Full disclosure: some of the products below were provided by the publisher for review and I contributed to the Tome of Mysteries.
With Christmas around the corner let’s be honest , it can be difficult to shop for us. For as much time and money gamers spend accumulating geegaws: books, maps, miniatures, dice towers, dice trays, dice bags, and, hell, dice in general. Folks outside the Culture are likely not aware of differences between core books and supplements (ex: White Wolf used to publish player’s guides in addition to core rulebooks but the player’s guides weren’t really useful) or which games utilize extra components that are evergreen presents (ex: Savage Worlds’ reliance on playing cards means a cool deck is always welcome). So if you have relatives who don't know what to get you for Christmas or your birthday next year, point them at this.
Do you like D&D as a core cultural touchstone? Do you like all those D&D-centric episodes of cartoons, sitcoms, and video games?
How about dad jokes?
If you loved Cameron’s sense of humor from the first 3 seasons of Max’s Minions and want it distilled in a book, then this is it. Just released last week, this original work by the hosts of the System Mastery podcast is sure to elicit a chuckle or guffaw from your friends or loved ones who are into this sorta thing.And it’s not just a book of jokes, there’s some tables useful sidebars which impart information or insight into this weird, young hobby we all participate in.
Here’s a good joke:
Where would you find a blink dogs?
About three feet to the right of where you left them.
Because they.. teleport…
Covering both of these at once because they contain complementary materials. If you regularly GM the Gameplay Guide provides advice for effective preparation and communication with your players to lean into engagement, exploring themes, and maximizing the stuff your group wants to see at the table. James’ thoughtful essays ring with his experience both as a Second City trained improviser and GM/producer for one of the top Actual Play podcast networks around. The book’s exercises, worksheets, and prompts help you (the GM) with praxis – walking the walking, applying the ideas and shaping table behaviors so you get the best out of yourself and your players.
Conversely, if you’re on the other side of the GM Screen 9 times out of 10 then the Backstory Guide provides prompts and exercises rooted in improv theater that prompts new ways of thinking and applying the most staid and dullest part of character creation – the backstory. The book’s organization is divided into echelons corresponding to character level, over time you develop themes and motifs to form a throughline. Enabling your GM to bring these elements into focus. Something you can hear James do on his current Campaign podcast – Skyjacks.
The title directly addresses the 400 lbs. gorilla in the RPG scene but embodies a solid thesis usable in any game – YOU (the GM) will never be as creative as all of THEM (your players), so pull a Tom Sawyer and get them to paint the fence for you. Distribute the cognitive workload.
With great advice, pertinent examples, and checklists this book doesn’t provide as many hand’s on applications as the Gameplay Guide. Instead Return dwells in greater specificity on its topics, whether pros & cons to different styles of combat or conveying the value of reskinning existing monsters instead of creating ones from wholecloth. If The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide sounded too hippie-dippie to you then Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master occupies a cozier middle ground.
Games and Game Accessories:
The latest edition of our (Carol and I) favorite game dropped back in September and you can get this gorgeous hardcover for only $30. A more in depth review can be found over on Tommy Brownell’s blog over here and I’ll do my own dissection and discussion of the text for the benefit of folks who’ve never played Savage Worlds before at a later time. This thing is the real deal, people often complain about carrying around too many books and D&D is a $150 buy-in for the 3 core rulebooks.
What takes D&D 3 bloated books, Savage Worlds does in 1 sleek volume for 20% of the price.
Monster of the Week by Michael Sands & The Tome of Mysteries by Michael Sands and assorted authors (including me)
Tired of dungeon delving and want to do something else? Love weekly procedural shows but aren’t sure how to get that to the table?
Then Monster of the Week and it’s companion volume have got you covered. Based on the popular Apocalypse Engine you’ll only need to print out the playbooks and 2 six-sided dice to start playing. Character creation is fast and let’s you hit the table running in interesting directions, you’ll have a game full of interesting conflicts and complications in no time.
And, yea, mysteries are hard but there’s a WHOLE TOME OF THEM! Want more Fringe and less Supernatural? The Tome of Mysteries has that too! It’s covers a lot of ground very quickly with scenario seeds, additional playbooks, a ton of sample mysteries, and custom moves you can re-work for your own game. And if you’re doing Call of Cthulhu or another investigation game then use the sample mysteries anyway so you can still inject some weirdness without it necessarily being the Usual Suspects (Cthulhu, Dagon, Yog-Sothoth, etc).
You might think any set of clack-clack stones are the same as any other but if you ask Carol or Larissa or any other person with the dice fever, you’ll find you’re wrong. Can’t go wrong buying more dice, and I recommend Metallic Dice Games’ products, they’re lustrous and have nice hand feel. They have some great color combinations and they’re timely with their deliveries. Their latest kickstarter arrived a little earlier than estimated, a far cry from the Kraken Dice fiasco earlier this year.