"If I want to run a totally unique adventure, I can start with one of the donjon maps and produce some random monsters from here, quest details from there, and so on, put it all together in my head or on paper so it fits my ideas and my world, and there I've got something new, unique, and custom-tailored for my game and my players in a way that no $50 hardcover adventure book can come close to."
Q&A with Jean of Table Master
How did you get into creating random generators?
I'm a random table geek. I have been a random table geek as long as I've been a gamer. I remember when I got the AD&D DMG as soon as it came into my local game store, and I must have rounded the edges off a set of dice just rolling up stuff on those tables for fun.
I started, of course, with tables on paper. They tended to take forever to produce minor (but highly detailed!) results, leading to player rebellion. So my love for creating insanely complex tables kind of hung fire until I started doing it on a computer.
There's a story to that, too, about the ancestor of TableMaster: I am absolutely terrible at thinking up names on the fly. To the point that there was a demon named "Fred" in a game I once ran because I couldn't think of a name for him.
So I wrote a program I called "NameGen" on the Sinclair QL. Yeah, this was a while ago...
NameGen had one feature that all of the little this-generators and that-generators I'd written over the years on a variety of computers didn't have: You specified which type of names you wanted, and it used a simple table, giving letter/syllable frequencies, word structure, that kind of thing, to produce the correct sort of names.
That was the earliest ancestor of TableMaster.
What generators are you most proud of creating and why?
Well, TableMaster, of course!
But I assume this would more properly apply to specific tables. Hmmm ... I think some of the ones I've created to do my "1001 Things" series on DriveThruRPG.
Since I'm writing them for myself, and nobody else has to deal with them, I can get as complicated as I want. The one for weapon histories has over 200 sub-tables, and wouldn't repeat a result until the heat death of the universe.
Of the ones I've published as actual tables ... probably Caverns. It's weird and complicated and looks more like a computer program than a table (which it pretty much is) but I did some interesting things with it, and moreover, I did them with a very early version of TableMaster, which doesn't have the features that would make doing them easy today. I had to do some interesting workarounds here and there. It's one of the earliest tables I wrote, but still probably my favorite.
What is the most fun thing about creating generators?
I think the ability to add increasing levels of complexity. I can go so far beyond what would be easy (or sane!) to do with dice.
I start out with a rough idea of what I want the output to look like, and then I start elaborating. I really love how detailed and complex that can get.
What are the most painful lessons you've learnt from creating generators?
Lookup lists were a bad idea. :p
That's a feature in TableMaster that is complex to use, almost impossible to explain, took more than its share of time to code, and to the best of my knowledge, absolutely nobody, including me, has ever used.
And when I rebuilt TableMaster from the ground up for TableMaster II (the modern version) I did it again. Even though it was a bad idea the first time around. Lookup lists have been deprecated. :p
How do you use random generators yourself?
Well, mostly I sell them!
For the past 10 years, I've been in an area with very little local gaming activity, and I'm just not up for a 60 mile each way drive to my F"L"GS (friendly local gaming store) for game nights.
I play in other people's games at conventions, but mostly, I'm just Wintertree Software, selling TableMaster and something north of 200 tables.
What is the most interesting generator or tool you've seen?
That's awfully hard to answer. I find them all fascinating!
Though I tend to try to figure out what they're doing and how, which kind of spoils things a bit -- it's like watching a magician and figuring out how he works the tricks, rather than just sitting back and watching rabbits come out of hats.
I think that's why I'd put the donjon map creator at the top. That's not a thing I could do myself, so I get to just enjoy it instead of trying to figure it out.
I have spent entirely too much time when I should be working just playing with different settings on that, seeing how the maps change, and so on. So I'd have to put that at #1. But it's a very fluid list, and I have the attention span of a kitten when it comes to new and shiny.
What are your next big projects (generators or otherwise) that you can talk about?
Long ago, I learned the hard way (right about when Microsoft was learning the same lesson) that I shouldn't talk about upcoming projects or release dates, because if I do, "I might do X sometime" is interpreted as "I absolutely will do X at this specific time."
I've got a new release of TableMaster (1.6) in testing right now, so that's something, I suppose.
I'm also working on a Table Pack based on my "Business Card Dungeon" -- you can get the paper-and-dice version free on DTRPG. But that mgiht be out sooner, it might be out later, or it might, like the long-planned Village of Draymoor pack, hang fire for a decade. I've become really paranoid about committing to anything.
Where can people find you on social media?
I'm easy to find: www.wintertreeredux.com.
I'm not a Facebook product, and I have a Twitter account I never look at because it can eat a day of my time without half trying.
Plus of course I hang out on Discord, in Generator Creatives among other places.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Actually, I can think of something: A reason why all our random generators are so valuable.
I remember TSR's "Read the boxed text to your players" phase, when they were absolutely insistent their customers not use anything, nor speak any word, not written by them. I might be exaggerating about speaking, but not by much; this is when they were telling people that they couldn't even share their own character sheets with their friends.
They did their best to stamp out any trace of creativity or originality among gamers. They got over it (though not in time to save the company) but that attitude -- and they're not the only one who has ever had it -- is hard to forget.
I call TableMaster "the spare time generator" because it, with all of its random tables -- and all the ones the user can write -- makes it easy to come up with all the details you need for any original material you're doing.
That's also true of online generators.
If I want to run a totally unique adventure, I can start with one of the donjon maps and produce some random monsters from here, quest details from there, and so on, put it all together in my head or on paper so it fits my ideas and my world, and there I've got something new, unique, and custom-tailored for my game and my players in a way that no $50 hardcover adventure book can come close to.
They enable creativity on the part of gamers, and that's something we need more of. No amount of creativity is too much.
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