X-treme Dungeon Mastery is a role playing source book for all game or dungeon masters, regardless of play system. It’s written by Tracy & Curtis Hickman, and illustrated by Howard Tayler.
As you can immediately see, the illustrations are great and very cartoony. Inside, you’ll find nearly every page has a hand drawn comic sketch on it, pertaining to the content of that page. While the illustrations are consistent and well placed, the content not-so-much.
The book itself is 158 pages. The first twenty pages are frivolous, talking about “The Secret History of XDMs” (circa 24th century BC). Basically a fictional tale of why the book was written, followed by a quiz. Pass the quiz and you’re granted initiation into the XDM cult, complete with instructions on their secret handshake and how to achieve greater levels of XDM. I’m not sure what the point of this chapter is, if not solely to get the reader to buy their XDM merchandise (as advertised on page 150, right next to the quiz answers).
That said, the next 50 or so pages is the reason I bought the book. These pages are filled with game design theory, player theory, GM tips, riddles, , story telling tips… This brings me to the chart. Pages 39-41 give us the first and only useable chart. It’s called “The Storythings” and with a few rolls of the dice, will give you an instant premise for a story. Here’s one now, totally random:
An escaped creature is challenging a messenger with redeemed armies in the wicked hell.
Granted, it doesn’t make a lot of since now, but its a possible seed for an idea. With a little work I’m sure anyone of us could make sense of it. This is what the sentence looked like before I rolled for results.
A 2 1 is 6-ing a 1/3 with a 4 5 in the 4 3.
This template is just one of seven in the book, and as the book says, you could easily make up new templates if you wanted to.
Following the 50 pages of decent content, you’ll find Chapter 11: Devil’s Touch. Now I’m sure the writers meant well here, its just that (as the book states) “The BATF, NTSB, Department of Homeland Security, and Smokey the Bear have requested that we make a number of editorial changes in this chapter…” Here’s what follows.
All sorts of instructions for various pyrotechnics you can bring to your table, censored by The Man.
The next section of the book teaches some magic tricks, simple enough to perform at the table to “Wow!” your players. I say simple enough, but some of these tricks would require some good money and insane setup. Other tricks involve contact juggling, card flourishes, and dice tricks (using a string).
The remainder of the book is, other than seven player devoted pages (and “killer breakfast to go”), a new system they call xd20. Its a role playing system that focuses on the DM deciding the rules, rather than some written text doing all the work for them. The system works backward, lower numbers are best, with the intention of confusing the players. The goal is a game that puts the DM in control of everything, with the players bewilderingly going along with it.
Its possible the system is fun. I couldn’t see ever playing it though, or getting my players to play it. I’d bet it’s be great training for on the fly dungeon mastery though.
Overall, I’m satisfied with this book as a read through, but there’s not much to go back to. I skipped about half the chapters, skimmed through them at least, but I’m not going to start making holograms in my house with large sheets of plexiglass just to mess with my players (yes, they cover that). The half of the book that’s good is really good. It’s extremely humorous (even the lame half is humorous), well written, has some great insight and teaches a lot of sound lessons to new or old DM’s alike. The section titled “Narrative Bumper Pool (Closed Matrix)” was invaluable to me as a DM, which means the book itself has to be worth the $30 bucks… BUT
There’s a kindle version for $10, well worth the price, if you’re into that sort of thing.
On a final note I’d say see if you can get it through your library and give it a read, you’ll laugh and learn a lot. At my house though, it was the first book to leave the shelf when I started losing room.
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