The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible (Second Edition)
The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible (Second Edition) Capsule Review by Jake de Oude on 10/02/03
Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Excellent overview of the RPG hobby that is let down by the presentation. Still a good addition to any RPGer's shelf.
Product: The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible (Second Edition)
Author: Sean Patrick Fannon
Category: RPG encyclopaedia
Company/Publisher: Obsidian Studios with The Game Codex
Cost: US$ 24.95
Page count: 258
Year published: 1999
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Jake de Oude on 10/02/03
Genre tags: Generic
When I began reading my lent copy of The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible, I wondered what to expect. Certainly I'd knew most of the contents, after reading so many reviews, overviews, articles and forum posts on any number of RPGs? And come on, the book was released in 1999 surely it was outdated? Fortunately, I was wrong: the second edition of Sean Patrick Fannon's guide is still a useful and entertaining work.
Fannon divides the contents of his book in four separate parts. Between the fourteen chapters and three appendices, he manages to cover pretty much the entire RPG hobby.
Part Two, Let The Games Begin, gives us more detailed information about roleplaying. What should a GM be able to do? What are the different roles of the players? How do I get them involved? Interspersed with many anecdotes, opinions, there's a goldmine of advice here. Of course, these sections will be of most use to the newbies, but more experienced players should learn a trick or two here. En passant, it also tackles some pervasive stereotypes about the hobby (no, we are not insane cultists, and no, it's not only hack-n-slash). The last two chapters of this Part try to explain what a roleplaying game is and present a lengthy example of play. Yes, only now are we told the basics. Colour me amazed. Whining about the order of the chapters aside, the content is good and a lot of ground is covered. Tips, tricks, common pitfalls and how to avoid them. As you all no, many issues in RPGs have no set answer. Fannon does not presume to have one: instead, he tries to cover the different sides of the argument.
Whereas the first two parts are primarily interesting to the newbie and the outsider (with an occasional gold nugget for the more experienced), the last two parts are much more interesting to the experienced. The third Part is called A Brief History Of The Virtual World is and is a history of roleplaying games. It covers the origins of the hobby (wargames) to the state of the hobby in 1999. Along the way, Fannon tries to explain the way RPGs developed the way they did, and the various highlights, movements and trends that occurred. The chapters talk briefly about live-action roleplaying, computer roleplaying, the collectible card game craze and much more. One thing that struck me as odd was that the whole issue with James Dallas Egbert III is given only two paragraphs and can be summed up by 'negative coverage by media, and sales of TSR products skyrocketed.' That's one way to look at it, and to be fair, the author also states somewhere that he deliberately chose to "cover a lot more of the positive ground." (Not familiar with the whole Egbert thingy? You can look it up here and here.)
The fourth Part of the book is So Many Games, So Little Time (a title I very much agree with) and discusses at considerable length many of the games that were available and supported at the time of publication. The main genres (fantasy, fantasy-with-a-twist, science fiction, etc) are all dwelled upon. For each genre, two games are presented and rated on five categories: complexity, popularity, support, completeness and versatility. Fannon doesn't give reviews, however, and if you were expecting those, you will be disappointed. No, Fannon gives us overviews with as much objectivity as he could muster. This is helped by the fact that he also talks about the ways character creation and development, task resolution, and combat resolution are handled. A discussion about the setting, an impression of the impact the game has made, and a quote indicative of the game's philosophy.
But wait! We're not ready yet! Appendix A is The Game-O-Pedia and is large collection of gaming-related terms, all clearly explained. From "a decent GM" (sic) to "Zocchihedron", this is a true gem. The second appendix gives us Gaming - A Timeline which is a nice companion to Part Three. The third appendix is a "Who's Who" of Game Companies and it "comes almost completely from Sandy Antunes' RPGNet listing". Hah! An Index occupies the last pages of the book. Unfortunately, most of the entries I looked up gave the wrong page numbers, so you'd better of avoiding this 'index'.
Probably the biggest merit of this books content is its' completeness: the many, many facets of the hobby are all covered. Not only the rules, the genres and the books are covered, but also "gaming culture" is included. It sacrifices something of its depth for the broadness, but I think this trade-off is well worth it. If I want to learn more about one facet of the hobby, I can always do my own, more focused research. The book aimed to be a low-threshold, introductory book, and it certainly is.
I must be frank here: the first edition of the Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible was first published in 1995, and this second edition is already 3 years old, and this shows in its' contents. I can't and won't hold this against the book, but you should be aware of this. Some examples: in 1999, D&D Third Edition wasn't published yet, and the Open Gaming movement didn't exist. As such, none of the changes that this brought upon the hobby are found here. Neither is the 'indie'-movement, the folding of Hogshead publishing, the re-release of Hero (although it is foreshadowed), the recent surge in superhero gaming, the fact that more and more games are translated in English. No Lord Of The Rings, no Buffy, no Little Fears, no Call of Cthulhu d20 if you're looking for information on that, you're fresh out of luck Once again, I won't hold this against the Bible. On the contrary, I think it's great fun to read about the state of the industry as it was then, as it makes some changes that have occurred more clear.
Unfortunately, I'm not as happy about the presentation as I am with the content.
Whereas I don't think this book is worth its cover price, it certainly is a nice addition to one's collection. It reached its goal: it's a good overview of the multifaceted RPG hobby and a good introduction to it. The ordering of some of the chapters is mystifying, but it's all here: what an RPG is, how it is played, what a player and GM could and should expect, a very rich history of the hobby, a discussion of the various genres and their main examples. Newer and wannabe gamers are to get the most out of it, but experienced players will like the completeness of it and may even be surprised once or twice by some of the advice. Full marks here: 5 out of 5.