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 should 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 unusable vast for easy random generation, being designed to shock the reader’s creativity into operation by presenting a sea of possibilities.