What’s the Crock Pot? Just a simmering bowl of lentils and herbs, with a dash of DMing observations. Don’t be afraid to dip in your ladle and stir, or throw in something from your own spice rack.
Good GMs need inspiration. Movies, TV, music and video games all figure into the mix, of course. But nothing beats a good book.
The events of the past month have sent many of us looking into the roots of our hobby. And if anything is made clear, it was that fantastic fiction — whether it be thrilling tales of pulp adventure or the more far-reaching and thoughtful science fiction —was a key component to the development of roleplaying games.
So while I was away, I managed to recharge by devouring these books. It’s a dash of history, sword’n’sorcery, gaming supplements and even a comic book (OK, graphic novel, if you insist). But all of it was worth my while.
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
I wanted to read this before I saw the motion picture. Well, I read it and had no interest in seeing the movie.
Did I like it? I’m almost ambivalent about it, really. I know, it’s a Hugo winner, and Time magazine named it one of its 100 top novels. My regret was waiting so long to read it, because I think had I read it when it was originally released in 1986 I would have had a greater appreciation for the various storytelling techniques it employed and for its place within the context of the times.
Was it worth it? Sure. I just can’t help making a comparison to Frank Miller’s “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” which is from the same period and I think is a superior work. I freely admit Moore had the more difficult task and presented the reader with a more challenging story. Despite the dystopian Gotham, Miller was extolling a heroic mythology; Moore was refuting it. But where I’m inclined to re-read “Dark Knight” sometime in the future, I don’t think I’ll be picking up “Watchmen” again.
Starless Night, R.A. Salvatore
My haphazard journey through Drizzt-world continues, and I wasn’t disappointed. Having just come off “Promise of the Witch-King,” I was delighted with the interplay between Jarlaxle and Enteri. As for action, the battle on the rothe isle was as engaging and suspenseful as you’ll see in adventure fiction. Say what you will about the dark elf hero — he’s too introspective, too many encounters seem staged, you may envision the Forgotten Realms differently — but when he finally gets down to flashing those scimitars in battle, all that other stuff is forgotten.
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
What is this? More comic book writers? I’m sorry I waited so long to read this adult fairy tale. What a quick, beautiful story. Love, adventure and magic, all rolled up into a classic fable. Oh,, and it has witches, delightfully evil witches. And a hairy little man which must be some sort of a gnome. And if it’s a gnome, it’s gotta be good.
Cityscape: An Essential Guide to Urban Adventuring by Ari Marmell and C.A. Suleiman
Ptolus: City by the Spire by Monte Cook is the high bar for urban adventuring. Thankfully, the authors took a different tact — providing advice on how to populate various neighborhoods, how to create themed cities (trading city, elven city, martial city, etc), and how to make contacts within this environment.
The real meat of the book though, focuses on how to create guilds and other organizations — and best yet — fully statted out NPCs of the sort PCs are likely to face with encounter tables to match.
It’s proved to be a good reference baseline for materials that I’ve been developing for my home Steffenhold game, which is set in a frontier town during the medieval period. My only complaint is that it is short of generic maps for shops, inns, churches and manor-sized homes. A few ready-made places to drop into your campaign would have given greater utility to the supplement.
John Adams by David McCullough
Who was that fellow who was president between Washington and Jefferson? This biography tells you all that, in unflinching terms. Adams was the respected, but mostly disliked, author of the Declaration of Independence and the signer of the Alien and Sedition Acts. It’s also the story of the friendship/rivalry Adams had with Jefferson, as well as the long-distance love affair with the brilliant and far-more admired Mrs. Adams, and the story of his even-more brilliant son, John Quincy Adams.
But it’s also the story of early colonial times, and gamers looking for flavor for life in cities of the time, such as Boston, Philadelphia, Paris, London and Amsterdam can find plenty of descriptions to add spice to their own games.
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
OK, I hear you groan out there in Stew-land. I know, Brown writes conspiracy-fluff based on the evidence of “facts” with the durability of tissue paper. Who cares? He writes fast-paced, easily-understood suspense novels that work on our most hidden fears. That’s fun stuff!
If we as GMs ran our adventures at the pace that Brown tells stories, many of our players would be much happier. If Brown can fly from Boston to CERN to the Vatican and visit all the important churches of Rome and get back to the Vatican in time for the conclusion of the story in a mere few hundred pages, surely adroit and deft GMs can transport our players’ characters in and out of adventure locales in a couple of hours.