So WoTC seems to be keeping with the theme this year being the ‘book 2’ of releases. While AV2 was a nice addition, I’d tag it up with the MM2 of being simply more of the same (more treasure and more monsters). While not necessarily a must have, both had some nice additions to improve campaigns. PHB2 I think added a lot to the holes in the first book, giving players a ton of new options when rolling a character. So what about the DMG2?
I have to say I think the DMG2 is a great addition to the core books. They really kept with the idea of making this book an advanced guide that takes off on topics the first DMG covered. It covers a lot of topics, including treading over some old ground to further refine and explain some items from the first book (skill challenges especially).
There is one overall theme I see from the DMG2, ‘make the game what you want’. While the first book laid down the rules, DM2 gives a lot of options to the DM. Nearly all of them lay down a groundwork for rules, and throw in the recommendation to alter whatever to make it work for your game.
I think this point is seen strongest in skill challenges. The overall rule set is presented again, but so many options, alternatives, and examples of these variants are provided. I think the DMG2 has shown how free-flowing skill challenges should be. If DMs were struggling to run them before, I think they will have better ideas of how to incorporate them in their game now. And by not demanding DMs adhere to a strict format, I think folks can use them in their games to a higher degree of success than when they were first introduced.
When the group pushes well beyond the heroic tier, I think you tend to risk burnout as the players become to feel they are encountering more of the same. The DMG2 shines in this respect offering a lot of pointers and suggestions to elevate a DM’s campaign to the paragon tier. Like the first DMG that provided a groundwork for an initial campaign with Fallcrest and Kobold Hall, the DMG2 introduces Sigil and a doorway to planar adventures. This introduction is great, as it gives DMs a means to explore other campaign ideas into the Planes, something which can be tricky to incorporate into the ‘worldly’ beginnings of most heroic campaigns.
I also think normal burnout of running campaigns can encroach just about any DM. Again the new book gives ideas for cooperative story-telling, bluntly surveying your players for ideas and opinions, and outlining other potential campaign themes. More tools and ideas are presented to get your player’s characters into grand adventures, and much of it is great stuff.
There is still some chunky material with new hazards, artifacts, and NPC class templates provided. Traps have been given some more discussion and examples (albeit the section is pretty much the same material from the previous Dragon article). I think they also refined creating monsters which is nice. Clearly WoTC saw improvements that needed to be made to the stuff they put out in the first MM. MM2 incorporated a lot of these design attitudes (such as having solo monsters do something cool when first bloodied). Having similar guidelines provided in the DM2 means folks can make up monsters that will fit in well how DnD games have changed since release.
The Good – There is a lot of good things about this book. While I think the focus of the first DMG was for beginning DMs (which it did its job well, and was a great audience for that book), this book is definitely geared towards those DMs that have had a few sessions under their belts. I think it helps address a lot of problems that come up when your group hits the paragon tier, looks around, and then say, ‘Now what do we do?’ Having a lot of suggestions for campaign arcs, and further character development, go a long way to addressing these problems.
The Bad – While the book covers a lot of ground, more would be nice. Give us more templates, traps, hazards, and especially more artifacts. How about more organizations or campaign themes? The DMG2 does a fine job, but more entries world be nice. I still think having more ideas for campaigns would be helpful. How about some guidelines on governments and commerce? No strict rules and tables please, but a few pages covering some basic concepts. Also, ideas on speeding up your game and help in running combats are noticeably absent. There is a lot of chatter on the web about DMs having this issue, some useful guidelines would have been a welcome topic.
The Verdict – While I think most of the ‘book 2’ releases this year would be optional, I’m going to put the DMG2 alongside the Player’s Handbook 2 as a must buy. There is simply too many good ideas, suggestions, and topics included here. All DMs are going to get into higher levels of play, and having ideas for the epic and paragon tier games are incredibly helpful. The chapter on running encounters was also great, stressing the importance to taking the action up a notch for higher end play. This is a great addition to the core series, and I think nearly every DM will find it a good buy.