This year at Gen Con I attended a seminar given by Ramsey “Tome Wyrm” Lundock titled Secrets for Instant GMing. Focused on how a GM can improvise when the players do something unexpected the seminar was informative and well done. I enjoyed the seminar enough that I bought a copy of Lundock’s books Instant GM: A Bag of Tricks and Instant GM II: On Your Mark, Get Set, GM combined into one single soft cover book for $15 (you can download each as a separate PDF for approximately $11 total from various sites such as RPGNow.com). Both are published by Com Star Games.
I improvise a great deal when I GM a game. I hosted my own seminar at Gen Con this year and last year titled Improvising: The GM’s Backup Plan. I have written about improvising as a GM here on Gnome Stew. All four of my games at Gen Con were completely improvised events and advertised as such. This is a topic that intrigues me and a style of GMing that I practice, and although I had meant to purchase these products for a few years now I had always put doing so on hold. Should I have waited so long?
Instant GM: A Bag Of Tricks covers plot seeds, stock characters, and using props in the style of rakugo (a Japanese art form for telling humorous stories with props using only a fan, handkerchief, and the storyteller’s kimono). Instant GM II: On Your Mark, Get Set, GM covers adventure hooks, more stock characters, more rakugo props, and some advice for GMing in general.
The plot seeds, adventure hooks, and stock characters detailed in both books are pretty basic material that beginning GMs will find useful and that veteran GMs might like to read as a refresher of sorts. The material is a great primer for a beginner, but I do not expect veteran GMs to get as much value out of it.
The GMing advice contains some valid approaches, but I do not agree with it completely. For example, statements about Internet research being a poor choice because most of the information on the Internet is “incorrect” and that people only read keywords when they read material on the Internet struck me as being wrong. Yes, there is misinformation on the Internet. There was a lot of misinformation in print (and there still is) before the Internet. I would prefer tips on how to organize your research instead of this type of advice.
Both works are short by themselves, and the combined version that I purchased is 65 pages total for both books. There are a lot of proofreading errors though, and the second book especially has an unacceptable amount for even a small publisher to allow. I am usually quite forgiving of the occasional typo, but it was nearly comical how many simple errors appeared in the second book.
Due to the numerous errors, the short length of each book, and my issues with some of the advice that was given I was already unimpressed with the books. The lack of information on how to actually improvise a game though is what bothers me the most. These books are better suited to help the beginning GM think about how to plan a session, and while the tips can be used to improvise with I fear only an experienced GM could use the advice effectively in that manner.
By far the best parts of the books are the sections on rakugo, but they are short and they deal with specific items (such as using a baseball cap as a prop, or a book). More details on the art of rakugo would be a good addition, as well as tips on how to use any item on hand as a prop.
I have to give the Instant GM books a D. I really enjoyed Lundock’s seminar, but I feel like the best parts of the books were covered in that seminar. The printed edition that I bought just is not worth the $15 that I paid for it.
What these books need is better editing and proofreading. That would go a long way in improving the quality of them. Beef up the content with more tips on the art of improvising (creating names on the fly, throwing together encounters with no prep time, etc.) and these books would be great additions to any GM’s library. Lundock obviously has the talent and he writes in a way that makes his tips easy to assimilate. These books just need a good revision to take that material to the next level. I hope that one day a revised edition of these books is made available that unlocks the potential each contains but currently falls short in delivering.
Have you read the Instant GM books? If so, what is your opinion on them? Share your comments below, and remember that the GM is a player too. Have fun with it!