Friday, December 9, 2011

John Wick's Play Dirty Review

Play Dirty is a re-annotated collection of a "GM Advice" column written in Pyramid magazine by John Wick. I think this book is one of the reasons people develop irrational love or hate of the inimitable author. It's a slim volume, but like most of what comes through John Wick Presents, it's short but sweet and packed with content.

Those quotes around "GM Advice" exist because when you pick up this book (or PDF), you will not be getting a how-to laundry list. When you thumb through the text, you'll be Mr. Miyagied (yes a verb) into a particular play style. The undercurrent of the whole thing is that awesomeness can occur by the GM taking off the kiddy gloves and craft an experience which makes the players feel for the characters and their sacrifices. It does this through examples of past games run this way, the effects of this approach, and what you need to do to make it work.

The smooth bits:
  • An easy, pointed, and conversational flow, a John Wick trademark I believe.
  • A great example of a particular GM-style
  • Good concrete examples of positive things a GM can do, whether you like the style or not

The sandpaper slide:
  • Though this book is often touted around the 'net as an Advice Handbook and it does give advice, its really a collection of articles not a single cohesive narrative. This is obvious if you read the author's description, but less so if you impulse buy. Know what you're getting.
  • There is a strong voice in this book which implies that this perspective as being a 'better' way to run games. If you can look past that, its a great resource.
  • A little short (then again its just 5 bucks for the PDF).


I urge folks that rankle at the whole idea of making your players twist, to still think about reading this book. Without some negative or low points in your game, you run the danger of being bland and having players feel very little investment. Even if you don't go full bore, there are a few techniques which you can add to spice up your game. I read this book in part based on wanting to hear from a "firebrand" personality in the pen and paper industry, and while the author has a message it's much more measured and helpful than the buzz suggests. Also kudos for a sane $5 pricepoint for this PDF, a trend for nearly every product in the John Wick Presents library.

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