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Tobiah Panshin
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The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/29/2013 00:37:18
Tobiah Q. Panshin's The Game Master is an interesting book from front to back, one which is both wonderful and cringe-worthy at the same time. Of all things, perhaps its worst is its inconsistency; verging from academic-styled formal writing to wonderfully light informal prose, it does few things explicitly wrong but doesn't seem to know where it is. Nonetheless, it's something that I would recommend, with a caveat.

The Game Master, for instance, is aimed at novices, and while it's not terribly difficult to read and does a decent job at explaining its terminology (sometimes after using it nonchalantly), it has some things that are both not terribly applicable to a new player or GM, and can potentially cause more harm than good. While it's generally thoughtful, there are several instances of hyperbole (for instance, the statement that a freshly created vampire in Vampire: the Masquerade can shrug off machine gun fire) and it tends to do an odd mix of advanced theoretical work and some really weak practical examples.

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole book is its dissertations on narrative; while not a focus of the piece it has some things that would have helped many of the novice GM's I know incredibly. Is it the best source for this? I'm not entirely sure. The book does a good job of discussing the role of group narrative but often leaves bits and pieces that I'd like to see out, something that doesn't do too much harm to the general point of the book as an introduction to gaming but hinders it in its value. Still, the sections on narrative are well-made and I'd recommend them to anyone either as a refresher or an eye-opener. Unfortunately, some of the more game-related things do not fall into the category of being so wholly beneficial. While it's clear that Tobiah has a great understanding of roleplaying as a hobby and a great conceptualization of various games within the context of the whole canon of gaming, the writing within has the unfortunate effect of transferring very little of it to the reader. There are footnotes that are assertively unhelpful (one, for instance, points out the meaning of the term "min-max" the page after a prior footnote uses it), and a lot of blanket assessments that are just not accurate, though they may be true in a handful of cases. The actual game advice is much less helpful than the deconstruction of narrative forms that create a satisfying table experience. A lot of this may be my own personal opinion, of course, since as Panshin recognizes much of gaming revolves around having fun, and different people will have different definitions and sources of fun.

All-in-all, The Game Master is not a conclusive resource for advice on running a game, nor is it the first thing I'd hand a prospective player or game master and tell them to read through it and gain some sort of inviolate knowledge of gaming. Of course, such a thing will probably never be written-such is the nuanced nature of gaming. I'd place it in the mid-range; something for someone who's run a few games and formed their own opinions on how things work, or who already has a basic knowledge of how things work-it's a wonderful contribution to the theory of gaming and play but not necessarily a solution to the ills of a novice.

It's available on a pay-what-you-want basis, and despite my harsh criticisms and the general fluctuating quality, I'd give The Game Master a 4/5, and actually recommend that anyone reads it, at least a little, because there are valuable perspectives to be had here.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying
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The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying - Print Edition
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/29/2013 00:36:40
Tobiah Q. Panshin's The Game Master is an interesting book from front to back, one which is both wonderful and cringe-worthy at the same time. Of all things, perhaps its worst is its inconsistency; verging from academic-styled formal writing to wonderfully light informal prose, it does few things explicitly wrong but doesn't seem to know where it is. Nonetheless, it's something that I would recommend, with a caveat.

The Game Master, for instance, is aimed at novices, and while it's not terribly difficult to read and does a decent job at explaining its terminology (sometimes after using it nonchalantly), it has some things that are both not terribly applicable to a new player or GM, and can potentially cause more harm than good. While it's generally thoughtful, there are several instances of hyperbole (for instance, the statement that a freshly created vampire in Vampire: the Masquerade can shrug off machine gun fire) and it tends to do an odd mix of advanced theoretical work and some really weak practical examples.

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole book is its dissertations on narrative; while not a focus of the piece it has some things that would have helped many of the novice GM's I know incredibly. Is it the best source for this? I'm not entirely sure. The book does a good job of discussing the role of group narrative but often leaves bits and pieces that I'd like to see out, something that doesn't do too much harm to the general point of the book as an introduction to gaming but hinders it in its value. Still, the sections on narrative are well-made and I'd recommend them to anyone either as a refresher or an eye-opener. Unfortunately, some of the more game-related things do not fall into the category of being so wholly beneficial. While it's clear that Tobiah has a great understanding of roleplaying as a hobby and a great conceptualization of various games within the context of the whole canon of gaming, the writing within has the unfortunate effect of transferring very little of it to the reader. There are footnotes that are assertively unhelpful (one, for instance, points out the meaning of the term "min-max" the page after a prior footnote uses it), and a lot of blanket assessments that are just not accurate, though they may be true in a handful of cases. The actual game advice is much less helpful than the deconstruction of narrative forms that create a satisfying table experience. A lot of this may be my own personal opinion, of course, since as Panshin recognizes much of gaming revolves around having fun, and different people will have different definitions and sources of fun.

