Friday, May 30, 2008

The Dungeon Master's Guide

The D&D gods must be watching over me, for they used their divine powers to have the 4e Dungeon Master's Guide sent to me a week early. Praise Oghma!

Showing amazing restraint, I'm actually going to read the book front-to-back, chapter by chapter, instead of leaping into later chapters to look at the new rules.

I like the look of the book; the pages are bright, but not glaring, and the layout graphics, headings, fonts and such are all very readable. This is more important to me than I realized, but when reading non-Wizards products, I think that (and the fact that they're often black-and-white) are what make them feel like inferior products. The art, as always, is stunning, and has almost made me start flipping through the book ahead of myself, more than once.

Chapter 1: HOW TO BE A DM

While the previous DM's Guides have chapters like this for the new player, this chapter is worth reading to see some of the other terminology that has come up, perhaps only internally to the Wizards developers, but it helps give insight to their design goals, knowing how they see the various players.

The chapter spends time talking about player motivations, and how to satisfy the needs of your possibly varied play group. It also talks about the different ways that your game might be run, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. It's a good introductory chapter to the game, and a good one to skim over, even if you've playing for over twenty years. Even if you skip it to get to the new, juicy stuff, I recommend going back and reading it.


This is another chapter that is likely to be skipped by long-time players. There's a short section on preparation for the DM, listing the areas you should focus on depending on how much time you have to prepare. It's not quite the way I'd approach it, but it would work for new DMs.

This chapter also strongly shows the new layout that Wizards mentioned they're using for the Monster Manual: new entries start on new pages. Narration, Pacing and Props, for instance, each start at the top of a page, making it much easier to find the section you want, or to know that this whole page isn't the one you're looking for. Some might complain that the unused portion of the entry, filled with art, is a waste of space, but I agree with Wizards that it provides much better layout, and is worth it.

One of the best bits of advice in the Dispensing Information section is about how characters now identify magic items: no longer is Identify or Analyze Dweomer necessary; a short rest while the character fiddles with it is enough to give them the information they need. This might break the mystery that some DMs like to keep, but I always found it annoying to require the characters to have one of these spells available, or to pay someone to ID it. And as the book points out, '[y]ou don't want to hear, "I hit AC 31 ... plus whatever this sword's bonus is," for hours or weeks on end.' Amen to that!

There are lots of hints in this chapter on addressing problems during play, whether they're game flow problems, DM mistakes, or problem players. Even experienced D&D players should read this section to remind themselves about problems that might occur and how they can be addressed.

Off to start chapter 3. I'll post about the other chapters as I read 'em!

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