Saturday, 11 September 2021

How I Write Generators

Chris Mennell (https://linktr.ee/chrismennell) asked me to do a post about my methods for creating random tables/generators. Here it is! 

(Note: I use the terms tables/generators pretty interchangeably but in general a table is a list of random results and a generator is a combination of random lists). 

Why tables/generators? Some quick thoughts: 
  • They help you think up things that you wouldn’t think up otherwise by making you put together unusual combinations. This in turn makes your games more interesting because you will put in things in your games you wouldn’t otherwise (I know my games would just be filled with slugs and crystals and caves if I didn’t use random generators/tables). 
  • I think that the process of rolling on a few random tables (in the case of a generator) makes the thing you are generating come alive better in your brain better than if you just read about that thing as a simple table entry. The components all gluing together in real time makes it a bit more lifelike to play with. 
  • Using a generator rather than a premade thing makes the game interesting for the referee as new things come into being as they run/plan – rather than having everything prewritten. 
  • This one is a little woowoo but, in some ways I like generators as a divination tool – the game world is literally existing somewhere in the multiverse and the table is the crystal ball that lets you see through to that world.    

On to how I create generators. Some more thoughts: 
  • I’m always referring to my “Aspects” table, which is the “periodic table” of my generators. Having something like this is very useful because whatever topic you are making a generator or table for, it gives you a base guide for ideas. For example: I am going to make a generator for different landscape and need some ideas. I can go to the aspect table and use the d40 results there as ideas for 40 different places. Eg, “Death, rot, decay” = Charnel Grounds. “Darkness, shadows, loss” = Graveyard. “Value, Gems, Gold” = Bank or Mineral Deposit. I think its well worth creating your own periodic table of gaming motifs that works for you! (I explore this idea a little more in this post: http://lizardmandiaries.blogspot.com/2021/07/the-automated-past-and-present-atomic.html .
  • Having several tables in a generator gives you a lot more bang for your buck than a single table of results. You get weirder combinations and a lot more results for a lot less writing. Because of this I think its best to try and get the individual table results as broad and interpretive as possible (while still maintaining as much usability as possible). If things are too specific they won’t work with the other results on the other tables and that’s a waste. The other good thing about being broad is that you may interpret the table results differently on different days/when you are a different mood. Even more bang for your buck! Further, keeping things broad allows them to be interpreted differently in different contexts. “Earth, Stone, Soil” means a different thing if you get that result inside a building than if you rolled out in a city street, and different again if the result is rolled out in the woods.
  • Kind of straight forward but the more entries you have on the component tables of your generators the bigger the range of result you will get. 6 x 6 is 36. 6 x 6 x 6 is 216. 12 x 12 x 12 is 1728. 20 x 20 x 20 is 8000. 36 x 36 x 36 is 46656. 36 x 36 x 36 x 36 is 1,679,616! You get the idea.

Building the generator. Thoughts and example: 

  • Generally, I start with a base table. Whatever I am trying to make a generator for, I boil it down to its most basic component part. From there I can add different tables to warp that baseline thing. For a monster I want to know what its general shape is. This might be two tables – perhaps the same list but you roll twice and combine – giving you things like Chicken+Tiger or Snail+Elephant – this is a weirder and more monstrous and has more details for your brain to play with then just Chicken or Tiger or Snail or Elephant. Then I like to know the aesthetics of a thing – what is unique about the thing visually. Sticking with our Snail+Elephant we might roll Flame or Ice or Bones then we have Snail+Elephant+Flame for example. Finally, I would want a table that goes beyond just its visual appearance, what does this monster want, or what does it do, etc. The more details the better. Well, to a point, you don’t want the table too unwieldy that the details just overrule each other and the whole thing collapses in on itself in your brain. 4 or 5 results seems about right to me.
  • For the example structure for a generator, I’ve been in need of a basic hex stocker for a while now, so I shall use that.
  • Because I don’t have it in me to do a d40 tables for every part of the generator I have ripped one column from my aspect table and will use that as an inspiration for a bunch of d10 tables. Hopefully you can see how I used each of these as a base for inspiration in the other tables.   

Here are the tables I think would come together to make a nice hex or area generator: 

d10 Base area: The overall climate/region/biome/etc. Could possibly roll on this twice and combine the results for a more unique area. 

1. Misty, cloud capped mountains. 
2. Huge, thunderous, flowing river. 
3. Thick, enveloping, luscious jungle. 
4. Empty, desolate and echoing tundra. 
5. Frozen, snow filled arctic wasteland. 
6. Building and street filled town. 
7. Glassy, still and reflective lakeland. 
8. Crashing wave, cliff filled coastland. 
9. Ancient, dusty and long forgotten ruins. 
10. Dead lifeless tree and refuse filled rotland. 

d10 Area aesthetics: How does this area look different to other areas? You could roll on this table twice for more interesting/weird area. 

