Book Review: The Gazetteer Writer’s Manual by Deborah Teramis Christian and Bruce A. Heard

There are two aspects to RPGs… rules and settings. I have never been great at rules, but have always loved setting design. Building worlds, from creation myths and racial histories to area and dungeon maps and everything in-between, makes me a very happy writer when I get to dive in. But presenting those ideas to the world… that’s not always been an easy transition.

The Gazeteer Writer's ManualSo let’s talk about the Gazetteer Writer’s Manual from Deborah Teramis Christian and Bruce A. Heard from the World Building Academy. This 100+ page PDF offers information on a wide variety of subjects from finding a hook to answering questions about history, magic, technology, geography, economy, laws, developing organizations, and more. Whether you are focused on fiction or role-playing materials, it comes across as a bit more of a textbook than a guide to creating gazetteers in places. But there is a ton of great food for thought as well as links for additional research.

Lately I’ve been working on the One Spot series of supplements for Moebius Adventures. The newest product revolves around a fantasy town sheriff, so I was excited to see the sections of the GWM focusing on law enforcement, rights, and corruption in fantasy societies. Based on what I read, it seems the whole concept of the “sheriff” is a bit cliche it seems and pretty far from what actually happened in medieval life sso I may need to revisit this idea a bit.

Another section I found very useful was on designing organizations. Though it seems odd not to have a thieves’ guild in a fantasy world, it appears that like the concept of organized law enforcement more interested in enforcing “law” vs government policy, perhaps thievery wouldn’t have been as organized as it seems in many fantasy worlds. Defining more realistic secret societies and business-minded organizations interested in furthering their aims behind the scenes appears to be the way to go…

The book ends with a walkthrough useful for creating a more focused gazetteer called a “quickstart” — a guide specfically designed for a high-level introduction to what a person might know who grew up in that world. This serves as a good application of much of the information collected as a result of going through the rest of the book, but with a specific purpose in mind.

That’s what I really found useful in the GWM. Tons of historically-based ideas within the context of world building. And there is a logical flow or framework in which the information is presented. I just wish it was a bit more consumable. Though the ideas are well-written, I gave up reading textbooks years ago (except occasionally for work) and was really hoping for more in the way of examples, quotes, or even just a prettier format. It was a bit rough diving into the walls of text presented by this tome. I guess the Kobold Guides have spoiled me more than a little over the last couple of years.

It would have been nice to see more examples of how the questions asked could be arranged. If the book truly is for helping a writer design a gazetteer as a product, having different recipes towards that goal would have been very helpful. As it is, the “quickstart” is a great start. And you can grab a separate PDF that offers a taste of how the authors would use the approach in an actual document. More such examples or even partial examples would have helped.

If you’re looking for a solid framework to explore when doing world design for the purpose of creating a reference guide for yourself or others, the Gazetteer Writer’s Manual offers a ton of great information to get you going. It complements other world building books to help you package your world to make it more consumable for others and would be a great addition to your GM bookshelf!

For more information about the Gazetteer Writer’s Manual and the World Building Academy…

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