Two steps removed

Matt Finch just recently posted about an adventure design dilemma. He has a large number of areas that need consistent and thematic contents. There are, however, too many areas to make it practical to stock each individually. Thus, random tables for stocking. The choice is between many separate source tables versus one big table of results created from the results of said source tables (an X Y with Z complicated by A, with each variable drawn from a different table, or some similar composite).

I would suggest that the work involved in putting together the second sort of thing is a big part of what makes Vornheim easier to use than Seclusium. Despite the fact that Seclusium generates interesting results, they require a lot of post-processing. Which is time consuming. So it is worth realizing that what you are doing when you create tables like Seclusium is creating tables to create a table. That is (at least) two steps removed from something usable at the table compared to (potentially) only one step removed.


4 thoughts on “Two steps removed

  1. Gus L.

    I personally like nested tables as they keep all the info in one place. What I also like is tiered tables where there are results on table A that lead to more interesting result on table B some of the time for example:

    GM has is running the exploration/plundering of a large military camp (let’s say goblins) with 300 or so tents. Each tent is it’s own area and could be keyed. One doesn’t wish them to all be identical though, so there’s the random 100 entry table. The vast majority of these entries contain 2D4 sleeping goblin soldiers and their gear. Some tents more or less, and each of the 100 options with at least one interesting thing: a collection of trophies, a bag of plunder, a pet rat thing that squeaks a warning. The results could be varied by giving the table three columns ‘inhabitants, content, novelties’ allowing a much larger variety of individual tents.

    Maybe there’s a 1 in 20 chance that this table isn’t used in favor of a “special encounter table” containing 20 or so entries that are each a paragraph of interesting, like a keyed room: goblin war shrine, chain of enslaved captives, gambling den, haunted suit of armor that well become a more memorable and important part of the adventure. These special locations need not be random, and could instead be placed on the map, but that’s more an issue of scenario design and intent. There’s something nice about having the possibility that the special encounters are either numerous or sparse based on the dice.

    There’s always the other option, the one endorsed by some older TSR products of making the encounters sequential, but this largely removes player agency. This is not cool.

    1. Brendan Post author


      Multiple tables like that can lead to some interesting and unpredictable results, agreed, but I find rolling on more than one table during play to be cumbersome. If I am using such a tool, nested tables will likely only see use during prep (I learned this the hard way trying to generate spell component crate labels for Tower of the Stargazer once in play; never again). However, if the author has taken those source tables and created, say, 10 or more complete and fleshed out entries from them, then I can use that one table in play without becoming a sad referee. If, as an author, you do not mind doing a lot of work, a best of both worlds approach would be to include both seed tables and fleshed out, ready to play entries.

    2. Brendan Post author

      Though if it’s really just a 1 in 20 chance of rolling on more than one table I guess that would probably be useable.

      It’s just procedures such as (roll roll) the spine (roll roll) of a virgin (roll roll) who destroyed (roll roll) the stars can get old fast during play. It also makes clear to players which parts of the scenario are entirely random, which I have mixed feelings about.

      1. Gus L.

        Yeah totally agree on in game random content and I do like nests even if they’re a bit limiting. I can’t think of a way to nest larger chunks of content into a nested table, especially as nested tables themselves limit the size of the cell contents. So your mysterious body part table above works fine as a four part random content generator, but when you want to add additional items that have more importance one needs to put them elsewhere. The other option is I guess to pre-mark them on a map or have them appear in an order, both of which I dislike. Not sure what the fix is. A nest with a capstone table is the best i can figure.

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