Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Random tables

I've been terrible at blogging this year. Oh well.

I'm currently in the final stages of prepping to run a 5e conversion of the 2nd edition Ravenloft module The Evil Eye (a conceptual sequel to last year's Curse of Strahd). To do this, I've been adding in some random tables that I feel are missing in the original. In part because I feel like I need to flesh it out a little more to avoid a possible sense of railroading (there's only one way to escape Invidia) and in part because I find the random tables to be really helpful in my Al-Qadim Church 2nd Edition game I'm running.

Here's the secret: I tend to use random tables for inspiration. I also tend to stick with the random rolls, the trick is how to fit it into the story (i.e. improvisation) and when to know when to re-roll. Random encounters (and I call them random encounters, not wandering monsters) can be used to move the story along (i.e. tell the players to stop dilly-dallying), they can be used to instill a sense of danger into the game (i.e. dilly-dallying in a dungeon can be dangerous, traveling in the wilderness can be dangerous), and they can be used to hand additional clues into the players' hands (i.e. they randomly encounter a corpse with helpful information). From a GM's perspective, they can also be used to slow down the pace of a game and/or liven things up with a bit of roleplaying or combat as well.

Examples of some great random encounters:
The horse. Early on, the PCs randomly encountered a horse. I wasn't super sure what to do with this, but obviously, when the players wondered if it belonged to a missing hero, it surely became that horse. The random encounter fleshed out some of the story that was otherwise going to be missing.
Elf tribe. I don't really recall what I did with these, but I randomly rolled an entire group of over 100 elves. I hope I did something like using them to foreshadow the gnoll horde because otherwise large group of elves in the middle of the jungle made no sense.
Banderlogs. After rolling baboons a number of times, I noticed the Monstrous Manual had another entry on the same page. These baboon-like creatures were intelligent, numerous enough to be negotiated with, and able to provide some totally unplanned clues as the party flubbed their comprehend languages spell and did it all with gestures and pictograms.
Mystery. Not wanting to spoil a potentially ongoing plot, I had rolled a particular creature twice on the party's journey recently, and given the ecology section of the monster's description, it clearly ought to have been a mother and daughter combo. With an impromptu fleshing out of their backstory using some obvious recent events (a tribe of jungle giants had been slain), these things being in the area suddenly made sense to me.
The turtle. In one of the early adventures, the party was traveling upriver to the site of some ruins to plunder. I totally role a giant snapping turtle which the low-level party had absolutely no business dealing with. I made it easy to avoid, but it served as a neat reminder that in the game I'm running, they would encounter things well beyond their capacity to deal with. Later on, when I rolled another horrible river encounter, the sea hag was looking for the turtle and only extorted the party for a bit of loot then let them go.

So, what does this look like in The Evil Eye? Well, it's the land of Invidia in Ravenloft, so I'm using the Tarokka deck for randomization when possible.

First off, I've got a random attribute table: eye color. Given that the evil eye plays a role in its titular adventure, I'm going to try to use eye color for some subtle narrative effects. So it's important that people pick an eye color that I want them to, meaning I'm going to deal out a card and let them choose.

Eye color and descriptions
Suit Color
Glyphs ❧ Green
Stars ✭ Blue
Swords ⚔ Brown
Coins ◎ Amber



Value Description
1/CG Strong, Righteous, Zealous
2/LG Devoted, Relentless,
3/NG Kind, Caring
4/LN Watchful, Judgmental
5/N (Un)Wavering, Pathetic
6/CN Crazy, Wild
7/NE Cold, Uncaring
8/LE Sharp, Dominating
9/CE Dangerous, Tormented
Master Knowing, Mysterious

In one card, I can easily assign this important descriptor.

Random Encounters
In 5e, random encounters tend to have a 15% chance of occurrence. I can model this with the low deck by saying a 7-9 of coins or swords is an encounter. Then draw a second card, stars/glyphs are the generic table, while swords or coins are the specific one. Here's the sample from the city of Karina:

Generic Encounters (1-10 or Glyphs/Stars)
Day Night
1-2 3d6 commoners 2d6 commoners
3 Eagle Owl
4 Trinket Trinket
5 1d4 swarms of Rats 1d6 swarms of Rats
6 1d4 toads 1d6 swarms of bats
7 1d4 cats 2d4 cats
8-9 2d6 commoners 2d4 commoners
10/M Malocchio Malocchio

Karina (11-20 or Swords/Coins)
1 Tara Kolyana
2 2d6 commoners
3 Noble
4 1d4 rats or swarms of rats
5 Phineas Davenport
6 The Midnight Stalker or Thugs
7 Nathan Timothy
8 Nack Thornsby
9 Matton Blanchard
10/M Gabriella or Malocchio

This lets me have a good chance of encountering some of the important NPCs, plus animals, NPCs, or clues. Randomness here means the setting will be a bit more alive and interactive, as the various NPCs move around or are simply just seen from the shadows before vanishing. It's not quite perfect, but it's usable. If I have time to revise things, I'd make them a bit more tied to the alignment / name of the card if possible (though the players may never realize I'm using these tables), along with the standard tweaks to who/what is encountered. On the generic table, however, I've got it divided into day/night because nighttime is more dangerous. I only have Trinkets on the generic table and the specific tables for the location have some things like body or grave or shrine. I find it good to make things generic, so that I can flesh out what, for example, the body really is. Is the person dead? Do they have any treasure on them? How are they related to the current plot? If I was going to publish it, I'd flesh out a few ideas as examples.

I have a couple others, like wizard spells in a spellbook, or ways to hand out rituals, but the last one is about loot:

I search the body
1 Jewelry worth 1d10 x 10 gp
2 A child’s missing toy
3 Weapon—possibly broken—piercing the torso
4 A sprig of mistletoe and wolfsbane and a silver sickle (Corpse’s hair was possibly red, dyed or covered with a hat).
5 Ritual book & spell component pouch, a valuable material component, and/or journal
6 Partial map or notes concerning the area
7 Wig or toupee. Makeup. Hand mirror and tweezers.
8 Maggots and lots of spoiled food and spices
9 Two wooden goblets, a corkscrew, and an expensive bottle of wine
10/M Legal document that appears to be in good order

This really is just some inspiration, but the wonderful thing about using the Tarokka deck to generate these is you get the suit (glyphs/water/blood/priests, coins/air/mist/rogues, swords/earth/grave/warriors, stars/fire/prye/magicians) along with the picture and the description. So even getting the same result on the table can be tweaked to a class, eye color, element, etc. These type of tables also lets me throw in some easter eggs for the old Ravenloft setting, though only 2 of my players may have played in that.

Overall, I'm fairly happy with what I'm using here. One kink is by using the Tarokka deck it's easier to use the 90s one than the modern one because it has black (swords & coins) and red (stars & glyphs) suits, which translates easier to a 20-sided die. 

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