Title: Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering Author: Robin D. Laws Editor: Steve Jackson Publisher: Steve Jackson Games Year: 2001 32 pages, comic-sized Product Rating: 2 (**) Game Play Rating: 3 (***)
Review by John H. Kim (Copyright 2002 John H. Kim)
cf. other reviews by John
"Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering" is a short, coherent handbook of advice for GM's. It is not an introductory work for new players or a new GM, but rather advice for an experienced GM. At the heart of the advice is his system for categorizing players into six types:
The book is 32 pages, comic-book sized with a color cardstock cover (actually 33 pages since the inside back cover is content). It has no illustrations other than the cover, but is reasonably well laid out with several diagrams and quotes scattered amongst the text.
The book is divided into seven main sections: "Knowing Your Players", "Picking Your Rules Set", "Campaign Design", "Adventure Design", "Preparing To Be Spontaneous", "Confidence, Mood, and Focus", and "Improvising".
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. Clearly, it is short and only covers a small part of the broad job of game-mastering. To some degree, it simplifies complex issues by pidgeon-holing players into the six categories. However, it also gets to its points quickly and expresses them clearly. However, it does manage to make usable statements without pushing a 'One True Way' to properly run a game. Frequently, GM advice essays either push a single style, or they are so wishy-washy that they simply don't say anything at all. This book does not delve very far under the six stereotypes, but at least it has definite advice about them. For example, under "Adventure Design" it assigns numbers to each of the six player types for how they much they lean towards 'structured' or 'unstructured' adventures.
I have two caveats about the book. First of all, it is hideously overpriced at ten dollars for a 32-page comic-sized booklet. Second, most of the advice seems to lean towards action-adventure sorts of genres and male players, i.e. the mainstream of published games. For example, Robin explains his theory of RPG character creation being "fantasy shopping for guys". While I think his point is insightful about mainstream RPGs, it obviously is not relevant for everyone's campaign.