"A random encounter, even if I originally defined the table that runs it, feels more authentic and less about me railroading my players through a series of set pieces"
Talking generators and sharing tools with 5E Magic Shop.
Q&A with Chris from 5eMagic.Shop
How did you get into creating random generators?
Believe it or not, they predated my tabletop gaming experience. I used to play with the “Program” feature of my TI-82 calculator in middle school before I had any clue what coding or a d20 were. I would modify existing games to insert randomized elements or create new ones that included randomized aspects so that subsequent play-throughs were unique.
But I got serious about things once I started DMing. I run a very narrative-driven table that cherishes player agency. So while there's a great deal I can plan for, on some level I need random elements for my own peace of mind.
A random encounter, even if I originally defined the table that runs it, feels more authentic and less about me railroading my players through a series of set pieces. Narrative forces some of that already. Random elements temper that.
What generators are you most proud of creating and why?
I can't help but be proud of my 5eMagic’s shop generator. It does a lot and continues to grow in features over time.
But I like my spellbook generator more. I can't really justify that preference; it's far less robust, and performs a much simpler generation. Maybe it's the visuals on the page. I'm not sure. I just think it's cool.
What is the most fun thing about creating generators?
Honestly, sharing them. Generators make for reusable tools, sure, but they're also portable.
Technology aids this, of course, but the TTRPG (tabletop roleplaying games) industry has been publishing, Xeroxing, and copying by hand for decades. Knowing that 5eMagic is getting love at tables I've never seen, helping games I'll never play... Sharing something you've made gives you all the warm fuzzies.
What are the most painful lessons you've learnt from creating generators?
Sharing something you've made leaves you vulnerable.
Technology aids this, too.
When you build something, no matter how small, you put something of yourself inside it. DMs experience this every session.
It makes it really rewarding to see positive feedback to 5eMagic, just like seeing a player at my table connect the dots of clues I've been laying down for weeks. That success hits you personally.
But it goes both ways. The world is full of people with different perspectives, and a vocal minority of those people also thinks your perspective is wrong. And the internet gives them a platform. It's easy to ignore political and religious debates on social media and holidays with the family. Ignoring someone's precise verbal dismantling of a tool I've poured countless hours into is much harder.
It's like my PCs finally finishing a years-long epic campaign, only to hear “well, that was an anticlimactic waste of time.”
Yet, even this has a silver lining. Despite the boorish presentation, sometimes these critics have valid points. And if you sift through the douchebaggery well, you can find some nice golden nuggets of actually useful input, and make your generator even better.
How do you use random generators yourself?
Since I run a story-heavy game, a bit of randomness in the game world adds just what’s needed for verisimilitude. And at the very least, they make running the game much simpler when your PCs, you know, pull some brilliantly ridiculous idea out of their collective backsides.
I prepare all kinds of lore and descriptions and stories, but random encounters, treasures, shops, and names are perfect for filling in the gaps of an otherwise well-scripted world. That’s literally why I made the 5eMagic generators. They were literally just for me, at first, before I realized other people might find them useful.
What are your next big projects (generators or otherwise) that you can talk about?
Ah, now, that’s not a fair question.
I have a couple generators on 5eMagic’s public “To Do” list, but I’ve got another six floating around in my head, and all of them are screaming for my attention. I’ve been trying to be disciplined, making the core tool better rather than chasing all the random generator bunnies through the wily woods of my brain. But with my ADD, it’s inevitable that I’ll get the itch to make one of them happen and become obsessed until it’s done.
I wish I could fill you in on some of them, but if I did, I’d be committed to pursuing them first. And man, that just sounds like work. So far, I’m having fun building and maintaining the site.
Why ruin that?
We also have a YouTube channel, but there’s nothing there yet. We’ve got ideas, but nothing realized so far.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Can I just say that it’s amazing to be involved, even in a small way, with the TTRPG world right now is amazing?
I love how modern technologies (be they large ones like D&DBeyond and Roll20 or excellent smaller tools like Improved Initiative or donjon) have helped ease the access to this social storytelling experience, and the immense success of streaming channels like Critical Role have brought incredible exposure to a completely new audience.
It’s a D&D renaissance, and I’m thrilled to play my small part in it.
You can find more creator interviews on Rand Roll.
Have you used the 5E Magic Shop?