Game: Ultimate Games Designer’s Companion
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 19th, June 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
The Ultimate Games Designer’s Companion – there, you’re curious already, it’s an “I want to buy this book” title. It’s a clever title; a psychological critical hit from Mongoose but it’s a title that follows perfectly innocently along in the Ultimate series.
It’s official, at the time of writing, the Ultimate series now out sells Mongoose’s Collector series. This is understandable, the Ultimate books are newer, they offer up the best of the best and although they might cost US$34.95 they’re also 250+ pages and a nice hardback frame. A real book for real gamers.
Yeah, the Ultimate Games Designer’s Companion is a real book – but what’s it about?
The Ultimate Games Designer’s Companion isn’t there to help you design your own RPG. The “game” in question would be your d20 scenario or campaign. An alternate title for the book might well have been “Ultimate GM’s Companion”. The UGDC concentrates on the crunchy bits too, aiming to provide the mechanics solution to typical GM problems or adding notes to new spaces on character sheets.
This book gathers together wisdom and dice tossing suggestions from more than the plethora of Mongoose books but from numerous other d20 publishers too. The famous Grim-n-Gritty combat rules by Kenneth S. Hood are here. Those rules quickly became a Mecha for d20 gamers after the release of 3rd edition and its great to see them immortalised in print and hard covers. The copyright notices from the back of the book is a nice summary of all the sources used.
: Gladiator – Sands of Death, Mongoose Publishing
: Seas of Blood, Mongoose Publishing
: The Quintessential Elf, Mongoose Publishing
: The Quintessential Wizard, Mongoose Publishing
: The Quintessential Fighter, Mongoose Publishing
: The Quintessential Rogue, Mongoose Publishing
: The Quintessential Witch, Mongoose Publishing
: The Quintessential Dwarf, Mongoose Publishing
: The Quintessential Monk, Mongoose Publishing
: The Quintessential Paladin, Mongoose Publishing
: The Quintessential Samurai, Mongoose Publishing
: The Judge Dredd Roleplaying Game, Rebellion / Mongoose Publishing
: The Rookie’s Guide to Crimina Organisation, Rebellion / Mongoose Publishing
: Slaine, Rebellion / Mongoose Publishing
: Dragonstar: Starfarer’s Handbook, Fantasy Flight
: Traps & Treachery, Fantasy Flight
: Deadlands d20, Fantasy Flight
: Seafarers Handbooks, Fantasy Flight
: Path of the Sword, Fantasy Flight
: Spycraft, AEG
: Monster, AEG
: Dragons, AEG
: Swashbuckling Adventures, AEG
: Heroes of High Favour – Dwarves, Badaxe Games
: Heroes of High Favour – Half-Orcs, Badaxe Games
: Tournaments, Fairs and Taverns, Natural 20 Press (now EN Publishing)
: Wild Spellcraft, Natural 20 Press
: T20 – The Traveller’s Handbooks, Quicklink Interactive / Far Future Enterpises
: Nyambe, Trident
: Villains, Bastion Press
: Beyond Monks, Chainmail Bikini Games
: The Grim-n-Gritty Hit Point and Combat System, Kenneth S. Hood
: Black Flags, Avalanche Press
: Babylon 5 Roleplaying Game, Warner Bros / Skirmisher Publishing
Okay. That’s my re-ordered and abridged list.
I’m pleased to note that it’s not just high fantasy in there. A quick look back up the list spies Modern (Spycraft) and Sci-Fi (Dragonstar, Judge Dredd) as well as the historic pirates of Black Flags, the African setting of Nyambe and the late stone age celtic Slaine setting.
Ultimate Games Designer’s Companion begins with the rules for chariots and swiftly moves on to more modern car chases. The nautical travel rules from Seas of Blood combine nicely with Black Flags and it’s going to make the Living Imagination Vs Mongoose recommendation for nautical adventures even harder now. After this there are rules for vehicles in general, fine to colossal (VI, no less) vehicles, collisions, manoeuvres, damage, weapons… and really everything you need from a scooter up to an interstellar battleship. I think you could call this cluster of rules “chapter one” – but the UGDC doesn’t.
