How to Game Master Like A Fucking Boss

How to Game Master Like A Fucking Boss

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This book clocks in at a total of 124 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page (very detailed) index, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a pretty massive 119 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This book was moved on my review-list due to receiving a print-copy for the purpose of writing a critical, unbiased review.

 

So, this is pretty much a GM’s advice and trick book. I don’t review this type of book too often, and that has a reason: This may sound arrogant, when it certainly isn’t intended to be – I’m a pretty kickass GM. Almost all of my players have GM’d at least 1 campaign and thus, I do believe that their praise and continued attendance has some merit. It has another reason – I read a lot of roleplaying books due to my continuous reviewing. In the end, reading yet another book that tells me how I should run my game, in most cases, leaves me annoyed and bored – most of the time, both. I’ve read quite a few advice columns and books on the topic that elicited a reaction from me that could be summed up as “That’s an advice that engenders sloppy GMing.”

 

Let me elaborate – as you may have surmised from my reviews, I very much am passionate about the internal consistency of a given world. One might say that I tend towards an obsessive stance regarding these components. To give you an example – when I create a settlement the PCs will not just pass by, I name the streets, establish the infrastructure etc. My current campaign-info-books are filled to the brim with names, hooks and investigations. The central narrative of my current main-campaign’s storyline hinges on actually deciphering a particularly nasty arcane language…one I created myself. With grammar and all. Yes, I may have gone a bit over board there…but my players love it. What this should tell you about me is left to your own judgment, but the point I try to make is simple: I consider immersion of tantamount importance and this book observes a similar stance. One of the central tenets of this book would be the assertion that we play the game for immersion.

 

While I maintain that this is not true for everyone, I do believe that it’s true for a lot of people, me and my players included. You see, the argument runs like this: There are simply easier ways to derive joy from something – if joy in itself is the task, then RPGs are not the best way to generate the maximum amount. While this does sound sensible, it fails to acknowledge the general assumption of the homo ludens, which (see Johan Huizinga for more on the concept and his intellectual heirs for more…) assumes the act of playing in some way as a cornerstone to culture and a sense of collective identity we exhibit – playing is a central and non-optional component of the conditio humana.

 

So, while personally, this component does not ring true, the actual voicing of said hypothesis made me contemplate the very hobby itself, which is something I value the book for. If all of my above ramblings seemed like dry ramblings of an academic to you, then probably because they are. However, I should not be remiss to note that the tone of this book is very the opposite. This book is a fun read. No, seriously. I actually completed it in quite a brief period and then starting summing up the claims and tricks, evaluating them and summing them up. It’s the latter components that took me long to get done, not the reading of this book.

 

Before you go on, here’s a little warning: If you are offended by drawn nudity in the vein of classic pencil drawings (coupled with e.g. an overabundance of tentacles), if you have particularly fragile sensibilities, then this book may not be for you. Or it may actually be for you. What do I mean by this? Well, the phenomenon of the anti-D&D-craze (which, to my German sensibilities, seems like absurdist real satire) and this witch-hunt’s insane movies have resulted in a kind of self-censure among roleplaying games. Granted, this has been mostly revoked as I’m writing this – we may once again call “Devils” devils and “Demons” demons…but still, the rawness is gone. A similar phenomenon can be observed when e.g. watching the superb, original “Wicker Man”-movie and the current iteration of “Not the bees!”-fame back to back – the new one may be more polished and funnier (Nic Cage ftw.!), but the original was downright FRIGHTENING. A lot of the horror of this movie derived from the conflict of a sexually-repressive main-character as focal point for the audience, witnessing a foreign type of culture with the pagan inhabitant’s of Summer’s Isle. One central component the remake did NOT understand was that the intriguing thing, the feminist message of the original movie, did not lie in an inversion of gendered power-structures – it lay in their dissolution.

