06 October 2009


Fibonacci loaned me his copy of XDM: Extreme Dungeon Mastery, as it's likely that I'll be DM for the next adventure. "Likely" because another player had asked for it, but he's the one currently out of commission due to Life Circumstances. Back to the book. The story is that the Hickmans had shopped the idea around but couldn't find any publishers who wanted to take it on, then at some point they met up with Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary fame, and he suggested they do a self-publish module. Now, the book isn't bad, but it really could have used some professional editing. Among the more glaring mistakes are spelling errors that any decent word processor should have caught.

The good: In the main, XDM is a fun, light-hearted look at what makes for a good RPG. It's full of random footnotes, most of which are there for humor value, and awesome anecdotes. Mostly, the advice to DM's is helpful, though sometimes presented in such an over-the-top manner that it's hard to figure out what the advice is. The artwork, of course, is entertaining, but that's no surprise considering the artist.

The bad: The merchandising jokes got old fast, so old that it was hard to think of them as anything but advertisements. The sections on atmosphere and random tricks felt like an interruption, and would have been better put in an appendix. Worse, some of the card tricks were so poorly described that it's unlikely anyone without prior experience or an outside source of information could figure them out. They needed to do a novice test: pick someone who's never done any card tricks, give them the instructions, and see if said instructions are actually usable. That the authors came across as ridiculously egotistical makes this all the more glaring (the egoism was, I think, intended to be humorous; I got tired of it). Finally, typos, typos, typos, typos, typos.

The questionable: Is the simplified XD-20 game better than the games that require extensive purchasing of extra manuals? Er... not necessarily. Simpler, yes, and easier for a player to get started on, but it's rather handy to have a world already built to use. Otherwise, the DM has to come up with everything, and that can be a bit of a pain. With a framework in place, it's a lot easier to get things going. In the campaign I'm attempting to build, I'm perfectly happy to be able to just take stuff off the shelf from the D&D books without needing to modify/simplify it. I've got enough work trying to get a believable town constructed without also having to construct the world that contains it. Fine, you can insert any material you like into the XDM system, but if that system is your starting point, you're not going to have any such material to use.

So, overall... worth reading, some useful advice, but annoying in many aspects.


John said...

"Otherwise, the DM has to come up with everything, and that can be a bit of a pain"

Unless you are a 14 year-old geek with a handful of friends just like you.

My gaming group in in High School felt that all the AD&D worlds (Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance) weren't quite right, and we came up with our own. It was used no matter which of us was DM. Our campaigns were usually pretty open, too. We all learned to use a rough outline (at most) for the plot and work out the details on the fly, because,as players, we all (collectively and individually) tended to get rebellious if we felt the DM was trying to railroad us.

That group is the only thing I really miss from High School.

John said...

Oh yeah. We tended to avoid source books, too.

We had a set of house rules to cover any core rules we felt didn't work or were too vague.

I wonder what happened to all that stuff. I certainly didn't end up with it.

Qalmlea said...

Yeah, I can see that. I'm just as happy to have a set of rules to work with, but if I had more time, it might be interesting to develop an alternate set. The adventure I'm trying to build will, hopefully, work something like a mystery, with clues sending players to certain parts of the town to investigate.

There's a built-in order, in that certain locations won't be useful before other locations have been visited, but the beginning locations will be pretty flexible, and order won't matter much there.

Can't say much more than that, since one of the eventual players reads this blog. ^!^

John said...

Stealing a peek at the DM's notes is an age-old gaming tradition.

word verification: bantrie - forbidden food storage room

Fibonacci said...

Yeah, I'm happy I bought the book, but wish it didn't feel so much like the initial release of a Microsoft product, since I doubt they are going to offer a patch.

I have played games like the ones they seem to favor, where the GM literally makes a judgment call on everything. Even with a good GM, the trouble is that the important skills are all OOC: How do you get the GM to do what you want?

Qalmlea said...

Hadn't thought of it that way, but, yeah, without a definite set of rules on things, that would be an issue. It would also be easier for the DM to "railroad the group into something."

John said...

Which also leads to new editions, lots of source books, and new, unnecessary aspects to magic and combat and, well, everything else about the game.

I suppose it must be a good business model (money-making scheme) since it clearly works. But damn, it's annoying.

A really good game designer would ensure that stuff like that was caught in play-testing before release.

Qalmlea said...

Yeah... the constant new editions is already old. But I'm not particularly irritated about since I downloaded most of the manuals I do have as pdfs. Which isn't so good for their business model, but with such a ridiculous number of books out there, I wouldn't buy them all anyway.

It does mean that my model is "stick with the old edition at least until the new one has been scanned in for download."