At the game table, suspension of disbelief is a powerful thing. Anything that helps the players suspend their disbelief is a jolly handy thing to have in your armoury. Remember: our hobby is a game of imagination.
One of the biggest “secrets” about GMing is that you don’t need the newest spells, skills, magic items, monsters and classes to create an engaging, exciting game. Sure they all help, and can be fun, but they are not the be-all and end-all. (That said, they sure do help sell books apparently). Are your players really going to remember—or even notice—how the orc used that new feat (or whatever) to get an extra +1 to hit? Who cares about the orc’s special abilities and attacks if the characters fight him in a featureless, characterless—and above all boring—dungeon?
Admittedly, I am wildly biased on this point, but I think books, supplements and play aids designed to help the GM add depth, flavour and verisimilitude to their game are far more important than another Bumper Book of Magic Items, or Monsternomicon.
I would even go so far to say that dressing-style books like GM’s Miscellany: Dungeon Dressing or The Thingonomicon can be the foundation of a GM’s game. Any halfway competent GM can take the lists and details within and breathe life into their adventure or campaign. I’m not saying this is all you need to run a successful game—that’s evidently madness—but detail and verisimilitude are often the first things sacrificed on the altar of ever-more complicated stat blocks and the inclusion of the newest shiny mechanic. After all, as busy GMs we all have only a limited time to prepare for the session and we’ve been taught to believe crunch is more important than fluff.
My love affair with dressing tables began with the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, and in particular Appendix I (Dungeon Dressing). Many of Raging Swan Press’s books are a direct result of my love of Appendix I.
In many ways, books like those in the 20 Things line are my favourites.
- True, they aren’t particularly flashy.
- True, they aren’t groundbreaking.
- True, they are never going to set the gaming world aflame with excitement.
But, then again, that’s not their purpose. Rather, they exist to make a GM’s life easier and to help bring to life their adventure and campaign setting in the players’ minds. The devil’s in the details and spending more time dressing up your adventure and campaign and less time obsessing over stat blocks, balance and other mechanical aspects of the game is time well spent.
I find focusing on the detail and style of the adventure locale gives the players more of a feel for the setting and prompts them to ask more questions and use their skills to learn more about the environment. It also invests them more in the world, and can reward superior play.
Adding detail and flavour does, however, slow down game play because the environment is more interesting. You’ll likely make less progress as you get through fewer combats and make less demonstrable progress in regards to rooms explored, monsters slain and so on. For my own part, that works for me. Quality, not quantity. (I have a similar view of red wine, malt whiskey and pizza).
The final great news about dressing up your campaign is that if you’ve got time, you don’t even need to buy Raging Swan Press’s books! Inspiration—as I’ve said before—is all around you. So however you do it, dress up your game—your players will thank you.