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Making it All Up (With Help)

Random generators can be used to generate campaign ideas, from scenario-starters to sandbox campaigns. But how much randomness do you really need?

scryingstones.jpg

Dice​

Before there was the Internet, there were printed tables and dice. Not surprisingly, dice wasn't just used for resolution in role-playing games by rolling over or at a certain target number, but also for assigning a result with the assistance of a table. So perhaps it was inevitable that the table would be combined with the dice itself.

The success of using dice as randomizers depends on both the number of sides of the die and the table of possibilities it covers. A wide-ranging table requires a larger die to cover all the possibilities, while a highly defined topic requires a minimum number of sides that will only be appropriate for certain dice.

Stratagem's Scrying Stones cover a range of seven different random results. For NPCs, it includes species, jobs, and quirks. For creating scenarios, it includes weather, terrain, dungeon themes, and treasure. The variety of the results are directly tied to the number of sides on each die. Oddly enough, the dice have different numbers of sides, which means the dice with the smaller number of sides produce less results.

For example, the character creation dice has just six sides, not enough to cover the standard Dungeons & Dragons species. The jobs die, a 12-sided, covers a wider range of classes or backgrounds. The quirks die is less effective because of the massive number of possibilities; as 12-sided die can't adequately cover it all.

The scenario generation dice fare a bit better because fantastical results like dungeon themes and treasure are less sharply defined. Weather and terrain, on the other hand, have expected results that are glaring when they're missing -- the six-sided weather die has sunny twice and then equal chances of snowstorm, cloudy, thunderstorm, and heat wave.

One of the challenges with putting the results right on a die is that there's only so much real estate; the more sides on the die, the smaller the available faces. This is probably why the dice are never large than a 12-sided. For higher numbers, there's another tool to randomize results.

deckofstories.jpg

Cards​

Dungeon Craft's Deck of Stories takes an alternate tack, using a deck of cards to represent plot points, NPCs, and sensory descriptions. Unlike dice, cards don't just provide randomization by shuffling the deck, they also can be used as thought prompts by arranging them in a certain order.

The plot points deck uses Dungeon Craft's ORC system. Each card is rated with an O, R, or C, which stands for Opening Action, Rising Action, and Climactic Action. Some are just one Action, others are two, and there are two cards that are all three, with the recommendation that they be played from left to right in ORC order. It works well enough, with the connections between the cards created spontaneously by your imagination.

The NPC deck works less well because it has so many possibilities to cover. 40 NPC cards create some unique but limited-use NPCs. Each card features a picture of the NPC on one side and a description of the NPC's personality quirk, flaw, goal, and secret. Like the plot points, this deck is meant to spark an idea about a general NPC that can be modified to the situation.

The sensory deck is the least effective of the three, at least in part due to the limited number (20 in the Genesis Box) and the wide variance of the topic it tries to cover. Of course, you can always buy more cards, or make your own deck.

chartopia.png

Online​

There are countless options for randomly generating just about anything on the Internet, so any physical option is up against the limitless space of the digital world. You can create your own generator or just look up a random table that someone else has generated for you. Chartopia's a good place to start. My personal favorite is Fantasy Name Generators, which goes well beyond names to provide descriptions of practically anything you can imagine and some you haven't thought of yet.

You Turn: What's your favorite random generator?
 
Last edited:

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


Pretty dice, but I would have no idea what the various symbols mean. I'm sure I would get them wrong and just make up randomly inspired stuff at the moment if I tried to use them. But hey, maybe that's even more interesting!
 





Norton

Explorer
I love random tables and generators and use crit hit/miss and random effects tables all the time (drunken, wild magic, etc.). I also love rolling dice so to combine them would be a lot more fun for me and probably the group.

The problem I have with something like weather or dungeon randomness is beyond a generic jaunt during a session, I'm often too deep into a fairly specific part of the adventure to allow for random rolls. The monsters, dungeons, and weather tend to be dictated by the circumstances. I also am a stickler for pacing. I know just how long I need to get PCs from here to there and just how busy I want them to be. In other words, balance is important to me. Randomness can throw that and sometimes require extra work to rein it in.

A question for the forum: how closely do we think players pay attention to balance in play? I always think they want some push back and fail to have successes feel heroic, but are they just as happy or happier to have things fall consistently in their favor? I realize the answer could vary depending on the players and other circumstances, but is there an average we can agree upon based on experience?
 


Dang, those Scrying Stones look so nice I wish I had a solid golden gauntlet to display them all in!

All of these types of products are usually intirguing to me, but I never know which one to really buy. I need so many things, and while there probably isn't an all in one product, I don't know what one thing I need the most to get the ball rolling. I guess ways to generate maps randomly, for dungeons and whatnot, but even then I find myself needing maps for settlements and locales more, since most games provide dungeon maps across multiple products but it's hard to develop a finer setting unless you're gutting something pre published or are already a cartographer/landscape illustrator/topographer/city planner, I feel.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
Or you can get a game that includes tons of world building and random tables for stuff, like Kevin Crawford's "Worlds Without Number". I have it in hardback and PDF and the tables / tools are extremely well thought out and useful. The game itself is not bad either :D
 


BookTenTiger

He / Him
I think randomness is a lot of fun purely from a creative standpoint. If you push the randomness further, you start to tap into a tradition many artists have had of giving up control of their art in order to try and break creative barriers. For example, William Burroughs would tear a written page in half, then rearrange the words on each page to make new sentences.

In my own campaign I was inspired by the Tarokka cards of Curse of Strahd. I made my own cards representing 12 important locations, 12 campaign goals, and 12 complications. Throughout the campaign the characters have pulled cards to see where to go next (they can do 12 cards per month).

