Monday, June 3, 2013

[Read-Thru] Odyssey: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management

I'm thinking of investing in one of those aluminum foil hats. You know, the kind that's supposed to prevent mind reading? Because I'm pretty sure the folks at Gnome Stew are scanning my brain for ideas. When Martin Ralya contacted me to find out if I wanted to do a pre-release review of the next Gnome Stew/Engine Publishing book, I was of course intrigued. Their last three entries were great, and I was pretty sure two of them were the result of reading my mind. Odyssey: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management, by Phil Vecchione and Walt Ciechanowski, has me considering aluminum foil hats. The book has arrived as I'm feeling it's time to take starting and running a campaign seriously if I want to keep the buy-in of my group, who are all-too patient with my Game Mastering Multiple Personality Disorder (GMMPD). Odyssey should help me do just that.

The PDF is of the typical quality expected from Engine Publishing. That is to say it's bookmarked and hyperlinked, and it's just the right file size to make for a super-smooth read on my iPad Mini--or any tablet, I imagine. The font size should make for easy reading whether your tablet is 7" or 10". For fun, I put it on my wife's phone, which has a 4.75" screen, and I could read it just fine in landscape mode.

After the obligatory introduction material, which includes a foreword by the inimitable Kenneth Hite, the book is broken down into four sections. The first part is all about how the author views campaigns and why he thinks managing them properly is important. Given my current GMing situation, I didn't need much convincing, but I also identified with a lot of the explanation of when things work and when they don't, and why. If you want to give your GM (who clearly doesn't need any help--just ask him) a gentle nudge in the right direction, I'd recommend asking him to read this section before poo-pooing the book.

The main three sections of the book are Starting a Campaign, Managing a Campaign, and Ending a Campaign. Each section is broken down into steps, and each step provides questions you should ask, steps you should take, and examples of what happens when you do it right and if you don't do it so well. Throughout the book, Phil and Walt provide real life examples from their own campaigns. It was refreshing to read their mistakes as well as their successes. Also, there's a fictional gaming group that is used to help drive home each lesson in the book. I like that the group didn't seem fake. They were completely believable because I was able to see myself and other gaming friends in them.

After reading Odyssey, I came away feeling better about the mistakes I've made over the years, and feeling great about the things I know I've done well. I'm really excited to apply my newfound knowledge to future campaigns. This book will be a useful reference whenever I'm between sessions. Of course it's my hope I will spend more time in the middle of this book than in the other sections.

As I write this, it's my intention to do a "Play-Thru" of Odyssey. I'm about to start a new campaign. I may as well report on how each step works for me. The Starting a Campaign posts should come rather quickly. Perhaps Managing a Campaign posts would come as they apply. Hopefully, the Ending a Campaign posts will be farther into the future than might be usual for me.

So after writing this post, I've decided not to invest in an aluminum foil hat. If the guys at Gnome Stew really are scanning my brain for ideas, the information is clearly in good hands.