I thought I’d do something a little different and review something slightly more out of the ordinary. I’d originally planned to have this up and online in November when I first heard about it, but I’ve been putting it off repeatedly. New Year’s Resolution to the rescue!
The Game Master by Tobiah Panshin is a thesis on what it means to be run a game for a group, and draws upon his personal experiences across different systems and genres of the roleplaying hobby to give advice on how best to go about it.
The book is split into four sections, detailing how to put together a group, how to design and maintain a campaign, how to start an adventure as excitingly as possible, and an advanced section that both recaps and adds detail to what’s already been talked about. Of particular use is that each section contains a rule to govern how you deal with each aspect of being a successful GM, as well as a full summary list of these ‘Laws of Game Mastery’ at the end of the book.
As a tool for first time GMs, I think the book would be an invaluable help if the task of putting together a game seems insurmountable. Having been roleplaying for over a decade, and spending the majority of that behind the GM screen, I found it easy to identify with some of the problems posed, such as maintaining fun and dealing with difficult players.
I was particularly impressed with the ideas I hadn’t come across before, such as setting out a contract with the players to make sure they have fun and at least giving them enough of an idea about the upcoming campaign to make worthwhile characters that will remain fun to play after a few sessions, and that they will agree to create an ensemble group that can adequately work together to overcome challenges.
Another useful piece expounded how best to piece a story together from various plotlines, and how to allow yourself as a GM to realise that it is perfectly allowable (especially when putting together a group for multiple different adventures) that not every player character needs their own plot device in every game. If players can happily share the spotlight, then letting them help each other quest for their own macguffin whilst also advancing the group plot should be a cinch.
Tobiah Panshin has clearly put together a useful resource that is a great resource, and his examples of actual play really bring home how effective the ideas in the book can be at a gaming table. The entire 172 page .pdf is available free to download, however I strongly urge you to make a donation to the upkeep of the website. If you feel unsure if the book will help you at all, I downloaded and read the book, and made a donation when I was done (particularly because I’d already adapted ideas for my own games).