Swords & Wizardry Light - Forum

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Random Tables - Inspiration or "As Rolled?"

I love random tables for my RPGs. Whether it's for character generation or adventure design, it's like being offered a huge greek diner menu and being allowed to choose from it's endless choices.

Wait, you can choose, right?

Those random tables might have numbers attached to the entries so someone can randomly determine some results, but that's just a guideline, and one that is easily over ruled.

I mean, after your teenage years, did you ever roll up a random dungeon via the tables in the AD&D DMG and randomly populate it using the appropriate monster tables? That Huge Red Dragon in a 10 x 10 dungeon closet butting up against a room holding a half dozen Hill Giants isn't acceptable these days.

For me, random tables are the most awesome resources of inspiration and I will roll on them, but I'm no longer a slave to them. I pick and choose as often as I roll, and I ignore rolls as often as I keep them.

Still, I can't have enough tables of random goodness :)

How do you use random tables? As rolled, inspiration, a combination?


  1. Yes to the last question. All of the above. Sometimes, it's just as rolled, like character background. Other times, I just pick, or roll and then riff on what's rolled.

  2. I'm using them more these days. I wasn't a fan of them for a long time. But when I would play I would have a blank map in front of me with some very general notes and wing it. That combo worked out well for me. These days I use them more often. I like the ones in the Tome of Adventure Design, but the tables I use the most are in the back of my beat up 30yr+ old DMG.

  3. I love random tables and often try to run with the rolled result before I give up and re-roll or just choose.

    While a full grown red dragon in a 10x10 room sounds preposterous, if the dragon had polymorphed self into human form, or hill giant form more appropriately, then it's not so odd: The dragon, as it turns out, is raising an army of hill giants to attack the nearest city without getting his hands dirty or risking his own life.

    1. Excellent. That's the step I think many people miss in using random tables: making sense of the results in the context in which they occur.

  4. When I read someone else's random table, I usually just steal all the entries I like and incorporate them into my own notes. With my own tables, since I wrote them myself I obviously like every entry, so there's no reason not to let the dice fall as they may.

  5. Whatever makes the most sense! I definitely don't let the tables own me, buuuuuuuut sometimes, it is fun to go with the roll, or roll with it?... what? More tables the merrier.

  6. If I roll the dice, I accept the result.

    Choosing when to roll the dice is a skill referees must learn.

  7. It depends on what sort of random table we're talking about. If it is a random table built into a distinct adventure/location, then I will almost certainly simply accept the result. That is the 'physics' of the world that I built/adopted in action.

    However, sometimes I do use random tables for inspiration. I use lots of random tables when building an adventure - rolling for all kinds of things, from monsters and traps, to room layout, to inspirational dungeon dressing. And I adopt, modify, or discard those results as I see fit.

    Wandering monster tables can fall into either category - if it is a specific adventure/location, then it is probably a table that I've designed or at least modified, and so I'm ready to accept any result before I roll the dice. A wandering monster/encounter in the wilderness, on the other hand, and I might draw a table from anywhere - the Mentzer Expert book, a module, another game entirely... I'm just looking for ideas to create an encounter on the fly - I/they have rolled that there will be an encounter, now I need to work out what that is.

  8. Absolutely inspirational. I take them, throw some logic around them and have neat little utilities that give me a jumping off spot. For example I'm including a random wayside shrine generator in my Hex Crawl Encounter Generator, getting the result of 'You come across a small roofed structure containing a carving of a wolf. A wounded man is sheltering within.' - gives me a seed for a unique encounter, but not so many details I have to run it the same way every time.

  9. I'm a big fan of randomness. However, these days I mostly use it for inspiration. I'll roll or generate dozens of things until something speaks to my creativity. I believe that inspiration was the idea behind the many numerous tables rather than purely random stocking.