All-in-all, The Game Master is not a conclusive resource for advice on running a game, nor is it the first thing I'd hand a prospective player or game master and tell them to read through it and gain some sort of inviolate knowledge of gaming. Of course, such a thing will probably never be written-such is the nuanced nature of gaming. I'd place it in the mid-range; something for someone who's run a few games and formed their own opinions on how things work, or who already has a basic knowledge of how things work-it's a wonderful contribution to the theory of gaming and play but not necessarily a solution to the ills of a novice.

It's available on a pay-what-you-want basis, and despite my harsh criticisms and the general fluctuating quality, I'd give The Game Master a 4/5, and actually recommend that anyone reads it, at least a little, because there are valuable perspectives to be had here.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying - Print Edition
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The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/26/2013 09:40:27
This is an excellent analysis of what goes towards creating a memorable campaign. Many game systems have, in the core rulebook or maybe a GM guide, some advice towards running that system well. Of these, the remarks are often useful for general application, not just to the ruleset in question. But here is an entire discourse on the subject...

After an initial discussion that cuts to the chase - what is this role-playing thing anyway? And just why can a good game be a memory that can live forever? - the work is divided into two parts. The first looks at creating characters, the second part is about developing effective campaigns and the third about actually running it.

There is a lot here, and it all repays careful study. (As in, I may be back with a more detailed review after I've had more time to chew on it!) In essence though, GMs should get actively involved in character creation, helping the players build a group that both works together well AND is fitted to whatever adventures are in store for them. Moreover, the characters should also be appropriate to the group of players and their style, and for the game system that you are going to use. Useful tools here are goal setting and group identification. Some of this may seem a bit basic and obvious, but even if it is something you have thought about before, having it distilled out and described so clearly and coherently is a real treat.

The character creation discussion also involves things like different character races or species, stereotypes, using characters 'borrowed' from fiction, the need to create a genuine ensemble rather than have any one character pivotal to your plot, and the development of backgrounds... and much, much more. Certainly up to here, this book is as informative to the PLAYER who wants to know what he is doing as it is to a GM. Indeed, despite its title, it is going to be useful to anyone wishing to improve the standard of their gaming - and remember that most people sometimes play and sometimes GM, it is a rare group in which one person GMs all the time, even if it takes a change in game system to replace whoever is behind the screen!

The second part is aimed at the GM more directly (although the discussion in the first part, albeit about character creation, is directed at how the GM should organise his players and orchestrate their character generation process). Its primary purpose is to provide guidance on campaign creation, but starts with a really important point: The GM and the players must communicate with each other about the game (that is, out of character) as an ongoing process throughout the course of the campaign.

Start with some idea of what you want to do: a campaign outline. This should be approached as if you are writing the pitch for a TV show... (as a part of the management of the Living Force campaign, I actually had to do that for one plot arc, even if it was to send to the powers-that-be for licencing reasons, and it did help... so do the same even if it is for your eyes only). There are a vast range of tools and ideas provided to help you work through - with appropriate player input - deciding on not just game system but the whole mood and theme of the game being planned. Some of the major considerations are combat, morality, social interaction, scale, power level, as well as overall theme. Each of these is discussed in detail.

In deciding on a setting there is the option of using a published game setting, adapting a fictional setting (from books, TV or film) or creating your own. Each has advantages and disadvantages which are gone in to in detail, although most attention is paid to homebrew settings. Well - there are whole books devoted to world design, aimed at gamers and fiction authors... but what is here is a good starting point, and you can delve as deeply into the theory as you like.

Next the discussion moves on to game system. Most people choose which one to used based on player familiarity with it and whither they own a copy of the rules. It's worthy of a bit more thought (and maybe a browse of DriveThru/RPGNow to see what's available, if not make a purchase or two) than that, and the discussion here should help you decide what is going to suit your plot and setting needs best.

On to part three, about running the game. This begins with the all-important first session. If that doesn't get off to an effective start the whole campaign may flounder before it has begun. This is followed by a section on writing adventures. Wait up - we've done the campaign already, yes? But that was the broad outline, not - if you think in terms of a TV show with an overarching plot - what happens in each episode.

Then come some excellent examples of what NOT to do when running a game: and if you are honest with yourself, you will probably find things you've done in the past there. Fortunately this progresses speedily to how to do it right (and most of us can now console ourselves with the things we've done right in the past!).

