Interview with Glenn McCord of Chartopia
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Interview with Glenn McCord of Chartopia

Duncan Thomson
In some ways, Chartopia is trying to be the Pinterest of RPG Random Generators, which seems like a worth goal to strive for.

This creator interview is a Q&A with Glenn McCord of the generators platform Chartopia

Generators Q&A with Glenn McCord of Chartopia

How did you get into creating random generators?

I met a DnD/RPG fan, Scott, at a mutual friend’s house party. I’d never had anything to do with roleplaying games before that. Upon realising that I was a programmer, Scott said ‘hey, I’ve got an idea for an app’ and described his idea of an app for random tables. It was casual party conversation at the time, but a month or so later I sent him a message on Facebook to figure out what he had in mind.

I was in need of a new side project and this seemed a good one. Chartopia is gradually bringing the best parts about modern web together; things like search tools, tagging, folder organisation and sharing.

In some ways, Chartopia is trying to be the Pinterest of RPG Random Generators, which seems like a worth goal to strive for.

So now, as a side effect of testing Chartopia, I’m getting into writing my own generators. It’s a great way to get a first hand idea of what is working and what needs tweaking to make the user experience as streamlined as possible.

What generators are you most proud of creating and why?

I may have added this chart, but it’s not mine. It was sourced from reddit by a user called Dedli

I like it for a few reasons.

  • Firstly, this is a very complicated table, so to roll on it manually would be a nuisance, which is why an app like Chartopia is useful.
  • The instructions for rolling it are all defined within the table as a kind of rollable list (i.e. no separate explicit subtables), so it uses some useful syntax/features.
  • With over 200 million variations, it’s also inspiring because it shows other users how easy it is to make huge amount of variation with simple additions.
  • This random table of Dedli's was the reason why I added the ‘rollable list’ feature. I really wanted to add his Chart to Chartopia and the only way to do that, was to add that feature.

What is the most fun thing about creating generators?

I like the idea of creating massive amounts of variation out of what are basically snippets of ideas. It’s hard work creating a novel, because you have to string so many eloquent sentences together. Novels though, are also very static; you go to all this effort creating a world, but it’s somewhat too well defined.

With a few tricks here and there, a static world can be turned in fantastic directions. It helps you avoid falling into the same ideas. Because a random table is, in many ways, just a list of ideas, it’s also very easy to write down and use later. That makes them very useful for later creations, whether they be to describe worlds, scenarios or characters.

What are the most painful lessons you've learnt from creating generators?

I’m going to put my programmer hat on for this question. Chartopia UX design could always do with improvement. Not really so much from lack of imagination, just trying to map imagination to implementation. The result has been a lot of compromise in the design of Chartopia as we try to get most of the basic functionality in quickly so that everyone can have a play, then go back and refine things to improve the workflow.

If I’m to then put on my generator-creator hat again, it comes back to organising all your source material. It’s one thing to get a lot of source material and ideas, the next hardest part is filtering it down to table worthy components that can then be reused and combined with other tables. This is why good UX is so important.

How do you use random generators yourself?

I’ve never been a GM (despite my initials), so most of my generators have been made to test out Chartopia and find out what is and isn’t working.

What are your next big projects (generators or otherwise) that you can talk about?

In regards to features, there’s a couple of main ones.

  • Increase the Chartopia Domain Language features. Things like having chart rolls within rollable lists, saving and reusing results from previous random calls (i.e. variables), having an option to return only unique results. Things like that.
  • More sharing options - Allowing group based sharing and editing of charts.
  • Allow users to upload images and other assets. With fans of self published works using Chartopia to host the random tables, such as Jacob Hurst’s The Dark of Hot Springs Island and Shawn Tomkin’s Ironsworn, it would be useful to the users if they could upload cover art to the site (with permission of course). Currently its done with external urls.

Where can people find you on social media?

We’re on

Further Reading

Take a look at Chartopia for the charts over there or for the opportunity to create your own.

Or take a look at our other Creator Interviews including Donjon and Emily of Fantasy Name Generators.