Classic RPG Review #13: Dungeon Master's Design Kit (AD&D)

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons supplement
by Harold Johnson and Aaron Allston
1988 TSR Inc., Lake Geneva WI, USA

Three thin booklets in a soft cover. One called Adventure Design, a second is the Forms Book, and the third – also just 32 pages thick – is the Adventure Cookbook. Advanced players of course scoff at it, because hey, it's AD&D and it's commercial and... it's a cookbook. You cannot make gourmet adventures with a cookbook, can you?

But as I hardly dare admit to my regular players, I actually use this one. Not always by long, but more often than you might think. It's not bad at all, especially if you use it just to jog your imagination. Imagination which can run dry, as many a GM may know. Or get stuck in the wordprocessor somewhere.

The cookbook (book III) has a number of quick random tables to decide what your adventure of this evening will be like. You just roll percentage dice, and see what comes up. Before you know it, you have the outline of... some sort of story anyway. Say it's an espionage adventure, featuring the long escape of the heroes. They may start out with the dying delivery of another spy, somewhere in a cosmopolitan city (you'll have a favorite in your campaign). They'll end in a madman's fortress and will visit a magic lake, be helped by a merry minstrel and face a ravager for a master villain. A chief assassin will make their lives harder, and the whole thing will climax in a bloody battle. Good eh? Just ten dice rolls!

Alright, it's fuzzy, and you'll have to fill in a lot of the blanks for yourself, but it often helps me to get ideas. And if it does not, then I'll surf a bit on internet or pick one of my history books to think of something new. Or I plunder from films, series and books. Anyhow, whenever I'm stuck, I often find myself browsing this little booklet. And that's a feat for something twenty years old.

The other two booklets were fun to read once, but these are less my own style. They might be helpful for many a Game Master (or Mistress) though. If you want to structure your ideas, and plan your adventure or campaign well ahead, put it all down in prearranged forms where you can find what you need, then this may be for you. Just be sure to copy your forms before you make the booklet useless for another time.

And if you fill out all the sheets for your session you will probably spend more hours preparing your adventure than you'll end up playing. Unless you use it twice, maybe. Like, hey, you want to play my Bloody Quest of the Dead Minotaur again? Or you could sell your hard work as a module to other game masters.

Seriously, the Adventure Design booklet contains a lot of good advice and things to think about. Choosing a villain, choosing scenes, fleshing out the story and the non-player characters... all very organised. If you are just making the step from a hack and slay dungeon delving mission to an actual storyline, then this is pretty good. And if you are an accomplished storyteller, even then you may find some ideas you had not thought of. You'll smile a lot too.

(for three thin booklets there is a lot of ideas here)
(the cookbook is pretty good, the adventure design book contains a good framework for stories being more than a hack and destroy mission)
(random tables, forms and organised guidelines to set up fantasy adventures somewhere between dungeon delving and storytelling, although made for AD&D the kit can be used for most fantasy games)


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