Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Review: Ultimate Toolbox

I am a big fan of random rolling. Don't get me wrong: I like making stuff up whole-cloth as much as the next guy, but if there's one thing that I've learned over my years of gaming, it's that rolling randomly often gives me fun results that I never would have come up with on my own.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I jumped on AEG's new supplement, Ultimate Toolbox, as soon as I learned it was available. The back cover blurb describes it as "400 pages of the best charts, tables, and seeds of gaming adventure." It's a massive expansion of their well-received Toolbox sourcebook, released for the d20 system several years back. Ultimate Toolbox cleans that product up, removes the d20 gaming statistics, and adds a whole lot more random tables.

As can probably be gleaned from the book's cover, which appears to depict a cleric of the new default D&D death goddess, the Raven Queen, Ultimate Toolbox is still aimed at those running and playing D&D-style fantasy. The book organizes its charts into seven chapters: Character, World, Civilization, Maritime, Dungeon, Magic, and Plot. Each chapter contains around one to two hundred d20 charts that can be used to generate a bewildering variety of useful information that one might need to produce on the fly (or any time inspiration is needed). Here are some sample tables that I've randomly flipped to:
  • Druidic Orders (Character chapter)
  • National Calamities, Magical (World chapter)
  • Power Behind the Throne (Civilization chapter)
  • Ship Names (Maritime chapter)
  • Potion Tastes 2 (Dungeon chapter)
  • Command Words, Healing (Magic chapter)
  • Gossip About a Group/Guild (Plot chapter)

Naturally, the real question here is "how good is the stuff you can roll up?" Well, they're generally pretty good. Results can be dull ("Ranger" under Ranger Titles), anachronistic ("Bring it on!" under Battle Cries 1), ornate ("Scarlands of the Bladed Earth" under Desert Names), or inspired ("Pretty wife of an ugly man said to be magically animated statue" under Local Legends 1). There is a lot of material here I would probably never use, but I think the point of this book is to help you out when something you thought would never come up in your game suddenly does. I found that the World and Plot chapters, especially, would be useful if one needs to whip up an adventure background when their player characters elect to wander off the map.

As far as drawbacks, there are a few. Ultimate Toolbox is a project that likely exhausted its authors, and while most of the results you can roll up are pretty interesting, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes you can roll up a dud. This is probably inevitable when you have three people creating over 700 charts, but it should be mentioned. Also, as in many RPG products, I noticed quite a few typos that easily would have been caught with even a simple spell check - "steppe" is consistently misspelled as "steepe", for example. If you're a person who likes a book packed with glossy artwork, look elsewhere - there are a few pen and ink illustrations here and there, but nothing that will knock your socks off. Finally, the book is pricey - $49.95 for a black-and-white softcover.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I picked up Ultimate Toolbox. It isn't perfect, but it does deliver what it promises: piles and piles of random tables. If you're the type of gamer that enjoys such things, as I am, it's a purchase worth considering.

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