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Monday, February 13, 2017

Weekend R&R: Tome of Adventure Design

The first adventure I ever created had me mapping out a dungeon on some graph paper and creating a chart of random encounters while sprinkling random treasure here and there. I don't even recall if there was a particular goal but I'm sure there must have been. I do remember that it was a high level adventure but, at the time, I didn't have many books and resources to draw from. All I had was a few modules, the 2nd Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, and a lot of enthusiasm.

I also remember an entry on the random encounter table that called for '1d4 tarrasques'.  But hey, I was thirteen and I remember that my friends and I had a lot of fun despite the ridiculousness of it all.

In the months since that initial foray, my adventures became a bit more intricate and grandiose. They were not mere adventures but full fledged campaigns. Sometimes I would use a classic published adventure module to spring into a much more complicated and interlinked story line. I had an abundance of free time back then but as I got older, and became burdened with more obligations and responsibilities, this was no longer the case. Relying totally on published adventures, isn't ideal for some people either due to personal preference or simply not finding what would be a good fit.

Fortunately, there has always been resources available in one form or another. There are supplements, articles, and chapters dedicated to dungeon design offering methods to create a randomly generated one. The same can be said of aids to create brand new creatures or modifying existing ones for a variety of games. There is no shortage of tips offered to those looking for a bit of help and there have been great books that just contain pages of random tables for a myriad of different things either. However, in all my years of gaming and designing, I have few books that have impressed me as much as The Tome of Adventure Design published by Frod God Games.

The Tome of Adventure Design is by no means a new publication.  Portions of the book was first published by a smaller press called Black Blade Publishing around 2010. The present volume consists of four parts (or books) which focus on different aspects of adventure creation.  The first part is titled 'Principles and Starting Points' where as the second is simply titled 'Monsters'.  Both of these were initially published as separate titles though I was only nominally aware of the first one being a separate release. The second part of the book consists of a section on 'Dungeon Design' and the last for 'Non-Dungeon Adventure Design'.

In many ways, the Principles and Starting Points section is where the book takes its first, and best, step forward. It starts off with some very sound and basic advice on designing the adventure and basically discusses the importance of key elements to make the adventure not only stand out, but hold up. "A good adventure should maximize meaningful player decisions" is the first thing that is written past the introduction of this section and treats this as the cardinal rule of adventure design. With that in mind, it discusses the elements to making a key adventure starting off with concepts of backstory, location, and opposition and then exploring other factors.  However, what makes this section of the book useful is not simply talking about concepts but offering up tables covering various facets of all  these in many different tables.  There are over 35 tables and all of them have many multiple components for many different combinations. Some are percentile tables but others actually need a d1000 roll.

Usage might vary for the section section of the book dealing with Monsters. While the cover of the book for the newest printing describes this book as a tool to use with Swords & Wizards or Pathfinder, the truth of the matter is that the book is basically has no stats to use with any RPG.  Essentially, a lot of this material could even be adapted to different genres of gaming though clearly intended for fantasy RPGs. Tables break this section down to various categories and types of critters and through these, they are detailed enough to spark the imagination. Each category also has a helpful information detailing it giving a baseline understanding for the person using the tables. The closest supplement I've come across and liked to what this section provides would be The Random Esoteric Creature Generator by James Raggi and yet, this section is over twice as long. Imagine for a moment what you could whip up by using both of these resources together...

The other half of the book is on Dungeon and Non-Dungeon design and are the last two sections. Now, there are already plenty of examples and resources for a random dungeon design and even the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide for AD&D has some great tables for this in the back of the book. When I look through these tables, it feels that more effort and consideration has gone into these pages. It is important to point out that this section builds upon some of the material talked about in the first section. Tables are included to help further refine some of this material. Aside from tables for the actual design of the dungeon, it goes further with tables of oddities, special features, dungeon dressing, and contents. There are close to 185 tables in this section! The followup section adds another 100 tables to deal with everything that might happen elsewhere than a dungeon which is not something you see anywhere near as often.

If you consider the book as a whole, you have a few hundred tables which can all be used towards the same goal and that is to help you create a great and memorable dungeon with a minimum of fuss. It's a book that comes in at over 300 pages with a consolidated index to help find specific things. It's no secret that gamers do enjoy their random tables and these have always had a place in our tabletop roleplaying games. While many books have been published with a bunch of tables to assist a game master, this books stands out for specializing in a single task -- to create a memorable adventure. It is entertaining to look through and can equally be a quick fix to create something with a minimum of effort. It is also an attractive book (all black and white) to have on the shelf at a relatively reasonable price. You can order it direct from Frog God Games where the cover price of the book is $42 USD, or find it on the shelves of your friendly local game store or, save a tree and a bit of money and just get a PDF version over at RPGNow! over HERE for only $21 USD. It is, quite frankly, a book I wished I had many years ago.