Short sections for alchemical elixirs, dwarf craftsmanship, poison manufacture and savage craftsmanship come next. It’s good to see Badaxe Games doing well in the list of Ultimate sources. Savage craftsmanship would be orc or goblin manufactured weapons and similarly cheap but low quality items.
There is a host of new skills in the Ultimate Games Designer’s Companion and there are even more new uses for old skills. I’m rarely fond of the latter, since these so-called “new uses” are all too often rather obvious and hardly new at all but the UGDC does sort the wheat from the chaff for us and offer up only the best.
The rules for trap construction include the wonderful magical trap/matrices rules from Mongoose’s own Quintessential Rogue. Magic traps are the mainstay of many dungeon-based adventures and yet are woefully neglected in DM orientated supplements. The spell matrices rules were one of the reasons to buy the Quintessential Rogue but it seems like an eternity ago that that early Collector Series book was published. The reprieve of the rules here is warmly welcomed.
There are rules for aerial combat too. This makes the UGDC’s collection of nautical, vehicular and aerial a tempting one-stop shop for such things. I suppose you could add the Arcane Duel rules into that category as well, which is perhaps why they follow on from the aerial rules. The rules for nautical battles are not adjacent to the nautical travel section but appear later on at about page 130.
After these rules for different combat settings the book presents rules for different combat styles. It’s here we’ll find the grim-n-gritty or cinematic combat rules as well as mechanics for called shots and firefights. After rules and a description for Jousting we catch up with nautical battles and Mongoose’s Open Mass Combat System. It’s easy to see why these topics aren’t divided up into chapters – it would be impossible to work out where to put everything. After securing you’re overseas trading route and sending in the expeditionary army you’ll want rules for merchants and trading.
The rules for recording panache as a note on your character sheet marks a change of tone in the book and would probably be a good place for one of those impossible chapter markers. In the same section we’ve got mechanics (prerequisites, benefits, special) for Personality Traits and then rules for reputation. Social Combat deals with wordy duels, character assassination and rumour manipulation.
Crunch doesn’t have to mean combat: social or physical. In the Ultimate Games Designer’s Companion there’s a decent clump of rules for books and libraries. Essentially, this section addresses both books and libraries as a resource and something the players will want to get the most out of. If you want rules for how long it’ll take to find something in a library of size X that’s organised at Y efficiently then these are the rules for you.
It’s back to combat. The handiness of having aerial, nautical and vehicular combat rules all under one roof has already been noted and start at page 195 we’ve got rules for more obscure environments. Slippery locations, for example, slopes, close quarters, fighting in weird gravity or while climbing.
The section of rules for hideouts and secret locations suddenly scale up to planet creation in a surreally funny way. I suppose if the book allows the GM to design everything from the planet to a shady cluster of trees on it where the bandits hide then it has every right to use the “Ultimate” title.
Safely beyond the 200 page mark the UGDC takes the tournament events from the recently PDF-to-softback converted Tournaments, Fairs & Taverns and places them back to back with rules for town guard and police.
The last couple of pages are a collection of miscellaneous rules. Underwater Adventures might well have gone with the unusual environment combat rules but it’s found here instead. Most of the book simply presents extra and optional rules, the alternative combat sections being an exception. The Damage Reducing Armour section is another. If you don’t like the d20 quirk where armour makes you harder to hit then these rules will tempt you. There’s a return to Tournaments, Fairs and Taverns for the drinking and getting drunk rules and the miscellaneous collection then continues with fishing, training animals and then a final section on adapting to terrain.
The book is held together, as is a key for all the Ultimate series, with a comprehensive index. It might be hard to clump all these rules together by subject matter but it’s easy enough to find what you’re looking for – and that’s the important thing.
The Ultimate Games Designer’s Companion has a more ambitious target than the previous books in the series but it achieves its successes with the same surefooted certainty. If you’re happy to accept Games Design as meaning the design of d20 campaigns and if you’re just as willing to take the book as system mechanics support then there’s no doubting its usefulness and quality. In any case, the UGDC serves well as a supplemental DM’s Guide and is a solid resource.