Yes, you read that right. This is really the title of the book. And it should already tell you something: the author doesn’t take any prisoners.
In fact, Venger Satanis is one of those guys in the scene who polarizes a lot. His previous works are reminiscent of 80s trash and nostalgia but also some fine ideas. Yet his work is not for the faint-hearted. He clearly caters to the majority of male role playing gamers. As a woman I had to cringe sometimes when reading his weird fantasy campaign setting The Island of Purple Haunted Putrescence (aff) (the cover features the naked behind of a sparsely clothed leather-clad female).
Still, I’m always on the lookout for good advice on game mastering. Some people argue that those tips don’t help because you have to learn by doing it. I beg to differ. Of course, no instruction book can instantly make you a great GM but it certainly helps to learn this skill (and it is a skill!) when you prepare by learning from other people.
What do you need to know?
How to Game Master Like a Fucking Boss is a book full of short articles by a guy named Venger As’Nas Satanis, at least that’s the name he goes by on the cover. Furthermore, the book contains a whole lot of random tables. The advice is mostly geared towards fantasy old school gaming, but some tips should be universally applicable.
You can get this product in PDF and/or softcover print-on-demand from Onebookshelf
The PDF is USD $14.00 (ca. 12,51 €), the softcover + PDF cost USD $18.00 (ca. 16,09 €).
Again, some of Venger’s ideas clearly go against the mainstream. That already begins with the opening salvo: we don’t play RPGs to have fun, to tell stories, to socialize or to see what happens. Nope. We do it to immerse ourselves in an imagined self and/or reality.
I don’t agree completely. I’m pretty sure that there are people who are not that interested in the immersion and more in the storytelling aspect. But, well, nothing to get hung up upon.
Generally, the advice he gives are a mix between mundane tips (i.e. choose clothing that makes you feel good and pretend you’re on a job interview or take some breaks in your campaign to keep things fresh) and technical stuff (how to build encounters, how to deal with character deaths).
The author’s writing style is engaging, colloquial and easy to understand. He knows how to draw you in with headers like “When Metallica forgot to be Metallica”.
There’s stuff like the waiter analogy (cater to the audience, anticipate their needs) but also the warning not to be a pushover.
I like how he stresses that you should make the game your own and give it your unique voice. Even if you use published adventures, take care to prepare them, adjust them and sprinkle some of your ideas into them.
Additionally, there’s some idea about a d6-based skill system which should be easy to implement if you’re missing some in your game (i.e. some old school D&D games).
Venger gives you advice on the ideal gaming length (3-5 hours), on how much time to allocate for prep (1/2 of gaming time). Break things down into encounters, come up with the basics first and build from that.
Some tips may sound a bit cute, but they might still be useful. For instance, he tells you to hand out pleasantries and to praise your players. Probably not the worst advice.
It’s also nice to see that he writes about making mistakes and admitting them. I’m pretty sure that there are some shitty Game Masters who never admit that they’re wrong (though I’ve personally never encountered people like that).
Moreover, there is guidance on how many encounters you could stack into your gaming session, to leave your preconceived story behind you, group size etc.
One of my favorite ideas is the notion of the 33%. If you’re unsure about an outcome, give the unlikely outcome a chance of 33%. This will make things interesting and will also surprise you as a GM.
Furthermore, there is the idea to highlight missed opportunities to become better at your craft. A neat concept because it can show you where you can improve the next time. So, instead of just asking yourself what went well and what went badly, also reflect on those things which you could tweak to make them better.
There are some gems in the short blogpost-like articles: how to handle backseat GMs, how to make your NPCs unique, how to use improvisation techniques using covert solicitation (a really nice trick), and a little checklist for your campaign (include something grizzly, something disgusting, something the players have never seen before, something whimsical etc.). You won’t agree with all of what the author suggests.
Some articles are just assortments of general ideas you could throw into your campaign.
The last part of the books contains tons of tables, i.e. your past, character questions, reasons the characters are together, motivations, cults, monsters, mutant magic items, complications, NPC reactions and more. Also included is a fictional magic language the author invented.
All things considered, this book contains an eclectic mix of articles on how Venger Satanis runs his games. There’ll be some stuff you could use but also things you might not like.
Look and Feel
The PDF is 124 pages total, no electronic bookmarks (grrr). The content is not really organized which makes it hard to look up specific themes. There’s an index at the beginning of the book, but some titles are a bit obscure (Seinfeld?).
Layout, font choice etc. are adequately done. The background has a watermark tribal which I could have done without. The artwork is sparse but mostly good. However, be warned that there are some naked folks (both genders).
What do I like?
There’s some stuff I could use, some ideas that I like, for instance, the 33% rule. I like the writing style, it’s fun to read.
What would I’ve liked to see?
I’m more of a fan of organized content and the articles feel like they were more or less randomly put together. The PDFs should have bookmarks, it’s 2015! I personally find the watermark on each page annoying, it distracts a bit from the text.
Some bullet points:
- articles about how to Game Master a fantasy campaign (mostly geared towards old school, so it’s not a universal toolkit)
- engaging but polarizing style
- badly organized (on purpose, the author states that repetition helps you with learning or something like that)
- contains some gems and is an entertaining read
- visual presentation of the digital version doesn’t rock my socks
- I personally find the price point of USD $14.00 too high, I paid USD $10.00 with the kickstarter and I feel that’s the sweet spot
- nice to have but not a must-buy