I really don't know where to begin in thoroughly recommending this book. If you have any interest in designing RPG games (or any game at all, for that matter) this is the best book for your bank. Neal Hallford lays it all right out in front. From story design to gameplay mechanics to writing your pitch documents, this book will show you the most important stages of game development. More importantly, this book is down to earth and easily digestible. The chapters and subsections were written in a very clear and concise manner. I've seen other game design books that failed to educate or even entertain.
Neal Hallford writes this book not only from the point of view of a veteran game designer (Betrayal at Krondor, Dungeon Siege, and others), but also from the point of view of a GAMER. It is from that point of view that really makes this title stand out. You can tell how much he enjoys his work, and his excitement for the focus medium (RPGs) is infectious as you read. He really helps you to craft a world in your own mind (and helps you think `outside of the box' as you design). Each chapter is complete with a handful of exercises to help the budding game designer expand the way in which they think about games
This title is also rife with interesting tidbits and trivia about past games and game development. Neal Hallford never forgets that, even though this is a billion-dollars-a-year industry, we make GAMES. Even though the process should be taken seriously, you should work very hard at both doing it well, and having fun while you do it. The process itself is, in fact, one of the strongest aspects of this title. Neal takes you through every step of the process including writing your design document (the game designer's bible, as it were). He points out critical features, and common oversights. Again, he does all of this in a way that is very easy to understand.
Finally, the appendix to this title is a treasure trove itself. Included in the back of the book are interviews with some of the top game developers in the business. And while many other books have included `fluff' interviews with game designers, this book actually focuses on the critical topic: game design. You learn about how different game designers work, how they approach certain problems, and where they get their inspiration. In addition to these interviews, you can also find sample design documents, descriptions of levels, and charts for gameplay mechanics.
I don't recommend this book. I demand that you buy it. If you have even a passing interest in game design, this book was written for you. Professionals should own it. This is even a great resource for mod authors who are looking for help in creating their own worlds within other game titles. You won't be sorry.