 

The pagan rites depicted in the original Wicker Man portrayed female sexuality as something natural to be cherished – and while the end-game of the movie remains grisly, it is so due to being steeped in Christian sensibilities. The death by fire of the protagonist generates horror because of his unwillingness, because the movie ultimately is subject to the collective of values it produced and thus reinforces them. Still, the disturbing sentiment one is left with, is that of a more egalitarian (paradox, seeing the feudal structure) society – a haven of innocence not in our sense of the word, but in that isle’s culture, if you will. This book’s aesthetics hearken back in a similar way to a time where self-censure was not a component necessarily assumed as the status quo. Not all pictures herein sport bared breasts – but e.g. the woman, in terror, looking up at tentacle-faced cultists about to sacrifice her? Yeah. Breasts. This does not, at least to me, make the book’s aesthetics exploitative – in fact, it may be read as an empowering depiction, as it does not ostracize the depiction of the like. And this extends beyond this topic – it probably is not a coincidence that the author’s depiction in one of the artworks above ancient menhirs and a dungeon’s entrance sports tentacles and eyes…and is reminiscent of some of the most famous depictions of Aleister Crowley. “Do what thou wilt,” on another note, constitutes one of the most grossly misrepresented statements in the history of ethics and theological discourse – but this elaboration has already strayed too far from the topic at hand.

 

Another way to describe this book that may be closer to those among you less interested in the particulars of intellectual ravings, would be to consider this book as informed by the sensibilities of the less cheesy components of metal and goth subcultures. This book does not shirk highlighting points with Metallica-analogues and the like – which, to me, greatly enhanced the sections in which such were employed. And yes, you will not miss out if you have no love for the like – the explanation provided makes the point clear. More importantly, this book actually is pretty much one of the most sensible approaches to several subjects that often are taboo in gaming – it puts sexuality as a motivation in a context and provides valid and reasonable advice for establishing a consensus on handling this theme in your games without offending your players – essentially, an emphasis on communication is provided and similar advice extends to violence. Quite a LOT of discussions on various boards between offended people could have easily been avoided by simply adhering to this advice…or basic human sense, but the existence of these posts makes it pretty clear to me that such cannot be assumed. So that would be leitmotifs provided herein – but the pieces of advice range further and run a vast gamut of topics: How you can keep the game moving, unobtrusive stalling tactics for the players while you come up with new material or need a break, smart villains, regular breaks from gaming -there are quite a few pieces of advice herein, some of which actually were known to me implicitly, but not explicitly – reading them in black and white on the paper reestablished a consciousness of the respective issue and/or trick. Oh, and here and there, the material manages to be actually hilarious and fun. What I’m trying to say is that this book does not chicken out – and it is not tasteless.

 

I called this an opinionated book and it certainly is – however, at the same time, it is NOT a prescriptive book – this book does NOT tell you that it represents the one true key to game mastering – it seeks to act, in a way, as a do-it-yourself toolkit-sephiroth to becoming a better game master. Making sure that everyone has a good time, looking snide and comfortable while GMing – all these and infinitely more are covered in here, in ways that generally make them feel very much valid and fun to read.

 

Now if you’re like me, you very much prefer your campaigns on the slightly darker side and spiced in with oddness – whether it’s alien technology, unspeakable horrors, etc. – and indeed, beyond campaign and story-themes, the author’s own preferences do shine through and advice for such themes and their integration (including time travel) are provided. The latter, btw., is one of the few sections in the book I positively hated – time travel is a very complicated matter and I’m more the “Primer”-school and less the “it’ll fix itself”-school regarding its implications and execution. That being said, for the majority of groups, the sentiment expressed herein may be more gainful.

