Having read through the whole book I would rate it 9 out of 10. It is a very good DMG and definitely worthy enough to stand alongside the First Edition DMG by Gygax. I would not say it is better than 1st edition. Sections of the 5e DMG are way better in terms of organization and clarity but still nothing beats the 1st edition DMG in terms of being packed with awesomeness.
Another great thing is that the authors deliver on the promise of Dungeons and Dragons your way. Every chapter is packed with alternatives.
So why would I rate it a 9 out of 10?
Because in Master of Adventures they failed to talk about Sandbox Campaigns in a meaningful way.
First off I realize I am biased on this matter having promoted and published a variety of projects for sandbox campaigns and sandbox adventures. However the idea of adventures and campaigns that are driven by the characters actions as opposed to plot or story is no longer an obscure idea. Also while hexcrawl format is still not a common choice for setting, I would think it is now well known enough to warrant a mention as well.
Before I go on, I think much of my criticism on this point is mitigated by the advice on mapping with hexes in Master of Worlds along with the extensive discussion of Event based adventures in Master of Adventures.
There is just too much reference to story and too much borrowing of concepts from writing and scripting. The strength of tabletop roleplaying is in its ability to be a pen and paper virtual reality, its ability to place the players within a experience rather than to be observers of an experience. No other form of entertainment is as easy as a tabletop roleplaying game in creating experiences to participate in. None are as flexible in accommodating all the crazy things a player could come up with. If tabletop roleplaying is to survive in the 21st century this flexibility is what RPGs must emphasize. Especially in the face of the alternatives, like CRPGs or MMORPGs, that are easier for a player to become involved in.
In past years there have been controversy over the ideas of Ron Edwards, GNS theory, and Story games where the focus is on the narrative. In my opinion this is NOT where Wizards is going with their advice on the story of an adventure. Instead it is aimed at catering to fans of Paizo's adventure paths. Having run LARP events and experienced the demands of RPG publishing, when you do something like a adventure path, you need to have a plot or story that the adventures revolve around. It what makes the project possible.
Paizo has great success with their adventure paths. Certainly more success than people like myself had with sandbox products. So it is understandable why the author choose to put advice about story into the 5e DMG.
Understand this problem with the 5e DMG warrants only knocking 1 point off out of 10. So while it is a problem, it is a minor one compared to how useful and well organized the book is. And the idea of fixing it brings up a another good point about possible third party products.
The 5e DMG is drenched with the idea of Dungeons and Dragons your way. Like I said earlier nearly every piece of advice is presented with alternatives. The rules themselves presents just enough to be useful and are obviously setup as a foundation for the referee to expand on.
The 3.X books and the D20 SRD also offered a foundation to expand on. However it was a foundation more in the spirit of GURPS and Hero System. The D20 system was a framework and toolkit that was designed to be through so that the subsequent add-ons play nice with existing elements of the d20 system.
This both worked and did not work. It never delivered on the promise of add-ons becoming part of a balanced and coherent system. Even if you stuck with only Wizards products there are certain supplements when combined that offered chains of abilities that broke the game. The formal structure meant that products that attempted to do something truly different relegated to a niche in the marketplace.
In my opinion the 5e DMG is written within the spirit of the OSR, simple rules that can be combined in a variety of ways to make campaigns work the way the referee and his players want them to work. Rules that can be expanded on to make more detailed subsystem or a game within the game for those who want more detail. For example ACKS and their domain mechanics.
The nice thing about Wizards taking this approach is that if they allow for a broad third party license I think it will lead to a diverse third party market. Some will focus on adding a lot of details and mechanics on top of 5e in spirit of the d20 system, with many others taking a lighter mechanical approach similar to that of the OSR. The expectation that it supposed to all just work together will be greatly diminished in favor of Dungeons and Dragon your way.
So that wraps up my review of the 5e DMG. For now I am going to enjoy playing and refereeing it. Of course I will share as much as I can on the stuff If Wizards comes out with a decent third party license I do plan on taking advantage of that as well as continuing with my OSR work. I hope you enjoyed this review and that it was informative.
Now I gotta go, I have a City-State to map and along with putting the labels on the seven remaining Wilderlands of High Fantasy maps.
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