Friday, June 22, 2012

Rethinking Game-World Delivery

Inspired by a thread, John Bell at The Retired Adventurer has a great idea for streamlining supplement design. One of the problems for referees attempting to use random tables on the fly is that the more extensive and detailed the tables, the more involved they are to use in actual play. John proposes a new way of organizing and delivering information in a supplement which matches the way the referee is likely to need and present it to the players, including using a dice drop map to avoid flipping back and forth between different tables scattered across several pages. It's an elegant, insightful approach.

I make extensive use of random tables - most of the situations faced by the adventurers to date in my Flashing Blades campaign began as random encounters from the game's encounter tables in the back of the book. The adventurers are about to find themselves approached to undertake a mission to Milan on behalf of no less a personage than the Duke of Savoy himself, and this patronage opportunity began its existence as a randomly generated encounter.

But that's also the key to how I - and I think quite a few gamers - use random tables, in advance of actual play. Frex, I roll for a half-dozen random encounters, flesh out all the relevant information for each encounter, then put them in a list to use in actual play. The only thing I'm rolling for at the table is encounter occurrence - everything else is generated outside of actual play. Rather than spending time rolling for the details of the encounter at the table, I can keep up the flow of actual play; there's no pause while I piece together the results to give them coherence. Even the dice drop map approach still takes more time to interpret than I like to spend at the table.

The advantage - and the challenge, and the fun - of using dice drop or other sorts of mini-games is creating the setting in actual play, reducing or even eliminating the need for advance preparation. For someone who loves stochasticity in roleplaying games - running my own campaign with a mix of random tables from Flashing Blades and adapted from other sources as well as other randomizers such as the Mythic Game Master Emulator and Rory's Story Cubes - I can really appreciate the appeal.

I'll be interested to see where John, and others, go with this in the future.


  1. I've done a lot of prep before play as well, but I think it's much less problematic than random generators during play. The demands of the two situations are very different, IMHO.

    For an example of a game that manages an almost perfect balance between the two, I'd hold up Traveller. You create the characters and worlds beforehand using random tables, but trade values and encounters are generated on the fly.

    1. When I run Traveller, I tend to roll a half-dozen spec cargos and a dozen encounters for each star system when I create it, or flesh it out if I'm working from one of the published settings, again so that the only thing I'm rolling at the table is the occurrence of the encounter, patron, or whatever.

      I lurves me the random, but I prefer to move as much of the actual rolling as possible out-of-game so that actual play can continue with as few interruptions as possible.

      The one thing I lean on most at the table is Mythic, primarily as a guide to npc reactions or to resolve questions like, is the vicomte home when the adventurers come calling?

      Again, great ideas for organizing supplements, JB.