Monday, July 6, 2015

Reading Tables, Not Rolling on Them

I have a lot of books full of tables - especially world-building tables. Here are just a few I really enjoyed reading:

The Dungeon Dozen - I keep the print copy of this by my bed so I can flip it open and just read a little before I sleep or just after I wake up. It's good episodic inspiration.

Ready Ref Sheets - an amazing peer into the table-heavy past of gaming. Not that gaming is less table-heavy now, so much as in the past you could sell a book of tables with little or no explanation because we craved anything to help us play. I didn't have this back in the day (I never saw Judges Guild stuff outside of Dragon ads) but it's a fun read now.

The Dungeon Alphabet (review)- this has a great deal to do with me deciding I really wanted to run a dungeon-focused game again. It should get almost as much credit as the DF line and DFA1. I have strong visual connections between this book and a place I was on vacation - I brought it with me on a trip and read it front to back. It really made me want to delve into dungeons again.

Monsters & Treasure Assortment - there is a whole world of inter-language D&D here. It's not quite OD&D, not quite AD&D, not quite anything - it's this weird mix that in retrospect a lot of early D&D books had. They built on knowledge they assumed you had and just seemed odd when you came in later. In any case, this book is just monsters and treasure on different tables. Its a joy to look through even if it oddly lacks details you'd need to use it off the shelf (HD, for example, or THAC0.)

Several versions of DUNGEONMASTERS GUIDE have great tables in them, too, with all sorts of details for the world around you.

But I rarely roll on these tables. I have, on occasion, when I'm really stuck for either meaningless detail I could potentially turn into something meaningful or when I'm just bored. But it is rare for me to do that.

Not only that, but when I do roll if I don't like the result I won't use it. I asked the universe a question, as they say, but disregard the answer. I'm the master of my made-up universe, and the dice are just advice. I need to hear from them to know what I'm actually thinking deep down inside. They get a free hand in combat but not in campaign generation.

I read these books for potential, but I don't roll on them that often. It's just another way to list potential ideas for me.

How about you guys? Do you use tables, just read them, use them occasionally?


  1. You've touched on aspects of my abiding fondness for the old Judges' Guild books and the genesis of DF8. I do love me some big random tables, but like you, I rarely actually roll dice at them. I like huge lists of possibilities, but I'm more likely to be driven by whim than real randomizers. But for some reason, if one is writing a game book, it's much easier to sell those lists if you put numbers in front of them corresponding to die rolls.

    1. I agree on that last point totally - it's been my experience, too.

  2. I have actually used the old Monster and Treasure assortment on many occasions for quick fleshing out of a dungeon after I placed the specific things I wanted to place.

    I also use published tables as a base for creating my own tables (e.g., I want a random monster table for a *particular* forest on my map, so I'll use tables from other sources and then tweak them).

    Mostly though, I read them for inspiration. My go-to source for this is the 1e AD&D DMG, but I also really like the d30 Sandbox Companion and the d30 DM Companion.

    1. Douglas Cole has raved about d30 Sandbox Companion. I've seen good reviews of the d30 DM Companion, too. I have neither - I'd only read them, and not use them. I'm not sure I want more tables to read and not roll on, especially ones that inspire sweeping campaigns I'll never have time to run.

      C&TA was tough for me as a kid - I wanted to use it, but the weird rules nexus it lives at was hard for me to know how to handle. So generally I just skipped it.

  3. Use, read, and mine. Rolling and running with the results is the best way for me to come up with something original.

    Some other good sets of tables that no one has yet mentioned (I use all the ones mentioned, other than the Monsters and Treasure Assortment):

    Alderac's Ultimate Toolbox
    Midkemia Press's Cities
    Kelli's Encounters Reference
    Matt Finch's Tome of Adventure Design
    Zak S.'s Vornheim

    1. Out of all of those, I only have Vornheim. I liked it a lot, but I've yet to roll on any of the tables except maybe when I was doing a review of it. I like the dice-drop concept, but I don't use it the way it's suggested. I'd bust that out for a Judge Dredd game in Mega-City one but I don't run enough city games for it to really matter . . . it's very inspirational in concept but it hasn't actually been all that useful in actual play at my table.

  4. I think they're inspirational, but if I use them, I only roll to get my imagination going. I want the results to make sense to me, and too often completely random tables give silly results in aggregate.


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