One of my friends lucked out somehow and picked up the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide on June 26th at a local Anime convention… the only copy for sale at said convention… and by lucked out I mean that the listed release date is July 13th, according to Amazon. Not caring enough to ponder the deeper meaning of such things, Reuben, Matt and I did the only natural thing and skimmed through as much of it as possible before the buyer even had the chance to crack the pages.
Since all the major crunchy bits of the game were included in the Core Rulebook, just what exactly the GameMastery Guide would have has been a major concern for us. Similarly, most books aimed towards “gamemasters” generally hit the newer-GM market more than the experienced-GM market, making me wonder if the GMG can balance itself between helping new GMs get started learning everything, and making the life of an experienced GM easier. So, does the GameMastery Guide deliver?
Well, yes and no, and mostly yes. There’s a lot packed in those pages, spread over all sorts of issues GMs should be aware of—keeping track of things like time, money, technology, pacing of adventures, handling players, loot distribution, and stuff like that each got a full one or two page spread. There’s a wonderful section of random generator tables, which were previewed on the Paizo website. The generators include such things as magic items (“Weren’t those in the Core Book?”), random NPC creation (most popular with the two GMs skimming it), and random tavern names (most popular with the book’s buyer, along with the concept that you can buy/build your own populated thorp for 50 gp). Another lengthy middle section dealt with random NPCs, including a huge number of stat blocks… a preview of the Pathfinder NPC Guide, perhaps? In any case, it covered all the basics (from barmaids to thieves), and gave leveled stats for them–way useful. One of my favorite parts was the overview of player archetypes, from the lump to the powergamer; we spent several minutes assigning the roles to players we know. There’s also rules for drugs (and addictions), chases (cool!), disasters (Second Darkness say what?), and a section on madness and insanity which Reuben stopped skimming and read outright.
As always, the art and layout is top notch. I spotted some familiar art—namely from the Council of Thieves line—but the new pieces had the same vibrant nature that we’ve come to expect from a Paizo product. It’s a big, beautiful book which covers a large swath of topics. In fact, I’d hazard that it’s more of a universal GM aid than one strictly for Pathfinder; it starts out on general topics, and stays away from Pathfinder rules for most of the first hundred pages. The sheer amount of advice is staggering; everything imaginable is covered, including space and time travel… all in a couple of pages (or even paragraphs) per subject. I know some people had hopes for swords-and-planets rules after the art previews, myself included, but to be honest those belong in their own book, not tacked into a big ole guidebook. So, while I’m sad to still lack rules for Pathfinder Space Opera, I’m still holding out for a Green Planet Campaign Setting rather than a few pages in the GMG. The GameMastery Guide should be… well, exactly what it is: a solid source of insight and aid for the GM. Put all the good Planet Stories Barsoomian stuff into its own big book.
In my opinion, you can never stop learning things as a GM; from experience, people who say they don’t need to learn anything about GMing are those in most need of learning how to do it right. So hopefully I don’t sound like an hypocritical asshat when I say the GMG’s not an absolute necessity for all GMs. There is a ton of useful things in there which would speed up the process of GMing, and you can never get enough random charts and tables. There’s also a lion’s share of advice in here, great for the beginning and intermediate GM. But when the advice is the same advice you give to other, newer GMs, it suddenly becomes less necessary a purchase.
When it comes down to it, the book’s worth depends on how much experience GMing you have, and your amount of disposable income. My friend (the guy who bought it) is in the right spot in his gaming experience to need it; he started reading the book cover to cover to glean as much knowledge as possible. Reuben and I, who ended up running 87% of all the games in our group, just looked at each other, looked in our empty wallets, and shrugged. I plan on picking it up sooner or later, but it’s not something I’ll run out and buy this month: I missed seeing a must-needs-have draw to make me scrounge up forty bucks, though the NPC info came close. (I’m serious; the new rules, random charts and tables, and the huge NPC section are amazing, and I could use them constantly.)
In the end, it’s a big book with plenty of helpful content, a solid aid for the experienced GM and something the beginning GM should prioritize purchasing because of its advice and insight.