I missed out on the days of First Edition, but from what I’ve heard from friends who were gaming back then, one of the lovable quirks of the old Dungeon Master’s Guide was its collection of tables for various things. With just a few random rolls, you could determine who you met in town, what treasure was in a monster’s hoard, and so many other things. Nowadays, with concerns of balance and world-design, there’s far less emphasis placed on such randomness, and those quirky old tables are gone.
Luckily, AEG’s Ultimate Toolbox is there to bring them back again.
Now, to be clear, I never read the original Toolbox, so I can’t speak to how this is more expanded than the original. Hence, I’m reviewing this book on its own merits. And what merits they are. Four hundred pages long, with the front and back covers in a separate file, Ultimate Toolbox is big. The book is divided into seven chapters – character, world, civilization, maritime, dungeon, magic, plot – with an appendix. Each chapter then contains a number of tables that are thematically related to the chapter in question; the appendix contains miscellanious
Each table in the book contains twenty items; plenty of times, the subject matter would go on for far more than twenty entries, which resulted in them simply breaking the table and continuing on with the subject in another table. For example, Table 1-4: Character Backgrounds/Concepts 1 lists twenty possible character backgrounds, barely scratching the list of possibilities, and so continues to list them in Table 1-5: Character Backgrounds/Concepts 2.
The book is illustrated sparsely, with comparatively few grayscale images popping up every so often. However, each page has a fairly elaborate border, with chains hanging off of the tops of the pages, and an alternating bottom border with either a hooded figure or a pile of skulls. Obviously, this book isn’t printer-friendly, though I presume that there’s a print version of this book already for sale.
The one technical aspect of the book that I do find fault with, however, is the lack of bookmarks in the PDF. I’m of the opinion that all PDFs should utilize bookmarks, and that’s more true for this book than most. The sheer volume of tables here would make bookmarks, even to various sub-sections of chapters, extremely useful.
It should be said, also, that there’s more to this book than just tables. Various sidebars pop up every so often to discuss some finer point to various subjects. Even more helpful though are the “how to use this chapter” sections found at the end of each chapter. These provide a helpful example, usually more than one, to illustrate how you’d use combinations of these tables to chart things like communities, the history of a magic item, or a PC background, for instance. It’s a very helpful inclusion that puts a practical spin on the book’s contents.
Ultimate Toolbox may appear to just be a collection of random tables at first glance, but there’s far more to it than that. Arranged in a logical sequence, the tables cover a huge expanse of material, and have helpful examples for how to string them together to create interesting results for your campaign. The next time you need inspiration, or just want to randomly determine something that you hadn’t thought of, reach into your Ultimate Toolbox.