Saturday, July 3, 2010

Review: Pathfinder GameMastery Guide

It may seem a bit strange for me to be reviewing a Pathfinder rule book, since, well, I play neither Pathfinder nor D&D 3.x. Still, when I read a brief synopsis of what was in the book I was intrigued, and a perusal at my FLGS tipped the scales.

In short, this is only tangentially a Pathfinder rule book. It is, rather, a book about how to run RPGs, how to improve the RPGs that you already run, and a tool kit for anyone running a fantasy RPG that even remotely resembles any version of D&D. In fact, I am mildly peeved, as the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide is pretty much exactly how I intended to approach the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Game Master's Toolkit. But it's a good kind of peeved, since this is such a good book.

I've not had the chance to read it cover to cover, but as far as I can tell you don't hit any actual Pathfinder game mechanics until page 81, and even then it's few and far between. The book is almost entirely generic in content, and I cannot help but think that's a deliberate (and brilliant) marketing move on Paizo's part. This is a book that will serve any DM or GM well, whether you're playing D&D, Castles & Crusades, Runequest, BFRP, Pathfinder, a retro-clone like LL or S&W, or even something as outré as Call of Cthulhu or the forthcoming LOTFP WFRPG.

The utility of the work is manifest from a brief perusal of the table of contents; "The GM as Host," "Starting Players," "New Players," "Making NPCs unique," "The Role of Rewards," "World Building" (with sections on geography, culture, religion, technology, society types, the planes, etc.), "Elements of Adventure" (with separate sections on dungeon adventures, wilderness, planes, taverns, urban, etc.), a sort of miscellanea dealing with topics as diverse as fortune-telling and drug addiction, and 55+ pages of NPCs (which, while they are the most rules-intensive section of the book, as they give complete stat blocks for the various NPCs described, is still of use if you trim the mechanics and utilize the background). There are random tables galore, which will especially appeal to many in the OSR, with NPC personality traits and secrets, a name generator for adventuring parties, dungeon dressing, shop names and city locations, scenic wilderness spots, and a ton more.

This is a great book for both beginning game masters and old hands; I've been doing this for nearly as long as the hobby has existed, and I found myself glancing through the pages and picking up some good advice on the mechanics of actually scheduling a game and finding players, and being inspired by some of the random table entries. The mechanics are lost upon me, but the real strength and thrust of the book is its system-neutral information, and in that it is a triumph. For $40 bust-out retail ($26 online in various places) it's a good deal and well worth the investment, even for those who aren't playing Pathfinder or 3.x.

I give it a grade of A- overall.