For me as a DM, this has been fun because I know all the elements of the possible adventures, but their combinations are completely random! It's been a great exercise in creative DMing.
 

toucanbuzz

Legend
My favorite random "generator" is a trio table from Dungeon magazine from which I can quickly generate any NPC with 3 key features:

  1. A mannerism such as picks nose while talking
  2. A visual such as food stuck in the beard
  3. An auditory such as a stutter or a style of speaking such as constant references to their gawd. NOT ACCENTS.
It becomes fascinating because meeting an NPC makes the world come alive a bit more, and if the NPC is quirky enough it'll often spin into some unexpected adventure.
 

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Mortus

Explorer
Thanks for the great article, those are some great options.

I often run 0-prep games with the following:

1. Mythic GM Emulator Deck. Pricey, but worth every penny. For a more economic option just get the PDF/files at DriveThruRPG and load them into Roll20.net.
2. Game Master’s Apprentice Decks mentioned above is excellent. I use it in tandem with Mythic, especially for random names and items/loot. They can be loaded into Roll20.net.
3. Geomorphic Dice pictured above. I’ve used them for all genres. One of the best products out there.
4. Chessex Specialty Dice: I have the alignment dice, the weather dice, the scatter die, and random direction dice. There are others on their website that I need to add like class and race dice.
 

le Redoutable

Explorer
about Dice, here is a system ( 2d10 )
here are the rules :
you have a score, from .01 to .20

you roll the dice, then
if d1 and d2 are above your score then you suffer a -1 result ( let's call it Failure )
if either d1 or d2 is lower or equal to your score, you produce a +0 ( common )
if both dice rolls are lower or equal to your score, you produce a +1 ( critical )
if d1 + d2 are lower or equal to your score, then you obtain a +2 ( speco )

originally this system was to be used with a proficiency Rank from 1 to 5 so that we could range 0 --> 7

:)
 



Blue Orange

Adventurer
I collect dice, so I've seen a lot of these; there's a whole set of 3e ones that had the monster types (aberration, etc.), character classes, and the like on them. I've seen the dungeon dice that had corridors, turns, and intersections, but not the fancy ones Marc_C is showing with all the rooms. Where are those from?
 

Larnievc

Adventurer
Random generators can be used to generate campaign ideas, from scenario-starters to sandbox campaigns. But how much randomness do you really need?

Dice​

Before there was the Internet, there were printed tables and dice. Not surprisingly, dice wasn't just used for resolution in role-playing games by rolling over or at a certain target number, but also for assigning a result with the assistance of a table. So perhaps it was inevitable that the table would be combined with the dice itself.

The success of using dice as randomizers depends on both the number of sides of the die and the table of possibilities it covers. A wide-ranging table requires a larger die to cover all the possibilities, while a highly defined topic requires a minimum number of sides that will only be appropriate for certain dice.

Stratagem's Scrying Stones cover a range of seven different random results. For NPCs, it includes species, jobs, and quirks. For creating scenarios, it includes weather, terrain, dungeon themes, and treasure. The variety of the results are directly tied to the number of sides on each die. Oddly enough, the dice have different numbers of sides, which means the dice with the smaller number of sides produce less results.

For example, the character creation dice has just six sides, not enough to cover the standard Dungeons & Dragons species. The jobs die, a 12-sided, covers a wider range of classes or backgrounds. The quirks die is less effective because of the massive number of possibilities; as 12-sided die can't adequately cover it all.

The scenario generation dice fare a bit better because fantastical results like dungeon themes and treasure are less sharply defined. Weather and terrain, on the other hand, have expected results that are glaring when they're missing -- the six-sided weather die has sunny twice and then equal chances of snowstorm, cloudy, thunderstorm, and heat wave.

One of the challenges with putting the results right on a die is that there's only so much real estate; the more sides on the die, the smaller the available faces. This is probably why the dice are never large than a 12-sided. For higher numbers, there's another tool to randomize results.

Cards​

Dungeon Craft's Deck of Stories takes an alternate tack, using a deck of cards to represent plot points, NPCs, and sensory descriptions. Unlike dice, cards don't just provide randomization by shuffling the deck, they also can be used as thought prompts by arranging them in a certain order.

The plot points deck uses Dungeon Craft's ORC system. Each card is rated with an O, R, or C, which stands for Opening Action, Rising Action, and Climactic Action. Some are just one Action, others are two, and there are two cards that are all three, with the recommendation that they be played from left to right in ORC order. It works well enough, with the connections between the cards created spontaneously by your imagination.

The NPC deck works less well because it has so many possibilities to cover. 40 NPC cards create some unique but limited-use NPCs. Each card features a picture of the NPC on one side and a description of the NPC's personality quirk, flaw, goal, and secret. Like the plot points, this deck is meant to spark an idea about a general NPC that can be modified to the situation.

The sensory deck is the least effective of the three, at least in part due to the limited number (20 in the Genesis Box) and the wide variance of the topic it tries to cover. Of course, you can always buy more cards, or make your own deck.

Online​

There are countless options for randomly generating just about anything on the Internet, so any physical option is up against the limitless space of the digital world. You can create your own generator or just look up a random table that someone else has generated for you. Chartopia's a good place to start. My personal favorite is Fantasy Name Generators, which goes well beyond names to provide descriptions of practically anything you can imagine and some you haven't thought of yet.

You Turn: What's your favorite random generator?
This is the opposite to what I do as a DM. I never really use random tables. If I do I roll them in advance and curate the outcomes to match what I want to happen.

My take on the fun of being a DM is know that the fun the players have is down to my choices of what makes a good game for my players
 

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