Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My 5 most important GM resource books

There are a lot of books that GMs can use to make their game better. Tonight I am going to highlight five of my favorites, and give a couple of honorable mentions. My game is a megadungeon, so that may influence this list. Here it is, with a few words on each:

5. The Name Book, by Dorothy Astoria (1992, 1997). It's simply a list of 10,000 names in alphabetical order. When I need a name, there is always one close at hand with this book. Pretty much any name book will do. Nothing is worse than Barkeep #12, so avoid that with a book you can find at a flea market or garage sale for less than a dollar.

4. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide (1st Edition), by E. Gary Gygax (at least 18 printings from 1979-1987?). The granddaddy tool book, this volume is quintessential to running any good game. Sure the rules are not well edited, and you have to hunt for similar things in different places. But, Appendix A is worth the confusion. You can literally create a dungeon by rolling dice with Appendix A. Appendix N is a list of "inspirational and educational reading" that can get any GM's creative juices flowing. You can find it for as little as $10 on Ebay, and probably cheaper at used bookstores, comic shops or conventions.

3. Bill Webb's Book of Dirty Tricks, by Bill Webb (Frog God Games) is a great resource for when the player-characters get out of control. He expertly explains how to bleed gold, resources, time, or anything else they might stack up too much of. And he makes sure the players still have fun! The PDF can be bought for $5 at the link to Frog God Games.

2. How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck, by Goodman Games (2017 - It may not be available at retail yet) This book contains advice from a lot of great designers: Jim Ward, Christopher Clark, Skip Williams and Brendan LaSalle to name a few. They cover a huge range of topics, from context to description. It's going to be $30 when you can get it. It is worth it.

1. Tome of Adventure Design, by Matthew J. Finch (2009, 2016), again published by Frog God . This book literally walks you through creating adventures. It has charts upon charts (and what self-respecting GM doesn't love charts?) with everything from location names, to types of clues, and
special effects for teleportation devices. It is basically the 1E DMG on steroids. It's going to set you back $21 on PDF or double that for print. Every time I am working on a dungeon, I pull out this book.

I'm not going to go into detail with my special mentions, but I think they are noteworthy. Someday, they may even get their own post. Here's 3 more books to be on the look out for:

Special Mention #1: Storyteller's Thesaurus by James Ward and Anne K. Brown
Special Mention #2: The Dungeon Alphabet by Michael Curtis
Special Mention #3: The Random Esoteric Creature Generator by James Raggi

Hunt them down. You will be glad to have them all in your collection.


  1. I'd like to add one more resource -- "History of a game that failed" by David Godwin, published in Dragon Magazine #99. I've found it to be an absolutely indispensable guide for running a game as it reminds the GM to focuses on the ends (i.e., running a game based on imagination so that everyone has fun) and not the means (i.e., following the rules and the rolls of the dice simply because that's all you know).

    1. For those who might not own a copies of that issue of Dragon, you can download it from here:

  2. Lastly, I would mention that I'm exploring using Minecraft as a means of prototyping some of the dungeons that I'm developing. It's amazing how much space walls actually consume.