventurers of 1st to 3rd level.

Actually, his servant hires them. The wizard himself never comes out of his laboratory and does not reveal anything about who he is, what the amulet is, and what he needs it for to anyone. The players will never know any of that and it has no relevance to the adventure at all. Which is a good thing, because it makes no fucking sense!

As in the opening credits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the person producing this should have immediately been sacked. And the person responsible for sacking him should also have been sacked.

I do like the cover, though…

Flipping again through Ghostwalk

Ghostwalk came out in 2003, three years after the release of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition and just before the new revised rulebooks came out. It’s a book that I see getting mentioned every other year or so and that always seems to be fondly remembered by a few people. However, in the almost 20 years since its release now, I have never heard of even a single person mentioning a campaign or even just a one-shot adventure that was actually played in this setting. Looking through some other early 3rd edition stuff these last days, and thinking about games with this system that I always wanted to run but never actually did, had me of course reminded of Ghostwalk.

The whole idea behind Ghostwalk is that characters who die on their adventures aren’t simply gone from the campaign unless the party can arrange for the characters to be resurrected with a raise dead spell, but instead continue their adventures as a ghost. That alone was a big draw for me when this book was announced, and I was actually surprised when it turned out to be a campaign setting. It’s centered around a city of the dead outside the gateway to the afterlife, with some brief additional information about the surrounding lands. That sounds quite cool, but it never managed to get me even starting on a preliminary concept for an actual campaign, and from everything I’ve seen about the setting since then, very few other people did either.

So I sat down again with the book, and after literally decades since I first read it, tried to find my footing again with the basics of the world and what kinds of adventures it is setting up. And as it turns out, for a 220 page book, there is stunningly little in the way of material that would inspire adventure. When you first hear the idea of a land where the dead don’t actually die, it might sound really cool and make you want to know more. But there really doesn’t seen to be much more.

The central nexus of the setting is the gateway to the afterlife, though which all the souls of dead people have to cross. As these souls are getting close to the gateway, they start to gain the traits of ghost, gaining the ability to be seen and heard, manipulate physical objects, and eventually take on a semi-solid form. Most souls simply pass through the gateway right away, but some hesitate out of a fear of the unknown beyond, or because there is something in the world of the living that they can’t make themselves leave unfinished. And so, over the ages, a whole city has risen up around, and now high above the gateway. Populated by the ghosts who are struggling with the fear of what awaits them in true death or hoping that someone from their past life will try to meet them in the city of Manifest to settle the things that keep them. Because the existence of the city is well known in the surrounding lands and people frequently make the journey in the hope of being able to talk with the dead one more time before they are truly gone.

Where things get a bit muddled is that there is also the practice of taking the bodies of the dead to the gateway to reunite them with their souls in the afterlife. This is where the whole thing starts to feel implausible to me. Is the gateway in Manifest the only one in the world? From how far away are the spirits of the dead coming to pass through it and perhaps linger outside of it for some months or years? Does all the world know about its existence, or is this something known only in the neighboring countries? Is it a local custom to try sending the bodies into the afterlife as well or a global thing? Is it something for the super rich and powerful, or is it a common practice for everyone but the poorest? What about the people who just get buried in this world? Are they condemned to an eternal afterlife in an incomplete state? The idea of having these funeral processions from distant lands coming through the streets of the city every day is very evocative, but it feels really not thought through.

And what about conflicts? The main antagonists that the setting describes are the Yuan-ti. Yuan-ti abominations are not humanoids and as such don’t have spirits that travel to the gateway and manifest as ghosts. And because of that the yuan-ti want to destroy the city. That’s not enough of a motivation for villains outside of superhero comics and it doesn’t really give you anything to work with then coming up with adventures. Necromancers are hated but also really interested in the city, but I wasn’t really able to find out why. What about the ghosts? They populate the city and mingle with the living, but what kind of things would they be up to that could set up an adventures for PCs?

And beneath the city is a giant maze of old ruins called the Catacombs. But if the city is build around a gateway to the afterlife and people bring bodies to the city to move then through it, why does the city have catacombs? Maybe it’s just a name, but a city of the dead with giant catacombs that don’t actually have any dead bodies in them would be kind of lame. Also, what do the living people who build the city around the gateway actually do there? The dead don’t need any of the things that a normal economy provides for the living. Is it all about catering to the living travelers coming to drop of a body or hope to catch a ghost before it departs?

