Free Randomness, Part 1

You’re the GM doing prep for your next session. You have it all together. Maps. Broad strokes of the plot. But somehow you find yourself stuck when you try to come up with the little details – the glue to pull everything together. What do you do then?

gaming_dice-300x300Panic? Meditate? Call an emergency meeting? Or maybe you pull out one of your handy dandy random tables and a few dice to get your creative juices flowing?

It’s impossible to come up with details for every nook and cranny of an adventure. Your players will inevitably stumble into some dark corner you had not yet thought to illuminate. And I find that’s the perfect time to pull out one or more tables to entice your muse into producing the goods…

Usually you encounter random tables for random monster encounters, long lists of items or names, or more focused randomness. What? “Focused Randomness”? What sorcery is this?

Honestly it’s nothing new. That random encounter table I mentioned earlier? That’s just one example. True randomness can be useful, but guiding it a bit gets you to the good stuff that much more quickly.

That’s not to say that I don’t use truly random things at times.

If I’m looking for the number of combatants my PCs will encounter, I might roll a d100 to get a ball park. And there’s a huge difference between 1 and 100! That range however can provide some intriguing ideas. For instance, if it’s a single “thing” facing the PCs (figure a typical party of 4-8 characters), that’s either going to be a non-combat encounter, the world’s quickest battle, or one hell of a Battle Royale!

But if that’s all I need, I can create a simple process…

  1. Roll a d100 to determine the number of combatants.
  2. Roll a d6 to determine if the encounter starts negative (1-2), neutral (3-4), or positive (5-6).

That gets me an interesting combination of details. Numbers and tone.

  • If I roll a 50 and “neutral,” I can interpret that as meaning maybe my party is encountering a large trade caravan on the road and being ignored. It could lead to a longer encounter if they engage – whether seeking knowledge of what’s being transported or sold, news of where they’ve been, or a simple friendly greeting.
  • Or if it’s positive, perhaps they meet a group of pilgrims heading to a nearby refuge for peace and healing. The pilgrims invite the PCs to join them to rest and recover from any injuries…
  • If it’s negative, well… there’s always bandits or a military invasion or a simple herd of angry, trampling cattle headed their direction.

This is less focused randomness in action. Next time, we’ll look at a more “focused” variety…

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