Hello everyone, sorry for taking so long to get this up but things happen. As you can see by the title I am going to focus on rules and supplement books that I think really belong on a DM’s shelf. This is also only part one. There’s a lot to write here and even that isn’t enough. But let’s get right into it starting with “core” books, books that you need to run a game for its respective system. Good core books explain rules cleanly and concisely, have few contradictions, and often plenty of advice. Although take the contradiction statement with a grain of salt because sometimes these things are rules as written contradictions, miss-wordings, or simply interpretation problems.
GameMastery Guide (Pathfinder)
This is one of my favorites. You may have noticed I placed the word core in quotes up above. This book is the reason for that. I had trouble deciding where to put this book given that it is a DMs guide, one of the three classic core D&D-style game books. However many game systems combine player’s books with these now and produce a second adversary book (and sometimes its an all in one). And Pathfinder certainly doesn’t need a DM to have this book, everything you need is in the core manual.
Nevertheless, I include it here and draw my imaginary line. That said, this book is amazing. You can go years of playing and running Pathfinder games and never need this book (I did). With it you can learn a lot, be inspired, gain insight into things you didn’t realize you were missing, and have access to good old fashioned random generator tables. There are sections on how to deal with certain player types, how to run different campaign styles, setting types and deviations, advice on technological levels, lists of different ruler/noble titles from around the world, cosmology building advice, and pages of generic NPCs to fit nearly every situation. While the last thing on that list is Pathfinder specific the rest is universal knowledge. Some of it is written with Pathfinder in mind (of course it is look at those cover logos!), but its not mechanic specific, these topics can’t be very mechanic based. How to recognize and handle a diva player is universal. All in all if you run a table top game (especially fantasy) this book is worth having on the shelf.
Dungeon Master’s Guide (D&D 5E)
This book is quickly taking a place next to the last book. Wizards has outdone themselves with the latest edition. There is so much crammed into the core books it’s not even funny, and though they’re slow on releasing supplements right now, there’s a translation to quality. And don’t think I just jump onto the newest edition bandwagon, I have loved every edition of D&D. I’ve played most of them at this point and they all have their place. The dreaded 4th edition was actually the exact mechanical rule set I needed to work with to DM at the time.
Anyway, 5th edition brings out a lot of what makes each of those other editions feel good and the Dungeon Master’s Guide takes a note out of Paizo’s book and really isn’t a necessary book. The only thing that might make it so is the magic item chapter and let’s be honest the smaller, free-er list with the basic rules cancels this need out. Still, though. Buy it. Buy it now. It has a whole bunch of generalized advice and tables; and if you run 5E well there are home brew tutorials for races and monsters. Instead of listing all the great things about it I’ll give an example of this books usefulness.
I’m currently prepping to play some Torchbearer and I wanted this to be a really classic crawl. I also didn’t want to get bogged down in story and design for a rule set that is less mechanical than the way my mind builds dungeons. The answer was this book. The section on random dungeon generation got me an entire page of dungeon. One level with rooms and secret doors and traps. Passageways and basic layouts. Residents and room uses. All through random generation. Occasionally the dungeon revealed itself to me and I chose a specific room or state of decay. Sometimes passages had to connect to others. All in all I have plenty to work with and lots of description and it’s almost as if I can explore this ancient complex with my players when we play. And don’t forget I’m not even using it for D&D!
Savage Worlds Deluxe (Savage Worlds)
If you haven’t heard of or been introduced to this game system click on the link and check it out. I’ll wait.
Did you see all the settings? Did you see the supplements? How bout all the third party books? This system is one of my favorites of those that aren’t “big name” (think wizards, fantasy flight, wtc.). The mechanics of savage worlds (in my mind) are really elegant. It’s simple math and using larger dive to increase your chances of succeeding at something. What really makes this a book for any DM to have are those mechanics. The simplicity of it revealed to me how rules can be a bit flexible, translatable to situations never dreamed of in other rule books. And quite frankly two of the systems mechanics can be used in any system.
First is the way skills work. And other systems do similar things but this is the simplest I have seen. Target number to beat is (please don’t hate me if I am miss-remembering) 2 with hard tasks 4. The better at a skill you are the larger your dice is. The bigger your dice the higher your probability to succeed. Simply put such a skill system could work as supplemental or replace entirely other games skill systems. It’s a neat system to try out and use. What really gets me about the game is the benefit system or bennies as you may call them. Everyone starts with three and DM’s choice to award based on significantly impressive role playing. These allow you to re-roll (I believe, it has been a while and I do house rule things) or to solve a solution using narrative in a fun way. The best example I have is from a podcast I listened to years ago. A chase was occurring and a player used one of his bennies to “produce” that ever convenient parking garage to hide in. The electricity at the table and the fun they had when he came up with the idea could be heard on the podcast. It was fantastic. Definitely something worth sticking into a game to boost the player driven narrative and role playing. Easily scaled down in power by restricting number to holding one at a time too.
So there it is. Longer than I anticipated. I’m not sure I conveyed the use of these books well enough, but my main goal is to help people realize or remember how to use books they have. Or perhaps alternative uses. At the very least I am hoping DMs out there check these out. Look at them. Buy them or don’t. Use them or don’t. But be inspired and gain insight into your own game through a different game’s eyes.