Finally comes a section entitled Advanced Game Mastery. This looks at all the different things you have to do (and do well) to make that epic campaign happen. It's a bit scary on one level, but the advice is sound and practical and achievable if you give it all some thought and are willing to put in the time to prepare.

Oh, there's far more than this, but the upshot is: all GMs and prospective GMs really ought to read this book. It's that thought-provoking.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying
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The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying - Print Edition
by Wade P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/01/2013 21:12:39
The Game Master is a book that gives a great understanding of the dynamics of gaming groups. In easy terms, Tobiah describes how to assemble a group of friends into a cohesive party and lead them, with a willing and helpful Game Master, consistently, into one enjoyable and successful role playing experience after another. His methods are usable across all genres of role playing, from Sci-fi to Steam Punk to Fantasy .

After a quick explanation and discussion of what a role playing game is, we are shown a breakdown of the component parts of the game.

Now it`s onto Assembling the Group, starting with The Group Contract. For character creation, it`s necessary to examine the goals for both the players and the GM. We`re told that for the players, it`s just to create a character with stats but for the GM, he must ensure that the character don`t feel thrown into the midst of a game. To achieve this end, Tobiah has come up with 4 excellent suggestions as follows
-The characters should fit the game.
-The characters should fit the setting.
-The characters should fit the campaign.
-The characters should fit the the group.

The discussion of character creation then moves onto the 4 Golden Rules which are so on point that I have printed them out and have posted them on the wall above me where my players can see them at all times during play sessions.
I am also considering using Tobiah's idea, which he calls "Funny Hat Gaming" in my own games. Funny Hat Gaming is a term that he uses to describe the way we, as participants, portray nonhuman races and he suggests that all player characters be human...leaving the elves, dwarves, and halflings to regain their other worldliness.

Tobiah puts down on paper something I have always striven to do for my characters and usually ask of my players...create useful backgrounds but he takes a new and innovative approach to this as well. He explains the purpose of the background and how it is really more for the GM than the player. He also gives us a looks at what a bad background would be.

Throughout his book, Tobiah uses examples from pop culture from over the last 40 years that most of us rpg geeks use regularly in our games and most of us probably regurgitate quotes from during every game session we play in. His references to his games make me think he was part of my gaming group over the last 33 years of my participation in role playing.

I have not finished reading Tobiah Panshin`s but I will and I`ve already recommended to over 10 people in my 2 gaming groups and at my local hobby store. I know if you are into Rpg├Čng you must get this book! Especially you GM`s!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying - Print Edition
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The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying - Print Edition
by Tyler B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/26/2012 21:06:59
On the whole, this is a good book. It contains excellent advice on structuring the character creation process. Including putting requirements and limitations on the writing of character backgrounds. I have only one major point of contention, but it is such a big issue that its worth knocking off a star. The author claims that homebrewing settings is a waste of time when there are already so many published settings, and doesn't even consider homebrewing systems. I strongly disagree with this. Homebrewing can be a fun and superior alternative to spending money on setting books, and it avoids the potential problem of failing to live up to the encyclopedic standards of some setting fans.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying - Print Edition
by Eric M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/28/2012 07:53:43
There is a lot of good in this document, and I particularly applaud the succinct chapter XII (Too Long;Didn't Read) and recommend it to those who are starting out on the road to becoming a great GM. The preceding eleven chapters are also well-written, though experienced GMs (myself included) will undoubtedly find passages that they don't agree with. Even new GMs are probably passing fair players already and will take exception to certain parts or inferences. Good! One size does not fit all. But this volume would feel less preachy if there was a disclaimer of opinion in the author's notes or the opening chapter.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
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The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying - Print Edition
by Justin L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/02/2012 01:56:03
This book is good. Read it and prepare to have some knowledge dropped!

I've been more GM than player in my time, and I found some good insights and helpful tips in here. It's one I'll refer to many times. Next time I'm ramping up for a campaign, I'll definitely have this handy.

It is surprisingly easy to read, too! And the illustrations, while corny were for the most part entertaining and added quite a bit to my enjoyment of the book.

My only beef: the author comes down seriously hard on playing non-human characters. While I agree that they are often reduced to "funny-hats" I believe that a player (or GM!) who really wants to wrap his/her brain around a different alien race should give it a try. It can be a lot of fun!

Bonus points also go to this book for being very genre neutral. So much stuff is heavily weighted towards that one big ol' fantasy game, it was nice to see a "how-to" that was broadly applicable.

Well worth reading. Thanks!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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