What really amazes me is how this book manages to reach 220 pages. There is so much text that goes on an on about things without actually saying anything interesting. The rules for ghost characters also seem way too complicated. This book has over 80 new feats. Nobody needs that.

In hindsight, I can fully understand why you never hear about anyone ever having played a campaign in Ghostwalk or used the rules for semi-dead PCs.

The elevator pitch sounds like something that could be made into something really interesting. When I picked the book up again, I was thinking that this could be a great opportunity to make a campaign that draws heavily on the Dark Souls and Legacy of Kain series. And while that still seems like it could be a cool campaign, I think all the work needed to make that interesting would leave very little of the setting material that is actually present in the book.

First Impressions of Forbidden Lands

I recently had a conversation about how I am sooo over the D&D Fantasyland and the various assumptions and structures that are baked into the rules of all editions, and how there’s actually not a lot of medium-weight rulesets for generic heroic fantasy. But to my surprise, I discovered that Forbidden Lands is actually a Year Zero game, which I recently found to be really promising looking in Coriolis. I think I got Forbidden Lands years ago, quickly decided that it’s a weird D&D, and then completely forgot about it. But now that I am specfically in the market for “anything but D&D”, it’s actually looking much more interesting. It still has elves, dwarves, and halflings for PCs and the monster section, and the druid is clearly inspired by D&D, but that’s easily reflavored to your setting of choice.

While it basically has classes, skills, and talents like in recent D&D editions, Forbidden Land doesn’t have levels. You gain a small number of XP any time you play, but these don’t track progress but rather work as advancement points to spend. Your four attributes (Strength, Agility, Wits, Empathy) remain fixed, but skill increase cost 5XP per new skill rank (1 to 5) and talents costs 3XP per new talent rank (1 to 3). Each class has three class-exclusive talents, and there are an additional 46 general talents available to all characters. So you’re not going to max out your character any time soon.

The game doesn’t have hit points and instead damage goes directly to your attributes. Injury is Strength damage, exhaustion is Agility damage, fear is Wits damage, and despair is Empathy damage. Attributes can go to 6 at the highest, but attacks typically only deal 1 or 2 damage. So combat isn’t going to turn into long slugging matches. (Assuming you land hits.) When an attribute falls to 0, the character is out of action, and in case of 0 Strength or Agility suffers a crticial injury. There is a 20/36 chance that the critical injury will be nonfatal, a 14/36 chance of dying in the next days, hours, or rounds without treatment, and a 2/36 chance of immediate death. (Druids with rank 3 in the healing talent can revive the dead within a few days, but that permanently reduces Empathy). If you survive a critical injury, you’re still crippled in some way for a few days.

Magic is one of the most interesting things about the game, and from what I gathered looking around about the game, one of the most divisive. The talents for the different magic paths have three levels, each level giving you access to more advanced spells. The level of the spell determines how much Willpower you need to cast it. The spell automatically succeeds, but you still have to roll dice equal to the Willpower spend, and every 6 means the spell gets an extra boost, and getting a 1 means you suffer a mishap. Most of the mishaps are not so bad, but there’s a 1/36 chance that the character gets pulled to hell and basically instantly dead with no chance or recovery. Which sounds to me like spellcasters might have an life expectancy of about 100 spells. Which can work for short campaigns where characters might only cast 30 or 50 spells in total, but for longer campaigns I think something like demonic possession until exorcised might work better.
Willpower is another thing where it gets a bit odd. Willpower is used to power spells, but also by various other talents used by other characters. But the main way to get Willpower is to suffer damage to an attribute when you pushed a skill check and a 1 came up. The only other way is to get 1 Willpower point when you return back to your base after an adventure. 1 point. If you play a spellcaster and don’t want to get all bruised up by plenty of dangerous exercise, you need to find opportunity to cause yourself mental stress. Making checks for Lore, Insights, Manipulation, Performance, or Animal Handling can get you Willpower points if it drains your Wits and Empathy, but you only get to make a roll in situations where there is real pressure, and you only get to roll once for any action. Also your Willpower maxes out at 10, so you can’t build up a big pile of Willpower to prepare yourself for big awesome magic duels.
I have to see this in action, but I think this could work pretty well if you have a campaign that assumes infrequent uses of low-level magic as the default. I would guess as a sorcerer you’re probably more an occult scholar than a flashy spell-slinger. Which for certain kinds of campaign would be very appropriate. It had me thinking that this might even be a good fit for people who want Sword & Sorcery campaigns where magic is pricey and risky.

