The Saving Throw
Dungeon Master's Guide 2014
How are you not going to show your scar?

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Overall Review
published by Wizards of the Coast reviewed by Scott Wachter
320 pages, 2014, $49.95 Print
Game Setting 2.5
Art 4
Story 3.5
Game Rules 2
Intelligibility 2.5
Review Scoring

The latest incarnation of the Dungeon Master's Guide is upon us. The core of the new Dungeons & Dragons fills itself out with piles of charts and tables and some very crooked priorities.

5th Edition has sold itself on being your game, your way, and really doesn't do much in the way of guiding any new dungeon masters into the chair with ease. It spends exactly one page on getting know player habits and table manners, then jumps into setting creation. Setting creation is presented as a masturbatory act wherein every element of of the setting (history, geography, cosmology, and metaphysics) is decided upon before considering the tone or type of story. Asking your players what they want to see included or emphasized? Perish the thought! That would get in the way of being god over your little realm and your copious backstory notes. I have yet to meet a gamer that enjoys world building, and this was an opportunity to provide real advice on creating a setting with minimal fuss, but instead we got the same as ever.

Story creation advice is much stronger than older DMGs but comes in classic D&D form: randomized generation tables. In fairness they do an excellent job of seeding different plot types with multiple plot points and complications. Even just glancing over the tables can provide and excellent springboard for adventure writing. Thereís also some useful ideas on generating dungeons and wilderness environments while stringing a plot together. The most unique addition to this section of the Guide is a number of mechanics related to downtime activities, like running a business or constructing a castle. It is good to wrap a little structure around the connective tissue of adventuring. A random dungeon generator rounds out the 'planning the game' elements nicely.

The bulk of the book is built around specialized rules beyond the contents of the other two core manuals as well as variants to those rules. The specialized rules cover most of the particulars of D&D very well. The variants seem superfluous,but the bulk of these (alternative initiative tracking, for example) come across as re-inventing the wheel for its own sake. There are new subsystems, like fear and honour if GMs have a gothic samurai game in mind, but these are such corner cases it's hard to see value as an addition to D&D as opposed to a poor imitation of a different game.

The last major section of the game is the magic items. These have been toned down and thinned out compared to the last two versions. Most of the magic items that come in varying degrees of power (rings of protection, cloaks of resistance, etc) have been reduced to a single item in the mid range of the old power scale. Magic gear feels more unique as a result, and the items table is much more manageable without so many lesser and greater versions of items floating around. 'Disposable' equipment has picked up a small buff in that wands and staves recharge themselves slowly each day, so players wonít feel like they go through charged gear like batteries.

This book is almost good. As I was explaining my issues with its woefully underdeveloped introduction to game mastering section to friend, he declared that of course all the good Dming tools are in the DMGII, and thatís a terrible truth about several D&D editions, because the 4th Ed's take on the manual shifted magic items to the player's side (where it's most useful) and used that page space to say some incredibly useful things to prospective Dungeon Masters. Here we have an example of setting and rules that nail a good tone and style for D&D, but then undercuts them with alternate options that muddle the rules text. The end result is that thereís a step in the right direction for every step in the wrong direction, and thereís nothing that makes the book stand out other than the fact that it's the Game Master book for THE fantasy game. It sums up whatís wrong with this new version of the game it exists to be Dungeon & Dragons without any real idea of what that means, so it throws options and subsystems and ideas without a core experience in mind.

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