What is it?
Gamemastering Secrets 2nd Edition (from now referred to as GS2) is a book to help out gamemasters. It is a hardbound book with a total of 176 pages and half of those are dedicated to general information on how to run a game. The other half is full of articles about specific elements of gamemastering from newbies in games, to creating a good villain. We also get the occasional Dork Tower comic strip
What is Inside?
The first part of the book is full of disclaimers about copyrights, trademarks, and the OGL. A quick skip over this and you get to the table of contents and the introduction. After the intro you get to the meat of the book which starts off “First Timers’ Quick Tips” giving eight general Game mastering tips.
The next 60 pages is general tips on how to get a game started and then run a game. It starts off how to prepare for a game by choosing a genre, and game system. From there it talks about how to change and work with rules, select or create a setting, how to get players, choose a time and place, and design and run an adventure.
It then goes into how to run an actual game with advice on: getting players together, player & gm relationships, note keeping and preparations, NPC interaction, props, rewards, die rolls, power level, combat and even little things like making sure everyone is fed or has easy access to food before the game.
The next 60 pages is seventeen articles that range from one to ten pages. Each article is written by someone in the industry or an experienced game master. The articles are:
“Genre and Setting Simulation” by Steven Long
“The Joy of Research” by Kenneth Hite
“Creating Memorable Villains for Your Campaigns” by John R.
“Here be Dragons: The Science and Art of Map Making” by Ann Dupuis
“Campaign World-Building” by James M. Ward
“Gamemaster’s Flowchart 101" by Mark Simmons
“Character Creation” by Ross Winn
“Women at the Gaming Table” by Hilary Doda
“The Beginner’s Game” by John Nephew
“NPCs - Not Paper Cutouts” by Lee Gold
“Winging It” - by Jean Rabe
“Throw em to the Wolves!” by Larry D. Hols
“Trust at the Gaming Table” by Frank Mentzer
“Treasure” by Steven Marsh
“Campaign Troubleshooting” by Lester Smith
“Running a Con Game” by Matthew Forbeck
“Game mastering for Kids” by Sam Chupp
The book finishes up with bios of the authors, an index, and some advertisements that are actually listed in the table of contents.
What do I think of the Book?
About five years ago I bought a rpg book entitled “The Book of Mirrors” for Mage: The Ascension which was a Storyteller’s guide. As I read the book I found the most useful information to be the articles written in the back about general concepts in Gamemastering. That is what GS2 is.
I loved this book. I have been GMing for ten years and I found the advise in GS2 to be extremely useful. Some things annoyed me about the book but they were minor. The first 60 pages dealing with how to set up a game and then run it was general but informative. I found a lot of useful ideas in there. I wish I had this book five to ten years ago when it would have been incredibly useful to me. Instead I learned through trial and error.
As a GM of ten years I found the second half of the book to be the most useful. Just like “The Book of Mirrors” the articles were both well written, informative, and inspiring. However, I did not read all the articles as the articles are specialized for specific situations. I did not bother to read “Here be Dragons: The Science and Art of Map Making” as I never make maps for my games. If I did need to make a map for a game I would make sure to read the article. Now, articles like “Woman at the Gaming Table” and “The Beginner’s Game” are situations which come up for me constantly and I’ll probably read a few more times before my gaming career is finished.
There are a couple problems with the book. When I first sat down with the book I ripped it open and just started reading. About a minute later I realized I was reading about copyright and trademark information. I would have preferred to see this stuff as an appendix in the back of the book. Finally, I love the Dork Tower comic strip but I found they tended to distract me from the article I was reading. I think I would have liked to see something the complimented the material but did not distract from it.
Who should buy this book?
Out of all the rpg books I own I count this book as one of the most useful. Just about any gamemaster will find something useful out of it. New gamemasters should read it and I’m sure experienced Gamemasters could learn something.
One final thing, the book leans toward d20 and Fudge systems. This could be a major turn off for some people but I did not have a problem with it.
The book is also associated with a website which can be found here: http://www.gmsecrets.com