"First and foremost, I make character generators for my friend Dave. His characters die left and right in our games. He plays really brave, really red-shirted characters. Suddenly, he needs a new character in the middle of a game and BAM! I've got one for him."
Interview with Jay Aexander Hafner, creator of character sheet tools for many systems.
How did you get into creating random generators?
My background in gaming started in 1981 with that red Moldvay D&D basic set. Like seemingly everyone else, I spent a lot of time making characters, but really gravitated towards GMing. I'm a notorious daydreamer so the thoughts of endless randomized combinations of my current stuff really resonated with me.
After joining a game group where the DM, Lee Henschel, had created a computer program that randomized AD&D 1e character generator that pre-calculated the AC modifiers, something emerged within me to obsesss over such a thing for the rest of my life.
My first character generator was written in Apple Basic for AD&D where we had somehow figured out how to randomize a 3d6, but I was never able to finish a whole creator. My programming language skills stalled at Turbo Pascal in college though so there was a break.
Now I program everything in EXCEL because you don't have a creepy .exe file and they can be run on Google Sheets, Excel, or Open Office.
The reason why I still make these things are multifold. Firstly, I feel that game companies never provide enough character examples and it if I want people to join me in my hobby, I want it to be easier to have examples.
I always wanted my kids to play more with me and having characters to get instantly started seemed important. GMs can find the ability to have an instant NPC (or PC) to be handy.
Finally, I like to produce adventures and get ideas for my sessions. Having randomizations stimulates some creative combinations.
What generators am I most proud of creating and why?
My favorite is the Colonial Gothic RPG character generator. There's something about American Gothic Horror that resonates with me now that I'm older.
Otherwise, the Dungeons & Dragons 5e one was quite the project and I've used that quite a lot. I had some additional help on that project. I'm proud of it in that I learned a ton about new programming uses for Excel. That allowed me a lot more flexibility in solving aspects of character production.
The other generator that I'm proud of is simply the new Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition generator. It spawned from my Colonial Gothic and WFRP 3rd edition generators. I'm proud of it because it helps keep me connected to the WFRP crowd - which is very international.
What is the most fun thing about creating RPG Tools?
Honestly, just seeing the bizarre, non-min-maxed things that come up. Realizing that someone using my generator is having a really uncomfortable feeling in their inner power gamer makes me giggle.
Also, just the production of something for a new game system keeps me connected with other people who are producing and not just consuming.
What are the most painful lessons you've learnt from creating RPG tools?
Family time. My wife gives me a hate look sometimes that requires me to get off my ass.
I can get obsessed. Not starting with "The Why." Some things don't need to be made because sometimes nobody is going to read or use them.
How do you use RPG Tools yourself?
First and foremost, I make character generators for my friend Dave. His characters die left and right in our games. He plays really brave, really red-shirted characters. Suddenly, he needs a new character in the middle of a game and BAM! I've got one for him.
Second, I use them to stimulate creative ideas. I did a WFRP 3rd edition random adventure generator. I like to write adventures and release them on discussion groups (or for adventure contests). A few random clicks and I've got ideas. No random generator creates an adventure you can really fully use, but it will give you enough ideas to produce something.
Lastly, most game systems dont give you enough NPCs in their Bestiaries. Now I've got them.
What are your next big projects?
Im kinda wrapping up the WFRP 4th edition generator. I dunno if I'll give it a full customization version. There are other people who have stepped up to do some of those things.
Really, I'm just waiting for the next big thing to come out in game systems. If Liber Fanatica (WFRP) fan project gets restarted, I'll probably write another full adventure for that - using a random generator for ideas! Yea baby!
Where can people find you on social media?
I still linger on Facebook and Discord, but that's about it. I moderate a few groups.
I miss the days when Enworld.Org and RPG.Net, and usenet groups were the big thing. The were the best way to collaborate on projects as well as see outrageous acts of nerd-rage and what used to be benign trolling.
Now the scrolling aspects of the new social media platforms are utterly useless. They are are not production based. They are consumer-based. Nobody writes useful stuff on their phone (really). Nobody is producing details for far-flung corners of The World of Greyhawk on Snapchat. There is no 33 page fan adventure for Call of Cthulhu built by on Instagram.
List of Generators
Jay has quite a few generators worth listing
- Starfinder Random Character Generator (google sheets)
- WFRP3 Complete Random Character Generator
- WFRP4 Complete Random Character Generator
- WFRP4 Random Creature Generator
- WFRP3 aRand Adv Generator
- Top Secret 1e/2e
- Top Secret 4e (NWO)
- Dungeons & Dragons 5e Random Character Generator Levels 1-20
- Colonial Gothic 2e, 3e
- Witch Hunter 2e
- Edge of the Empire STAR WARS
- CoC 6e (Barely started/Unfinished)
What are your favourite tools by Jay?