A fantasy adventure game, at its very heart, is about developing an open-ended "story" of the characters. The referee is in charge of the fantasy world, and the players direct the actions of their characters in that fantasy world. Neither the referee nor the group of players has complete control over what’s going to happen, and the result is an evolving set of surprises for both the referee and the players. Unlike the players, as the referee and creator of the game world, most of your “work” is done ahead of time. To some degree or other, you have to create the groundwork for the adventure before the game starts. Even though no battle plan survives contact with the enemy—and if you’re an experienced referee you know exactly what I mean—the game has to start...with a starting point. This might just be a vague set of ideas, or it might be as complex as a set of maps with a detailed key and well thought-out encounters for the players to run into.
The Tome of Adventure Design is organized as a series of "books," each one providing resources at every step of the way. The vast majority of the content of each book is made up of random generation tables that we created over a quarter of a century (sigh) for our own use. It shoud be said up front that these are tables for deep design—in other words, most of them are too long, and contain too many unusual or contradictory entries, for use on the spot at the gaming table. There are already many excellent books of tables for use on the fly; the tables in these books are different. They work best as a tool for preparation beforehand, providing relatively vast creative resources for browsing and gathering, rather than quick-use tables designed to provide broad, fast brushstrokes. Our shorter tables tend to deliver cryptic results designed to shock the reader’s creativity into filling in the gaps, whereas the longer tables are unusably vast for easy random generation, being designed to shock the reader’s creativity into operation by presenting a sea of possibilities.
Now this is a great book. With 300+ pages of random tables this a great tool to kickstart side quests, and potentially larger adventures. My game is suffering from a bit of a dry-spell, so i decided to randomly generate a couple of side-quests to see where it led me. Each took about 15 minutes (including caffeine breaks) to generate and edit to fit my setting (a Jerusalem style city of crusaders).
Seeing is believing, so without any further ado:
1) The Moneyleder's Message (Purpose based plot, title is mine but seem obvious)
A moneylender needs to bring a message to victim of slander, and presumably offer the characters the job.
The villain's plan is to destroy a good-aligned church, specifically anyone who participated in recent ceremony.
Obviously the victim of slander is being set-up as someone who would kill the participants of the beforementioned ceremony.
The villain has an unusual minon, an intelligent and charismatic peasant, who actually uses the villain for his own purposes.
Based on this I could easily assign a villain (foreign mages), mobs (sellswords), and a ceremony (a recent church meeting). I was stuck with only one loose end (the ectoplasmic vines). Great stuff, I never saw this coming, and it fits!
2) The Cursed Grotto of the Elephant-Brood (Event based plot, but started with a location)
A recent ceremony was disrupted, and the heroes need to expose the culprits, should they choose to get involved.
A potential patron is a landrights archivist, whose prime motivation is revenge on a political leader.
The archivist is probably misinformed however, because the villain acts on random, performing arcane rituals following the cycle of a magic device.
This villain has forced a highly superstitius expert the local area into his service.
This will somehow - based on title - lead the characters to a cursed grotto with an elephant theme. Oher notable landmarks in the grotto includes The Hypnotic Erotic Crypts, and The Occasionally Functioning Runes. The grotto's current state was set up by humanoid about 10 years ago, and feuding fractions hid a map in the grotto about at the same time.
Again I have to assign a villain - a deranged mage is tempting, but perhaps a bit cliche - and I have to come up with a few clues to actually lead them to the grotto itself. No loose ends, excepts perhaps the crypts - I have not figured that one out yet. The elephant theme is easy, what about an elephant ghost?
Need I say more? This book is highly recommended, but is perhaps not for everyone. Perhaps an old-school sentiment and a sense of humor is required. I KNOW I'm gonna enjoy this, and my players will give me numerous puzzled glances.
It's a great book for generating ideas. The tables are well developed and contain a wealth of creative ideas. A quick read through the book sparked so many ideas. I often pull it out to help generate ideas in between major adventures, to flesh out NPC's, or add to dungeons. The ideas work just rolling off tables, but to make sense of most of it you'll need to add some work yourself. I highly recommend this to any GM. As for the book - having bought a few things from frog god I can say this continues the high quality production. Binding is excellent, despite having the book continually open wide there is no damage to the spine or binding. The print is quality and the covers are good thick stock (although the post from US to OZ still managed to damage the corner of the book, crushing it inwards - and that would have taken some effort)
I ordered this at the same time I paid for shipping for the The Slumbering Tsar off of FGG's website. My review is off the PDF only.
If you take out the obligatory Table of Contents, Introduction, Credits, Table Lists, Indexes, et cetera, the Tome of Adventure Design (ToAD) is roughly 4 books.
Book One - Principals and Starting Points: Page's 5-53 (48 pages total). This book covers ideas on Creating Adventures, Locations, Missions, and Villain's Plan.
Book Two - Monsters: Pages 54-125 (71 pages total). This Book covers Monsters Generally, Monster Types and General Monster Tables.
Book Three - Dungeon Design: Pages 126 - 259 (133 pages total). Covers the Creative Process, basic Elements of Adventure Design, and Designing a Dungeon (including maps, areas, tricks, traps, etc).
Book Four - Non-Dungeon Adventure Design: Pages 260- 301 (41 pages total). This book covers Aerial Adventures, Castles and Ruins, Cities and Settlements, Planar Adventures, Underwater Adventures, Waterborne Adventures, and Wilderness Adventures.
The entire book is 307 pages long.
The book is a list of tables, often times 2-4 columns requiring a d100 roll per column. For example, table 1-1B Locations (Overview) from Book One Principles and Starting Points
, I just rolled a d100 4 times for the structure description--structure--Feature First Word--Feature Second Word. I got: Crimson Coliseum of the Guardian Nomads.
But the treasure of this book isn't in coming up with cool names or tables to quickly create a dungeon, but rather to educate novice and experienced DMs on how to get their creative juices flowing. The book is rife with advice on how to use the tables to get into a creative state where ideas start to flow.
AND IT WORKS!
I was in a bored rut dming, and now I am teaming with ideas I am excited to try. Seriously, looking at the table of contents does the book no justice. When I first opened the Table of Contents and saw a section on monsters, I just sighed. I mean really....I have three bestiaries and the Tome of Horrors. What a waste! And then I started reading and I started to get excited about designing a unique monster to mix in the story, and then I started to see adventures and side quests I could do. It is a book on innovative thinking.
Every DM or person wanting to take a hand at dming should at the very least read pages 127-128. It is the most concise description of creativity and how to get your mind "there" that I have ever read. That should have been next to the Introduction at the beginning of the book, but it is nice to see practical advice peppered through-out the tables.
I was also pleased that the Dungeon Book was the longest section. Reading that helps me come up with ideas for stories--and that is ok.
ToAD is not a random adventure generator. It is a comprehensive tool used to get your creative juices and excitement flowing when you sit down to create an adventure, and when it starts working you stop rolling and reading and sit back and surf the creative wave you forgot you had in you.
Edited to change "Tome of Horrors" to "Slumbering Tsar" in the first paragraph. I already received that big 'ol TOME.
This is a great book of random tables AND a great book of tips on the creative process and adventure design. There are a lot of clever little ideas in here, from how to get started on the process (actually that's a big idea) to how to make plausible arcane symbols to how to flesh out a map. Very highly recommended for anyone looking to GM or design a fantasy game - Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry, or anything else.
Please see here for a much more detailed version of this review.