Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: Sly Flourish's The Lazy Dungeon Master

Written by Michael Shea (aka Sly Flourish), The Lazy Dungeon Master is not your traditional gaming supplement. Instead of providing rules or setting material, Shea gives readers a glimpse into how to effectively prepare for a campaign for DMs who either have limited time or, as the title implies, are just not terribly motivated. (In my case, both).

Lazy DM clocks in at just shy of 130 pages. Only about half of those pages are dedicated to the author directly discussing the titular subject of the text. I have to admit, when I finished reading the first 70 or so pages and saw this, I felt a little scammed. I thought the author was padding his page count to up the price. But quite the contrary.

The big focus of Shea's material is streamlining and learning to operate on improvisational ability. He asks readers to boil everything down to a few key points and let games develop organically from there. Basically, if there's more written than can fit on a 3x5 index card, then the DM has gone overboard. While this seems like a gross oversimplification, Shea makes it work with ample examples of how this technique can work for NPCs, locations, combat encounters, and pretty much any other aspect of a campaign that a DM might want be prepping for.

Shea is clearly writing from a D&D 4th edition point of view, and uses 4e in his examples - but the material given here is general and can be applied to any adventure-focused RPG. It lends itself well to any edition of D&D as well as some other action RPGs like Star Wars, Adventure! Tales of the Aeon Society, Mutants and Masterminds, or Gamma World. I'm not sure his ideas would work for games that are more focused on character interaction, deep role-playing emersion, or political intrigue. There might be some application, but the high level of detail required for games like Vampire: The Masquerade or Song of Ice and Fire might prevent Shea's ideas from getting too much mileage here.

Shea takes distinct advantage of digital publishing, siting many other articles on the art of DMing, siting them with imbedded hyperlinks. So in a sense, you're getting a library for the cost of a single book. This is one of those really nice touches that brought some charm to this lovely little book.

The two halves of the book are broken up by a collection of 20-point charts for quick generation of NPCs, plots, locations and a few other little touches. It gives the book a touch of mechanical, at the table application, which I think would have been absent otherwise.

The second half of Lazy DM consists of interviews with the various individuals whom the author sites through out the first half of the book. This is a surprisingly fresh read, with an interview format. It takes the theory presented in the first half of the book and show how it can be applied, modified, or changed to fit the individual campaign of a DM.

Sly Flourish's The Lady Dungeon Master is available for $5.99 in ebook format on the author's website, or for $9.99 on Lulu. I'd absolutely recommend it for newer DMs, or referees with some serious time constraints who haven't found a way to make their game work. More experienced DMs might find the information in here to be things they've discovered on their own over years of gaming, but there are still some fresh ideas in here and it never hurts to take a look into the mind of another individual who takes pride in their gaming. I'd certainly give it a recommendation. It's got a light, conversational tone, and never takes an arrogant tone. The author is casual and honest and even though he wrote a book on DMing, he never presumes to be an authority. Just a gamer helping other gamers.

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