Thursday, December 12, 2019

What does a GM Guide Need?

I've completed my "players book" for Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins - East (and I really need a new name, unless I want to release regular TSR which is just another vanilla D&D retroclone which no one wants or needs...or just call this TSR when I release it). It's 32 pages with absolutely no fluff. I figure with fluff (class descriptions, descriptions of how to make a character, examples of play) it will be in the 42 to 48 page range. For my current purposes, this is enough.

Now I'm putting together a monster book. I've got my monsters from BECMI (minus some that don't seem to fit, modified others - chimera and griffons are part tiger instead of part lion, for example). I've got monsters from Chanbara. I've got monsters from Flying Swordsmen. I've got monsters from OA (minus the overlap among these three sources). I've got monsters that I wanted to add to Chanbara but didn't for space concerns. Not sure how many of this last group I'll actually add, because it's already an awful lot of monsters! BECMI has the Gargantua template, but I'll probably at least want to add a Kaiju template as well. And for eventual release, I'll want to add some introductory text to explain the entries, hit bonuses, calculating XP awards for modified monsters, saving throws, etc.

While I edit together the monster book I'm thinking of what goes in the GM's Guide.

And I had the realization today that I'm a lot like Gygax back at the beginning of the hobby. OD&D didn't have a lot of explanations or contextualization of the rules, because Gygax knew his audience. They were tabletop wargamers like him. They could contextualize just fine. It was only once D&D started to spread out beyond the wargamer market that things like the Basic Sets and AD&D became necessary to spell all this stuff out.

And I'm in a similar situation. I doubt anyone who's purchased Chanbara wasn't already an experienced gamer. Likewise, anyone who would purchase TSR-East from me is also likely to be an experienced gamer. They've got the context. Do I really need to spell it all out for them?

Sure, it can give some insight into how I run my games, and how I expect the moving parts to work together. But if I released a bare-bones GM's Guide, would it be a problem? Do I need to tell you how to create a dungeon or a wilderness? How to prepare interesting NPCs for encounters? Or do I just need to give you the systems, algorithms, and processes you need to run the game all on your own?

Bare Bones: 
Running the Game:
Exploration Turns
  • movement
  • searching/detection
  • adjudicating traps/hazards
  • encounters
  • reaction table
  • morale
  • interactions
  • chases/evasions
  • adjudicating special abilities/spells/etc.
  • combat round sequence
  • initiative
  • morale checks
  • adjudicating special attacks/spells/etc.
  • death and dying
  • healing
Wandering Monster Tables (dungeon/wilderness)
Hirelings and Specialists
Strongholds for High Level Characters
  • coins
  • gems/jewelry/special
  • magic items 
That's about all that's really needed, right? I could add more, of course, but that's IMO the bare minimum needed. Anything I'm forgetting that's absolutely vital? Anything above you think I could safely leave out and assume the players will just import systems/procedures from D&D?


  1. Dont forget creature catalogue for anything not recycled in the BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia. I'd give you my own creature catalogue to add to your monster collection but you would need better artwork than the stuff I did.

  2. Thanks for the offer, Sean. I do have the DMR2 Creature Catalog from TSR. Definitely some monsters that fit an Asian fantasy game in there. And I've got some from my old Beast of the Week series here on this old blog (already incorporated into my homebrew monster file). This game is going to have a lot of monsters.

  3. For the name, just a proposal:
    Thaumaturges, Swordsmen and Rogues!

  4. I think, what you are bringing to the table is the Asian theme. So you should make sure the DM section makes it easy/natural for a DM to make the game Asian.
    e.g. The coins section should have proper Asian coinage.
    The magic items should be Asian style magic items.
    The jewelery should be Asian jewelry.
    Wandering monsters, hirelings and strongholds should evoke the setting so the DM can know nothing about it but they still create the setting you envisage.

    1. Solid advice. Thanks, John. I am going to keep the coins generic D&D gold/silver/copper, though. Not many tables use dineri, dubloons, farthings, or historical European coins. And playing in a 1E OA game right now, remembering the conversions for chi'en and yuan and tael is a headache. KISS principle. Jewelry and magic items? Definitely different.

      I will definitely include what I think makes for a good Asian theme/feel to the adventures.