Not even a Review: Elite Dangerous

Haven’t reviewed anything for a while. This will barely qualify as a review because I don’t feel like putting a lot of work and efffort into it.

Just like the developers of Elite Dangerous.

This is a game in which you have a startship that you can upgrade with better modules to increase its stats, and you can fly to millions of stars where you can dock at space stations to pick up cargo to drop off at other space stations, collect rocks from asteroids to drop off at space stations, or get into fights with endless numbers of space pirates. Transporting cargo is no challenge, mining asteroids is slow and tedious, and ships handle very poorly in battle.

About 2 hours into the game, I was getting the impression that I’ve seen everything the game has to offer, just copy pasted and randomized over millions of star systems. Some 30 hours later, I now think that early impression was right. Yes, there are various kinds of things that you “can do”, but none of them are fun. And all you get is money to buy ships with better base stats and upgrade that provide better stat boosts. This lets you carry more cargo between stations to make more money, and I guess will make mining and combat less tedious, but then what? I’m a huge fan of Subnautica and Kenshi, two games without real plot or quests, where all you do is to go to new areas to find construction plans and materials to build new equipment. But in those games, new areas are different kinds of environments where you can find new things that create new interactions. In Elite Dangerous, every system is basically the same. In those good games, new equipment allows you to do new things. In Elite Dangerous, they only make the game less tedious.

I’m only some 30 hours into a game that some people have played for thousands, so I’ve not seen all of it. But that’s another crime of the game. It does nothing to indicate that there is anything more to reach later. Nothing that suggests the 500th hour will be different than the 5th. And it’s really bad at explaining its mechanics. You need to look up how some things work, and often people in forums say something to the effect of “yeah, the in-game text is wrong”.

Elite Dangerous is a game where I would say it’s quite an achievement if it was made by four friends in the their spare time over three years. But as an MMO? This is awful. It has average ratings slightly below 80%, but I think that is overrated. 80% generally means “good”. This game isn’t. User scores of 65% seem more appropriate. Because that includes thousands of people who actually love it. I don’t. I would give it a rating of “poor”. There’s just nothing about the game that is fun.

Oh, and also the setting is the most bland sci-fi world imaginable. I don’t think you could make a setting more generic and flavorless if you tried.

Star Wars Gamemaster Handbook – A book that teaches gamemastering

Star Wars Gamemaster Handbook, West End Games, 1993.

The Star Wars Roleplaying Game by West End Games was first released in 1987, four years after Return of the Jedi had been in theaters. It got a second edition in 1992, which this time also included a Gamemaster Handbook that was released in 1993. This was 14 years after the first Dungeon Master’s Guide for AD&D 1st edition, and 2 years after the 2nd edition DMG. At the same time, Shadowrun had  been around for four years, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay for seven, and Call of Cthulhu for twelve, so it really wasn’t entering into any completely unknown territory.

While I can’t really say anything about the later games, I am quite familiar with all the Dungeon Master’s Guides other than 4th edition, as well as the GM sections for a dozen or so retroclones based on B/X and AD&D 1st ed. But when I managed to get my hands on the Star Wars Gamemaster Handbook and read it, I discovered something that seemed amazing:

The Star Wars Gamemaster Handbook tells you how to be a Gamemaster!

“Well, duh!” you say? “That’s obviously what a gamemaster book is for.” Well, it should be obvious, but when you look at what passes as Dungeon Master’s Guides in D&D, it really isn’t. In the many editions I had both on the internet and with the players of my D&D 5th edition campaign (most of who have much more experience with it than I do), people regularly bring up how 5th edition is really unclear on how you’re supposed to actually run the game because it seems to assume that you run narrative-driven campaigns but all it’s rules are for dungeon crawling. Particularly older GMs express that the 5th edition DMG fails to even mention such basic things like how you make a map for a dungeon and fill it with content.

