|Listen up Trollords.|
Without further ado, here are a few things that I think make for a good DMG:
Tables, lists, charts and graphs.
I want easily digestible visual data. Information must be presented in the most visually consumable method possible. Text should be limited to a sentence or two whose purpose is to support a nearby table, graph, diagram, or illustration. Perhaps a paragraph or two here and there to introduce concepts and such, but the make the paragraphs short and keep them to a minimum. Anything more than ~5 or 6 sentences and you've lost me.
A few essential Types of tables to include:
- Random dungeon generation
- NPC generation -- including personality traits
- magic item generation -- as in creating magic items not listing pre-fab items
- spell generation -- ditto
- monster generation -- a la DCC RPG.
Every now and then you're going to want to write up an example of your game in action. The best way of doing this is a cool adventure narrative written up in easily digestible screenplay format, not as paragraphs of undifferentiated text. And they must be entertaining. Throw in a little table chatter among the sample PCs for good measure.
DM: As you round the corner your torchlight reveals a generic dungeon corridor, 10' wide and high, with a poorly mortared flagstone floor continuing off into the darkness. Same marching order?
Gamer 1: Yes, Guthouse Barrelboy and Buttout the were-elf are in front with Blotto the monk and Bluetooth the wizard taking up the rear.
Gamer 2: [sotto voce] Just the way they like it.
DM: None of that, now. How do you proceed?
Guthouse Barrelboy: I tap the floor with my 10' pole.
Gamer 2: More like 10 inches.
DM: If that's a dick joke you might want to reconsider it. Gutboy, you tap around the floor, nothing happens.What next?
Buttout: I walk down the hall.
DM: You make it about 20 feet before you step on a flagstone that sinks slightly into the floor.
Buttout: Oops. Sorry gang.
DM: A fusillade of arrows comes whizzing at the party from behind. Everyone in the back row save vs. traps.
Bluetooth: Buttout you asshole, if you kill my character I'm gonna' -- 17! Nice!
Blotto: Fuck. I rolled a 2.
DM: Well done Bluetooth, you take no damage but Blotto, [Rolling dice] two arrows rip into your hindquarters--shut up Gamer 2--for... Oh dear, 11 points of damage.
Blotto: Cocksuckitall. I only had 8 hit points.
DM: Roll a save vs. rolling-up-a-new-character at -3.
Blotto: grumble grumble. I got a ... 20! Sweet Nelly, I'm alive!
DM: [Sighing] Blotto the monk is not quite dead, but he is incapacitated. Do the rest of you want to waste your healing on him so soon in the dungeon or would you rather go on without him?
Blotto: C'mon DM, what the hell did I ever do to you?
DM: You rolled up a monk, that's what you did. What kind of A-hole plays a friggin' monk?
and so forth.
As with tables, the more of these the merrier. Preferably they're short and sweet with, say, 20 encounters or so, maybe 4 or 5 pages of text and a map taking up ~half a page. Also awesome if you can drop just enough background info--name a nearby tavern or town for PC use, an intriguing NPC or two--to allow the DM to use it as the basis for creating his own setting. Or, if you're feeling particularly crafty, surreptitiously link it to a module you're publishing concurrently.
And some things that doesn't make for a good DMG:
Essays, treatises and manifestos.
Let's face it, longwinded essays in RPG rulebooks are the equivalent of a comb-over for game designers futilely attempting to hide their lack of table-creation skills. Sure Gygax included some verbose essays in the original DMG but he gets a pass for a few reasons:
- back in '79 DMing was a fairly new occupation, one which he'd been doing for longer than anyone... who wasn't Dave Arneson.
- there was no internet, and therefore new gamers could not fall back on the accumulated wisdom of 721,846 bloggers to figure out how to run a campaign.
- he's Gary Gygax.