Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday 4 December 2022

Less Anger, More Advice... Eventually

The Angry GM has made a name for himself dispensing advice and guidance on how to be a better game Master on his blog, which promises “RPG Advice with Attitude”. Some of that advice has been collected and collated in Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way. This promises that you can “Learn to play fantasy role-playing games”, “Run your first Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder game”, and “Improve your GMing skills and run great less worse games”, and if you take the advice and implement elements of it, then that is likely the case. This a book for the prospective player initially, but mostly the prospective Game Master, which has got her first roleplaying game—most likely Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and wants to start running it for her friends or her existing group. It discusses narration and adjudication of running games, running the first game and then starting again, engaging with the players, handling combat, addresses risk and failure, portraying NPCs, dealing with problems at the table, and more. Though full of good advice, but for the most part, Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way is not a book for the experienced Game Master as she is likely already implementing the book’s suggestions and guidance. Of course, there is nothing to stop her from perusing the book to at least pick up the odd tip, or even confirm that she is at least game master the ‘Angry Way’.

However, Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way is not without its problems which get in the way of the good advice to be found in its pages. The first of which are its price and its length. The book is simply too expensive and too long. At over one-hundred-and-seventy pages, it is far too long. It could and should have been shorter and more concise. It is often overwritten and all often feels as if it could have got to the point a lot earlier. At $15 for the PDF, there are better looking books with more focused advice on being a good Game Master for less. Similarly, there are better looking books with more focused advice on being a good Game Master in print for the same cost as the PDF. Then there is the issue with tone and remit. The title of the book suggests that the book is going to be written a sense of energy and urgency, with anger, and there is none of that. Anyone coming to the book after reading the blog with its near rants and use of deleted expletives will be severely disappointed, for the style of the book is light and chatty—often too chatty. Which leads into the issue with remit, because if the book is written by the ‘Angry GM’ and he never gets angry in the book as he does on the blog, what is the point of the title? What 
Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way really means is that the player and prospective Game Master should be playing using the advice from a writer whose nickname is ‘Angry’, not be a Game Master with that emotion in mind. Which is misleading.

Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way is divided into three parts. ‘Part I: The World of Role-Playing Games’ is intended for the new player, ‘Part II: Getting Your (First) Game On’ is the first time Game Master’, and ‘Part III: Running Less Worse Games’ is the Game Master who wants to improve her skills. The opening of ‘Part I: The World of Role-Playing Games’ starts with first principles, taking the reader through the first steps of a Dungeons & Dragons-style game, what options has in terms of purchasing roleplaying games and what they offer, and giving a first examination of what a Game Master is. Veteran players and Game Masters are advised to skip this, but it feels too basic for the book, too much of a focus upon being the player in a book that is primarily for the Game Master. Perhaps this could have been saved for a book of advice on how to play roleplaying games the ‘Angry Way’—that is, a book of advice for the player, or retooled for the intended audience, the Game Master?

Thankfully, ‘Part II: Getting Your (First) Game On’ does begin getting to the point and telling the reader what a Game Master is and does. It starts with simple advice, such as ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’, preparing the first adventure, explains the basic conversation involved in playing a roleplaying game, how to be a narrator and what the four types of narration are, and how to adjudicate the rules. This though, is forty pages in… It breaks down the nature of combat, examining the four things that the Game Master has to handle in the process—as a Referee, as monster wrangler, an accountant, and as a jockey, the latter to keep the pace of the combat appropriately fast and free flowing. Then it returns to the basic conversation involved in playing a roleplaying game, but examines it from the point of view of combat. This all sets the prospective Game Master up with the basic elements of her role.

At more than half its length, ‘Part III: Running Less Worse Games’ is the longest section in the book. It includes interesting sections on player agency and the power they and their characters have within a game, breaks down the time and framing units of roleplaying—action, scene, adventure, and campaign—before using them to build back up a Game Master’s approach to the structuring her game. There is standard advice too, such as only rolling the dice when it is important and running a Session Zero, and for the most part, the advice and suggestions are rules agnostic, but the book is heavily weighted towards playing and running Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and Pathfinder, and where it does get mechanical it is always with those roleplaying games in mind. It also includes some mechanics of its own. This includes ‘Angry’s Ten-Point Scale’, used to track a Player Character’s success or failure and potential reaction points along that scale when he attempt’s a task that takes longer than a single roll, developing that as a means to handle loner, more involved conversations, for example. It differentiates between scene and encounter, and it also provides advice and suggestions as to how to create and portray NPCs in interesting and dramatic fashion in what is one of the more enjoyable sections of the book, and it also has advice on tone, a degree of improvisation, and finally potential issues and conflicts at the table. Here Game Angry moves into the social space of gaming. Lastly, the advice takes the reader to the verge of beginning campaign, but no further. That perhaps is the subject of another supplement?

Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way is a plain affair interspersed by pieces of cartoon artwork, much like the author’s blog posts. Here the artwork only serves to separate the chapters and adds nothing to the content. The writing is often over blown and it could have done with tighter editing for length and focus. The book lacks an index. Similarly, the author makes references to outside sources, such as to ‘The MDA Design Approach’, but does not cite them or include a bibliography. This is inexcusably unprofessional.

As decent as the advice in
Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way is, it has dated slightly and it does not take into account different forms of gaming. Or even ways in which it can be consumed, stating “Now, RPGs don’t have audiences.” whereas even when the book was originally published, they did. Hence Critical Role. Anyway, no convention games or online games, the latter increasingly important and common since the pandemic. Now of course, the book was written before that occurred, but a section on running convention games would have been a very useful inclusion.

The author, the ‘Angry GM’, has neutered his voice for 
Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way. Had he not, then perhaps the book might have stood out from the range of titles on how to be a good Game Master. The advice given is good, but for experienced players and Game Masters will probably be familiar, whilst for the new or prospective Game Master, Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way takes a while to get the point and could have been far more concise.

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