 

Another section that spoke right from the depths of my convictions would be one that handles failure – both if you, the GM, botch…and if your players fail. You see, quite a few current systems, many of which I love, have this design-concept of failing forward. The plot must go on, if you will. I generally applaud this sentiment from a design-perspective, because it makes investigations less linear and prone to premature failure. There is a downside to this, though – the sentiment results in a misconceived sense of player-entitlement, something that can be seen in inexperienced GUMSHOE groups, for example. The players think they ought to always be able to progress, the GM feels obliged to comply. The result ultimately takes the achievement out of winning a module, uncovering a plot, besting the BBEG’s masterplan. This is, contrary to the claims of said groups, NOT the respective system’s failure – it is the failure of the group. You see, as a GM, you have the responsibility to, at least at times, not have the PCs fail forward. Have them just fail. Without such hard spots where the players discuss the ramifications of what they uncovered, the achievement is cheapened. I maintain that, from a design-point, the elimination of bottlenecks per se is a more than great innovation in the way adventures are structured – but making the call between the types of failure is what makes a compelling game. So yes, the call to dare to let them fail is something I very much subscribe to – it is my firm belief that, no matter the system, the result will enhance the game in the same way failing forward did – once again, we have a return to basics that were abandoned.

 

Now, it honestly makes no sense for me to go through the pieces of advice one by one, so instead, I will go on and introduce you to the second part – there are tables upon tables herein – from minor idea-generators to monster-dressing, there is a lot of awesome material here. Now granted – it’s not cuddly stuff. The tables themselves represent very much Kort’thalis Publishing’s dark fantasy sensibilities, spliced in with horror…and a healthy dose of gonzo and scifi-like elements. While some of the dark secrets(backgrounds sported herein may e.g. have mechanical repercussions, not all of them do – so yes, this book has a lot of cool tables for your convenience. Character motivations for (N)PCs and the like, a quick and dirty means of handling exposure to cosmic horror -there is a LOT to like and love here, particularly if you’re looking for a means of making an anti-hero or someone with a dark past. Cheery high-fantasy with unicorns and rainbows may not be a perfect fit, though. The book also contains 3 sample dungeon maps, all blank and sans keys, for your own use…and my favorite component, one I never thought I’d see in such a book – a language’s glossary. Yes, this book actually sports a delightfully guttural sample language, with numerous relevant words you can use for your own games – the incantations of those diabolists? They may actually have a sense the PLAYERS can deduce. I absolutely, positively love this one, particularly since the linguist in me considers the morpheme-combinations to be pretty sensible. While I would have loved grammar to accompany the vast array of words, I quite frankly started beaming with glee while reading this! I am aware that I may be the minority here – but seeing this actually in print was thoroughly fulfilling for me.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – while I noticed some hiccups, for a book of this size, the formal criteria are good enough. The book comes with copious amounts of absolutely awesome b/w-artworks, many of which are inspiring 1-page spreads and the book’s layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard.

 

This will be a controversial book, of that I have no doubt – author Venger As’Nas Satanis did not set out to make a book for everyone – this book is very much a GM’s book for the rebels, the rockers, the metal-heads, for the non-public-correctness-crowd that does not slavishly adhere to self-censure, while still being enlightened enough to not discriminate – as mentioned above, this is very much a mature and inclusive book, at least in my interpretation. It constitutes a love-letter, a call to dare to allow roleplaying games to be “evil” (in quotation marks, since this book explicitly warns against persona-playing and shows way out of this experience…) to touch upon such subjects and themes without being exploitative. Personally, I applaud it for that.

 

That being said, this is very much a book I will use a lot – as mentioned above, the language itself constitutes an awesome selling point to me and the dark secrets and motivations tables with the trademark gonzo elements thrown in render this pretty much a joy to use. It also, unlike most GM-advice books, is quite frankly fun to read.

 

That being said, a massive issue for this book is that you should absolutely get this in print – the pdf has no bookmarks, which makes navigation of the hefty book a colossal pain and not something I’d advise – the electronic version should be considered to have 2 stars less, since, particularly in such a book that thrives upon quick access of tables and advice, their lack is keenly felt. My print copy, however, is a book I absolutely enjoy and can be considered one of the better GM advice books out there, especially if you’re looking for some tables to supplement the darker components of your campaign – have I mentioned the table that lets you determine how the cult leader got his/her position?. As such, the print version receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this GM-guide/flavor-toolbox here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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About Endzeitgeist

Reviewer without a cause