December 17, 2009

3 Books To Improve Your RPG Game Before The New Year

This post was inspired by comments left in this post by my friend Michael, author of another RPG blog - Mad Brew Labs.

So, the New Year is coming. Have you thought about your Resolutions yet? One of the things the roleplaying game blogging community is constantly churing about is ways to improve your game. This sort of advice is plentiful. Heck, I'm guilty of it too - all you need to do is look at these two tags here at The Core Mechanic. Some of it is obvious, some not. Some of the advice is specific to certain games (e.g. how to run a skill challenge; how save time prepping by playing Savage Worlds; etc.). And then, some is system or genre neutral. In other words: there's tons of advice to be found on the net on how to improve your game. Why then, this post?

Perhaps sometimes you don't want to be tied to a computer? Perhaps you might prefer to sit fireside, which a book, and ... oh, I dunno... read the same sort of content you might find on the net? So, keeping this in mind - I've assembled a short list of books that roleplayers from all games can enjoy and improve their game. Looking for a last minute holiday gift? Perhaps consider supporting The Core Mechanic by picking one of these up.

1. KOBOLD Guide to Game Design, Vol I
I picked this book up directly from Open Design when it first came out and absolutely loved it. It's a collection of whitty and insightful essays written by none-other than Wolfgang Baur - a game designer whom I respect and admire. While the intended audience is more freelance gamedesigners than gamemasters in general, the basic priciples of game design, world building, and adventure design presented are applicable to pretty much any campaign. It's a treasure trove of game mastering wisdom, in my opinion. What's more, the book is small - easily readable over the holidays and won't take up any room in your travel luggage. I should note that a second volume was also released, KOBOLD Guide to Game Design, Volume 2, which focuses on how to playtest and published RPG materials in the "industry". I reviewed part of Vol. 2 on TCM last spring when it was released.

2. Gamemastering Secrets, 2nd Edition
This I have not read - but looking at the contributors list makes me want to pick this up ASAP (I'll post a review as soon as I have it in hand). It won the Origins Award for "Best Game Aid or Accessory" the year it was released. Although not as "cuddly" as the first book - this hardback collection of essays written by dozens of game design notables including Aaron Rosenberg, Frank Mentzer, Jean Rabe, Mark Simmons, and many more. The table of contents lists essays on world building, flow charts for campaign design, styles of campaigns (sandbox vs. story line, etc), how to make memorable NPCs, running games at conventions, how to play RPGs with your kids, and way more. Alogether it is almost 200-pages of solid HOW TO for gaming. If you don't pick up the book - they have a website that is definately worth checking out:

3. Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games as Social Worlds
There are only a few books out there that tackle the concept of roleplaying games as a entertainment and social medium; perhaps a dozen or less and many of them are out of print. This book, written by sociologist Gary Alan Fine, is still in print and does just that in a thought provoking and inspiring way. Although the book is more than two decades old - its one of those college philosophy style books that you can't put down after the reading the first page. It really makes me think about WHY we love these games so much, and how I might make the games I run more fun for everyone at the table. Although it is not a "gamemastering book" per se... I can't stress enough how much of an impact this book will have on the way you look at D&D or any other game after you read it. He covers everything from why we game, to the structure of games and why the complexity of RPGs is what facinates the group. It's a bit of a beast at close to 300 pages; but if you live in a particularily cold area of the world, you might be able to tear through this before the New year.

That's it. If you pick any of these  up.. let me know what you think!


  1. Jonathan, this is a great post. Thanks for sharing. The third book you mentioned is absolutely enthralling--I'm making a purchase promptly.

    Based on my experience running a community of social roleplayers, I've been working on a book of my own that addresses this topic in much greater detail. I would absolutely love to hear of books that you know of that cover the same ground, so feel free to send your recommendations my way.

  2. Eric - thanks for stopping by!

    And thanks for the link to! That site is EXACTLY the type of freeform RPG'ing that I mentioned in The Future of the RPG Industry" and linked to other articles covering it (I think trollsmyth's article "Where the Kids Are".

    Have a great new year! and I hope to see you around here again soon... now I'm off to start digging around that site you linked to...


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