Most role-playing games will suggest you borrow ideas from other sources, including other game systems. Not every book translates well, although with work, a good DM/GM can make almost anything work.
There’s one book on my D&D shelf that can not only be used in any edition of D&D, but in any RPG period. That book is the Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide.
While DM books generally tell you how to play D&D, the CS&CG tells you properly how to RUN the game. Whereas the DMG tells you how to handle encounters, CS&CG tells you how to handle players. It is one of the most useful books ever printed. It is what the DMG should have been, or at least included. So Let’s Review this gem.
The first chapter is very helpful as it handles gaming etiquette. It covers things such as how to ease into a game, respect for each other, refreshments, breaks and so on. While it’s considered “no brainer” advice, seeing the words in print reminds you of the obvious, which may be easily overlooked.
Chapter 2 would be familiar to 4e players as it covers styles of play, and describes hack and slash players, the thinker, “righteous role-player”, war gamer and so on. It also covers organization, “be prepared”, and has a section on “winging it”.
Chapter 3 covers pacing and theatrics. Pacing includes how to keep the game moving, with the following advice:
“Keep the player group small, no more than six players and only six to eight characters.”
“For each turn or round of combat, give the players a short time period to mutually discuss options. For combat rounds, this time should be very brief.”
“Discourage unnecessary chatter during a game. Establish a what you say is what you do atmosphere. If a player says it, his character says it.”
“Have a predetermined order in which players take their turns. During this time, keep discussion to a minimum.” (In 2e, initiative wasn’t set as it is in 4e.)
“Make sure all needed dice are on the table. If possible, encourage players to bring their own dice.”
“Be willing to make rules up. No DM can know every rule. Rather than look up obscure rules, make an on the spot judgment call. Use common sense and take situational factors into account. Make sure penalties for failure are fairly balanced by the potential reward for success (and vice versa.).”
“Be willing to fudge a dice roll or overlook an obscure rule if it would damage the pace of play.”
And there’s so much more to the chapter. Props, smells, handouts, building suspense, mood music, misdirection, misinformation, and much more are covered.
One neat nugget covers messy maps. In those days, the DM would describe the room, and one of the players would draw out the map on graph paper. It went something like this, “You enter the room from the south. It’s 30 x 30 feet with a door in the north wall, and a door on the west wall.” The player would then sketch it out, often asking where the doors are located. Too often, the maps came out to be exact copies of what was behind the DM’s screen. CS&CG suggest that if their maps are that good, the DM is either VERY good at describing things, or the players are cheating. The advice states that unless the characters themselves are pacing out the room, the player maps should be messy.
It’s also suggested that different sized characters should have different scaled maps, though the general shape of the maps should be the same. That’s to say, a human that walks 10 paces is further in the dungeon than a halfling walking 10 paces.
Another great suggestion is on monsters. Rather than just name them, describe them, but make the descriptions more unfamiliar. A shadowy figure, lurking down the hall with the sound of scraping metal sounds spookier than a kobold dragging a sword. If the players aren’t sure what the monster is, because we all know they’ve read/memorized the MM, it adds to the atmosphere of fear. People aren’t afraid of what they know, but they are afraid of what they don’t know.
The chapter continues with how to set the scene for the players, and how to get “game speak” out of your games. Rather than “I attack…. I rolled a 17.”, conveying character action works better. “Horace swings his blade in a wide arc…. And hits!”
Advice on how to make the encounters dramatic, and of course, what to do when the rules get in the way. Solid! Advice on how to handle (or even change) a character’s death, and fudging/constructive cheating are also covered.
That’s how much of the book is. Filled with fantastic game advice.
Especially Chapter 4, Uses of Judgment. It starts of with leaving the Rules Behind. Escape from Monty Haul, (A term to mean giving away too much magic/treasure.), super characters, changing reality are just the beginning. Chapter 4 tells the DM how to handle rules lawyers, player “personalities”, off nights, intra-party backstabbing, player feuds, pettiness, me against them mentality, experts, know it alls, when players cheat, when the DM cheats, rudeness, when nature calls (when a player has to leave, can’t make it to the game) are all covered. Doesn’t that sound like an awesome, helpful guide?
But that’s not all! Also covered here are situations like, “shut up, you’re dead”, never say impossible, overdone independent actions, (one of my favorites-) “No wait, I change my mind”, gaming too often, insufficient players, the too big party, and DM burnout are here.
And that is just half the book. Chapter 5 is on creating the campaign.
Chapter 6 is on world building. It shows you how to create a game world from the ground up. From world features and locations to what sort of creatures go in it, and the politics of nations, it’s all here. History, governments, gods… from plants to animals, designing a game world is easy with the step-by-step guidelines.
The next chapter is maps and map making. It’s very helpful and useful. Not only are top down maps discussed, but also the CS&CG shows how to make isometric maps.
Chapter 8 moves on to creating the adventure and stresses the importance of story.
Chapter 9 shows how to make NPC’s live. It covers how to speak in character, as it were, and how to portray believable NPCs. Extraordinarily useful. The DMG should have had this information. Sure, it has tables and stats for NPC, but it doesn’t tell you how to act at the table as the CS&CG illustrates.
Chapters 10 and 11 cover dungeons and the dungeon setting. Chapter 12 rounds this tome out with sample dungeons.
I’ve barely scratched the surface on the amount of useful and useable information in this book.
With so much practical advice that can be used in any game, the 2nd Edition AD&D Campaign Sourcebook & Catacomb Guide is one of if not THE best utility how to books on role-playing.
Next time, the most tattered (and loved) book in my gaming collection.