True randomness, you say?
Many gamers believe that the use of random tables in role-playing games is an old school staple and has no place in newer designs. Let me try and change your mind on this.
First of all: the use of random tables, for instance, to create some encounters or an encounter reaction, is not necessarily as ‘random’ as one would define the word. Let’s see a definition. ‘Randomness’ is, according to the main definition offered by the Oxford Language Dictionary:
Most rpg random tables are a collection of terms (or mechanics) that are considered compatible with the purpose of the random table and therefore will produce results that are within an expected spectrum or range. It’s when random tables start to work in conjunction and use more abstract terms that you’ll get results that are a bit more unpredictable.
So what I’m saying is that a one column table with 20 or even 100 entries doesn’t really qualify as something that produces random results. It’s a start, but not where the true potential lies. Or its reason …
Gimme Danger (the narrative whispered)
Gamemasters have to describe versatile environments and how all of that interacts with the players and the game. Improvising all of that is never advised. A good game will do some of the heavy lifting and some notes and maps along with some moderate documentation will be enough to keep a campaign running, if the improvisation it needs to bring the game to life and connect all the dots is actually up to the task.
|Just make it work, right? [source]
Ultimately, we all have our ways and tastes and styles. We are subjective individuals and it’s only human to prefer certain outcomes or stories. However, it makes us lose sight of the possibilities. This is where Random Tables figure into the equation. This is where they shine, because random tables are in that weird space between rules and improvisation.
The best results make no sense on their own
It’s about unpredictability, just like they say in the definition above. Checking if an encounter is friendly by any chance instead of just assuming that they’ll always look for combat will open up every game. And context will always give you some opportunity to make it part of the story. Why is that slime the group just encountered so shyly engaging and not at all aggressive? That’s a story worth some curiosity.
And you can’t plan for it in a meaningful way. Not without cheating (as in: forcing it on the players). However, if you allow it as an option, the best way to give something unexpected a way of occurring is by making it ‘random’ in a way that contradicts what you are going for just enough to expand the narrative by elements you wouldn’t have thought of on the fly without leaving the realm of possible and expected occurrences.
Now, that's a mouthful. Since I had this next part laying around, doing nothing (as I mentioned in the beginning), I'll end this one with an example, for a change. The premisse with this one is that the characters hang out in a city that is on top (or near) a megadungeon of some sort. The idea is to have a number of incidents that will occur on a regular basis, but vary by circumtsances enough to have them recognized as a general theme. It's abstract enough to be that and should easily adapt to every fantasy setting.
Behold (and check out the conclusion at the end):
You have a megadungeon under the city, so once a week you will experience (roll 1d20):
- … ghosts of adventurers, talking about their past failings.
- … strange gasses emanating on random locations.
- … underground detonations.
- … currency lost all value for now as treasure floods the city.
- … weird visitors from another dimension (planescape tourists).
- … humanoid tribe occupying a district, seeking asylum and protection from a bigger threat.
- … fissures appear, roll additional 1d20 (1 meaning a minor fissure, a 20 toppling houses).
- … mobilisation of an adventurer guild for a (1d3) rescue/retaliation/reinforcement mission.
- … parade of high level heroes coming back from a dungeon deep-dive.
- … a water body (toss coin) in or close to the city drops significantly with lots of gurgling.
- … random magic wildfire (1d3: no magic possible/weird side effects/triple effects).
- … monster meat is back on the menu! Butchers sell cuts of rare beasts.
- … city watch enforces an immediate evacuation of a district, no reasons given.
- … magic items show weird but harmless glitches (1d3: sparks/talks nonsense/vibrates).
- … underground fight with (random encounter) is carried out to the surface (1d3: neighbourhood joins in/turns into a wild chase/ends up being a slaughter).
- … rich and drunk adventurers partying too hard, being annoying.
- … exotic funeral, financed by an adventure guild, paid bards constantly sing praise of a dead adventurer all over the place.
- … drama between two famous adventurers is the buzz of the town. Bets are taken.
- … city prepares for an invasion from below (1 in 6 chance small army (1d100% of the population) of 1d6 combined Random Encounters will make the attempt).
- … that the psychosphere in your corner of town shifts to an extreme for a short time (1d3: ecstatic/aggressive/depressed).
Our understanding of what 'random' means in role-playing games, is pretty basic at best, so it should be safe to say that games in general benefit from what they add to a game. Since they mostly stay within the narrative scope of what a given game might allow (and considering misfires are easily navigated, I might add), there are actually no good arguments against using random tables. Not that I can see, anyway (and I've thought a bit about it, too).
As a matter of fact, random tables help game designers in helping gamemasters in bringing their vision to life, and that's just as important. Role-playing games are about telling stories, and in the end it is all about the impulses a game offers to make it what it intents to be. Specific words, ideas or inspirations are all easily enough transported into the game through random tables, and easily enough implemented, since they are part of playing the game and not just an info dump somewhere in the rule book.
What do you guys think? Do you see any reasons to not have random tables as a standard tool in every game?
|Good boy ... [source]
If you are interested in a completely realized game heavily utilizing random tables of all sorts, you can check out a free preview of Ø2\\'3|| (that rpg I published) right here (or go and check out the first reviews here).
We will definitely do a sale in November. Stay tuned for that ...
If you already checked it out, please know that I
appreciate you :) It'll certainly help to keep the lights on here!
|Just look at that beauty ...