Engine Publishing, the book publishing arm of our blog rivals/friends at Gnome Stew, has tackled all kinds of subjects before: from NPCs, to plots, to adventure preparation. Their newest book, Odyssey, takes the long view that encompasses aspects of all of these in macro, looking at the campaign as a whole and strategies to deal with it from beginning to end. Rather than look at spread the advice around from all parts of running a game, lumping the individual adventures in with larger issues, Odyssey takes a specific focus on those issues of running a series of games.
While Engine Publishing’s first two guides were more list-like in their structure, Odyssey follows after Never Unprepared as being closer in style to a business/management advice book than anything else. Authors Phil Vecchione and Walt Ciechanowski bring both experiences in the gaming world from decades of running campaigns, as well as the voice of an experienced project manager in the business world, blending both.
That may sound a bit dry- I know I always struggle getting through marketing books in my “real job”- but the authors manage to keep it lively by breaking it up with lots and lots of examples. The points made are reinforced by several different kinds of examples, including actual tales from the authors’ home games, examples from published RPGs, and from the story of a fictional game group whose exploits and characters run throughout the book and help put the advice into fictional action. It’s pretty effective at demonstrating the major points- especially where it shows a good way to handle a situation and a bad way.
As I said, campaign management is covered from start to finish, and it specifically covers how to plan a new campaign, how to run the first session of a campaign, how to keep one going in the middle and avoid all kinds of pitfalls, and how to end a campaign (and related issues, like deciding WHEN to end a campaign and what happens when a campaign sputters out.) There’s also coverage of issues that have been the focus of many blog posts about what happens when the real world encroaches on your game: how to deal with absences, inter-player conflicts, relationships between players (and what to do if they go south), scheduling, etc.
There’s a lot of information in the book. I’ve only gone through it once for purposes of this preview, and I’m sure I’ll pick up more when I go back through it. In fact, the very first page, a foreword by Kenneth Hite, has multiple great techniques by itself that are worth going back to and internalizing.
If you’re planning on running a campaign, you’ll want this book. There’s lots of levels to go through and plenty of advice to internalize. There’s also chapters to reference for specific points of your campaign and specific issues that crop up, and the writing style breaks the advice up into easy-to-reference sections. It’s not just useful for GMs either: as a game designer who has worked on games with campaign play, I could pick out those instances where I wished game systems themselves picked up some of the slack in answering some of these issues instead of requiring a GM to deal with it in the midst of everything else. So even in that regard, it can be useful as a game designer, look through the issues posed with campaigns, and ask “could I make a reasonable answer baked into a game that would fix this?” and see where that leaves you.
In fact, my only real complaint in the book is that I was hoping for a few more direct, specific tools in campaign planning. Gnome Stew has a few that I’m fond of, and was hoping for a bit more of that fleshed out for the book. Still, that’s pretty minor, and the book is packed with advice. The writing style is also not going to be for everyone either, though I found that the sidebars especially with specific examples and stories really made the whole thing extra entertaining to read. For some examples, there’s an excerpt that you could look through first. Definitely check it out no matter what stage of the campaign you’re in.
Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management is available for preorder now. A complimentary copy was provided for review purposes.