Hybban’s Geek Review: GM Gems by Goodman Games

Welcome to another Geek Review by Hybban, Mielka’s DM.

Prior to the edition of new 4E modules for their Dungeon Crawl Classics line, Goodman Games published three edition-free books this summer.   Let’s review those, beginning with the first one published : GM Gems.

This 64 page book, available in PDF or paperback, gives tools for the GM/DM that will allow him to flesh out his fantasy games.  Sure, we are playing Dungeons & Dragons, but there’s a lot more to the game than dungeons and dragons.  The information is presented in three sections – The Urban Experience, Getting There Is Half the Fun, and The Dungeon.

Like Engineering Dungeons, the fact that it is black and white and small makes it a good PDF buy (it’s cheaper at only $9). The version on DriveThruRPG is composed of the original one and a printer friendly one.

Chapter 1: The Urban Experience

This chapter includes information that will make every town, village, and hamlet memorable.  After all, every adventure should begin in a civilized environment (and not at the gate of the dungeon).  There are sections about Local Folklore, Truth Behind the Myths, Unique Taverns and Inns, and Unusual Holidays.

There are ten sections on twenty pages that give a sparkle to your NPCs or the places the PCs would like to visit.  The random table for Tavern names gives 2500 possibilities.  Another table gives a hundred ideas of strange items possessed by an NPC.

Enter a venerable elf, wielding a polished ebony staff capped with a preserved pseudo dragon head.   How about an orc that wears a sash woven from the teeth and hair of fallen enemies?  Maybe a bard with a sword enchanted with a permanent ghost sound spell of men singing chants that has to store it in a padded sheath to muffle the sound? Every NPC and every location becomes special – not just the ones that railroad the PCs to the next quest.

For urban environment campaigns (like some parts of Paizo’s Adventure Paths), it is useful to color things. Most importantly, the places and people can be used for great adventure hooks.  Where did the chanting sword come from and why is someone trying to kill the bard to get it?

Chapter 2: Getting There Is Half the Fun

In this chapter, the travel to the Dungeon/Cave/Tower/Bandit Camp is discussed.   The chapter describes caravans, ruins, PC camps, merchants, storms, war, etc.  There are dozens of places, NPCs, and events that can cause conflict for the PCs and again, many adventure ideas.   Twenty pages of valuable information compose this chapter.

Chapter 3: The Dungeon

If they are still alive after the encounters on the journey, the PCs arrive at the dungeon where the fun can begin.   It would be bad to create a simple dungeon, with the same monsters and traps seen in dozens of modules.   I know you agree, but how do you make each dungeon different?

This chapter has sections like: Empty Rooms Worth Describing, New and Unusual Light Sources, Short Encounters for Short Attention Spans, and Familiar Creatures with Unfamiliar Faces.   It gives the opportunity to surprise your players with something unique and exciting.

This chapter is about 25 pages long and is full of random tables for DMs like me that love to improvise things.   Of course, you can also pick or roll in advance if you prep your games.  I don’t! :)

One part deserves a special attention.  It describes familiars left behind in the dungeon by their master (who died or was teleported in another dimension) and what players may want to do with them.   It’s always good to know you can find other things in a dungeon besides that +5 keen vorpal scimitar.

Conclusion

I loved this book.   It’s small and full of incredibly good ideas that can fuel many campaigns.  Coupled with Engineering Dungeons that I presented few days ago, you should have plenty of good material to make memorable campaigns for your players.

Pick up GM Gems from amazon.com today
and put it under the tree for your favorite GM!

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