One of the blogs that I frequent most often – in fact on of the first gaming blogs that I started to seriously follow – was that of Jeff Rients. So when I learned that he had produced a couple of OSR gaming supplements – this and the 'Ye Olde Book of Spells', to be reviewed shortly – they immediately went on my 'to be purchased' list.
OK, it wasn't going to be particularly likely that I wasn't going to like this one, and I did. I only have one complaint, which is fairly easily addressed, that I will get to at the end of the review. Physical structure first? The cover, well, sucks. Who cares. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and I stopped judging books by their cover years ago. You get a thirty-six page digest-sized book that fits perfectly on the lower of my 'little book nooks'.
The book is simply and gloriously a fairly random selection of random tables, that can frankly be used with just about any xD&D game or simulacrum. Someone running an Arduin game would love these. In order, you get:
Monster Mutations. A great table to personalise a specific monster, and the overcome the 'not another Goblin' problem. Or even to create a whole new variant race, along the lines of Arduin's flying kobolds.
Six Sages. Slightly weaker than the first, simply because there are only a few here, but still six useful NPCs, each with an adventure seed.
Twelve 'What's My Motivation' for this dungeon crawl tables. Brilliant. But...there are a hundred entries in the full table! I'd have printed the whole darn thing, myself. Bumped the book to forty pages.
Treasure Map Destinations. I stopped using 'Treasure Map' on random tables because my players insisted on actual freaking maps. Something like this is excellent.
A dozen random saints. Great stuff. Lots of 'hey that's' call-outs as well.
The 'Twelve' (sic) Gods of Neutrality. Actually Twenty, but more is always good on a random table. And these are good entries.
Twenty 'Loathsome Toad Gods'. Great – but you try and pronounce 'JaeXYI'!
People to Meet – non-monster encounters for the road. Again, always a good thing. Just ask my group. (Who shudder when they see a carpenter...or a joiner...!)
Carousing. A table of consequences from an all-night bender. Great for the 'ale and whores' types.
The Living Dungeon. Brilliant – always great to keep the players guessing to make changes to the dungeon. And when those changes cause them to get hopeless lost and eaten by the grue, I now have someone to blame!
One Hundred Room Names for Dungeons...fine. But I'd rather have had the full hundred motivations.
Humanoid Politics. Another great table for working out what that minor, randomly rolled group of gnolls are up to.
Orcish Moodiness – similar to the above, but more individual.
What are the Goblins up to? Trying on pretty pink dresses, of course! (This is definitely going into my next campaign.)
Beyond the Goblin Door – what is behind that weird door in the dungeon that you haven't mapped out yet...this answers that question.
Deadly gases – variation on the 'room filled with poison gas'.
Dungeon Escapes. Used for a 'West Marches' game where the PCs choose to remain in a dungeon rather than return to safety. More fool them!
Minor Magic Items – again, always good. I'll take the Dragonscale Codpiece.
Loot Storage Alternatives. Great to fool players used to finding 'chests' lain about a dungeon.
Pre-rolled treasure hoards – as stated.
In all of these tables, there are several real wins - 'Monster Mutations', 'Minor Magic Items', 'Humanoid Politics' and 'Treasure Map Destinations' are probably my favourites, and only a couple of misses. I use random tables a lot during a campaign, to introduce that random element to keep me guessing, and to provide for times when the PCs go 'off the map'. So this book is great, and wins on the 'gonzo weird' chart.
My criticisms are minor. Complete tables would have been better – it is not as if the page count is limited by anything, after all. And it's whetted my appetite, so how about Volume 2....