CDDN #4 boasts of "contain[ing] everything the Dungeon Master needs for designing encounters for 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventures," but that doesn't really do it justice. For one thing, the Old School Encounters Reference is useful not just for designing adventures, but also for world building in general, as I'll explain. For another, its contents are eminently usable not just for AD&D, but for any game of Gygaxo-Arnseonian heritage. I'd even venture to guess that referees of games even farther removed from the D&D family tree could benefit from this PDF, since a goodly portion of its charts and tables are not tied to game mechanics of any kind.
The Old School Encounters Reference is divided into eight sections: Men, Humanoids & Demihumans, The Underworld, The Wilderness, Settlements & Civilization, Treasures, The Campaign, and Forms & Appendices. Each section begins with a pertinent quote from Gary Gygax or a pulp fantasy author. Though dense with information, the layout is clear and easy to use. That in itself is a marvel, considering how often professionally produced charts and tables prove to be confusing and impractical in their presentation. Just as marvelous is the extensiveness of all the tables, presenting more options than most referees will likely ever use. This is the heart and soul not only of products like this but also old school gaming in general -- the willingness to employ a vast palette of alternatives, a veritable smörgåsbord of ideas both mundane and bizarre, the random combination of which can produce gloriously unexpected results.
There is simply so much information in the Old School Encounters Reference, that it'd be impossible to describe them all. Here are but a few of the highlights of each section:
- Men: Dozens of pregenerated NPCs of every class, pregenerated henchmen/hirelings, NPC details and motivations, pregenerated NPC adventuring parties, spellbook contents for magic-users from 1st to 18th+ level.
- Humanoids & Demihumans: Humanoid ability scores, tribal spellcasters, humanoid and demihuman group generattion.
- The Underworld: Wandering monster charts, doors & locks table, ruin table, tricks & traps (including special/magical effects), animated statues, quests & geas results.
- The Wilderness: Random terrain generation, weather generation, wilderness encounter tables, encounters at sea, hunting & foraging tables, random herbs.
- Settlements & Civilization: Inn & tavern rumors, markets & bazaars, shrines & temples, random structures, underworld guilds.
- Treasures: Treasure assortments for levels 1-9, treasure assortments by type, treasure maps, quick & weird magic items.
- The Campaign: Adventure locations, adventure names, adventure antagonists, exotic places, random gods.
- Forms & Appendices: Bibliography, dice ranges, record sheets and logs.
If the Ready Ref Sheets are a treasure trove, the Old School Encounters Reference is a dragon's hoard. It's one of the few old school projects of recent vintage that I'd deem as a "must have," both for what it includes and for what it is -- an umatched example of creativity by someone who doesn't just get what the old school is all about on some abstracted, airy-fairy philosophical level but who knows what it's like to play these games and what's needed to do so successfully. The Old School Encounters Reference is like looking into a veteran referee's binder of notes without the need for having to decipher his bad handwriting. It's simply amazing and, if you don't already have a copy on your hard drive, you need to get one now.
Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 10 out of 10
Utility: 10 out of 10
Get This If: You play or referee old school D&D, love random rolls, and/or wish to see the essence of old school gaming distilled into table form.
Don't Get This If: You don't believe in the oracular power of dice.