Two Must-Read Gaming Books

I’m late to the party on both of these books. I wish I’d read them ages ago.

Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering, by Robin Laws – Veteran game designer Robin Laws lays out all kinds of useful stuff, from how to determine what your gaming party wants, how to prepare to be spontaneous, and how to deal with difficult situations. If anyone ever sets up a degree program for tabetop RPGs, this should be the textbook for Gamemastering 101. 38 page PDF - $7.99

Play Unsafe, by Graham Walmsley – Walmsley turns improv theater knowledge into tabletop RPG gold with a set of brief, easily-grokked suggestions. The core of the book is the radical notion that gaming should be fun, and that everything should be in service to that end. This seems obvious, but as you read Play Unsafe, you may (as I did) realize just how many barriers you are putting up unintentionally. 82 page PDF - $8.00

Pavis Rises

Years ago my Chaosium RQ2 campaign featured a great deal of Third Age Pavis action. The original Pavis and Big Rubble boxed supplements got a lot of use. So when I heard about Pavis Rises, I jumped at the opportunity to bring it into the MRQ2 Second Age Glorantha campaign I’ve been running for several months. 

I purchased the PDF version of Pavis Rises for $22.49 from DriveThruRPG a few days before embarking on a two week trip that featured four very long plane rides and a fair amount of down time each night. With the Good Reader app for my iPad I was able to go through the entire book in detail and make plenty of annotations. So while I haven’t yet run my players through Pavis, I feel I have a good grasp of this supplement’s potential.

The book packs a lot of adventure into 176 pages. It describes the history of the city of Pavis, the various districts, races, personalities of importance, political and religious machinations, and important aspects of daily life. Architecture, criminal law, accommodations, temples, and the Zola Fel river are all fleshed out. Pavis Rises provides the GM an ample supply of tools to describe the city and move characters through it. I found enough detail in the book to feel comfortable letting my players operate in sandbox mode in Pavis. There are so many angles that practically any sort of player character, whether fledgling or veteran, could get into trouble in Pavis.

It is important to note that Pavis Rises is not just a description of Pavis. It is a snapshot of the city and its surroundings at a particular place in time. The strength of Mongoose’s Living Glorantha approach is that it provides a deeply immersive, vibrant environment. The weakness is that sometimes it can feel like you’re on rails as a GM. In Pavis Rises, author Lawrence Whitaker takes pains to explain that YGMV (Your Glorantha May Vary) and that this is expected and A Good Thing. In order to make Pavis Rises fit your campaign, you may have to do a little tweaking here and there. That said, I forsee having to make only minor adjustments for my campaign. In fact, the supplement has so much juicy material that it influenced how I built out some of the scenarios that lead to the player characters’ arrival in Pavis.

The adventures startled me a bit at first. I was used to the dusty, worn-out Pavis of the Third Age. This Pavis is arguably the most vibrant and exciting city in all Glorantha, and the adventures reflect this. There are big themes at work here, and the adventures are written such that most of them can be adapted for use with just about any group of adventurers. Pavis is at a critical moment in its history, and actions the player characters take can have real impact on the city’s future. As a GM I look forward to introducing the players to Pavis.

My only real complaints about Pavis Rises are that more NPC stats would have been nice, and more illustrations would really have enhanced the book. In general I wish Mongoose would put out more NPC stats, if only to help the GM in those inevitable situations when the players go nonlinear and wind up in a circumstance that requires a previously unforseen NPC. This tends to happen often in cities (at least for me). The dearth of illustrations is a bit more bothersome. The picture of the gates on page 3 left me wanting more. A city this well-defined and vibrant could do with more visuals.

Overall I’m still quite happy with Pavis Rises. I haven’t been so excited about a game supplement in a very long time. We ended the last game with the player characters moving up the Zola Fel on a barge, the gates of the fabulous city just coming into view. I can’t wait for the next session.

Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes

MSPE is one of the most underrated RPGs of all time. I only ran it a few times back in the 80s, primarily because we were so busy juggling Aftermath! and 2ed. Runquest. But man, MSPE is fun. It’s one of those games you can buy on a Thursday for a game on Saturday. The rules (based on Tunnels & Trolls) are fluid, and the background material is solid, but the best thing about it is the way Michael A. Stackpole put the whole thing together. As a GM you really get the flavor of the game environment and how to create your own compelling adventures.

You can still buy MSPE for $9.95 directly from Flying Buffalo, and I highly recommend it. Don’t believe me? Check out this excellent review of MSPE.

The God Learners Get Their Due: The Abiding Book is Here!

The God Learners have always gotten short shrift in Glorantha. For years, official Gloranthan RQ material has focused on the Orlanthi and Dara Happans. If it didn’t have to do with Storm, Sun, or Moon, it didn’t get much attention. That’s not to say there wasn’t information about other Gloranthan cultures, it just wasn’t put together in an easily-digestible form.

Glorantha: The Second Age Core Rulebook signaled Mongoose Publishing’s intent to more thoroughly flesh out Glorantha (or at least the content of Genertela). The Abiding Book takes the exploration of Glorantha further, opening up the God Learner Empire. With this book, I finally have enough material to confidently bring player characters into the heart of the empire. Although my current campaign started in Ralios and the PCs are Orlanthi, for the first time ever I’m excited by the thought of running a God Learner-oriented campaign.

There is plenty of material in The Abiding Book for creating God Learner PCs, sifting through the myriad permutations of Malkionism, and learning the history and mores of God Learner culture. There are plenty of interesting notes about the God Learner lands to spark scenario ideas, but no actual adventure writeups.

The book could use more illustrations, particularly to show what God Learner civilization looks like, and the quality of the of the images that are included in the book is not as high as I’d like. The maps are full color versions of those found in The Second Age Core Rulebook, which is nice, but more detailed maps of God Learner territory would have been more useful.

I downloaded the PDF version of The Abiding Book from DriveThru RPG. At $23.99, it’s worth the money. I’d go so far as to say that any MRQ II game master shouldn’t be without it.