I visited my local FLGS, The Sentry Box, today, to see if my order of Otherworld Miniatures Orcs had arrived. Sadly, they had not.
In chatting with one of the long-term employees, I mentioned my desire to purchase the Dungeon Alphabet, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Dragon Warriors' The Prince Of Darkness adventure, and Diaspora.
It's frustrating when you want to give your FLGS your money, but they don't have the items you want to buy. It's not that The Sentry Box lacks product: but most of the stuff I am looking for is either just recently published or might be available only through Lulu.
The Sentry Box employee lamented the fact that he can't keep "Ultimate Toolbox" on the shelves. Everytime they get a couple of copies, they are quickly snapped up. I am one of the guilty parties in that regard. A buddy and I both purchased the last two copies of Ultimate Toolbox a couple of weeks ago.
I purchased Ultimate Toolbox based on Berin Kinsman's positive review. In this case, he didn't steer me wrong. I was particularly interesting in purchasing Ultimate Toolbox, as "Uncle Bear" claims in his review that this book is system neutral, as there is no assumed game system for this product.
The Ultimate Toolbox consists of random generation tables. Lots of random generation tables. 400 pages of random generation tables. That's a lot of tables, folks. And while some pages have at least two tables, many have four.
There are seven broad categories of tables within this book, plus an appendix. The chapters are Characters, World Building, Civilization, Maritime, Dungeon, Magic, and Plot. The Chapter on Characters consists of 25 pages of tables on such things as character backgrounds, motivations, hobbies, pets, and battle cries. The World Building chapter is roughly 40 pages, with constellation names, map features, mountain names, river names, weather, calamities, roads, plants, bugs, churches and so on. The Civilization chapter has city names, gatehouse designs, government types, population sizes, legends, flags, achitectural styles, foods, coin names, adventurer's packs, bribes, sewer encounters, and on it goes, for roughly 90 pages. The Maritime chapter is 30 pages, the Dungeon chapter is roughly 50 pages, the chapter on magic is another 50 pages, and the Chapter on Plot is another 60 pages. The last 40 pages is an Appendix consisting of a plethora of character name tables, and other tables that they couldn't shoehorn into any other chapter.
While the random generation tables are really useful, and I do mean really useful, the true utility of this product is as a spark to the imagination. You could use this product as-is, but the best use of Ultimate Toolbox is to come up with your own interesting sewer encounter, unique plant-life or character motivation. Of course, this book can be used, in a pinch, if you have a game that night and need to come up with some colorful information to spur the creativity of the players, or provide some local color that will make the game session that much more exciting for them.
Uncle Bear compares Ultimate Toolbox to the old Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets. I have no experience with the Ready Ref Sheets, but I do recall the amazing range of tables that appeared in another Judges Guild product, I believe it was the Fantasy Cartographers Field Book. Any particular table in the FCFB puts an Ultimate Toolbox table to shame, however, the sheer volume of tables in Ultimate Toolbox eclipses FCFB's by a wide margin.
Considering that the Ultimate Toolbox is 400 pages, and has a wealth of creative ideas for the old-school (and modern) gamer, this book is more than worth the $50 sticker price. And it will satisfy your hunger for random generation tables, while you await the arrival of the Dungeon Alphabet.
The only issue I have with Ultimate Toolbox being characterized as 'system neutral' is that the chapter on Plot is very much of the new-school bent. The authors even provide you with a "Plot Outline Form", so you can pre-plan the plot of your game. I still think you can use this chapter on Plot, in the old-school style, but be cognizant that this does include such tables as story goal, patrons, villain triggers, plot complications, and campaign hooks.