But this isn’t really a new thing. Since the very beginning, D&D has always assumed that GMs already know anything there is to preparing adventures and running the game, and all the GM content in the books consists of optional mechanics, lists to roll for randomly generated content, and magic items. What are you supposed to do with those to run an enjoyable game for new players? “Well, it’s obvious. Isn’t it.” But no, it isn’t.

The Star Wars Gamemaster Handbook is the complete opposite. It’s 126 pages and except for the example adventure that makes up the last 21 pages, there is a grand total of two stat blocks! Both as examples for the section that guides you through the process of creating named NPCs and translating them into game terms. Which don’t even take up one page in the twelve page chapter dedicated to this topic.

  • Chapter 1: Beginning Adventures, 10 pages, gives an overview of the process of coming up with adventure ideas and turning them into playable content that has some narrative structure to it.
  • Chapter 2: The Star Wars Adventure, 11 pages, expands on the previous chapter and goes into more detail about making full use of the unique setting and capturing the tone, pacing, and dynamics of Star Wars in a game.
  • Chapter 3: Setting, 11 pages, has great advice on using places and characters from the movies or creating your own material, with a focus on explaining what kind of elements you actually need to prepare, what is irrelevant, and the reason for it.
  • Chapter 4: Gamemaster Character, 12 pages, is all about thinking of NPCs as people first, and imagining them in ways that are memorable and makes them relevant to the events of the adventures and campaigns as individuals, and how to use them during actual play. Creating stat blocks for them is only a minor subject at the end of the chapter.
  • Chapter 5: Encounters, 13 pages, deals with encounters primarily as social interactions and what purpose individual encounters could serve to further the development of the narrative. There are a few sections on selecting the right amounts of hostiles for encounters that could turn violent, but it manages to do so without using any tables or stats.
  • Chapter 6: Equipment and Artifacts, 11 pages, is all about gear and related stuff, but doesn’t include any stats for specific items. It’s a chapter about resources that can be made available to PCs and NPCs and how they can drive the developing narrative of adventures as they unfold.
  • Chapter 7: Props, 7 pages, is about handouts and maps and the like.
  • Chapter 8: Improvisation, 8 pages, explains in simple and easy to understandable terms the concepts of prepared improvisation, or the art of equipping yourself with the tools you’re likely going to need to quickly address completely unplanned situations on the fly.
  • Chapter 9: Campaigns, 9 pages, lays out some basic ideas of running games for a long time through multiple adventures, in many ways approaching it from a perspective of sandboxing.
  • Chapter 10: Adventure “Tales of the Smoking Blaster”, 17 pages, is a simple adventure consisting of four episodes that shows how all the principles from the rest of the book could look like in practice.

To be fair, none of the things I’ve read in this book are seemed in any way new to me. I knew all of this before, and it doesn’t go very deeply into detail. But it took me 20 years to learn these things on my own and soaking up the wisdom of several dozens old-hand D&D GMs. And here it is, black and white on paper, spelled out in simple terms that are very much accessible to people completely new to RPGs, in a 27 year old book!

Now I am not a dungeon crawling GM. I am not a tactical fantasy wargame GM either. And there are different goals and requirements for different types of campaigns. But I feel that this is hands down the best GM book I’ve ever come across. It even beats Kevin Crawford’s Red Tide and Spears of the Dawn. They are very impressive books in their own right and do a great job at explaining the practices of sandbox settings in a D&D context. But they also fail to mention most of the information that is in the Gamemaster Handbook, like how you run NPCs as people and set up encounters to be interesting and memorable, apparently assuming that these things are obvious and already known. Like all other D&D books on gamemastering.

I think for most people reading this, there won’t be much new or particularly enlightening in this book either. But I think when any of us are asked by people who are new to RPGs (or maybe not) and first want to try their hand at being GMs but have no idea where to start, I think this book is still very much worth a huge recommendation. Not just for Star Wars, but for all RPGs in general. All the things that are laid out in this book would be really useful to know even when you want to run an OD&D dungeon crawl.

This book is fantastic, because it’s the only GM book I know that really teaches you how to be a GM instead of telling you about additional mechanics not included in the main rulebook. If my favorite RPG posters all got together to put together a guidebook on how to actually run games in basic and easy to understand terms, I don’t think I’d expect anything to be in it that isn’t already in the Gamemaster Handbook for the Star Wars Roleplaying Game 2nd edition from 1993.