Imagine a book filled with essays on the art and science of designing role-playing games and RPG adventures, all written by some of the biggest names in that eldritch field of endeavor: Wolfgang Baur, Monte Cook, Rob Heinsoo, Michael Stackpole, Ed Greenwood and more. That’s exactly what this book is, and it’s pretty damn awesome.
The Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design is an omnibus edition that collects material from earlier Kobold guides, with some new pieces worked in. It could be considered something of a companion piece to the Kobold Guide to Board Game Design. Essays about RPGs are necessarily more abstract than ones about board games. Both, I think, are equally valuable volumes, but Board Game Design deals more with aspects of game theory and prototyping, while this newer compilation talks about pacing, story structure, combat and magic systems, and other particulars of the pen and paper RPG (it even touches on video game RPGs from time to time).
Because RPGs are by nature more subjective, you’ll find yourself disagreeing with some of the essays. There’s as much to be learned in that as in nodding sagely along with an essay you agree with, so that’s certainly no fault. In fact, at times it’s entertaining and enlightening to watch a particular author debate himself in the course of a single essay. Wolfgang Baur’s piece on reducing complexity in RPGs actually goes back and forth on the subject (simplicity is good! but not too simple! actually, complexity is fine! sometimes!), making it one of the better and more memorable essays. As another example, I found Michael Stackpole’s treatise on creating magical systems oddly constrained and limiting, but it got me thinking about magic systems in new ways.
In addition to the more intellectual pieces, there are some very practical articles detailing things like how to playtest, how to playtest at a game con, how to pitch an idea to a publisher, how to avoid blowing deadlines, and even how to create a combat system from scratch. Worldbuilding, plot creation, how to build magic items for RPG design contests, running noir campaigns, and use of locations as a basis for adventures are among the other topics covered.
This book is probably useful to a wider audience than the Board Game Design book, because everyone who plays an RPG (GMs in particular) is in some way a designer. You’ll be able to use the advice found in this to create your homebrew campaign world, write up a snappy adventure, or even to create and play an interesting character.