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Odyssey: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management is the latest book from the guys at the Gnome Stew blog and it's perhaps their most universally useful. The reason I say this is that the book is all about Campaign Management, which is something most GMs who are running regular games will find of interest, regardless of their chosen system. Thus, whether you're a Pathfinder RPG or a Dogs in the Vineyard GM, the material in Odyssey is applicable. While Gnome Stew's other books are equally useful, they're not quite so universal depending on your chosen system (e.g., the 501 Adventure Ideas book isn't quite a useful in a prep-heavy system (e.g., like 4E D&D) versus something that's more improv based (e.g., Dungeon World).

The PDF is a 210 page, color-cover, grey-scale interior which is well laid out and easy to read. The art is very good – in particular I think the cover art is fantastic. In addition the choice of typeface gets a big thumbs up from me since it's very easy on the eyes when reading on my iPad. While I reviewed the PDF version, the book also comes in several ePub formats and will also have a print addition. The book is well-edited and free of typos (as far as I could tell). It looks nice and it reads equally well.

Having read, and regularly used, the first three books, Odyssey was a bit of a known quality to me – I expected it to be good and it lived up to expectations. The book breaks its campaign management advice into three sections corresponding to the challenges of building, maintaining, and ending a campaign. Each section offers specific advice to the reader and it's here that the book really shines for a simple reason: it doesn't offer you a “this is the only method” single approach but rather shows you how the group, their motives, and the format of the game can all influence decisions and therefore offers suggestions for all of them. However, this isn't wishy-washy, vague advice, nor is it a lot of overly obvious, common sense. That latter bit is something that drives me nuts about a lot of so called "GM advice" books that have been published in the past few years. In contrast, Odyssey gives the reader specific suggestions, tips, and recommendations that even a seasoned GM will find useful – whether just to provide affirmation for something he or she already does, or to offer a new approach to an old problem. All of this advice is accompanied with real life examples and the authors aren't afraid to include examples from their own games where things have gone wrong.

The Starting a Campaign section details how to flesh out campaign concepts, how to pitch them (again multiple approaches are outlined), and different approaches to the first session. The Managing a Campaign section advice on how to manage the story, the PCs, the actual players, and some of the issues that come up over the span of the game. Finally, the Ending a Campaign chapter deals with how to wrap things up, including approaches to killing or suspending a campaign that's lost its momentum or become “un-fun.”

So how does the advice stack up compared to my experiences over the past 29 years of GMing (gulp!)? Fantastic – you get a mixture of traditional and narrative approaches allowing almost anyone to get something out of the book. In particular, I like the Management chapter since it offers a lot of advice on the various aspects of running a game over a series of sessions. There was enough in this book to keep my attention – in fact, I've put it back onto my “to read” queue for the summer during which I'll re-read and annotate my copy so I can get the most out of the book. Overall, this book stacks up very well with the other Gnome Stew releases and, as I mentioned at the beginning, is probably the most universally accessible though not necessarily the book that will see the most regular use – that has to go to Eureka, which I pull out on a regular basis for inspiration. Like all four books, Odyssey is definitely worth the price and is a book that's sure to offer useful advice to almost anyone interested in GMing including first time GMs. Having read a lot of “GM guides”, this is easily one of the most useful since its advice is much more practical and useful on a regular basis. As such it's a book I would recommend to anyone and likely it'll find it's way on to my "holiday gift list" for a couple of my GM friends. As such I have to rate it as a "must buy" for anyone looking for advice on how to start and manage an ongoing RPG campaign.

Note: I received a complementary reviewer's copy of this book.
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Martin Ralya
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Thank you so much for reviewing Odyssey, MJ! This was a fantastic review to wake up to this morning.
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