Wizards of the Coast has been crossing its popular CCG, Magic: The Gathering, with its popular RPG, Dungeons & Dragons for a number of years now with sourcebooks for settings such as Zendikar, Innistrad, Amonkhet, Kaladesh, Ixalan, and (most recently) Ravnica. While those sourcebooks do a wonderful job in merging the two games into one seamless experience, running a tabletop pen-and-paper RPG isn’t always the easiest thing to do well.
That’s where the James D’Amato book, The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide: Role-Play the Best Campaign Ever – No Matter the Game, comes in. (Long title, we know.)
Released in late 2019 and published by Adams Media, it’s the follow-up to D’Amato’s 2018 book, The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide: Prompts and Activities to Create the Most Interesting Story for Your Character. (And that’s an even longer title.)
Don’t let the author’s affinity for wordy titles fool you, though, as The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide really does set Game Masters up for success regardless of what pen-and-paper RPG campaign they’re running. Readers can expect to learn a variety of skills and strategies to create the best possible campaign possible for their players. Thankfully enough, it’s done in an incredibly accessible and overall interesting way.
The book is broken into three main sections: Basic Storytelling, Advanced Playing Techniques, and Playing for Experience. Each section is further broken down into easy-to-follow chapters that contain some really great information. For example, readers will learn about delegating creativity, which is all about the GM delegating some responsibilities to their players in order to allow for a more collaborative gaming experience. There’s also a section called “Mood Lighting” which is all about setting the tone not only for the campaign, but also in storytelling and in communications with players. That’s just a couple of examples. There are myriad other things the book can teach GMs both novice and experienced.
The only real negative that could be found with The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide is that despite all of the good content, there isn’t much in the way of graphical assets. Not everybody is a good book reader (myself being one of them) and having more and better imagery would go a long way for those who are more visual learners as opposed to reader learners. While the many areas the book has for interactivity (there are parts in the book where it invites the reader to write down ideas or complete exercises), even just a little obligatory RPG-appropriate artwork would have been nice even if it has no other purpose than just to visually break up the text.
Sure, The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide not necessarily required reading for those who want to create and run their own original or sourcebooked RPG campaigns. There is no question, however, that it the book can substantially help. It’s purposely vague (meaning it’s not geared specifically towards any one game or system), so its lessons are equally applicable whether the reader is planning a campaign for Rifts, Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons, or nearly any other conventional tabletop pen-and-paper RPG. Because of that, it pairs very well with Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering D&D sourcebooks and can certainly help GMs in creating their own personal MTG RPG campaigns.
And how is that? That is to say that since the MTG D&D sourcebooks already have (according to WotC) "everything you need to create characters and run adventures" in the available Magic setting of your choice? Well, it's because there's more to running a RPG campaign that just the nuts and bolts.
The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide affords GMs with those soft skills that make a campaign not only function well on a mechanical level, but also on an intrinsic one. The guidance provided allows GMs to make gameplay seem organic, genuine, and interesting. It's one thing to say that you're on Ravnica and there's trouble brewing at the Orzhov guildgate. It's another to provide original descriptive narratives, intriguing non-player characters that bring meaning and personality to their existence within the game and story, and allow for a theatre of the mind experience that playing a campaign (whether original or pre-written) should provide its players.
It's one thing to say that one's party is on Ravnica and standing in front of the Orzhov guildgate with tithe-seeking thrulls flying overhead. It's another altogether to actually feel it. That's what this guild is designed to do: Give GMs the tools and training necessary to allow players to feel, see, and care about not only the end goal but about the world and roles in which they are playing.
So, anyone up for a Magic: The Gathering Dungeons & Dragons campaign?
The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide: Role-Play the Best Campaign Ever – No Matter the Game can be purchased on Amazon.com as well as from local and chain bookstores nationwide.