Sly Flourish’s Dungeon Master Tips eBook

Full-on disclaimer time: Mike Shea, who runs the Sly Flourish blog, is a friend of mine. He’s written for Critical Hits. I’ve played in games that he’s run, and we’ve even been on panels together. He’s recently written a book that is a guide for 4e DMs. It features the distilled wisdom of not only his blog, but many others (including some of my own concepts.) Thus, it’s fair to say that there’s no way for me to be anything close to what passes for objective about the book.

However, here’s what I can tell you:  I believe this is 73 pages of solid, grounded DMing advice from start to finish. As the book says up front, this isn’t a guide for the brand new DM. Nor is it an in-depth guide to higher level DMing/storytelling concepts like Robin Laws’s book: most topics range from several paragraphs to a single sentence. For DMs who have been playing 4e D&D for a bit and are looking to get a variety of tips to improve their game, this is the book to get. It’s a very practical guide, ranging from a checklist for planning your next adventure to keeping combat going at a good clip to what household materials you can use to track conditions at the table.

As the source and the format suggest, it’s a very skimmable book and a quick read. The book is broken into three major sections: Build Your Story, Design Fun Encounters, and Run a Great Game. Each one of those is further divided into a variety of sub-topics and headings, so it’s very easy to find and hone in on different bits of advice. Thus, not only is it a good read the first time through, it’s also easy to reference if you are having specific issues in your game.

The book’s design is very basic and sparse. This is actually something of an advantage for the Kindle/iBooks/etc. formats for eReaders, though when it makes it into print, I’d love to see a more heavily-designed version. This is especially true because each chapter contains accompanying Jared von Hindman artwork, who I’m a big fan of, and I think the book could be better designed to show them off.

If there’s one thing that I have to warn about in the book, it’s the absolutist style that the advice is written in. A lot of it is “you should do X” which is a style, especially as far as DM advice goes, that can rub some the wrong way. The introduction to the book even warns about this, how it’s up to you what advice you use and what you ignore. Going into it with that mindset is important- I know I found myself strongly disagreeing with a few tips phrased as absolutes.

For anyone who has been running 4e for a bit, I’d definitely recommend picking this up. You won’t necessarily find not already covered elsewhere if you’re an avid blog reader (especially of Sly Flourish.) However, you won’t find it this well-organized and easy to reference on the Internet. For the price, utility, and general abundance of practical tips, you’ll find it well worth buying.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. Thank you for the review, my friend!

    Just out of curiosity, what items did you find yourself disagreeing with?

    Thanks again,


  2. Mike,

    How system specific is this? I’m not criticizing, just asking in an honest fashion. I like a lot of your writing, and I don’t need another huge book on GMing, but a small, tightly worded book of another GMs take doesn’t sound like a bad read.

  3. Michelle says:

    A book with that cover cannot possibly be bad.

  4. I love gaming tools like this.


  5. @LordVreeg The book is primarily focused around 4e Dungeon Masters. There’s some system agnostic chapters but much of the encounter design and some of the table tips are 4e specific. You can take a look at the chapters and the sample of the book at the book’s site:

  6. I don’t think there is anything here that you couldn’t find elsewhere if you were willing to look hard and long enough. But it is handy to have this together in one place, and I figured my $8 was thanks for the work he’s done providing well-crafted advice for free. I have only recently started to read his blog, but I have often seen references to his work and even at second-hand exposure I’ve gotten a lot of worthwhile ideas.