I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master (review)

I got Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master a long time ago and just left it in my tablet. I had heard great things about it, and recently I picked it up randomly and started reading. In short, it is a very good book of "intermediate" GM advice and tips.

I haven't read the first book yet, but this is an updated version, making the first unnecessary, apparently. This is a teaching tool; the advice is repeated and recapitulated often. The margins are big and colorful. In short, there is less content than you might expect from 100 pages, but the content included is good. 

There is some decent art in addition to a few amazing pieces repeated throughout the book. It has a strong D&D 5e vibe but it is useful to most kinds of RPG (especially high fantasy adventure with modern RPG sensibilities). Since this is mostly an OSR blog, I must notice that this is NOT exactly an OSR supplement (see below).

Let's skim through each chapter...

PREPARING FOR YOUR GAME - The book starts with a simple checklist off ideas on how to create a good session. It is a good, small yet comprehensive list: PCs, strong start, scenes, clues, locations, NPCs/monsters and magic item. 

The "strong start" part suggests beginning each session with action or something equally intense, but it lacks some examples on how to do it after the first session (maybe end each session with a cliffhanger? I've tried it, and it has pros and cons). The part on clues is really good. This part also talks about tools and tips (reskinning, session zero, etc.).

RUNNING YOUR GAME - Has some tips on improvising, when to use minis and grids, collaborative storytelling, pacing, etc. Good advice overall, if a bit superficial. It just states some of the author's tastes without dwelling much on the pros and cons of each, or other possibilities (for example, running entire campaigns without grids or minis).

THINKING ABOUT YOUR GAME - Is about getting ideas. It has the author's own "appendix N" of books, movies, etc., it suggest you take a walk while thinking of RPGs, etc. Taking a walk is good advice, I think... if unsurprising.

APPENDICES - Lots of surveys on "what most people do", how many hours they prep, how many combats, etc. I do not think this data is particularly relevant, and the author admits the majority isn't necessarily right (70% of the 5e GMs alter the monster's HP during combat - make of that what you will).

Overall, this is a very good book for intermediate GMs. It doesn't teach you to play the game, nor does it go to deep into ideas like railroading*, house rules or pointcrawls. Beginner and advanced GMs will also benefit from the book, as it contains advice every GM should know (although not necessarily agree).

[* The books is more or less agnostic on the matter, suggesting you avoid strict railroading (without mentioning or explaining the term directly) but also suggesting improvisation that sometimes feels like railroading to me, like changing secrets you've written down before if the player's haven't found it, Schrödinger style.]

The initial checklist is very good for GMs of any level, in my opinion. Some of the other parts (grids, collaborative storytelling, etc.) are mostly a mater of taste IMO. But maybe they are worth the try if you haven't heard of them before. 

It does not have a strong OSR flavor, nor a strong "story game" one - it occupies the same kind of "middle ground" that 5e D&D occupied at first. With that said, some advice is useful for OSR games, some are not - you will have to choose for yourself.

In short: good book, I'm glad I've read it. I have some other books by the same author that I might review in the future.

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