|Array of Random Tables|
Array of Random Tables
The Tome of Adventure Design is an impressive volume, but there is something lacking.
It feels bland. The cover betrays it immediately, it's not leather, it's not embossed, there are no strings. The fore edge is uniformly darker, no helpful contrast, the book has four parts but there are no shortcuts to each of the four chapters, no tone change on the fore edge. The Apophenia Engine monopolizes the outer edge of the page and darkens it.
I really like this engine, I like oracles, hints givers and the like. I find myself granting the Tome a double A4 area on my table and opening it at random, "Gem is cursed", "Movement", "Colorful Boots" it says... That is very pleasant.
Does the Apophenia Engine save the Tome? Without the Engine, the rational way to use the book is to start at the table of content (page 3), pick "Principles Starting Points" (page 15), "Monsters" (page 87), "Dungeon Design" (page 193), or "Non-Dungeon Adventure Design" (page 419).
The apophenia starts here for me, drift, and find as Matt Finch writes. "Anima/Monster Part", "Unusual Cliffsides", "Tail Attacks", ... There are 9 pages in the table of content, and despite its ordering, it already works for me. I feel tempted to draw out the Stabilo and highlight all the content words in the table of content...
Should the Apophenia Engine save the Tome? I have the impression that the engine second goal is to invite us to open the Tome at random points and get hooked. Why don't I get hooked? Does the stacking of words work when moving from the edge of the page towards the spine? There are certainly words, in tables. What table is that? Oh, the top of the page states it's the "Complex Architectural Tricks continued", that table runs on three consecutive pages, it has four columns, and it feels broken.
What got revised in the revised edition? Is it simply old edition plus Apophenia Engine? Does this engine make sense in a PDF? Does a PDF make more sense than a physical book when tables flow from one page to the next? It's a tome of adventure design, not a PDF of adventure design.
Those spread tables provide no hook for me. I cannot grasp a table in one glance, I am turned off. Using the Tome feels like work, get to the table of content, state what you want, get there, roll (browse a bit), get back to the top of the table, roll again on another of its columns.
The tables look blank, air flows through them, but "Tripwire activates trap when pulled" repeated four times, triggers the same samey same pattern acknowledgement in my mind. The illustrations are rare, they are natural hooks, the rhythm of the table goes on without hookable disruptions. I have trouble orienting myself in the tome.
I am reminded of oyster farms, it's nicely distributed on the surface, there might be loot down there, but what shows is just an array of floating platforms.
My favourite sets of random tables are the D30 DM Companion and the D30 Sandbox Companion, their tables are compact, they're easily printable and can be put behind a referee screen or pasted in a personal compilation of randomery.
The picture next here is of Stars Without Number on top of the Tome of Adventure Design. I'm placing it here not just to show the better binding and the bookmark ribbon that would make the Tome feel more like a tome, but also as a reminder that Kevin Crawford is a master in crafting concise tables and arraying concepts on a page spread.
What is the Tome of Adventure Design lacking? It should arrive and sit on my shelf and trigger as soon as touched and make me want to draw out the dice and roll something. It lacks work on my part. It's not the dice that will have to come out first, it's the Stabilo and the page markers, I need to make this tome mine.
Or, I should scan/re-digitize the random tables, re-layout the ones I like/need and then paste them in my own compilation book of randomery? Along with the tables from other games or from blogs here.
I'd probably paste the Apophenia Engine as well, it is excellent, and it stands and shines on its own.