Book Review: "Works of Shakespeare" Using Shakespeare in Role-Playing Games

Epic drama is a key foundation of all role-playing games. I always believed that a good RPG is closer to interactive theatre than a game. With this in mind, I was excited to see a new offering from Louis J. Porter Designs , “Works of Shakespeare” by Jason J. McCuiston. The title is not very descriptive, but it is a gaming supplement describing how to use some of Shakespeare’s classic plays as RPG scenarios. I plunked down my $12.99 at Lulu.com and got a copy.

Lulu is a print on demand service, so I actually got a book, not a PDF file.

Full Disclosure: I paid full retail for this book. I do not get any income from links or sales.

Upfront Review: Do not buy this book. Summaries of Shakespeare’s plays are most of the content. Only a relatively few pages of “game” useful information. It reads like a very long version of “Cliffs Notes.”

The book contains 52 glossy pages in a sepia-toned cover. The print quality is good, but the binding was…interesting. Lulu.com describes the book thusly:

Printed: 52 pages, 8.5″ x 11″, saddle-stitch binding, black and white interior ink

I learned something from this purchase. “Saddle-stitch binding” is printer code for “staples.” Something to keep in mind for future Lulu.com purchases.

“Henry V” opens the book. I mean this literally. The “Henry V” section starts on the first page after the credits/author page. There is no index or explanation of what the book is for or how to use it. Pages 1-10 contain summaries of each act in the play. Pages 10-14 include some stat blocks and scenario ideas related to the play. This pattern repeates in the subsequent chapters as the author covers “Macbeth,” “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

The stat blocks are standard 3.5 SRD entries, with some modification. For example, Macbeth gets a +4 vs fear because of his fervent belief in the witch’s prophecy. They are formatted nicely, but nothing special really leapt out at me.

“Story seeds” are ideas for running the plays as game scenarios. Besides the original play scenarios, a few alternatives are offered. In an “Othello” story seed, Othello is the villian, a dark magician using magic to seduce Desdemona.

Some of the seeds were fun, but did not add enough to stop me feeling like I overpaid.

If you strip out the summary sections, the actual game “crunch” is probably less than half of the total page count. I, and any high school graduate, does not need a summary of these plays. It might make sense for “Titus Andronicus” or other obscure works, but these plays are iconic.

The writing quality and editing are good, but the entire book reads like “Cliffs Notes.” In fact, sparknotes.com is listed as a source in the bibliography!

Sadly, I cannot recommend this supplement. It does not contain enough content to justify the price.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

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trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

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