1. Glorious clouds, rays of blessed sunlight, calming golden fogs. 
2. Heavy rain, grey clouds, flooding, lightning. 
3. New growth or construction, fresh, glowing, young, vibrant. 
4. Shining, metallic, reflective, glass, clean, sterile. 
5. Mud, encasement, caught and captured by things overgrown. 
6. Warped, mutated, wrong, bizarre, things too big or small and infected. 
7. Wide open, clear vistas, stars, the horizon, vision. 
8. Broken, destroyed, collapsed, ruined, crevices, cracks.  
9. Dust, sand, aged, ancient, bones and fossils. 
10. Rotten, diseased, unhealthy, smoke, ash, skulls. 

d10 Area stocking: What is in this area? Roll twice on this table twice and combine to get a more lively area. 

1. A group of people.
2. Significant building or structure. 
3. Beasts. 
4. Significant vegetation. 
5. Something particularly unusual.  
6. Nothing. 
7. A group of people.  
8. Treasure. 
9. Beasts. 
10. Significant vegetation. 

d10 Area atmosphere: What is the vibe of this area? Again rolling twice would yield a more interesting result (but perhaps the combinations may be a bit too esoteric to be immediately useful. Peaceful war? Frozen regrowing?) 

1. Peaceful – all is calm.
2. At war – all is conflict. 
3. Regrowing – things are getting better. 
4. Repeating – things are caught in a loop 
5. Frozen – things are held in place. 
6. Chaos – all is disorder. 
7. Ominous – conflict is looming. 
8. Tense – things are close to chaos or conflict. 
9. Venerable – things have been here a very long time. 
10. Diseased – things are sick and dying. 

  • Further, just to ensure the generators usefulness I would include generators for each of the stocking results. For each unique stocking result I would have three or four  tables, Base, Aesthetics and Desire and/or Power . 
(I think I would roll twice and combine on all of these). 

d10 People Base: 

1. Religious order 
2. Explorers 
3. Farmers 
4. Philosophers
5. Soldiers 
6. Chaos cultists 
7. Prophecy seekers 
8. Destroyers 
9. Historians 
10. Illness carriers 


d10 Structure Base:

1. Stupa 
2. Mill 
3. Farm 
4. Tower 
5. Fortress 
6. Laboratory 
7. Church 
8. Mine 
9. Library 
10. Graveyard 

d10 Beast Base: 

1. Jellyfish
2. Crow
3. Snake 
4. Cat
5. Spider 
6. Amoeba 
7. Bear 
8. Porcupine 
9. Beetle 
10. Fly 

d10 Vegetation Base: 

1. Lotus 
2. Weeds
3. Flower
4. Mushroom
5. Vines 
6. Cacti 
7. Trees
8. Roots 
9. Huge trunk trees
10. Mould 

d10 Treasure Base: 

1. Cushion
2. Potion 
3. Sapling 
4. Mirror 
5. Amulet 
6. Blessing
7. Armour 
8. Weapon 
9. Book
10. Relic 

Detail tables for bases: 

d10 Aesthetic:  

1. Golden fog and enveloping cloth.  
2. Wet grey damp and leather.   
3. Green tendrils and fresh things.  
4. Reflective, malleable metal. 
5. Rusted, cumbersome metal.  
6. Tuberous growths and weird patterns. 
7. Spikes and spines. 
8. Cracks, rags and tatters. 
9. Venerable, grand and ornate. 
10. Bones and rot. 

d10 Desire: 

1. To have Peace everlasting. 
2. Constant movement and novelty. 
3. Constant reproduction. 
4. To have others understand them. 
5. To capture others (to enslave, eat, etc). 
6. To constantly warp and corrupt other things. 
7. To ensure order and things foretold are maintained. 
8. To destroy everything. 
9. To record and know all things. 
10. To bring death and disease. 

d10 Power : 

1. Calm and stupor inducement. 
2. Speed and swiftness. 
3. Life giving and regrowing. 
4. Reflection and mimicry. 
5. Capturing and freezing. 
6. Burning and changing. 
7. Foreseeing and far sight. 
8. Breaking and slicing. 
9. Remembering and recalling. 
10. Killing and silencing. 

Combine everything and you should a little interesting to have some adventure in! Note: Use the “Atmosphere” table to get some insight on the stocking results. Further, I would highly recommend “automating” any tables/generators you use in HMTL using this posthttp://meanderingbanter.blogspot.com/2018/09/automatic-list-to-html-translator.html

12 comments:

  1. Hell yeah! Love both parts of the post: the theory and the example!

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    1. Good to hear! Thanks. The theory bit is a little different to what I normally write about here so glad you liked it.

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  2. What I like about generators is that you don't have to use everything you've generated, or in the way described. Most generators come out messy, with results that don't quite fit, but that's okay. I'm so much of a free-associator that a good generator can get my mind turning until I've developed something workable, which might use all, most, or just a little of what the generator spat out.

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  3. This is great - thanks for showing us the back-stage process, always interesting to see how the work is done.

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  4. Thank you so much for writing this, this was so helpful! I'm working on my own post now as a result of this...wish me luck! I hope I do you justice!

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    1. Very much looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

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  5. Awesome, really interesting insights!

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