Product Review: D&D Fourth Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2

 

The 4e Dungeon Master's Guide 2 offers a wealth of DMing advice, especially for role-playing intensive campaigns.

The 4e Dungeon Master's Guide 2 offers a wealth of DMing advice, especially for role-playing intensive campaigns.

The D&D Fourth Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2, scheduled for formal release tomorrow, provides Dungeon Masters (DMs) with a mix of philosophical game mastering advice and ready-to-use traps, magic items, monsters, and other plug-and-play game features. Although the original Fourth Edition (4e) Dungeon Master’s Guide arguably outperformed its counterparts from prior editions regarding balancing the nuts and bolts of game mechanics with describing the artistic and dramatic aspects of being a DM, the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 brings discussion of the inexact “science” of DMing to an entirely new level, and the book’s exhaustive use of ready-to-play examples adds clarity as well as usable material for an ongoing campaign.

Of course, the volume cannot be everything to every DM, and this book’s appeal will vary depending on your personal DMing style. Speaking in general terms, the text is a Godsend for DMs and play groups who emphasize character background and development, sophisticated plots riddled with intrigue, and similar role-playing intensive game elements. Dungeon Masters and groups placing greater emphasis on straightforward action, combat tactics, “hack ‘n’ slash” play style or power-gaming would probably have a more lukewarm response, finding value in elements that can be easily imported into an existing game, such as new monster templates and traps.

All DMs, however, will benefit from rules clarifications and suggestions regarding skill challenges and encounter/adventure design.

The volume contains six chapters: Group Storytelling, Advanced Encounters, Skill challenges, Customizing Monsters, Adventures, and Paragon Campaigns.

The first chapter and part of the second is devoted to soliciting role-playing input from the players, character motivations, and the concept of a “companion character,” which could be loosely compared with what the first and second editions of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons called henchmen and the third edition called a cohort.

The chapter on encounters provides guidelines for designing encounters outside the traditional “encounter math” presented in the 4e Dungeon Master’s Guide, along with an expansive list of ready-to-use traps.

The skill challenge chapter provides clarification on the skill challenge mechanic, in addition to defining “progressive challenges” and “branching challenges” that adapt skill challenges to more specific adventure uses.

A particularly original element presented in the Customizing Monsters chapter is monster themes, described as a “suite of powers” a DM can draw upon during monster design to create thematic links between monster encounters, even if the monsters chosen aren’t normally related. The chapter also contains updated monster creation guidelines and a list of 13 new, ready-to-play monster templates, such as the Chaos Warrior and Spectral Assassin.

The chapter on adventures holds more artifact descriptions, notes on creating non-player character organizations, and sample campaign arcs, but the bright spot of the chapter is the section on alternative rewards, a set of variant treasure rules. The concept is to provide characters with the same benefits as treasure, but to allow campaign events to create those benefits. An example provided in the text involves a fighter who lands the killing blow upon a young red dragon with her non-magical sword; instead of having a flaming sword tossed among the dragons’ other treasures, a DM may decide to have the non-magical blade transformed into a flaming sword as the dragon’s life force passes through it. Thus, the character ends up with the same result – a new sword – but the campaign is enriched by the manner in which the sword was obtained. The section discusses alternative treasures from legendary and divine sources, in addition to grandmaster training, through which heroes may learn techniques and abilities largely unavailable in the campaign millieu.

This writer was moderately disappointed in the section on paragon status. While the section did provide some guidelines about what a DM can expect through these middle levels of play, fewer than 10 pages of the book were devoted to these topics. Instead, the authors provided the City of Sigil – originally presented in the second edition Planescape line of products – as an extra-planar adventure setting, and a sample adventure that introduces Sigil to a campaign. Although the Sigil-related material was illustrative of some concepts presented in the ten pages on paragon-level gaming, and will be eagerly sought by fans of the Planescape setting, this writer found it to be an anti-climatic waste of space, space that could have been used to treat the particulars of paragon-level play with the same attention given to the other topics.

On the whole, however, the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 serves as a fine companion volume to its sibling, expanding and refining the game in several ways without contradicting or supplanting the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.

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5 comments on “Product Review: D&D Fourth Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2

  1. Free Games says:

    is like Empire Earth ??

  2. Alric says:

    Hi FG, and welcome.

    D&D is a tabletop role-playing game, in which players take the role of a fantasy hero or heroine and explore dangerous settings. It’s less like the real-time strategy of Empire Earth and more like a first-person shooter, except that the action takes place in the players’ imaginations instead of on a computer screen.

    I hope that was helpful,

    Alric

  3. Skill Games says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for this post. It was a very useful read.

    Regards
    Tom

  4. [...] Product Review: D&D Fourth Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 from the RPG Athenaeum [...]

  5. Discoking says:

    Great Blog!……There’s always something here to make me laugh…Keep doing what ya do :)

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