Review: The Kobold Guide to Game Design Volume I

Foto Recently a lot of RPG blogs have posted reviews of the third volume of the Kobold Guide, so it seems I am a bit late to the party. In the long run I plan to post reviews of the second and third volume, too, but today I want to start with the 1st book in the series.

Wolfgang Baur’s The Kobold Guide to Game Design Volume I: Adventures (quite a mouthful) has piqued my interest quite some time ago. Wolfgang Baur is probably known to most of you as the editor-in-chief of Kobold Quarterly, a quarterly magazine focused on D&D, Pathfinder and fantasy roleplaying in general. His company Open Design is also know for it’s patronage system. You can check out current projects which you can support as a patron here.

When he started the first patronage project at his company Open Design he thought about ways to keep patrons interested and entertained until the release of the first product, so he started writing essays on adventure design. These essays which were initially exclusive to the patron were later released in this awesome book.

When I first held the Kobold Guide in my hands I was surprised how small it is. For some reason I expected it to be of standard size. But now that I have carried it around in my backpack for a couple of weeks, I am glad it’s just digest sized. But don’t think just because it uses a small format it lacks content! The exact opposite is the case. The 75-paged softcover book is crammed full of great advice in the form of entertaining issues written by Wolfgang Baur and other industry veterans.

Volume 1 of the Kobold Guide to Game Design contains the following essays:

  • The Three Audiences
  • Shorter, Faster, Harder, Less
  • Why Writers Get Paid
  • Fantasy Realism
  • Worldbuilding
  • Pacing
  • Using and Abusing Misdirection
  • Monster Hordes
  • Stagecraft by Nicolas Logue
  • On the Street Where Heroes Live by Ed Greenwood
  • City Adventures
  • What Makes a Night Arabian?
  • Hardboiled Adventures by Keith Baker
  • The Underdark
  • Fire and Sword

The Kobold Guide is definitely one of the best advice books I’ve read so far. Wolfgang is never preachy and gives some deep insights not only in the way he designs adventures but also into the industry. While the essays have been written with adventure design for D&D in mind, most of the tips definitely apply to other games as well.

My favorite essays are definitely Why Writers Get Paid and Keith Baker’s contribution Hardboiled Adventures:

  • In Why Writers Get Paid Wolfgang writes about the hardest stage of any design process, when you get the feeling that your work sucks and that you’ll never finish it. I know I have been at this stage often and most of the time I decided to move on to new things. Perhaps I will heed his advice in the future and “tough it out”.
  • As a fan of Keith Baker’s Eberron campaign setting, Hardboiled Adventures was of special interest to me. In this essay he explains the cornerstones of the Noir genre and how these can be applied to your D&D game (or any other game for that matter).

If you are even remotely interested in writing your own adventures or in the life and tides of professional RPG designers, you should definitely get the Kobold Guide. It’s entertaining to read and extremely interesting. You can get it as softcover book directly from Open Design or your favorite local or online gaming store or via RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.

This review is based on a read through of the softcover version of the book which has been provided by Open Design LLC for reviewing purposes.